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The Fermi Paradox: A Blurry Line Between Sci-Fi and Security (2/2)

The last section of this two-part article series attempted to explain the daunting dilemma posed by the Fermi paradox. If probabilistic equations using our existing data on the universe tell us that there must be life elsewhere in the cosmos… then why have all of our intergalactic messages so far been unreciprocated? This question has, over the years, seen a number of answers put forward, ranging from the coherent to the mystical to the borderline unhinged.


The “reasonable” answer seems to be that the Drake Equation is deeply flawed; although cellular life may be common throughout the universe, multicellular life — let alone animal or intelligent life — requires much more specific and infrequent conditions. Our earth is astoundingly rare; everything from the size of our moon to our sun’s orbit to our relative distance from other planets played into our planet’s unique ability to foster complex life forms. If we haven’t received a call back from Marvin the Martian, it’s simply because he never got the chance to exist.

Others believe that Marvin did exist — but doesn’t anymore. The famous “Great Filter Hypothesis” purports that all advanced civilisations destroy themselves before going intergalactic. The cause of said destruction can vary, although many cite our own “carbon trap” as a popular culprit. Long story short, the first energy source any intelligent life form is likely to discover is carbon. Its easy exploitation would lead to its use and abuse, establishing carbon as a pillar of the planet’s economy. With the atmosphere’s carbon content rising ominously, scientists and businessmen would find themselves in a tug of war over what to prioritise: their quality of life or a deteriorating biosphere. By the time any decision was reached or compromising solution found, it would be too late. Atmospheric chaos or depleted resources with no sustainable alternatives would drive the planet’s inhabitants into extinction before they could even hope to reach for far away stars.

As skeptical as some may be about global warming’s sudden transformation into a universally inevitable plague, the latter theory remains one of the more sensible candidates in the Fermi Paradox’ “Search for the Next Solution”. Coming up next are those theories all-too reminiscent of Spielberg plot lines and the dark, conspiracy-abounding corners of the Internet.

1. “They’re Just Not That Into You”

Coming soon to a theatre near you, this particular storyline poignantly reveals that aliens have simply lost all intergalactic-scale ambitions. Being an extremely advanced civilisation, their already mounted galactic-scale projects (a stage we have yet to reach) are proving to be a big enough dose of action and adventure for the time being.

2. “The Matrix”

In an ironic twist of fate for Conspiracy Keanu, the 1999 blockbuster might have been anything but fiction. In 2003, British philosopher Nick Bostrom published a paper arguing that humans live in a computer simulation — an idea that had been floating around the scientific community for a while. The simulation would be run by a post-human civilisation trying to find an answer… to its own Fermi Paradox. All Inception references aside, it is worth mentioning that since 2012, a team of physicists at the University of Washington has been trying to find a way to test this very theory.

3. “The Zoo Hypothesis”

According to John Ball, aliens are fully aware of our existence. In fact, they might have been watching us very closely for a long, long time. However, contact is prohibited so as not to interfere with our natural evolution. In other words, intergalactic communication is a feature reserved to an “invite-only” club whose standards we have yet to meet.

4. “Self-Imposed Quarantine”

Every bit as ominous as its name suggests, this theory believes that aliens can be dangerous. Very dangerous. The heavy silence reigning upon the universe is a sort of unspoken rule meant to ensure that Star Wars forever remains in the “fiction” section of Netflix. Indeed, mankind’s own history of always treating less advanced civilisations harshly bodes quite poorly for the day highly advanced extra-terrestrials decide to pay an impromptu visit to an eager, fresh-faced humanity. Supporters of this theory, such as world renowned Stephen Hawking, argue that our yelling at space is actually extremely foolhardy, as it reveals our exact location to potentially dangerous creatures that we should not be alerting without prior international consultation.

It is this last theory that strikes a particular, diplomatic nerve amongst the international community. Many argue that states should not have the right to attempt contacts with extra-terrestrials until an international consensus on the matter has been reached. Others believe that we should content ourselves with passive, silent observation. And finally, some question our decision to invest so much effort and money into a controversial search for other beings… when our own species, be it alone in the universe or not, is rife with unresolved conflicts and neglected struggles much more deserving of our time and attention.

Tina Bouffet
Tina Bouffet is a Research Analyst for the NATO Association of Canada, having previously been the Program Editor for Society, Culture and International Relations. She recently graduated with a degree in International Relations and Human Rights at UCL (University College London), in the UK. Previously, Tina completed her year abroad at l’Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris, in France. Over the last few years, she has interned for a variety of organisations, including Amnesty International Israel and African Women International in Ghana. Her primary interests include international peacekeeping, conflict resolution and post-war law enforcement. She is particularly passionate about and hopes to work in the organisation of humanitarian interventions and the protection of vulnerable populations.