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- On 4. oktober 2019
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The Fermi paradox, named after Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi, is the apparent contradiction between the lack of evidence for extraterrestrial civilizations elsewhere in the Milky Way galaxy and high estimates of their probability, such as those that result from optimistic choices of parameters in the Drake equation.
primarily suggesting that intelligent extraterrestrial beings are extremely rare, that the lifetime of such civilizations is short, or that they exist but (for various reasons) we see no evidence.
The Fermi paradox is a conflict between the argument that scale and probability seem to favor intelligent life being common in the universe, and the total lack of evidence of intelligent life having ever arisen anywhere other than on the Earth.
Even if intelligent life occurs on only a minuscule percentage of planets around these stars, there might still be a great number of extant civilizations, and if the percentage were high enough it would produce a significant number of extant civilizations in the Milky Way.
The second aspect of the Fermi paradox is the argument of probability: given intelligent life's ability to overcome scarcity, and its tendency to colonize new habitats, it seems possible that at least some civilizations would be technologically advanced, seek out new resources in space, and colonize their own star system and, subsequently, surrounding star systems.
Since there is no significant evidence on Earth, or elsewhere in the known universe, of other intelligent life after 13.8 billion years of the universe's history, there is a conflict requiring a resolution.
Some examples of possible resolutions are that intelligent life is rarer than we think, that our assumptions about the general development or behavior of intelligent species are flawed, or, more radically, that our current scientific understanding of the nature of the universe itself is quite incomplete.
If interstellar travel is possible, even the 'slow' kind nearly within the reach of Earth technology, then it would only take from 5 million to 50 million years to colonize the galaxy.
For distant galaxies, travel times may well explain the lack of alien visits to Earth, but a sufficiently advanced civilization could potentially be observable over a significant fraction of the size of the observable universe.
Even if such civilizations are rare, the scale argument indicates they should exist somewhere at some point during the history of the universe, and since they could be detected from far away over a considerable period of time, many more potential sites for their origin are within range of our observation.
Teller wrote, 'The result of his question was general laughter because of the strange fact that in spite of Fermi's question coming from the clear blue, everybody around the table seemed to understand at once that he was talking about extraterrestrial life.'
Regarding the continuation of the conversation, York wrote in 1984 that Fermi 'followed up with a series of calculations on the probability of earthlike planets, the probability of life given an earth, the probability of humans given life, the likely rise and duration of high technology, and so on.
Teller remembers that not much came of this conversation 'except perhaps a statement that the distances to the next location of living beings may be very great and that, indeed, as far as our galaxy is concerned, we are living somewhere in the sticks, far removed from the metropolitan area of the galactic center.'
He informed each of the men that he wished to include a reasonably accurate version or composite in the written proceedings he was putting together for a previously-held conference entitled 'Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience.'
Furthermore, Konopinski was able to later identify a cartoon which Jones found as the one involved in the conversation and thereby help to settle the time period as being the summer of 1950.
He noted 'people deny the presence of intelligent beings on the planets of the universe' because '(i) if such beings exist they would have visited Earth, and (ii) if such civilizations existed then they would have given us some sign of their existence.'
Almost all arguments involving the Drake equation suffer from the overconfidence effect, a common error of probabilistic reasoning about low-probability events, by guessing specific numbers for likelihoods of events whose mechanism is not yet understood, such as the likelihood of abiogenesis on an Earth-like planet, with current likelihood estimates varying over many hundreds of orders of magnitude.
and suggests that, with very high probability, either intelligent civilizations are plentiful in our galaxy or humanity is alone in the observable universe, with the lack of observation of intelligent civilizations pointing towards the latter option.
The most commonly agreed-upon low probability event is abiogenesis: a gradual process of increasing complexity of the first self-replicating molecules by a randomly occurring chemical process.
The first point, that many suitable planets exist, was an assumption in Fermi's time that is gaining ground with the discovery of many exoplanets, and models predicting billions of habitable worlds in our galaxy.
New refinements in exoplanet detection methods, and use of existing methods from space (such as the Kepler and TESS missions) are starting to detect and characterize Earth-size planets, and determine if they are within the habitable zones of their stars.
Such a hypothetical device would be an autonomous space probe whose purpose is to seek out and communicate with alien civilizations (as opposed to Von Neumann probes, which are usually described as purely exploratory).
Rather than contending with the long delays a radio dialogue would suffer, a probe housing an artificial intelligence would seek out an alien civilization to carry on a close-range communication with the discovered civilization.
In 1959, Freeman Dyson observed that every developing human civilization constantly increases its energy consumption, and, he conjectured, a civilization might try to harness a large part of the energy produced by a star.
Such a feat of astroengineering would drastically alter the observed spectrum of the star involved, changing it at least partly from the normal emission lines of a natural stellar atmosphere to those of black-body radiation, probably with a peak in the infrared.
However, around 2018, observations determined that the amount of dimming varied by the frequency of the light, pointing to dust, rather than an opaque object such as a Dyson sphere, as the culprit for causing the dimming.
