It is a strange moment in adolescence
when you first start to truly comprehend
the concept of where you are—
your position on a solitary planet in a vast,
seemingly unending space of some strange,
incomprehensibly immense thing we call universe.
Around this same time,
we realize not only the absurdity of this bizarre condition,
but also, despite our surroundings being so apparently massive, potentially infinite,
而且 即便我们四周是如此巨大 很可能无穷大
rife with other stuff, other galaxies, other planets, other stars, and so on.
并充斥了其它的物种 星系 星球 行星等等
Somehow, we also appear to be, potentially, alone.
One can’t help but question how could this be the case?
How could we be the only ones?
With the observable universe being about 90 billion light years in diameter,
roughly about 13.8 billion years old,
with likely around 10 to 12 billion years of stable conditions,
containing trillions of planets
within habitable zones potentially suitable for life,
where it would really only have taken one early form of life
to develop and evolve enough over just millions of years
to have colonized an entire galaxy or more by now,
it is puzzling, at the very least,
to consider that despite all of this,
the universe is not teeming with other intelligent life,
let alone no apparent confirmed signs at all.
The curious nature of this is what is known as the fermi paradox.
The fermi paradox essentially proposes
that it is not merely ominous and mysterious in general
that we appear to be alone,
but it is also logically and mathematically disjointed
from what many physicists and other experts
argue should be the case.
Ever since and prior to the fermi paradox being conceived,
a number of theories have and continue to form
that attempt to resolve it.
After all, perhaps the premise of the paradox is wrong,
or perhaps it’s standing on false information,
or perhaps the answer is an answer that doesn’t seem like an answer
when considered through our anthropocentric intuitions,
and rather, must be considered from a more detached mode of thinking.
The following are seven hypotheses that attempt to do this.
Some are original, or at least attempt to be,
some are preexisting, and some are combinations.
It should also be noted that there is,
of course, the separate possibility
that we have knowingly seen other forms of life.
There’ve been many UFO sightings and claims of alien encounters over the years,
and more recently, there have been even more intriguing sightings
confirmed by the Pentagon and other military and government officials.
However, in so far as anyone knows anyone knows for sure, all sightings are,
as best as we can tell, unclear.
And so, let’s grant that we have not seen any other lifeforms,
and even if we have, the question still remains,
why are they still so infrequent and unobvious?
Why is the universe not densely packed with life,
some galactic or intergalactic colonies and civilizations?
Why haven’t there been more conclusive visitations or attempts to communicate?
Why is the night sky not lit with a cosmic city
instead of lifeless stars?
Hypothesis one, the fishbowl hypothesis.
An obvious question that arises when considering the possibility
of a first contact with an extraterrestrial lifeform is,
what could we do if we did?
Could we communicate with them in any meaningful way?
Why should we assume so?
Right now, there are countless species on Earth
that we cannot communicate with in any meaningful way at all,
no matter how hard we try.
And so, even in the best of cases,
in which another extraterrestrial lifeform was intelligent enough
to communicate in a traditional sense,
the disparity between our forms of cognition, evolutionary backgrounds, and so forth
could still be significant enough to make it
so that there is not enough common ground to stand on to understand each other.
However, more relevant to the fermi paradox here
is taking this several steps further.
If it is possible, if not likely,
that we would not be able to communicate with other beings,
is it not also possible that,
with sufficiently different biological backgrounds, physical makeups, states of nature,
与生物背景 物理结构 自然状态
conditions and dimensions in time and space, and whatever else,
the disparity may be so great,
we might not even be able to perceive them.
Or perhaps we can perceive them,
but not with any meaningful distinction or the mental framework
to process that in fact we are.
Many of the species we cannot communicate with on Earth right now,
experience this with us.
A goldfish in a bowl in a child’s bedroom
does not and cannot know
that it is in a human being’s bedroom in a town or city
made and filled with other humans.
It does not know that it is fed and interacted with
by a higher form of conscious intelligent life.
It does not meaningfully comprehend that there is a human in the room with it,
nor what the human is saying if they talk to it,
or why they are doing anything when they do something.
The fish is confined by the upper limits of its cognition.
