The Concern Paradox

I was recently reading on the Fermi Paradox. An excellent layman’s overview can be found here. The premise is that within the vast expanse of our galaxy, to say nothing of the universe, the sheer weight of numbers demand there to be life; intelligent life; more intelligent life than our own. And yet, UFO abductees aside, there is no positive indication of it. So where are Chewbacca and Jabba the Hut? Where is the extraterrestrial Star Wars cantina?

That they apparently don’t exist suggests a “Great Filter” which catches a near totality of life forms, and those environments conducive to life formation, before any advance to a capacity for interstellar travel. Of course this hinges upon a Great Premise: the assumption that we are in possession of either the technical or cognitive tools necessary to ascertain whether advanced life is in our vicinity.

But to proceed from that, why no undocumented xenomorphs just looking to make a better life in America by injecting their explosive reproductive pods into our gastro-intestinal tract? The linked article offers the following possibilities (from which I will liberally quote and paraphrase).

The Great Filter theory posits that at some point from pre-life to galaxy-consuming hyper-intelligence, there’s a wall that all or nearly all attempts at life hit. There’s some stage in that long evolutionary process that is extremely unlikely or impossible for life to get beyond. That stage is The Great Filter.

If this theory is true, the big question is, Where in the timeline does the Great Filter occur?

It turns out that when it comes to the fate of humankind, this question is very important. Depending on where The Great Filter occurs, we’re left with three possible realities:

* We’re rare. Life almost never occurs. The GF is behind us by way of simply being here.
* We’re the first civilization to advance this far, or
* We’re fucked. The GF is ahead of us. Lots of others have been where we now are. And like them, we ain’t getting through.

Now some reasons why The Great Premise might be wrong.

1) Super-intelligent life could very well have already visited Earth, but before we were here.

2) The galaxy has been colonized, but we just live in some desolate rural area of the galaxy.

3) The entire concept of physical colonization is a hilariously backward concept to a more advanced species. They’ve created and live within their own virtual Utopias.

4) There are scary predator civilizations out there, and most intelligent life knows better than to broadcast any outgoing signals and advertise their location. This is obviously fear-mongering and advanced xenophobic hate speech.

5) There’s only one instance of higher-intelligent life—a “superpredator” civilization (like humans are here on Earth)—who is far more advanced than everyone else and keeps it that way by exterminating any intelligent civilization once they get past a certain level.

6) There’s plenty of activity and noise out there, but our technology is too primitive and we’re listening for the wrong things.

7) We are receiving contact from other intelligent life, but the government is hiding it.

8) Higher civilizations are aware of us and observing us (AKA the “Zoo Hypothesis”).

9) Higher civilizations are here, all around us. But we’re too primitive to perceive them.

10) We’re completely wrong about our reality. The universe might appear one way and be something else entirely, like a hologram. Or maybe we’re the aliens and we were planted here as an experiment or as a form of fertilizer. There’s even a chance that we’re all part of a computer simulation by some researcher from another world, and aliens weren’t programmed in.

As an aside, the author of the linked article found only #7 to be completely ridiculous. More so than #10 apparently.

These are all fascinating possibilities to while away the cognitive cycles pondering. My own intuition aligns mostly with #6 and #9. If there are advanced beings flouncing across the Galaxy, I rather doubt we are any more capable of detecting or communicating with them than are the occupants of a termite mound to the humans only a 100 yards away. Though I’m equally amenable to the notion that life simply doesn’t happen, and we are the results of a one in quintillion chance. Finding extraterrestrial microbes would obviously eliminate one of those.

And this brings us to the Concern Paradox. Something formidable minds studying the Fermi have possibly never considered. Why is it that a great civilization, such as the Etruscans for instance, display absolutely zero concern for issues such as the Fermi Paradox? This despite being highly intelligent and as advanced for their time as any other?

A logical extrapolation suggests that Etruscan intellectuals should now be posing the exact, or even more enlightened, queries as those you read above. Yet from them we hear nothing but silence. Which requires we ask the question…Where are they? Strangely not even visits to their bustling necropoles were able to solve the riddle. The Etruscans are wholly indifferent to all implications of the Great Filter.

