It’s about to get science…y
“Where are they?” – Enrico Fermi
The above is a famous quote, in reference to extraterrestrials, by none other than the architect of the nuclear age. Not only was the Nobel Prize winner extremely intelligent, but he apparently had some pretty interesting thoughts concerning extraterrestrials. Fermi’s paradox is an inquiry into the huge discrepancy between the probability of extraterrestrial existence and its lack of visitation to our planet. In other words, the universe is huge, it probably has other intelligent life, why don’t they join us for the holidays?
There have been many answers to this question. These include, but are not limited to, the rarity of intelligent beings, the short lifetimes of such civilizations, and the difficulty with breaking the light-speed barrier. What was not suggested, because it was not known at the time, was Taco Bell. I’m not making the point that Taco Bell is universally delicious. What I am saying is that, upon visiting a Taco Bell drive thru at 2am on a Saturday, most people would realize that intelligent life still doesn’t exist here. In other words, a species smart enough to break the light-speed barrier is probably smart enough to avoid a planet that, at times, has been obsessed with Beanie Babies.
Recently, however, this question has been renewed on a public scale. None other than The Pentagon has been deposed in a congressional hearing concerning UAP’s (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena). This is the first time such a hearing has taken place in over fifty years.
The Pentagon’s official position was, ‘We don’t know what these things are, but we know they’re not human technology.’ They also made note that many of the reports were anecdotal and did not have strong physical evidence, meaning any, backing them.
At this point, it is worth noting that the French had a similar report many years ago entitled: COMETA (“Committee for in-depth studies”). This was a committee of high ranking military officials and scientists tasked with investigating the issue. They concluded that, ‘UFO’s are real, complex flying objects, and that the extraterrestrial hypothesis has a high probability of being the correct explanation.’ So what is the extraterrestrial hypothesis? It’s as simple as it sounds – UFO’s/UAP’s are operated by some form of intelligent life that ain’t us.
All of that said, a healthy amount of skepticism should be applied to these reports. Feel free to do your own investigations. However, let’s ask a more practical question. If we accept the extraterrestrial hypothesis as true, should we be afraid?
The first reaction to any unknown is fear. This makes sense given that fear is the best emotion we have for short term survival. Still, is it the right one in this instance? Well, to answer that is going to take some science, philosophy, and a smidge of common sense. Spoiler alert, after careful consideration, my answer is no.
Four basic questions arise:
1. Are aliens possible?
2. If they could get here, would they mean to do us harm?
3. What are UFO’s/UAP’s?
4. What could they possibly want with us?
So, let’s tackle these one by one.
Question Number One – Are aliens possible?
The short answer to this question is yes. The long answer requires a bit of further explanation. Please feel free to scroll past what I am about write if you are happy with the short answer.
To understand whether or not aliens are possible one must go back to some (not so) simple explanations regarding the nature of our universe. The first of these concerns the basis of all science, physics.
For reference, and because it was mentioned above, a paradox is a question proposed to solve a discrepancy. For instance, the atom was the solution to one of Zeno’s paradoxes. One question Zeno proposed was that if a distance was infinitely divisible by halves, how does one ever reach its end? The answer is that there must be something that is no longer divisible. “Atomos” means “indivisible” in Greek. And now, let’s move on to Physics.
In 1915, physicist David Hilbert proposed a paradox to none other than Albert Einstein. What Hilbert suggested was that the Theory of General Relativity seemed to conflict with The First Law of Thermodynamics (the conservation of energy). This paradox was solved by one of the greatest mathematicians that has ever lived, Emmy Noether.
Noether’s solution, aptly titled ‘Noether’s Theorem,’ concluded that energy was conserved in ANY system if that system was symmetrical. In short, Noether’s genius explained that the laws which dictate our reality are immutable over time and space. I will explain why this is important in reference to aliens, I promise.
What Noether did was tell physicists that the forces which govern reality (e.g., Gravity) are the same EVERYWHERE. This is because the universe is nothing, but space separated by time. Now, there is debate about this to be sure. For the most part, however, physicists seem to agree that the physical laws we observe here on earth are not just local to our planet.
To use an analogy that physicists love, think of the universe like a basketball game. Things can change (the height of the hoop, the width of the court, etc.), but the game is still played by the same rules. In other words, we don’t play basketball on earth while someone else plays golf over in Andromeda (the closest galaxy to The Milky Way).
Why is this such an important concept and what does it have to do with aliens? Simple, physics is the root of all science. It’s nothing, but particles in motion. The laws which govern existence here on earth gave rise to intelligent life (Taco Bell drive thru excluded). If those laws are the same everywhere, they can give rise to intelligent life elsewhere. So yes, in my estimation, the existence of aliens is not only possible, but probable.
Question Number Two – If they could get here, would they mean to do us harm?
The short answer to this question is no. The long answer requires a bit of further explanation. Please feel free to scroll past what I am about write if you are happy with the short answer.
