Intelligent Life on other Planets.

By Dr Simon Robin

There are currently about 60 known, Earth-like, extra-solar planets.  These are early days in the search for Earth-like planets so there are going to be millions of "Earths" in our galaxy.  We know that life was able to develop on at least one planet, Earth, so it is possible that thousands of other planets have life and some will have intelligent life.

Any intelligent life on other planets has a fair chance of being millions of years ahead of us so the big question is: why haven't we had a visit from some alien spaceship or automated probe?  The lack of clear evidence for a visit from extraterrestrials even though it is highly probable that life is everywhere in the Galaxy is known as the Fermi Paradox.

It seems that some of the aliens do not want to visit us and others have not developed space flight. 

The Earth has had intelligent human beings for about half a million years but humans did not develop science or spaceflight until very recently.  The reason for this lies in philosophy, if you are a Buddhist or animist technology and spaceflight are not very attractive.  Society needs to become Protestant or otherwise nearly secular to develop science and needs to be a commercial power to gather the scientific, engineering and material resources to explore space.

Even if an alien culture developed commerce an intelligent top species might control their reproduction to be in harmony with resources and so have little motivation to have excess resources and no motivation beyond curiosity to explore other planets.

Most intelligent creatures would learn how to observe and control their minds.  If this occurred before commerce, and was widespread, it is unlikely that anyone would spend their lives buried in an internal narrative about achieving immortality through trade, science or spaceflight. They would limit their reproduction and enjoy living in harmony with the other life on their world.  The fact that self observation and control have been left out of humanity's genetic toolkit is central to the development of human civilisation.

Even if an alien species had developed commerce there are risks that might still prevent it from becoming a spacefaring species.  The technology needed for spaceflight is extremely dangerous for society.  The principal dangers are self extermination and artificial intelligence.  Self extermination in nuclear war etc. is an obvious risk but artificial intelligence (AI) might be a more pernicious threat.  If AI were developed before spaceflight it could easily be used to stifle society and eventually create a culture with a few overlords serviced by AIs.  We can already see in China how AIs can be used to control social interactions, had this happened 70 years ago the globe might have subsided into a centrally controlled population plugged into the Internet leading a strictly controlled socialist fantasy life.

The development of spaceflight requires that a culture:

These requirements suggest that a few intelligent species may have a short window during which their society might be exposed to the possibility of developing spaceflight.

Of the various requirements listed above the inability to control their minds is probably the least likely.  Any intelligent being should be able to observe what is going on in themselves and easily modulate their thoughts to achieve a life of harmony and happiness.  The probability that an alien species would be as intelligent or more intelligent than us yet lack self-insight like us would seem to be very small.

The inability to control reproduction is also unlikely because it is such a boon at a personal and social level to ensure that the reproduction of your species does not overwhelm resources.  The likelihood that an alien species that is as intelligent as us lacks this simple ability must be near to zero.

These considerations suggest that we may become the only spacefaring species in our Galaxy.  However, there is a chance that a gentle civilisation that is several million years more advanced than us has developed the technology to send covert probes to other worlds simply because their scientific knowledge has developed so that they can do this very easily.  They may protect other planets from barbarians such as ourselves.  If this has happened the Earth may be a wildlife park.

If there are intelligent species out there we will either get a sign that interstellar space exploration is virtually forbidden or find they are so technologically weak that we have a Galaxy that is wide open to our expansion and dominion.  We could be their worst nightmare as we are our own.


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