The Fermi Paradox

The Fermi Paradox is named after physicist Enrico Fermi and is often used by skeptics to “prove” that either intelligent alien life doesn’t exist or that we are unable to communicate with it.

What Is The Fermi Paradox?

The paradox is that if advanced extraterrestrial civilisations exist, as many believe, then we should have encountered evidence of them by now. Yet we have no such conclusive evidence, merely ambiguous and controversial UFO sightings. As Fermi is reported to have asked: Where are they?

How To Solve The Fermi Paradox

The paradox rests on two assumptions: 1) advanced alien life exists and 2) we have not encountered it. The easiest way to resolve the paradox is thus to challenge these assumptions.

• Alien Life Does Not Exist
This is probably the most depressing option. Either our ideas of the universe are wrong and we are a lone freak of the cosmos, or alien life has evolved elsewhere but it’s the nature of intelligent life to quickly destroy itself.

• We Have Encountered Alien Life
Some people suggest that alien life does exist and we have encountered it – but it is so different to us that we simply haven’t recognised it. Perhaps it hasn’t recognised us either.

Both those options resolve the paradox but in a “negative” way – they confirm that either alien life does not exist or it is so strange that it might just as well not exist. Fortunately, there are many ways to resolve the paradox that do not rule out encounters between humanity and advanced alien civilisations. Most of these have been explored by science fiction writers many times. Here are a few possible solutions to the Fermi Paradox:

• The Prime Directive
Probably the most optimistic approach to resolving the Fermi Paradox is the Star Trek idea: a federation of benign, intelligent aliens that avoids interference in the development of young races. When we’re ready, they’ll reveal themselves.

• Quarantine
A less pleasant suggestion is that aliens have visited us – and have judged us unworthy and/or dangerous. Earth and humanity are thus under strict quarantine. If we do ever leave our solar system, who knows what they’ll do.

• The Experiment
Perhaps the reason we’ve never knowingly had contact with the aliens is that humanity is some sort of experiment. There are many people who believe that aliens have intervened at crucial moments of human evolution and/or history.

• The Lightspeed Barrier
If the speed of light is indeed an unbreakable barrier then the universe might just be too large for the aliens to have visited us. In this case, contact would still be possible but would have to involve either “working round” the lightspeed barrier or relying on journeys lasting many, many years.

• Humanity Who?
Although it would be a blow to our collective ego, perhaps we should admit that we’re really not very interesting. If there are indeed thousands of planets on which life has evolved, why should the advanced species bother with ours? We haven’t even broken the light barrier! We might merit the occasional scientific expedition by an automated probe, little more.

Those are just a few possible ways to resolve the Fermi Paradox, there are many more – both positive and negative. The paradox is interesting and raises important questions but it is not proof that we will be forever alone.