William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

A New Possible Solution Of Fermi’s Paradox

All the proof we need?

What is the probability the following proposition is true? “There are rational beings other than humans in the universe.” Well, given the evidence of angels, who are rational non-human beings, the probability is 1.

Given that answer won’t satisfy those folks whose minds are given over the fallacy of naturalism, let’s change the proposition to make it more challenging. What is the probability, “There are rational physical beings other than humans in the universe”?

Enrico Fermi famously suggested, given that no other rational physical beings had ever been discovered even though they had been most earnestly sought, that the answer was therefore near 0: these other beings probably don’t exist. But some said this was paradoxical. They thought such beings surely existed, even though they were thus far unseen.

In other words, some say the probability of the proposition is near 1, given such things like the size of the universe, its age, the projected number of other planets, the possibility of evolution, and so forth.

Yet there is no escaping that there has been no direct evidence of these other beings. According to its eponymous website, the definition of his “paradox” is “the apparent contradiction between the high probability extraterrestrial civilizations’ existence and the lack of contact with such civilizations.”

The glorious hope in that apparent is a joy to behold—for there is no paradox if there are no other rational beings. And that there are no other rational beings accords well with all the observational evidence we have. In other words, given what we have not seen, the way to bet is on us being alone.

Still, the idea of other rational life is too intriguing to let go. The evidence that there might be such life is taken as proof that there must be, and, given the age of the universe etc., there must be a reason we have not yet seen these beings. They’re there, but hiding or are hidden.

Now there’s an interesting result in math which shows that they more efficient a method of communication the more it looks like unpredictable gibberish to outsiders. Advanced rational beings might be using ways of talking to one another that we don’t recognize. Some especially anxious yeti—sorry, I meant SETI—hunters thus take the absence of signals to prove these signals exist. These people have seen one too many Wesley Crusher episodes.

Some say the rational beings exist all right, but they have blown themselves up, a self-refuting anthropomorphic projection. Those aliens which exist are just like us, see, therefore they have killed themselves off with their advanced weaponry. But if they have killed themselves off, they don’t exist, n’est-ce pas?

Another favorite reason to explain that these beings exist is that they don’t, because evolving life to the point of rationality is hard; and besides, there aren’t a lot of planets like Earth where evolution like that is easy.

And now comes along another explanation, this one by Geoffrey Miller, a professor of psychology. His job title is pertinent, as you will see. Miller says the reason we don’t see advanced aliens is that they have gone insane. The form of insanity is a terminal addiction to video games.

They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they’re too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don’t need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today. Once they turn inwards to chase their shiny pennies of pleasure, they lose the cosmic plot. They become like a self-stimulating rat, pressing a bar to deliver electricity to its brain’s ventral tegmental area, which stimulates its nucleus accumbens to release dopamine, which feels…ever so good. [ellipsis original]

The last thing the world needed was yet another allusion to that goofy Matrix movie, but since Miller has made it, we have to deal with it. Actually, I really only have two questions for Miller: who is writing the code for these games and who is developing the hardware? It can’t be the aliens who imagine themselves heroes in some blue-pill-red-pill-I-save-the-universe fantasy. There’s too busy pretending they’re beating up simulations in slow motion.

At least some alien entities have to remain on the sunny side of sanity or no toys would ever be built, and these creatures could have, in their spare time and using the wealth they have accumulated from selling their addictive games, taken the time to say hello to us.

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Thanks to @Mangan150 where I first learned of Miller’s entry.

32 Comments

  1. An RF friend of mine postulated that any adncaed civilization would have to be relatively close in order for SETI to discover accidental signals from them, <100 light years, based on power loss and signal to noise ratios. Given our own experience with radio broadcasting, I suspect that they would only be leaking high powered signals for something on the order of 100 years. The odds of finding them seem to be vanishingly low, if they exist.

  2. Gamma ray bursts can wipe out civilisations.

  3. Briggs

    April 25, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Hans,

    Only those not wearing their tinfoil hats.

    Update: Since this is the Internet, I feel compelled, in a move of self-preservation, to announce that that line was purposely jocose.

  4. Wesley Crusher can save them. He did that on a Star Trek, The Next Generation, bravely fighting through teenage hormones and destroying what looked suspiciously like Google glasses…..Oh, this getting scary!