You now understand that the rise of intelligent beings is possible on a universal scale. However, if physical laws are universal, and they can give rise to intelligent life, does that also mean evolution is universal? This is a profound question. I will say that my answer is biased and leans toward yes. So, let’s go with that.
Evolution by natural selection was quite possibly one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science. Its main implication is that the universe directs life (trippy, I know). Think of it this way…
Let’s say there are 100 bacteria swimming in a pond at 70 degrees Fahrenheit (I’m American, I refuse to use the metric system). Now, a tree grows in close vicinity to the pond and its branches and leaves overshadow the waters. The temperature in the pond drops by 10 degrees Fahrenheit because the pond is also American. Unfortunately, the bacteria that were living in the pond do not like this change in temperature. So, all but five of them die. Why didn’t the other five die? Well, they were just randomly trying out things (making enzymes and such) and one of these adaptations allowed them to live at the lower temperature. In this scenario, nature (the tree) selected what traits it values in the bacteria.
Well, eventually, through trial and error, that process gave rise to intelligence. And, the more intelligent we become, the LESS violent we become. I know, that’s a hard pill to swallow in today’s world, but it is true. If you would like a well researched opinion on this, I highly recommend Steven Plinker’s work entitled: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined (found here: https://www.amazon.com/Better-Angels-Our-Nature-Violence/dp/0143122010).
The reasons for this are numerous and range from free trade in world economics to technological advance in societies. However, from an evolutionary perspective, it’s easy to see. Most wars, regardless of what propagandists tell you, are over resources. Resources mean survival of the species. When technological advance decreases the amount of resources needed to live, as it has been doing for years, violence declines.
So, with regard to aliens, I think there is no reason to worry. Why though?
Well, if there was a species capable of breaking the light-speed barrier and coming to visit, we have absolutely nothing that they would want. If they do want something, they would have already taken it. And, there is nothing we could do about it. I say this because of the wide gap in technological progress between our species. If you don’t believe me and have dreams of being Will Smith, punching an alien, and saying, ‘Welcome to Earth,’ imagine this scenario.
Give me a fleet of F-16’s, 50 modern tanks, and a few Apache Helicopters. Let’s say they are all remote controlled. With that force, I will decimate the combined armies of Alexander the Great and Genghis Kahn 1 million out of 1 million times. Why? Because they’ll be shooting at me with bow and arrows and riding toward me on horses. Meanwhile, I’ll be riding over them on tanks and blowing them up with “magic fire” that rains down from the skies. Using a 1000 to 2000 year technology difference, I would rule the whole world! So a species that is say, a million years ahead of us, would crush us almost instantaneously.
Question Number Three – What are UFO’s and UAP’s?
In order to understand this question, we must look past the Incommensurability Problem, and focus on a branch of philosophy entitled: Semiotics. This field of study has been brought to my attention not by only SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Doug Vakoch), but also Stephen West in his brilliant podcast, ‘Philosophize This.’
Semiotics is branch of philosophy that deals with information science. At its core, is a general theory regarding signs and what they signify. Semioticians classify signs and what they signify by the way in which they are related to each other. For example, let’s say I hand you an empty Coke bottle. The sign is the Coke bottle itself, but what does it signify? In other words, what is my intent in giving it to you? The relationship is completely arbitrary. If you’re in an area that encourages recycling, I could be trying to give you a free ten cents. That’s 1/1000 of a tank of gas these days. If you’re my two year old daughter, headed to the trash can, I could be signifying that I want you to throw it away. It could mean any number of things. If you would like to learn more about what a Coke bottle could signify, I recommend the 1980s film, The Gods Must be Crazy.
So what are UFO’s/UAP’s? Maybe they’re the answer to Fermi’s paradox. In other words, the aliens are already here. The problem is a cognitive mismatch between our species. The UFO’s/UAP’s are the sign, but the relationship to what they signify is still a mystery to us.
Or, maybe I’m completely wrong. Maybe it’s strange weather phenomena, advanced military aircraft, or misidentified comets in the sky. I’m open to any rational explanation.
Question Number Four – What could they possibly want with us?
In a previous blog post concerning the multiverse, I wrote: “I find solace in the fact that a species capable of intergalactic travel would want absolutely nothing to do with us. Or, do they? Maybe my writer friends can imagine a legitimate reason for them stopping by.”
Well, I believe I have imagined an answer for this question. However, I’m not going to share it with you today. Instead, I’m putting it in a fiction book due out next year. It is the first book in my series entitled: Entropy. I believe my answer regarding extraterrestrials’ interest in us is an interesting one, but ultimately, that’s up to you to decide.
Aside from that, I hope you have enjoyed this read. I also hope, in some way shape or form, it has brought respite from a worry that you shouldn’t have to contend with. Currently, the world has enough going on without us having to worry about tentacled telepathic squids coming to eat us.