And not only that. They display immovable stoicism when confronted by both climate change and white privilege. Their intellectual progress stunted as if dead. That is the Concern Paradox. Intelligent advanced civilizations that simply cease pursuing critical abstractions. Many possible reasons have been suggested; readers here likely have their own. Though if the Etruscan Great Filter still lies ahead of us, it would indeed be cause for grave concern. And not a paradoxical one.

19 thoughts on “The Concern Paradox

  1. I just don’t get how this is even an issue with people who can think.
    There well may be intelligent species “out there”, but it’s just too far away. Everything is too far away. Natural law says so. Why would an intelligent species invest thousands of generations seeking out another intelligent species on another world innumerable light years away?
    As the administration knows rational adaptations of life don’t concern themselves with other life forms that don’t pose a threat to themselves.
    If humans on Terra Sol want to be true interstellar beings, they need to find a way to survive without a star in the vacuum of interstellar space.
    The way things are evolving on earth right now. It looks like my species will die out before the sun does.

  2. Liblulz would probably like another Avatar-style movie on this topic if it were framed as a struggle between intergalactic conservatives (bad) and liblulz (good) over whether our pipsqueak planet should be contacted and/or exploited. We’d be among the primitive space tribes intergalactic liblulz are trying to preserve out of sheer goodness a desire to preserve intergalactic diversity. Or something. But the cosmoservatives would have their own agenda and want to make contact so they can take our oil.

  3. I’d be willing to bet that life isn’t rare, but that space-faring civilizations are. Even on Earth, of all the multitude of civilizations that have infested this planet, only one has reached out into space, and it’s probably not long for this world, at least not if our friends on the Left have anything to say about it. Stagnation is the norm for human cultures, and in the long run, it may even be healthier than the protean, almost Faustian march of Western Civ. Can anyone doubt that the culture of the !Kung bushmen will probably outlive our own?

    • Exactly. For what was our planting of a flag on the moon other than as a silent cenotaph to a civilization that was.

      The first order is to endure. In this we are aquiting ourselves quite poorly in comparison to the bushmen.

  4. Why would an advanced civilization make any contact with us? If the aliens can cross into other, parallel dimensions, if they can transcend time – what use are simple hominids like us to them? I go with #3 (which is also not contradicted by #10). They don’t necessarily live in virtual Utopias – maybe they just left this universe, because “life” (a concept which is itself primitive) “over there” is somehow preferable to “life” “here”.

    Of course, there’s the possibility that a Great Filter ocurred to them, and they brought their own annihilation by means of scientific experimentation. Maybe they destroyed their own universe, thereby accidentally creating ours, and the cycle may repeat itself time and again – in fact, the “previous” universe could be identical to ours. Or radically different.

    Trying to make sense of the universe, at this stage, really is futile.

  5. One thing seems certain to my understanding as a layman: no one is doing interstellar travel using rocket propulsion. I’ve seen a physicist estimate up to a billion tons of propellant required to reach just the nearest star.

    • Exactly, time and space are the same thing.
      A thousand generations in human terms is not very long in terms of the distances involved.
      That mere men can conceive of such things is a profit to my race.
      A little hope is still hope I suppose.

  6. “There’s only one instance of higher-intelligent life—a ‘superpredator’ civilization (like humans are here on Earth)—who is far more advanced than everyone else and keeps it that way by exterminating any intelligent civilization once they get past a certain level.”

    Veiled reference to YKW?

  7. I much enjoyed this, as the first time I ever heard of the Fermi so-called paradox when young, my immediate impression was, how dumb.

    And then your more subtle essay coda, Admin, was a pleasure. Regarding which, I second Toddy and Admin on endurance.

