A legitimate question with so many possible answers. They might be here right now. They might be far away, oblivious to our existence. Hey, there’s even a chance they might not exist at all.
In 1961, at the world’s first SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) meeting in West Virginia, astronomer Francis Drake proposed an equation for loosely estimating the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy. While largely based on conjectural data, this equation gave a number of around 10,000 advanced alien civilizations in our galaxy alone.
Carl Sagan upped the ante, suggesting the number was closer to a million.
However, all these figures were based on the flattering assumption that all life must be carbon-based, like us. For all we know, the universe could harbor a myriad of life forms, based on silicon, nitrogen, arsenic or even elements we have yet to discover.
As Stephen Hawking once speculated, stars or even black holes could posses a type of consciousness, making them magnificently exotic life forms. Somewhere in the billions of galaxies, this scenario could have played out. The laws of probability even favor it.
This raises the legitimate question in the title: where are all the aliens? And why haven’t we officially met them?
These exact same questions bothered Italian physicist Enrico Fermi some 65 years ago, leading him to develop a hypothesis that we refer to as the Fermi paradox. It postulates the following:
- Our sun is your typical, run-of-the-mill star and it’s quite young. Our galaxy contains billions of stars that are much older than our own.
- There’s a high chance that some of these stars have Earth-like planets. If we take the Earth into consideration (duh), it becomes obvious that some of these planets might permit the development of intelligent life.
- Some of these life forms might develop interstellar travel at some point. Again, this assumption is based on our own endeavors that might someday lead to visiting other stars.
- Even without contradicting the laws of Newtonian physics by introducing faster than light travel, the entire galaxy could have been colonized in a matter of millions of years. Relative to the age of the universe, this interval is quite short.
Therefore, it stands to reason the Earth should have been colonized by now. Or at least visited. Intrigued by a silent universe, Fermi asked “Where is everybody?”
A civilization evolving shortly (again, relative) after the universe came into existence must have had billions of years to overcome any technological hurdles thrown its way. With the aid of artificial intelligence, such a civilization would go through an event called a “technological singularity”, becoming something we wouldn’t even be able to conceive.
Humanity itself might undergo this scenario, provided we don’t blow ourselves up in the meantime. As a hyper-advanced civilization, we could harness the power of our sun and eventually the power output of our entire galaxy.
Let’s take a leap of faith. Suppose this scenario is more than possible, let’s assume it’s inevitable. Shouldn’t we be able to detect the energy footprint of such an advanced civilization? Wouldn’t it leave behind signals or some kind of hint? If some alien races were able to make it through the singularity, as probability dictates, where are they?
They could be hiding. Maybe they left the physical realm for a virtual one. Given the chance, most of us would do it right now.
Some believe that the answer is right in front of us, astronomically speaking. It’s dark matter.
You, me and everything visible around us is made of ordinary matter. But all the regular matter in the universe adds up to around 5% while the rest of the cosmos is made up of dark matter and dark energy. We know next to nothing about these major constituents that are responsible for the continuous expansion of the universe.
It’s been suggested that dark matter and dark energy might be a form of computronium, a hypothetical substance that converts matter into computational power.
Such a scenario would mean the entire universe is one cosmic computer used by the most advanced of civilizations, serving purposes we wouldn’t even be able to comprehend. This mother of all computers could be running unfathomable simulations and for all we know, we could be living inside one right now. It could even be reshaping our universe or designing new ones altogether.
Maybe that’s why we never see hyper-advanced extraterrestrial civilizations; they’re too busy literally running the universe.
And maybe we’re part of one cosmic alien mind without even knowing it.