Bill Nye's Answer to the Fermi Paradox

Television Host and Science Educator
Named for its originator, the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, the Fermi Paradox asks the question, "if chances are that we're not alone in the universe, how come we haven't heard from any of the other alien civilizations?" According to Bill Nye, he and the Planetary Society hold the opinion that we probably haven't been listening hard enough. The Science Guy goes on to explain how NASA is boosting efforts at intergalactic communication.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Bill Nye:  For those of you who for some reason are not obsessed with the Fermi paradox, Enrico Fermi posed the following – the same guy with the nuclear reactor in Chicago and all that – posed the following question. If there are alien worlds as you might claim since there are billions of stars in billions of galaxies, you would expect billions of planets and then you’d expect a few millions of earth-like planets. Where, why haven’t we heard from these other civilization? And the answer I think is not that complicated. We’ve only been listening for other civilizations for 50 years, 70 years, it depends on how you count. And you have to acknowledge that civilizations have to emerge and be able to communicate at the same time. When you have something that’s been going on for 13.6 billion years there’s a lot of opportunities to miss each other. So the Fermi paradox, for me, is not a reason to give up and take the black capsule and have no hope for humankind because we are just this unique thing in the middle of nowhere and will never amount to anything. No. For me the Fermi paradox drives us forward. Why haven’t we heard from anybody? Because we’re not listening hard enough. We’re not being diligent enough. We’re not thinking it through well enough. So we at the Planetary Society support the, of course support the search for extraterrestrial intelligence but the search for extraterrestrial intelligence in the optical bandwidths in what you and I call visible light.

 

And as you may know, NASA is doing these tests using laser communication. In other words instead of sending radio signals with wavelengths the size of this room and so information packets spread out over the size of this room, you’d use light waves where the information packets are just a few hundred billionths of a meter long and so you can get a lot more – it’s fiber optic. You get a lot more – the comparison of fiber optic with traditional copper wire. You get a lot more information, a lot more bandwidth. So who knows, maybe the aliens are sending us optical signals and we missed the point. Come on. One way to be sure you never hear from another civilization and realize or validate Fermi’s paradox is to not listen. So this to me is an obligation of a civilization, of a civilized society is to prevent – is to present or to allocate just a little of our intellect and treasure to the search for extraterrestrial life. Because there’s two questions that get every one of us. Where did we come from? Where did we come from? And that’s, by the way, what the Rosetta mission is working on. It’s going to a comet which is part of the – seems to be and is certainly part of the primordial solar system. So by understanding that we’ll understand more about where we all came from. And the second question is are we alone? Could we possibly be alone in the universe? And to answer those questions you have to explore space. That’s what we do at the Planetary Society. Did I mention that? Planetary.org. Did I bring us up? Thank you.



Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton