The Fermi Paradox and the Multiverse

Turtles All the Way DownCaleb Scharf wrote a provocative article over at Scientific American, Does a Multiverse Fermi Paradox Disprove the Multiverse? His answer: maybe! My answer: no!

The Fermi Paradox is the contradiction of why it is that we aren’t constantly seeing space aliens given the predictions of just how common intelligent life must be in the universe. I don’t see the paradox because I think the predictions of life in the universe are ridiculous. We have good reason to believe that the Earth is the only place in our solar system that has life beyond bacteria. So it would seem that even life as complicated as flat worms is really hard to develop. It requires a stable system. And it turns out that the Earth has a lot of advantages — not least of which being our ridiculously large moon that stabilizes our rotation.

I know what people who know a little science (that is, have seen Cosmos) say to this, “But there are so many stars in so many galaxies! True enough. But most of the stars are clustered in the galactic nucleus where it is much too violent to allow advanced lifeforms to really get a foothold. Nonetheless, I’m more than willing to believe that the universe is riddled with flat worms. My big problem is much more speculative: humans.

In this regard, I’m not talking about the inherent violence of humanity and its tendency to destroy itself. But it is ridiculous for us to think that we will continue on as we have been. People think too much of a Star Trek future. But it just won’t be that way. We will either somehow get past our reliance on hierarchy or we will destroy ourselves through ossification. And if we do move forward, there is no telling where we will go, but it is unlikely to be out to visit nearby stars. We, with our modern view of reality, think that is the next step. But in two thousand years — to say nothing of 200,000 years — we will have a distinctly different way of seeing reality.

In many ways, we have regressed. Our science has gotten so good that it is now possible for a small minority — the power elite — to manipulate the masses. Just twenty years ago, global warming really wasn’t a political issue. There were still many unknowns — but that was the extent of it. Then the oil industry decided that admitting to global warming was a major threat to its profits. And now half the people in the United States think it is a hoax. It is very possible that Orwell was right, “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.” The only difference will be that it will be a democracy and the people will gladly vote for that boot stomping their faces.

The other issue is that there are huge constraints on moving from one solar system to another. The closest star is Alpha Centauri, which is 4.3 light years away. So even at 0.9 the speed of light, it would take five years to get there. And that doesn’t include all the acceleration and deceleration that would be necessary. Even at that speed — which is a practical impossibility — a one way trip would be more than ten years. If we looked at the far more doable case of 0.1 the speed of light, it would be 43 years there, but about 90 years realistically. What about trans-light speeds or worm holes? I think they are firmly rooted in science fiction.

Scharf applies the Fermi Paradox to the multiverse. But this strikes me as even more ridiculous. He makes his case based upon some of the more foolish discussions of the multiverse. I don’t accept that other universes could just be anything. He claims that if universes could be anything, then surely there would be some that would allow one to move from one universe to another. I think that rather blurs the distinction between universes. Regardless, what if our universe is one of those that doesn’t allow such universe hopping? What’s more, if some civilization did come from another universe to ours, they would be equally constrained in finding our little planet.

I know that I am kind of pessimistic about all of this. But it seems to me silly. The multiverse is an interesting concept. It is possible that some day we could prove that it exists. No kind of simple argumentation on either side of the question is going to solve anything. But I think it is kind of silly to take the Fermi Paradox — which most think does not disprove that intelligent life is everywhere in the universe — and use it one step further out.

As for me, I just excited that we are visiting Pluto.

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