Where Are All the Aliens? A Famous Physicist Gives an Answer You May Not Like
Most people have looked up to the heavens and asked, “Are we alone?”. Given the vastness of the universe, there must be thousands of other civilizations across the cosmos.
Most people have looked up to the heavens and asked, “Are we alone?”. Given the vastness of the universe, there must be thousands of other civilizations across the cosmos. The Drake Equation, which can be used to estimate the number of civilizations that must exist, nearly demands it.
But, if there are thousands of civilizations out there, where are they? We have had the ability to pick up radio signals from space for several decades, but rarely have we found any signal that even strikes us as being a possible message. These are then often debunked, such as the case when pulsars were discovered. While some signals have shown stubborn promise, the discovery of alien life remains a future event.
This discrepancy is called “The Fermi Paradox”, after Enrico Fermi, who postulated it. Where are all these aliens we suppose exist? If they do exist, why have they not colonized the entire galaxy by now? There are several common answers, and recently Dr. Brian Cox has sided with one of the least pleasant ones: that “One solution to the Fermi paradox is that it is not possible to run a world that has the power to destroy itself and that needs global collaborative solutions to prevent that”.
In other words, a civilization that has the ability to communicate across space might not have a long life expectancy — as it would also have the ability to destroy itself. Stephen Hawking is inclined to agree, stating that “I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet”. This idea is a popular solution, but not one that we like to think about.
There are, of course, other possible solutions. Civilized life might just be rarer than we think, or uncommon in the area of the universe we are in. It could be possible that the other life in the cosmos is so alien that we wouldn’t recognize it if we saw it — as predicted by H.P. Lovecraft in his classic work The Colour Out of Space. Other solutions abound, ranging from the idea that we are alone to the idea that some hyper civilization prevents others from reaching a particular level of technology.
It could also be the case that alien life is just uninterested in us. Humanity has only ventured beyond Earth one time, to the closest object we could land on, and is only one hundred and eight years separated from the launch of the Model T automobile. Our civilization is still in a technological infancy cosmically speaking. Our desire to find aliens might be matched by their desire to avoid us.
So, is civilization doomed to destroy itself? Should we begin the countdown to the end? Or is the Fermi paradox a sign of something else entirely? Perhaps our understanding of how much life the universe holds is wrong, and we are doomed to cosmic loneliness. In any case, Dr. Hawking reminds us to “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet”.
Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.
- Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
- At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?
- Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
- Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
- Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.
It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.
In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.
Image from the study.
As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.
Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.
"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.
It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.
Image by authors of the study.
Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.
The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.
“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."
Do you have a magnetic compass in your head?
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.