Is it not possible that this could be the case for us,
where we are like lower animals to some other species
that we cannot see or comprehend the nature of,
perhaps even in the room with us right now?
Two, the containment hypotheses.
Following a similar line of thinking,
it’s also possible that we are not even in the universe
in the way we think we are at all.
It might be the case,
not that we are incapable of perceiving some other nearby alien lifeforms,
but that we are intentionally isolated by them
in some sort of structure— physical, digital, or otherwise—
disconnected and removed from reality outside of it.
One version of this is argued for by a hypothesis known as the planetarium hypothesis,
proposed by science fiction auther, Stephen Baxter, in 2001,
which speculates that when we look out into space,
we are actually observing an artificial or virtual rendering
created by a more advanced civilization,
engineered in such a way to give off the illusion that we are alone.
This parallels with the ever-increasing popular theories
surrounding the simulation hypothesis,
which argues that all of existence as we know it
is a computer simulation engineered by some advanced species.
The forms and reasons for some sort of contained state are endless—
something as simple as entertainment or research for other beings,
or something more sinister like being imprisoned or quarantined.
Or, of course, something else so complex
we cannot even begin to imagine.
Three, the island hypothesis.
Still continuing down a similar train of thought,
it could be the case that we are not contained
in any removed artificial structure or thing,
nor are we incapable of perceiving some other nearby alien lifeforms around us,
but rather, we are left alone in space on purpose.
If there was an island in the middle of the ocean that,
if any humans came anywhere near it,
they would be inevitably and horribly be infected by whatever species lived on it,
we would all avoid it.
Likewise, if there was a species that lived on the island
that was capable of outmatching and killing large quantities of humans
or requiring humans to kill all of them in defense,
we would also avoid it.
Perhaps it is the case that to other more advanced lifeforms,
we are that species, and that island is earth.
Another existing iteration of this
is the hypotheses known as the zoo hypothesis,
which suggests that we could be contained
in some sort of cosmic wilderness preserve or zoo,
protected by some galactic government ordinance,
intentionally left alone in order to preserve our natural development.
Or perhaps similar to the containment hypotheses,
we are left alone for entertainment or research purposes,
in which we are observed from a distance.
This particular hypothesis category, along with some versions of the containment hypotheses,
could also explain some amount of UFO sightings
in which there are sort of checkins or accidental and illegal fly throughs.
Four, the remote isolation hypotheses.
Perhaps a consequence of the universe’s size
in relation to the potentially low odds of life forming,
the odds are also such, that any life that does form is bound to be extremely spread out.
Thus, civilizations may just never
and likely will never come in contact
no matter how smart or relatively extended
passed their home planets they become.
Or perhaps there are some other civilizations
who have already crossed paths and co-exist
in some sort of galactic colony or organization,
but we just happened, by chance,
to be one that was birthed too far out in the remote woods of the cosmos.
There might be no reason for others to go into these cosmic woods,
except for perhaps very rare circumstances,
like occasional hikers in remote sections of the woods
who quickly move on when they notice a nest of another species,
leaving us with no way out.
Extending off that is number five,
the predator hypotheses.
Taking a slightly darker turn on the wood’s analogy,
one version of a predator hypotheses
is known as the dark forest hypothesis,
initially thought of by science fiction writer, Cixin Liu,
which suggests that perhaps the reason other species don’t go out
exploring into the remote areas of the cosmos
is not because of indifference, but because they are aware of
how dangerous it is,
how risky it is to let your existence be known,
haphazardly send out signals, and run about the cosmos.
Perhaps there is unyielding danger
lurking just around the corners that we are not yet aware of.
perhaps there is some particular entity or entity group
that was first to successfully evolve in the universe,
or is just the most dangerous one that has,
and it now controls and monitors the universe.
If this were the case, it would likely be in this species’ interests
and nature to want to maintain its control,
and seeing as how it would have likely needed
to develop very aggressive and powerful abilities
to make it into to such a spot,
it would likely possess unmatched aggression and power.
Thus, this species might find it
both essential and easy to destroy any life
that it determines has developed enough to be a potential threat,
which we have just not reached yet.
This would then eliminate all new incoming intelligent life,
rendering the cosmos apparently desolate
while this predator generally maintains stealthy concealment.
