Solution They Are Somewhere But the Universe Is Stranger Than We Imagine

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listen: there's a hell of a good universe next door; let's go. e. e. cummings, pity this busy monster, manunkind

The theories of modern physics are remarkable in their range of applicability. They explain phenomena at scales as small as the electron and as large as super-clusters of galaxies. They explain events that happened a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang, and we can use them to determine the fate of the universe.

Some might say physicists are arrogant, filled with hubris for daring to claim such success for their theories; science, being the product of the human brain, cannot possibly capture the subtleties and mysteries of the universe. in my experience such people tend to accept the uFo explanation of the Fermi paradox. However, a few scientists and many SF writers have offered some interesting suggestions. They explain the paradox by supposing that the Universe is not quite what physicists think it is.150

For example, perhaps intelligent species evolve to a non-physical state that transcends the limitations of spacetime. Clarke's novel Childhood's End describes mankind's transition from our present immature state to a merger with the Galactic "overmind" (some sort of spiritual union, the precise nature of which is not made clear). According to this suggestion, we do not hear from ETCs because they have evolved beyond our secular existence.

Another suggestion: all other intelligences evolve telepathic abilities and can communicate directly, from mind to mind, even over interstellar distances. Not for them the difficulties of radio communication. Perhaps they even travel using the power of the mind — like the jaunt in Bester's novel The Stars My Destination. If this were true, ETCs might be unaware of our psi-challenged existence.

Yet another suggestion, just as outrageous but based on more conventional ideas, is that ETCs are busy exploring parallel universes. The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics suggests that every time we make a measurement on a quantum system possessing two possible states, the Universe splits — into universe A and universe B.151 An observer in universe A measures one outcome of an experiment, an observer in uni verse B measures the other possible outcome. The result is a never-ending branching of universes. In the totality of universes, all possibilities are realized. If the many-worlds interpretation is correct (a big "if" — there are several competing interpretations of quantum mechanics, and there is no direct evidence in favor of the many-worlds interpretation) and if it is possible to move between universes (an absolutely huge "if" — there is no indication that such travel could occur), then perhaps ETCs are elsewhere. Why stick around a dull place like this Universe when you can explore really interesting places?

While it is certainly true that science has not told us everything — indeed, what remains to be discovered seems to grow exponentially — it is wrong to say science has told us nothing. The Universe seems to be intelligible; and over the past 400 years our science — a process involving hundreds of thousands of people working individually and cooperatively — has yielded reliable knowledge about the Universe. Any new theories not only have to explain new observations and experimental findings, but also the accumulated set of observations and findings — which makes it extremely tough to develop new theories. No one has succeeded in developing useful theories of phenomena like transcendent spiritual unions, interstellar telepathic communication, inter-universe travel — or any of the other imaginative suggestions that SF writers have made. In fact, since at present we can understand the Universe without invoking the existence of such phenomena, we do not need to develop new theories to explain them. (That does not mean such phenomena are impossible; but we require evidence before we need to study them in earnest.)

So while these suggestions all make for good stories, it is difficult to take them seriously as resolutions of the Fermi paradox.

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