Fermi Paradox Part 3
Zookeepers, Alien Visitors, Or Simple Life; How Can We Explain Our Isolation?
We seem to have the Galaxy to ourselves. At least, thats the obvious conclusion
from the apparent lack of aliens in the neighborhood.
But this conclusion might be a bit too obvious, and possibly wrong. In previous articles,
weve considered why extraterrestrial intelligence even if common would have
restrained itself from spreading to every half-decent star system in the
Galaxy. Its possible that the aliens have done cost-benefit analyses that
show interstellar travel to be too costly or too dangerous to warrant ambitious
colonization efforts. An alternative suggestion that would explain our apparent
solitude is that the Galaxy is urbanized, and were in a dullsville suburb.
Yet another resolution for the so-called Fermi Paradox is that weve been
singled out for special treatment: we are an exhibit for alien tourists or
sociologists. Our world may be known to the extraterrestrials, but they observe
us through a sophisticated type of one-way mirror.
While theres no evidence to give credibility to this last idea (known
as the "Zoo Hypothesis"), many would argue that evidence does exist for another
possibility namely, that the Paradox is just a red herring because the aliens
are in the neighborhood. In fact, theyre in our back yards, or just above
Many thousands of sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) are
reported each year, and polls show that one-third to one-half of the population
believes that at least some of these aerial apparitions are alien spacecraft.
The presence of aliens on Earth would neatly resolve the Fermi Paradox.
But while this is a prevalent idea among the public, the evidence for
alien visitation has failed to sway most scientists. To convince researchers,
who are inherently skeptical, unambiguous and repeated detection of flying
objects by satellites or ground-based radar would be required. Better yet
would be some indisputable physical evidence, such as the landing lights
from an alien craft. In other words, something better than witness testimony
is necessary, since such testimony isnt good enough, no matter how credible
Consider the fact that lots of people claim to have seen ghosts, and will
be pleased to tell you what they saw. But the case for the existence of these
shrouded spirits isnt what you would call convincing. You dont read a lot
about the parameters of ghosts in scholarly journals.
Until and unless better evidence is collected, few scientists are inclined
to accept the premise that the Fermi Paradox can be resolved by the claim
that aliens are either soaring through the stratosphere, or are stashed away
in meat lockers at Area 51.
Of course, theres no doubt that aliens in the neighborhood would be dramatic
news, and thats part of the appeal of such claims. But the opposite circumstance
would be similarly startling. What if we have failed to espy the extraterrestrials
simply because there arent any? After all, the evolution of intelligence
may be a rare occurrence, even if biology is common. Could it be that in
the enormous reaches of the Milky Way, ours is the only planet with thinking
beings? That would neatly solve the puzzle posed by Fermi. And no matter
how discouraging (or otherwise) the thought of being unique may be, we still
havent the proof that it isnt true.
While possible resolutions of Fermi’s Paradox are as plentiful as gas
stations, we still have no idea which, if any, is correct. Perhaps the universe
is teeming with societies so subtle we can’t prove their presence. Or haven’t
yet. On the other hand, maybe we’re alone.
It’s all a bit perplexing, but in fact there’s hope. SETI experiments
offer the promise of relegating the Fermi Paradox to the dustbin of historical
curiosities by proving that other intelligence is out there. So while it’s
interesting and instructive to consider the pros and cons of galactic colonization,
we should also make sure that we do some careful observing. In science, speculation
is desirable, but experiment is definitive.