  5. RE: “…rational physical beings other than humans…”

    SHOULD Read: “…rational physical beings other than SOME humans…” [emphasis in CAPITALS included to help find the edit].

    REASON: Not all humans are “rational.”

    That accommodates the analogous situation that some alien society somewhere ‘out there’ comprised of “beings” includes some “beings” that are also “rational,” but does not presuppose that all of them would be “rational” (just like here on Earth).

    This, by the way, is a nice illustration of how ‘implicit assumptions’ [all humans are rational, and by extension, detected alien beings would all be rational, in this case] can creep into an analysis & go undetected, lurking in the open…just waiting for the opportunity to become significant.

  6. Briggs

    April 25, 2014 at 11:21 am

    YOS, ahead of us all as usual!

  7. Despite the likelihood of billions of planets, I suspect that there are very few with stable galactic, solar, and planetary environments of sufficient age (est. 4-5 billion years) to produce advanced civilizations by natural processes (even if directed by Intelligent Design). Given the speed of light limitation, it seems improbable that a lucky set of circumstances would generate two civilizations close enough to each other to overcome the distance barrier.

    What I find fascinating, though, is this obsession with finding “somebody else” out there. What is it about not wanting to “be alone” when you’ve got 7 billion others like you within a day’s travel?

  8. It’s mightily impressive that so-called God made this stupendous universe. If there are no other ET rational beings throughout the universe, what could be the reasons for God not planting rational-being seeds somewhere else?

    Maybe God’s family and friends live somewhere in the universe.

    There are times I think that an invisible-to-the-human-eye alien is occupying Mr. Briggs’ brain and forces him to say some darndest things. I can’t prove it, but, you know what they say, believing is seeing.

  9. We haven’t been able to observe them because they are very far away and we are uninteresting.

    SETI is a pointless exercise not only for the reasons Clayton gives, but also because if there is any intelligent life out there advanced enough for interstellar travel, the odds that such beings still use radio waves for communication approaches 0.

    “Enrico Fermi famously suggested, given that no other rational physical beings had ever been discovered even though they had been most earnestly sought, that the answer was therefore near 0: these other beings probably don’t exist.”

    At best we can say that we have searched our own solar system enough to rule out the existence of non-human rational physical beings. Beyond the solar system we cannot say that we have even searched the 10 nearest start systems sufficiently to definitively rule out the existence of such beings in those systems.

  10. JH: Do hullucinations count?

  11. There are several good reason why if there are other rational being out in the we have not heard from them. First SETI will never work because radio transmission as a form of communication is a short lived means of communication, I figure in less than a hundred years we will have cease using it except in very low power (ie cell phones.) Next the laws of physics dedicate nothing can travel beyond the speed of light, making travel between world capable of supporting life a very difficult problem. Lastly if a civilisation figures out how to go faster than the speed of light why would they bother to communicate with us after all we would be just another bunch of primitives and if you can travel faster than the speed of light earth would have nothing to offer them they do not already have plenty of.

  12. Nice link YOS. But this one stings:

    “They get to their moon, then quit.”

  13. MattS: I agree that we are very far away and probably quite uninteresting to any possibly existing alien life. Also, has anyone considered the possibly existing alien life checked the “caller id” and decided not to answer?

  14. Mark L,
    Perhaps they would want to visit us out of curiosity. Plus without visiting us, how would they know that earth would have nothing to offer?

    Sheri,
    Are you asking me whether hallucinations count as the result of an alien occupation? People who hallucinate might think so. I have no idea. All I know is that it’s a gloomy and rainy Friday, and seems a perfect day to exercise my imagination muscle indoor.

  15. I don’t believe in aliens but I like to think and I think perhaps that if there were such creatures they might communicate through mysterious fluctuations such as the fluctuations of the economy observed by Friedrich August von Hayek…a swirl of rapid change like the seemingly erratic movements made by schools of sardines or the murmurations of starlings.

  16. JH: I was referring to your statement “believing is seeing”. Hallucinations are “seeing”.
    Didn’t mean to get too vague or nitpick and possibly harm your exercising your imagination. 🙂

  17. Briggs

    April 25, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    All,

    This came across my Inbox today and it seemed vaguely apropos: Who Will Be The Victors After The Hugo Controversy?

    If you’re not watching the Hugos this year – and why would you? They’re normally a popularity contest among people who think they can understand how alien species would think when they can’t even understand how people from their own culture think — you might just consider paying attention.

