Fermi’s Paradox: Are We Alone in the Universe?


Are we alone in the universe?  Despite advances in search for extraterrestrial life, the existence of any other intelligent civilization in the universe remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our times. So far, we have not had any evidence of its/their existence.

There are many theories on this. The most straight forward and historically popular answer is that the intelligent life on Earth is really unique, arose out of the Earth’s unique position in the solar system, the favourable geoclimatic and other conditions. This view, however, can only remain speculative. Also, astronomical research has shown that our world is less and less unique. So, after all, we may not be the only civilization in the universe!

Another view is that due to the constraint of time, distance, technology and economy and the vastness of space and the chances of cosmic accidents (gamma ray bursts, black holes,  etc.), it is difficult for even the most technological advanced civilizations traveling at cosmic speed limit to come into contact with each other.  However, such a claim has been disputed. It was pointed out that an advanced civilization with adequate resources should be able to overcome these constraints.

On the other hand, some sociologists believe that the need for exploration and discovery is unique to humans and advanced civilization would simply be not interested in expanding their colonies — for reasons unknown to us. Another sociological explanation would be intelligent societies tend to become unstable and self-destructing after reaching a certain threshold of technological advancement. This is probable and chilling, considering our civilization has enough nuclear power to wipe out the human civilization many times over.

Yet another possibility is that extraterrestrial intelligence exists, and may even live among us, but we are unable to detect them, either because they are unrecognizable to us, or they have chosen to be invisible. In addition, there is the Zoo Hypothesis which postulates that life on earth is an ecological sanctuary of the extraterrestrial intelligence, just like the conservation sanctuary created by us. As such, we are unable to see or understand what is beyond the borders of the sanctuary. Calculation in game theory also suggests that intelligent civilization may choose to lie low to avoid interstellar wars.

On the other hand, according to one philosophical theory, we are living in a computer simulation. There is also an interesting ancient Chinese story -A Chinese scholar once woke up from a dream where he found himself to be a butterfly. Then, he began to wonder he was a human being dreaming about being a butterfly or he was a butterfly dreaming about being a human being. Thus, life, whether sweet or bitter, may be just a dream!

Such are the possible answers to this question which is called the Fermi’s Paradox. Which of the above appears to be the closest to the truth to you? Well, until we know the answer, we can continue to speculate and wonder!

Human being’s curiosity towards nature and its exploration have always been the basic nature of science and have served to propel science forward.


Written by:                
Ms Wee Hui Bieh, AFMSA, November, 2016.

Original Author:       
Gabrielle Chong Yong Wei, philosophy student at Wellesley

Full article available at www.scientificmalaysian.com magazine, Issue No. 3

This post is also available in: zh-hans简体中文 (Chinese (Simplified))