Warning: This is going to be a weird post about Aliens, Technology, Loops, Wars and #BlackLivesMatter. I can’t promise it will make sense.
Most people have, at least once in their lives, heard of the Fermi Paradox.
On the other hand, it is VERY long for a blog post (4400+ words), so I’ll give an extremely shortened and incomplete explanation too.
Considering what we know about life, evolution, and the size and composition of the universe, the existence of civilizations like ours should have happened a lot of times. Odds are at least some of those would have appeared thousands or millions of years earlier than us, so they should be incredibly more technologically advanced, if they weren’t lazy. Then, why didn’t any of them contact us, or even leave some kind of trace of their existence that we could see? The possible answers include several different speculations, like super advanced predator civilizations, life just not kick-starting, and the Great Filter. This last one is the most important.
The great filter is the idea that at some point, between the first life form and a higher lifeform casually visiting the universe, everyone dies. This could come in many forms, but essentially, nobody actually makes it to higher life form status. Either we’re special enough to be the only ones that actually made it through the Great Filter, or it’s ahead of us and we’re most likely doomed.
I honestly think the filter being ahead of us is incredibly more likely. On the other hand, I believe that there is another option, one that Tim didn’t talk about in his post, that is even more likely.
First of all, we have to think about what could the Great Filter be? It has to be vague enough so that any advanced civilization will encounter it (or create it themselves), while still being precise enough to kill everyone every single time without fail.
The most obvious one to me was a super intelligent AI that kills everybody quickly after becoming self-aware. But, this idea, while definitely Great Filter-worthy, is not valid to answer the Fermi Paradox. There is no reason, if a biological civilization could conquer the universe, why an AI that killed every member couldn’t do it. If it’s even possible, and AI is the Great Filter, we would encounter AIs in space at least as often as we would expect to encounter Aliens.
Another easy one that comes to mind is War. During the cold War, global nuclear anihilation was a real threat, and even if we don’t talk about it as much nowadays, it is still possible. While it is definitely physically possible to blow up everybody, I have trouble figuring out how that could actually happen. During any war, the countries fighting it will attack each other, but there will always be countries that have no threatening weapons and no allegiance, that would really give no reason to be attacked. I don’t see why the USA or Russia would shoot nuclear missiles on the entire surface of Madagascar while fighting each other, it makes no sense to me.
Almost every week now, we see trouble in the modern world. Black Lives matter vs Police, Social Justice Warriors vs Milo, Left-wing vs Right-wing, Mexicans Illegals vs Trump, etc. America, the country that was once seen as some kind of modern dream of wealth and comfort, is now full of people fighting and protesting in the streets, in schools, on highways, very often using violence and vandalism. I’ve been thinking about how it could be solved.
Right now, I’m not going to argue about which side of those issues is right or wrong. What’s clear is that one side wants to keep things how they are, and the other side wants change. When two groups have such blatant conflicting interests, you can never please both. Every single action, rally, policy, is somewhere between the two extremes, and it will displease one group at least as much as it pleases the other. If we give protesters everything they want today, tomorrow their opponents will be protesting, probably using the same tactics. I really can’t see how it could be solved at all.
But, there has been a time where life in general was more peaceful. I’m obviously not talking about world peace or paradise, but at least there wasn’t violence in the streets between two large groups (that are both convinced to be the good guy) every other day. If we no longer can get this kind of society, why? What exactly has changed?
It’s technology. More precisely, communication. Think of the first wars in the world. The motive was always either resources, or the existence of a group that was different, and we didn’t like it. Nowadays, all those differences are living together. Race, Religion, Sexuality, Gender, Age, everyone is not only living in the same country, but everyone can extremely easily communicate with everyone else no matter the distance. 100 years ago, you needed weeks to send a message to someone from the east coast to the west coast. 500 years ago, you needed months to communicate overseas. 1000 years ago, it took weeks between cities, and it wasn’t even close to reliable or private. Nowadays, you need, at most, seconds to reach anyone in the world.
Back in the days, even if old Mr. John hated all gays and muslims from his farm in the middle of nowhere, nobody cared. He wasn’t in any position to attack those people, or even show them he disliked them. He ranted about them at the dinner table with his 14 kids, and it never went further.
With the internet today, you can quickly and easily see all those evil white people and damned gays talk like they deserve the same things as you in life. You can quickly see so many damn republicans that hate muslims, and easily talk to all the idiot democrats that hate God.
Most importantly, you can quickly find fellow black people that would join your activism, fellow feminists that would criticize the patriarchy with you, you can reach fellow christians that would criticize homosexuality with you, fellow republicans that would buy a dozen guns to prepare for the muslim attack with you. You can find people like you, create your own echo chamber, and prepare for defending against the evil attackers in the opposing group. Obviously, you just defend, and never “start it”, because you’re the good guys, and your opponents are the evil ones.
I’d say about 5% of people in any given group would change their minds given the right proof. The rest (including me on several topics obviously) all fall victim to the Backfire Effect. People won’t come to an agreement. The easier it is for people to find opponents and allies and talk to them, the more they will be convinced they’re right, and the more they will fight. It will always be “Us versus them”. The current presidential election, with two extreme candidates that most people hate, shows the problem very clearly.
I think those fights will get worse with time. Maybe not within a couple years, but it won’t get better. As long as technology makes progress, things will worsen. Think surveillance state and mind control for example. No matter who gets their hands on it first, their opponents will fight. This will go on until a certain point. When the fights get so bad that they directly hinder technological progress enough to completely stop it, stopping the intolerance acceleration at the same time. At that point, it may stabilize, and we won’t ever make progress again, or it may reverse (think nuclear war) and bomb us not into extinction, but into great regression. Maybe 1000 years, maybe 100, maybe 25, nobody knows. But enough so that this specific kind of fight then dies out until technology, once again progresses enough to start over.
This, despite not dooming us or even getting close to extinction, completely satisfies all the Fermi Paradox conditions for never becoming a higher lifeform that conquers the universe. It might not be a literal Great Filter, but its effect is the same. Humans would essentially get stuck in a neverending cycle. At least as long as Entropy allows it anyway.
Yes, I realise that this is a very dark and pessimistic way to look at our future, so as always, I’m looking forward to disagreements. I’m just doing as a certain cartoonist would recommend, and looking for patterns. Humans never let the chance of greater good get in the way of their petty disagreements. Obviously, there’s a first time for everything, but there’s a lot more data pointing the other way. Or maybe I’m just a victim of selective memory and confirmation bias. Or maybe the people who made the simulation hadn’t found their aliens yet, so there aren’t any in our universe. I could also just be pessimistic. Who knows?