Alternatively, perhaps it’s the exact opposite in number six,
what we’ll call the evolutionary revolution hypotheses.
It is also possible that the more intelligent a species gets,
the more passive and less interested in colonization,
were outward physical activities becomes.
If a species is evolved enough technologically or otherwise,
it is reasonable to assume a higher likeliness
that such a species has a developed a high degree of efficiency and effectiveness,
and thus, has an abundance of available time and resources.
This could then reduce, if not entirely eliminate, the majority of its competitive tendences,
need or desire for violence
unethical and deceitful behaviors,
interest in broader physical ownership, and perhaps desire as a whole.
This could then lead to a number of outcomes,
one perhaps being something that might appear to us to be a sort of reversal of evolution,
in which the lifeform, as it continues forward in time and space and becomes more intelligent,
it’s efforts and behaviors appear to return to that of complete passivity,
like an amoeba or paramecium or gas-like substance.
There’s no obvious reason to assume that the ultimate path of evolution
is a straight line forward in any particular direction.
It very well could be more of a loop.
If this were true, this would then mean that all life,
once it becomes theoretically smart and capable enough to reach other beings,
it doesn’t because it simply doesn’t care to.
Another potential form of an evolutionary revolution
that fits with our more traditional assumptions of evolution
would be a case in which all intelligent species
realize at a certain point of their advancement
that the outside physical universe is of lesser value and interest
than artificial states of existence that they can create through technology.
This is suggested by the Transcension hypothesis, created by futurist, John Smart,
where the endgame of all intelligent life is inevitable self-isolation
into something like a super-computer mega-structure, like a Dyson Sphere—
a theoretical technology structure that wraps around and is fueled by an entire star.
In the same way a human right now
may choose to stay at home and watch tv, play video games,
or use their computer or phone
as opposed to going out into the physical world,
this could be the case, times some unfathomable multiple,
across entire civilizations of higher intelligent lifeforms.
Thus, also in this case,
any species that was technologically capable of reaching out into the universe
would just never want to.
Last in this category is what we’ll call
the self-extinction hypothesis.
In this case, once intelligent beings reach a certain level of higher awareness,
they inevitably and inescapably realize that sentient existence is fundamentally negative,
and thus, determine it unethical to continue birthing more of themselves.
All species in this case
would then eventually, universally cease reproduction,
or terminate by some other means, until they run themselves out
and never extend much passed their home planets.
Last on the list is number seven,
what is known as the rare-earth hypothesis.
Ultimately, the conclusion of this hypothesis
is that the fermi paradox isn’t really that paradoxical.
The math might simply suggest
that once one accounts for all the variables
in all thing, they need to go exactly right, exactly the right order
for a long enough stretch of time without any major break in the chain,
life forming, especially intelligent, conscious life,
由此得出 生命的形成 尤其是智慧生命
is simply very, very unlikely to exist.
And so, it would then make perfect sense that it doesn’t
and that we appear to be alone, because we are.
We could simply be the first-born child of the universe.
Or perhaps we could be one of the only surviving children.
After all, more than 99% of all species that have ever lived on Earth have died out.
We are currently of that 1%.
One could apply those same odds to life in the cosmos, where almost all life dies
out and only 1% survives, at least this far. And we might currently be the 1% of that 1%,
destined to hit a layer of 0%. Life might just be extremely rare to start,
and it might just get increasingly rare the longer it sticks around.
Of course, any of these and other unmentioned hypotheses
could be combined with each other in various ways,
and also, of course, it could be none and something else entirely.
If you’ve ever explored this subject, you’ve almost certainly heard the Arthur C. Clarke quote,
“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”
It’s almost a cliché at this point, but this quote really deserves its frequent usage.
It so powerfully and succinctly summarizes the crux of this issue, our condition in the cosmos.
There may be a way out of the fermi paradox, there may be an explanation one way or the other,
but there is no way out of the terror and wonder that all solutions leave us with.
No matter what the case, whether we are alone or not,
to ponder such terrifying yet awe-inspiring possibilities,
to knowingly carry the Faberge egg of existence through the chaotic, mysterious turbulence of the
cosmos is perhaps, in so far as we can tell, for now, a once in a universe opportunity.
It is a strange moment in adolescence