Fermi Paradox

Why you can be the best ever [X] in the universe!

My son gave me this mug for Father's Day in 2012/13:

It seemed a slight overstatement at the time, but I've given it a good go!  Here's why that's not quite as absurd as it may seem...

The so-called Fermi Paradox is the apparent contradiction between the lack of evidence we have for alien life in our universe and the estimated high probability that such life exists, given the billions of stars & planets in the universe.

This video tries to explain that we haven't encountered aliens yet because we haven't been transmitting radio waves for long enough (only 80 years), and it says Cornell researchers have calculated that in about 1500 years (by 3516) we'll have been transmitting them long enough to have reached half our galaxy, by which time they believe they'll be a high chance we'll have encountered alien life.  

I think that's rubbish logic, because if alien life does exist and communicates via radio waves, then chances are they would have been doing so for long enough already that we could detect them now.

There are plenty of other theories attempting to explain the Fermi Paradox, and I've only read this Huffington Post article, but it seems to have a pretty comprehensive coverage of the various speculative theories (have a read of it - "Possibility 7" is funny).  What seems clear though is that the "maths" involve such speculative probabilities about the chances of complex life forming, that it is essentially a matter of opinion whether it really is a paradox at all.  For instance, the article's initial scenario considers these probabilities:

Well I think the chances of atoms getting together to form life are probably much smaller than this.  Everything has to be just right - temperature, irradiation, chemical composition of land & atmosphere, and even the right sized planet to give gravity that's strong enough to keep animals & air on the surface, but not so strong that life can't evolve to a decent size (with a sizeable brain) whilst still being able to move & jump around.  And that's just to start; then you have to wait & hope (a very long time!) for evolution to randomly work its magic, and what's more to do so before a major climate change event comes along and wipes out most of the larger species, setting evolution back nearer the start again (noting it took 99.99% of earth's 4.5 billion year existence for modern humans to evolve, and the dinosaurs were all killed only 1.4% of earth's lifetime ago and there've been other, more frequent but still quite dramatic climate changes since then as well).

It seems almost impossible to quantify the chances of intelligent life emerging, but I think it's so gob-smackingly unlikely that it could be more like 1 in a million for any life and 1 in a trillion of these becoming intelligent life like ours (rather than 1% of 1%).   Then with these lower probability assumptions, there would only be about 1015x10-6x10-12/(0.01x0.01) = 10 (ten) intelligent civilisations in the entire observable universe, and possibly only us (with a roughly 10% chance).

As for the energy-greedy Type III Civilizations postulated, I sympathise with this alternative view presented in the Huff-Post article, which has some commonalities with my Theory of Everything:

Possibility 3) The entire concept of physical colonization is a hilariously backward concept to a more advanced species. 

Remember the picture of the Type II Civilization above with the sphere around their star? With all that energy, they might have created a perfect environment for themselves that satisfies their every need. They might have crazy-advanced ways of reducing their need for resources and zero interest in leaving their happy utopia to explore the cold, empty, undeveloped universe.

An even more advanced civilization might view the entire physical world as a horribly primitive place, having long ago conquered their own biology and uploaded their brains to a virtual reality, eternal-life paradise. Living in the physical world of biology, mortality, wants, and needs might seem to them the way we view primitive ocean species living in the frigid, dark sea.

Actually, unless we (or other alien species) manage to develop emotionally as well as technically, we are more likely to go the way of their "3rd reality" - destroying ourselves.

But there's two issues that I think are missing from the scenarios considered, which arise from the universe's expansion.  

First, the calculations employed seem to assume that the probability of life is uniform throughout the universe; they don't seem to recognise that as you move out from the point of the Big Bang, the universe is becoming more dispersed, older and colder (not older & wiser as suggested - sorry for the ageist parallels!).  The outer parts of the universe are colder partly because, being more expanded, they have a lower average energy density, but being older, there have also been more opportunities for matter & radiation to collide, react, condense and develop from hot stars like our sun, to supernova and cold, black holes.  Inner parts of the universe are hotter and less able & had less time to condense into complex atoms, molecules and life, whilst outer parts will be too condensed for life (As masses aggregate, gravity becomes too great for life to lift its legs off the ground, and in the extreme, life and all matter gets squished into the planet and stars as a black hole!  Alternatively, planets that escape the gravity of stars race so far away that they become totally cold and without any energy to support life).

Secondly, many parts of the universe that are either older or of similar age to ours (and of similar or more advanced state of technical development) will be so far away that the combination of the universe's continued & accelerating expansion and the limited speed of light mean we will never ever be able to communicate with them (even allowing for my theory of gravity, which hypothesizes that light can travel faster than 3 x 108 m/s in low gravity fields) - so they are beyond our "observable universe".

In the following diagram, the centre of the cut-out sphere is the Big Bang, and the Earth is a certain distance out from this (the universe extends beyond the radius set by the earth, as indicated by the arrows).

Everything closer to the Big Bang centre is younger and less developed than Earth, and everything further out is older and colder.  Now, assume that the only viable part of the universe for intelligent life is within the small thickness of 'shell' formed by an inner boundary given by the blue cut-out shell, and an outer boundary given by the sphere of arrows.  Firstly it indicates that the overwhelming majority of the universe - the regions closer to the Big Bang or in the infinite extent beyond our radius - is (by my assumption) unable to support any life.  And secondly, within that shell of the universe (of limited radius from the Big Bang) that can potentially support life, at least half of it is so far away from Earth (and receding at an accelerating rate) that we will never be able to communicate with it.  So the combination of these factors, plus my own sceptical assumptions about the likelihood of life developing (a lot less than 1%), suggest it is highly likely that we are the only intelligent life in the observable universe!

Also, if you have to go far enough to find any alien life, it will take so long for light or any other signals to reach them from Earth that right now they will see that our planet is dominated by dinosaurs (or earlier, more primitive life), so they're not likely to send us any messages!

Of course you could believe in some kind of God or Force that makes life more likely, but then that God may also have decided we should be the only life in the universe!

OK, if you accept this argument that we are quite possibly the only intelligent life in the observable universe, it has some rather interesting implications for those of us currently living on Earth who excel in our particular area of endeavour...

There is a myth that the population living today - around 7.5 billion people in 2016 - outnumbers those that have ever lived.  However, although this is not true, with an estimated total historic human lives of around 100 billion and a forecast population of around 9-10 billion by 2050, anyone aged under about 50 today in 2016 who is in the Guinness Book of Records in 2050 (aged under 84) probably has at least a 10% chance of having been the best in their field in the history of human-kind, and given that humans are continually getting better at most things (more knowledgeable and fitter due to better diets), it is probably more likely than not that they would be the best ever.

It gets better.  The earth surely can't cope with an ever expanding population, so we are probably - hopefully - approaching the peak of population growth, and if some predictions are true that modern medicine will soon conquer ageing, then to be sustainable, birth rates will need to dramatically drop.  This means that current living generations are in a 'sweet spot' cohort that is bigger than any past or future ones, and consequently if you're the best in this current generation, there's a good chance you'll be the best person at your thing ever!

Combining this with the above thinking about life in the universe, this means if you can become the best in your field in your life, you could well be the best ever in the whole "observable universe" - for all time and space!