(Opening Note: Following the reactions to the publication of the first part of this piece, it has become necessary to clear some things up. The nature of religion, its penchant for indoctrination, abhors flexibility. Its integrity rests on rigidity and frugality. But because it is a human institution, the pull to change and to adjust to new realities exerts pressure on religion and, over time, ultimately, tears it apart. While science arrives at final answers that it is willing to revise and upend as knowledge expands, religion starts with the final answers and spends its lifetime protecting the answers against the increasing wave of new knowledge and understanding. Maybe by opening our minds a little wider than the restrictions of our religions allow, we may tone down the feeling that our religion is better than theirs and that they must accept our own religion to be humans. I strongly believe that those who see the world as wide as it is will be very reluctant to assign their religion as the final answer for which they are willing to kill others for not believing.
In this part two, I have gathered more of the scientific thinking of this day around the question: is there life beyond this one? Religions as we have them today must dismiss that question because the day another being, call it an alien or something extraterrestrial, walks into our world, that day, all religions we know today will die. The impact will be ten folds of what happened when the Europeans walked into Africa holding the Bible on one hand and guns on the other. )
In 1977, NASA launched voyager 1 and 2. Their mission was to go where no man-made object had ever gone and find things man could only imagine. More than 30 years after, Voyager 1 is more than 18.8 billion miles from earth while Voyager 2 is about 15.3 billion miles away from our planet. Voyager 1 has since crossed the heliosphere – that is the magnetic boundary that separates the solar system’s sun and planets from the rest of the galaxy. It was the first man-made object to cross that line. It’s now floating in the cosmic seas of interstellar space. In another 40,000 years, it will fly near stars that used to be beyond our reach. The Voyager 1 carries time capsules in the form of a golden disc of images and sounds that will tell extraterrestrials about us. Though they each have storage space of 68KB memory scientists hope to learn from them what else is out there. But is telling extraterrestrials about us a good thing?
We cannot really know what really happens when we die if we don’t really know where we are, who shares this universe with us, where this ever expanding universe is heading to and those black holes left behind when a star dies, are they telling us something about what happens when we die?
On any given bright night, when you look up in the sky, you see about 2000 stars. That number is about one out of every 100,000 stars that we have in our galaxy. Scientists estimate that there are about 100 -400 billion stars in our galaxy. Out of these stars, they believe that one billon of them have earth-like planets. If life developed in only 1% of these earth-like planets there will be 100,000 intelligent civilizations in our galaxy.
In the observable universe, it is believed that there are roughly 500 quintillion or 500 billion billion stars like our own sun. Conservative estimates put the number of these sun-like stars with earth–like planets to be 100 billion billion. To get a good picture of it, Tim Urban, writing in the blog, Wait But Why, says that for every grain of sand on earth, there are 100 Earth-like planets. Scientists postulate that if life developed in just 1% of these earth-like planets, there may be 10 million billion intelligent civilizations in the universe that we can observe.
Yet, an organization dedicated to the quest to discover other intelligent life called SETI( Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has not picked up any signal from anywhere. Project Ozma, Project Cyclops, SERENPID have all failed to find any other form of life. Why?
This high estimate of the probability of extraterrestrial life and the lack of evidence that they exist is what is called The Fermi Paradox. It is named after physicist, Enrico Fermi who studied these possibilities and asked the question, “Where is everybody?”
Here are some of the arguments made by Enrico Fermi and Michael H. Hart.
Considering the age of the universe, our sun is young. The earth is only 4.54 billion years old. Older earth-like planets that are billions of years ahead of us will most probably have more advanced civilizations. If you imagine the advancement we made in the last 2000 years, then imagine what difference there will be in a civilization that is millions of years ahead of ours.
Using Freedman Dyson’s theory of the Dyson’s sphere, scientists broke down civilization into three types: Type I are those civilization that can harness all the energy in their planets. Type II are those that can utilize all the energy in their host star. Type III are those that can tap all the energy in their galaxy. We are still struggling to accomplish the first. A civilization that can do the third must be one that can travel from one star to another. Scientists estimate that if 1% of intelligent life survives to reach Type III civilization then we should have at least 1,000 Type III Civilization in our galaxy alone.
Such civilization will be so powerful that we cannot miss them. So why is it that we have not seen them or heard from them? There are several arguments. One is that the reason we don’t see them is because there are no Type II and Type III Civilizations out there. The other explanation is that they are out there but we are not seeing them for other reasons.
If there are no Type I and Type II civilizations out there despite what scientific calculations suggest, then it follows that there must be a Great Filter that stops all life from advancing beyond a certain point. If the argument of The Great Filter as proposed by Robin Hanson is true, the question for us is where are we on that journey? Are we approaching the Great Filter or have we passed it? If we are approaching it, then, we are doomed. If we have passed it, then we are the first.
If the European spacecraft, Rosetta, finds life on comet 67P in December, or we find life anywhere else, it may mean that we are not special and we are not rare and the Great Filter is definitely behind us.
Now, if there is intelligent life out there, and we have not seen or heard from them, it could be for many reasons. Maybe they were here some 60,000 years ago before humans, in the form we are today, emerged. And since the universe is so vast, maybe their return journey is 100,000 years ahead. Or maybe they came when man had not started recording his story, as in any time before 6,000 years ago. It could also be that they are already in our galaxy but we just live in a part they have not yet visited, like new tribes just discovered in the Amazon rainforest who did not know they are in a country called Brazil long colonized by the Portuguese. It could also be that they have created a perfect world for themselves and do not want to be bothered with us in our ghetto.
Another option is that maybe there is a dreadful predator out there and other intelligent lives do not want to attract its attention by sending out signals - which Tim Urban thinks makes our idea of reaching out to them via the Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence) METI stupid. Again, there is the option that a higher intelligent life that lives in a civilization that is very advanced exists but exterminates other intelligent life that gets to a level that threatens their domination. So they are watching us the way we watch ants and once we get any close to being a threat to them, like when we jump from one solar system’s sun to another, like NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 are doing, they will strike. There is the possibility that other intelligent lives are out there but we cannot hear them because our technology is very poor. Maybe in 2,000 years from now we will have the kind of technology to hear their voices and capture their energy. Also, it could be that we live in their zoo, a reservation, a kind of National Park, which they observe and do not touch. This argument is called the zoo hypothesis.
These arguments are not slowing scientists down. With proposals to launch the Von Neumann probe, a series of self-replicating devices that could go beyond where our imagination can reach now, the search for answers is just at the early age.
It was only 500 years ago that Nicolaus Copernicus showed us how wrongly we had understood where we are when he proved that the earth is not the center of the universe. Before him, every man and woman who ever lived got the wrong interpretation of the place of the sun in the universe. Imagine other million things we have been, and still are, all getting wrong. And it was only in 1600 that Antonie van Leeuwenhoek used a handmade microscope to see bacteria. Before him the church had believed that small organisms do not procreate but generate spontaneously and mankind attributed the activities of bacteria to spirits and other bizarre phenomenon.
As we explore space and time we widen our horizon, contemplating the possibility that we are living in a simulated reality. But without consciousness, will space and time still exist as we imagined it? Without spacecraft and telescopes, does the new space and time that we behold exist? The truth is that we don’t know what is really out there. The answers that we have today are simply the answers of today. The realities of tomorrow are definitely going to change them. From the look of things, the answers of today are not the final answers. The same way, we don’t know what really happens when we die. Only the dead, like Prophet Elijah Ireti Ajanaku, are truly educated.