The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations. As Enrico Fermi asked if the Universe is conducive to intelligent life, “Where is everybody?”
A new answer proposed by Adrian Kent of the University of Cambridge and Perimeter Institute, is that extraterrestial life sufficiently advanced to be capable of interstellar travel or communication must be rare, since otherwise we would have seen evidence of it by now. This in turn is sometimes taken as indirect evidence for the improbability of life evolving at all in our universe.
“Intelligent species might reasonably worry about the possible dangers of self-advertisement and hence incline towards discretion” -- the “Undetectability Conjecture,” put forth by Beatriz Gato-Rivera, a theoretical physicist at the Instituto de Fisica Fundamental (previously Instituto de Matematicas y Fisica Fundamental) of the CSIC (Spanish Scientific Research Council) in Madrid. According to Gato-Rivera, we may find ourselves in a universe in which there exist intelligent technological civilizations but they have chosen to be undetectable, camouflaging themselves mainly for security reasons (because advanced civilizations could also be aggressive).
“Evolutionary selection, acting on a cosmic scale," Kent adds. "tends to extinguish species which conspicuously advertise themselves and their habitats.”
“It often seems, Kent concludes, "to be implicitly assumed, and sometimes is explicitly argued, that colonising or otherwise exploiting the resources of other planets and other solar systems will solve our problems when the Earth’s resources can no longer sustain our consumption. It might perhaps be worth contemplating more seriously the possibility that there may be limits to the territory we can safely colonise and to the resources we can safely exploit, and to consider whether and how it might be possible to evolve towards a way of living that can be sustained (almost) indeﬁnitely on the resources of (say) our solar system alone.”
In another take on the "Fermi Paradox," Stephen Hawking asks In his famous lecture on Life in the Universe: "What are the chances that we will encounter some alien form of life, as we explore the galaxy?"
If the argument about the time scale for the appearance of life on Earth is correct, Hawking says "there ought to be many other stars, whose planets have life on them. Some of these stellar systems could have formed 5 billion years before the Earth. So why is the galaxy not crawling with self-designing mechanical or biological life forms?"
Why hasn't the Earth been visited, and even colonized? Hawking asks. "I discount suggestions that UFO's contain beings from outer space. I think any visits by aliens, would be much more obvious, and probably also, much more unpleasant."
Hawking continues: "What is the explanation of why we have not been visited? One possibility is that the argument, about the appearance of life on Earth, is wrong. Maybe the probability of life spontaneously appearing is so low, that Earth is the only planet in the galaxy, or in the observable universe, in which it happened. Another possibility is that there was a reasonable probability of forming self reproducing systems, like cells, but that most of these forms of life did not evolve intelligence."
We are used to thinking of intelligent life, as an inevitable consequence of evolution, Hawking emphasized, but it is more likely that evolution is a random process, with intelligence as only one of a large number of possible outcomes.
Intelligence, Hawking believes contrary to our human-centric existece, may not have any long-term survival value. In comparison the microbial world, will live on, even if all other life on Earth is wiped out by our actions. Hawking's main insight is that intelligence was an unlikely development for life on Earth, from the chronology of evolution: "It took a very long time, two and a half billion years, to go from single cells to multi-cell beings, which are a necessary precursor to intelligence. This is a good fraction of the total time available, before the Sun blows up. So it would be consistent with the hypothesis, that the probability for life to develop intelligence, is low. In this case, we might expect to find many other life forms in the galaxy, but we are unlikely to find intelligent life."
Another possibility is that there is a reasonable probability for life to form, and to evolve to intelligent beings, but at some point in their technological development "the system becomes unstable, and the intelligent life destroys itself. This would be a very pessimistic conclusion. I very much hope it isn't true."
Hawkling prefers another possibility: that there are other forms of intelligent life out there, but that we have been overlooked. If we should pick up signals from alien civilizations, Hawking warns,"we should have to be wary of answering back, until we have evolved" a bit further. Meeting a more advanced civilization, at our present stage, Hawking says, "might be a bit like the original inhabitants of America meeting Columbus. I don't think they were better off for it."
Source: The Daily Galaxy via arxiv.org