The Rare Earth hypothesis argues that the evolution of biological complexity requires a host of fortuitous circumstances, such as a galactic habitable zone, a star and planet(s) having the requisite conditions, such as enough of a continuous habitable zone, the advantage of a giant guardian like Jupiter and a large moon, conditions needed to ensure the planet has a magnetosphere and plate tectonics, the chemistry of the lithosphere, atmosphere, and oceans, the role of 'evolutionary pumps' such as massive glaciation and rare bolide impacts.
skeptics, the fact that in the history of life on the Earth only one species has developed a civilization to the point of being capable of spaceflight and radio technology lends more credence to the idea that technologically advanced civilizations are rare in the universe.
In 1966, Sagan and Shklovskii speculated that technological civilizations will either tend to destroy themselves within a century of developing interstellar communicative capability or master their self-destructive tendencies and survive for billion-year timescales.
Self-annihilation may also be viewed in terms of thermodynamics: insofar as life is an ordered system that can sustain itself against the tendency to disorder, the 'external transmission' or interstellar communicative phase may be the point at which the system becomes unstable and self-destructs.[further explanation needed]
Using extinct civilizations such as Easter Island (Rapa Nui) as models, a study conducted in 2018 posited that climate change induced by 'energy intensive' civilizations may prevent sustainability within such civilizations, thus explaining the paradoxical lack of evidence for intelligent extraterrestrial life. A
David Brin points out that during the expansion phase from 1500 BC to 800 AD there were cycles of overpopulation followed by what might be called periodic cullings of adult males through war and/or ritual.
In 1981, cosmologist Edward Harrison argued that such behavior would be an act of prudence: an intelligent species that has overcome its own self-destructive tendencies might view any other species bent on galactic expansion as a threat.
Another possibility invokes the 'tragedy of the commons' and the anthropic principle: the first lifeform to achieve interstellar travel will necessarily (even if unintentionally) prevent competitors from arising, and humans simply happen to be first.
It may be the case that such extinction events are common throughout the universe and periodically destroy intelligent life, or at least its civilizations, before the species is able to develop the technology to communicate with other intelligent species.
and humanity has undertaken similar activities like the Arecibo message, which could transfer information about Earth's intelligent species, even if it never yields a response or does not yield a response in time for humanity to receive it.
While the current understanding of physics rules out the possibility of faster-than-light travel, it appears that there are no major theoretical barriers to the construction of 'slow' interstellar ships, even though the engineering required is considerably beyond our present capabilities.
efforts may not occur as an unstoppable rush, but rather as an uneven tendency to 'percolate' outwards, within an eventual slowing and termination of the effort given the enormous costs involved and the expectation that colonies will inevitably develop a culture and civilization of their own.
If human-capability constructs in a machine such as mind uploading are possible, and it is possible to transfer such constructs over vast distances and rebuild on a remote machine, then it might not make a strong economic sense to travel the galaxy by spaceflight.
After the first civilization have physically explored or colonized the galaxy, as well as sent such machines for easy explorations, then the subsequent civilizations, after having contacted the first, may find it cheaper, faster, and easier to explore the galaxy through intelligent construct transfers to the machines built by the first civilization, which is cheaper than spaceflight by a factor of 108-1017.
Humanity's ability to detect intelligent extraterrestrial life has existed for only a very brief period—from 1937 onwards, if the invention of the radio telescope is taken as the dividing line—and Homo sapiens is a geologically recent species.
The greatest challenge is the sheer size of the radio search needed to look for signals (effectively spanning the entire observable universe), the limited amount of resources committed to SETI, and the sensitivity of modern instruments.
SETI estimates, for instance, that with a radio telescope as sensitive as the Arecibo Observatory, Earth's television and radio broadcasts would only be detectable at distances up to 0.3 light-years, less than 1/10 the distance to the nearest star.
Thus to detect alien civilizations through their radio emissions, Earth observers either need more sensitive instruments or must hope for fortunate circumstances: that the broadband radio emissions of alien radio technology are much stronger than our own;
It has been suggested that some advanced beings may divest themselves of physical form, create massive artificial virtual environments, transfer themselves into these environments through mind uploading, and exist totally within virtual worlds, ignoring the external physical universe.
Possibly any sufficiently advanced society will develop highly engaging media and entertainment well before the capacity for advanced space travel, with the rate of appeal of these social contrivances being destined, because of their inherent reduced complexity, to overtake any desire for complex, expensive endeavors such as space exploration and communication.
Once any sufficiently advanced civilization becomes able to master its environment, and most of its physical needs are met through technology, various 'social and entertainment technologies', including virtual reality, are postulated to become the primary drivers and motivations of that civilization.
February 2019 article in Popular Science states, 'Sweeping across the Milky Way and establishing a unified galactic empire might be inevitable for a monolithic super-civilization, but most cultures are neither monolithic nor super—at least if our experience is any guide.'
The abstract to their pending paper states, 'These results break the link between Hart's famous 'Fact A' (no interstellar visitors on Earth now) and the conclusion that humans must, therefore, be the only technological civilization in the galaxy.'
This hypothesis may break down under the uniformity of motive flaw: all it takes is a single culture or civilization to decide to act contrary to the imperative within our range of detection for it to be abrogated, and the probability of such a violation increases with the number of civilizations.
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