  18. Science-fiction, of which I am a devotee, is the guide in this. Explanations other than above:
    1) We are morally unfit and will be quarantined;
    2) Other species on earth (e.g. cetaceans –sp?) are more interesting to the advanced alien culture;
    3) They are already amongst us.
    With a little bit of research –thumbing through my collection of sf–I can possibly supply names of sf to back up the above.

  19. La Longue Carabine

    April 25, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    The last thing humans will invent is the holo-deck.

  20. Nice picture. Never seen a sombrero fly on such an even keel. Photographer not so much.

  21. Briggs:

    “The evidence that there might be such life is taken as proof that there must be, and, given the age of the universe etc., there must be a reason we have not yet seen these beings.”

    Yet there isn’t any evidence, only (widely) varied, guesstimated, non-zero probabilities. I suspect it’s true that a significant portion of SETI supporters looking for sentient aliens despite the lack of evidence also rule out the existence of god(s) *because* of the lack of evidence. Methinks there’s some hay to be made here.

    “They’re there, but hiding or are hidden.”

    Which statement is not unlike many other declarations of faith.

    “Still, the idea of other rational life is too intriguing to let go.”

    That’s been my exact experience with the idea of god(s) as well.

    Kurland: It’s not the whales, but the mice.

  22. Briggs

    April 25, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Brandon Gates,

    When you say “That’s been my exact experience with the idea of god(s) as well” I can’t but agree with you.

    Time for some better experiences.

  23. Thanks WMB. At this point I would settle for *any* experience … or at least one that I could unequivocably recognize as one. My skepticism of all things tends toward the suspicious. Or rather more truthfully, I have decided to be so.

  24. They’re here, disguised as garden gnomes, keeping a watchful eye on us.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_gnome

  25. Darn. I’ve been positioning garden gnomes to scare them off.

  26. The last time I cruised our galaxy, I was stricken with the idea that there was no such thing as aliens. Not even humanity can be considered alien with the huge number of rational beings in this universe. They are all friendly, and really like games. The problem is they all play to win. Losers are squashed like bugs, which are just little aliens.

  27. Dear Dr. Briggs:

    1) if they’re rational, why would they want to talk to us?

    2) interstellar communication requires FTL communication. We have yet to figure out how to do that – and can’t evesdrop on those who have ? It’s as self consistent and non paradoxical an explanation as there is.

    3) We’re probably not looking in the right place. Remember the prof who looked for time travelers in market data? Ridiculous – the place to look is among magical healers since they exist, but magic doesn’t. Similarly, if we want to look for non mexican, non terrorist, aliens among us we should not look on the streets of N.Y. We should lool at stuff like yeti sightings – because they seem to happen, but there are no yetis, and a “tourist in yeti suits” hypothesis is non refutable…

    4) see? easy-peasy, no reinvention of a 1970s hypothsis about getting buried in electronic forms needed – c.f. Captain Cyborg and the Problem of evil -http://www.winface.com/collections/ccpe.html

  28. Another consideration is that inter-stellar travel is really hard. Unless science fiction technologies like warp drives or worm-holes become feasible, mankind will almost certainly never achieve inter-stellar travel. We are having enough difficulty just getting to Mars. If the same is true for intelligent alien species, then maybe we can never do better than signal each other, and that is fairly short range (< 100 ly) because of attenuation.

  29. From Bill Clinton: “We know that there are billions of stars and planets literally out there — and the universe is getting bigger.” Logic is clearly not his strong suit.

  30. Fletcher Christian

    April 28, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    Possibly a variant of something already said; the Singularity explains Fermi’s paradox.

    To expand on this; Arguably (and I’m not here today to argue about the likelihood that the Rapture of the Nerds will ever happen) shortly after a civilisation’s industrial revolution, it disappears into its own navel – or alternatively, becomes in short order (300 years or so) something that neither its own ancestors nor any other civilisation that hasn’t transcended yet could possibly understand, or fight if it came to that. There are many examples of transcended or Sublimed civilisations in SF. Maybe just about all civilisations either destroy themselves by methods spectacular or otherwise, or disappear into another universe shortly after they invent technology.

    Further to this, maybe the aliens don’t travel because the lightspeed limit can’t be broken and travelling would unacceptably reduce bandwidth and increase latency.

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