Universe Today: Are Intelligent Civilizations Doomed?

Gaia_galaxyMy friend over at Universe Today, Fraser Cain, has been busy of late! In his latest podcast, he asks an all-important question that addresses the worrisome questions arising out of the Fermi Paradox. For those unfamiliar with this, the paradox states that given the age of the universe, the sheer number of stars and planets, and the statistical likelihood of some of the supporting life, how has humanity failed to find any indications of intelligent life elsewhere?

It’s a good question, and raised some frightening possibilities. First off, humanity may be alone in the universe, which is frightening enough prospect given its sheer size. Nothing worse than being on a massive playground and knowing you only have but yourself to play with. A second possibility is that extra-terrestrial life does exist, but has taken great pains to avoid being contacting us. An insulting, if understandable, proposition.

alien-worldThird, it could be that humanity alone has achieved the level of technical development necessary to send out and receive radio transmissions or construct satellites. That too is troubling, since it would means that despite the age of the universe, it took this long for an technologically advanced species to emerge, and that there are no species out there that we can learn from or look up to.

The fourth, and arguably most frightening possibility, is the Great Filter theory – that all intelligent life is doomed to destroy itself, and we haven’t heard from any others because they are all dead. This concept has been explored by numerous science fiction authors – such as Stephen Baxter (Manifold: Space), Alastair Reynolds (the Revelation Space universe) and Charles Stross (Accelerand0) – all of whom employ a different variation and answer.

kardashev_scaleAs explored by these and other authors, the biggest suggestions are that either civilizations will eventually create weapons or some kind of programmed matter which will destroy – such as nuclear weapons, planet busters, killer robots, or nanotech that goes haywire (aka. “grey goo”). A second possibility is that all species eventually undergo a technological/existential singularity where they shed their bodies and live out their lives in a simulated existence.

A third is that intelligent civilizations fell into a “success trap”, outgrowing their resources and their capacity to support their numbers, or simply ruined their planetary environment before they could get out into the universe. As usual, Fraser gives a great rundown on all of this, explaining the Fermi Paradox is, the statistical likelihood of life existing elsewhere, and what likely scenarios could explain why humanity has yet to find any proof of other civilizations.

Are Intelligent Civilizations Doomed:


And be sure to check out the podcast that deals strictly with the Fermi Paradox, from roughly a year ago:

The Fermi Paradox Explained:

11 thoughts on “Universe Today: Are Intelligent Civilizations Doomed?

  1. Wait…humans count as intelligent?

    But in all seriousness though, what if we were the first advanced civilization? If that is so, and we actually manage to get off Earth with ourselves intact, we could very well find other civilizations in the process of development and give them rudimentary technology. We’d be gods to them, such as according to some, aliens were the ancient gods to us.

    Imagine that.

    1. I know, right? It’s astounding and frightening, mainly because we human beings would be the best the universe could create up until now. That sort of thing is both surprising and disappointing. It’s like, “Universe… seriously???”

      1. Personally, I choose to take to the 2001 approach, believing that the alien intelligence is noticing us, but is taking great pains to avoid contact because they know it would cause more harm than good. Considering the age the universe, there must be many like-minded aliens out there, First Ones who have so much experience, but who know that to share it could have terrible consequences.

      2. Or maybe it’s like Buffy, where the Old Ones were demons whom coming into contact with was extremely dangerous. Maybe the Old Ones have been sealed away so as to protect the mortals who reside on the planets they left behind safe from the claws and fangs of the monsters who inspire our nightmares.

      3. Ha! Seriously, to hate that show but love Firefly does seem really at odds. But I’m a fan of both, so I’m a bit biased. I would seriously recommend checking it out. One of the best sci-fi shows I’ve ever known!

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