Last week, we reported on the astounding confirmation that all solar systems in the Galaxy probably have planets, and that Earthlike planets are more common than previously thought. While this seems like good news for SETI-enthusiasts, the revelation is actually quite disturbing.
Given that we have yet to meet any extraterrestrials, the finding could mean that basic life may be very common — but that it gets snuffed out before having a chance to leave the cradle. That could be very bad news for humans.
To find out more about more about this grim possibility, we talked to two experts on the subject: economist and futurist Robin Hanson from George Mason University, and philosopher Nick Bostrom from Oxford University.
Most io9 readers are familiar with the Fermi Paradox: the observation that our Galaxy is so old that it could have been colonized many times over by now by an advanced civilization. But because we find ourselves in a Galaxy that appears completely unperturbed by intelligent life, we’re forced to come up with explanations as to why.
There are nearly as many theories for the so-called Great Silence as there are people who think about it. Some believe that it’s because most advanced civilizations couldn’t be bothered to make the effort, given the immense timescales, distances, and costs involved. Or that the conditions to spark and support life in the Universe are extremely rare. Others say there’s a kind of Star Trekkian “prime directive” in effect, a galactic convention that precludes advanced life from interfering with other civilizations.
And still others suggest that life somehow gets snuffed out along the way, by a kind of cosmological filter that prevents it from advancing beyond a critical stage.