  8. No there is no paradox if Life is confined on Earth.
    BTW, I saw ‘Transcendence’ recently. Not as bad as the critics say. Only the modern Materialistic point of view of the Mind is portrayed, but it’s OK since the chosen scenario for the movie is precisely that the ‘Mind’ can be reduced to its Materialistic manifestations (Spoiler below for that movie) . But somehow, it’s the equivalent problem of the Fermi paradox.
    Because we have to use the same materialist framework description for the Universe and all its part, Life or Non–life, Evolution, Mind. Darwinism is totally consistent with Reductionism Materialism, totally consistent with computational models of Evolution and totally consistent with Artificial Consciousness as a subset of these models….and therefore consistent with abundant and diverse Life in the universe too. And this is not a choice. If you are a Darwinist, you must support all of the above. The problem is that, as some point you are going to deal with Paradox (plural) if the premises are false. The Fermi paradox is one of them. The next will be the failure to create artificial consciousness, despite all the efforts (neural network, quantum computers, parallel processing, machine learning)

    But as discussed before, not all scientists agree with that. If ‘consciousness’ can NOT be simulated or emulated by any algorithm ‘in principle’, said otherwise, that the essence of Consciousness is non-computational in nature, then artificial Intelligence cannot rise from a computer algorithm, and a human Mind cannot be transferred, throughout a learning machine algorithm, to a Machine. In addition, Roger Penrose adds that, ‘in Principle’, Quantum Computer still belongs to the classical Turing machine description, and are therefore no better capable than classical computers to harbor ‘consciousness’, either human or machine.
    Now, as above, you have to be consistent for all the processes in the Universe and you cannot separate ‘consciousness’ from what has produced it: Biological Evolution.
    So Penrose’s conjecture (and probably those of many others too, like Godel) is Inconsistent with Darwinism. For Penrose to be consistent, Biological Evolution should be non-computational in Nature and in Principle. Which means that ‘Life’ -the appearance of Life- should also be non-computational in Nature.
    Here, the concepts of Life, Evolution and Mind are obviously linked, but they are also shifting.
    Life is not ‘just’ its classical description based on Physic, Thermodynamic and Chemistry. It is something more or something else, and that something else may mean that we are alone in the Universe.

  9. I dont know if the “Great Filter” is in our past or our future. But all explanations that try to avoid the filter 1-9 seem to lack comprehension of deep time, Darwinian selection and the exponential function. Which makes them rather ridiculous a political ideology manages to flawlessly enforce the “prime directive” for billions of years! really!? Once a reproducing organism whether robotic or biological has access to practical interstellar travel all mine able resources including your solar system will be consumed within a million years or a few thousand if the speed of light is no object. Number 10 the simulation hypothesis is reasonable though in which case the great filter is the programmer.

  10. This paradox will get worse if our means to analyze exoplanets become powerful enough to detect Life in our galactic neighborhood, by way of the near-future giant telescopes, and that all signs return negative. No Life out there: that will be hard to explain. Already there are thousands (around 4000 I believe) known exoplanets. few are Earth-like though. The new giant Owl -type telescopes with mirrors 30 meters and above will certainly increase the numbers of Earth Like exoplanets that can be analyzed for the signs of Life, like the presence of Oxygen. When sample-numbers will reach a dozen earth-like exoplanets probed, and no firm sign of Life is detected, some people will start to scratch their head. It will be an anomaly and the Fermi paradox will be replaced by a new and stronger paradox.
    I am serious in the post above: there is no choice in the current concept of Life and Darwinian Evolution: Life must appear.
    But we know from History, for example the Earth-centric system, that we have to go through steps of Epicycles, and Epicycles within Epicycles, before paradigms are reconsidered. Everybody use Epicycles, even Georges Bush: ‘the best proof that WMD exist, is that we can’t see them because Saddam hid them’.
    It will be funny to see what will be the first of these ‘Epicycle’ in the Fermi case.

  11. Part of the paradox is the assumption that life will evolve to intelligence, and intelligent life will attain/require technology similar to ours…As liberal evolutionary paleontologist Steven Jay Gould pointed out, intelligence is only one of many survival strategies used by life/evolution; and not even the best for that matter…intelligent technological civilizations may be very rare indeed.

    • When he wasn’t being an ideologue, Gould was right. To wit: Europeans have built the greatest societies ever known to man, and yet our percentage of the world population is dropping like a stone. Become too smart, and you start finding excuses not to breed. Meanwhile, the stupid (being stupid) don’t think think, they just act, and cellular multiplication is the most natural act of all.

  12. Pingback: The Great Filter | No title at this point

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