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A few reasons why aliens haven't come calling

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  March 29, 2013 10:00 AM

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It's always fun to be reminded that, while you've been going about your ordinary life, other people have been thinking with great urgency about esoteric questions. That's one aspect of the delight prompted by a recent post on io9 summarizing some of the more inventive solutions that have been proposed for the Fermi Paradox. The Fermi Paradox, as you may recall, asks why we've never made contact with extraterrestrial life given the high probability that it exists. Mainstream answers to the paradox (if there is such a thing as a mainstream answer to an out-there question) include the supposition that the conditions that support life are extremely rare, or that intergalactic distances are too great. The io9 post summarizes 11 more proposals-- and a few of the more entertaining ones are quoted below.

The Zoo Hypothesis. This idea was first proposed by John Ball in 1973, who argued that extraterrestrial intelligent life may be almost ubiquitous, but that the “apparent failure of such life to interact with us may be understood in terms of the hypothesis that they have set us aside as part of a wilderness area or zoo.”

and

Radio Silence. It’s possible that everyone is listening, but no one is transmitting...And for very good reason. David Brin has argued that the practice of Active SETI would be like shouting out into the jungle...Michael Michaud has made a similar case: “Let’s be clear about this,” he has written, “Active SETI is not scientific research. It is a deliberate attempt to provoke a response by an alien civilization whose capabilities, intentions, and distance are not known to us. That makes it a policy issue.”

and

We Can't Read the Signs. According to the current SETI approach, we should be listening for radio signatures. But a civilization far more advanced than our own might be using a different technique entirely. They could be signaling with lasers...And and as Stephen Webb has pointed out, there’s also the potential for electromagnetic signals, gravitational signals, particle signals, tachyon signals, or something completely beyond our understanding of physics. It’s also quite possible that they are in fact using radio signals, but we don’t know which frequency to tune into (the EM spectrum is extremely broad).

You can read more at io9. Also, check out this article that ran in Ideas back in 2008 on the Great Filter- the idea that "almost all intelligent species go extinct before they master the technology for space colonization."

H/t Marginal Revolution.

Image of the Parkes radio telescope by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, via Wikimedia Commons.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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