Another Take on the Fermi Paradox

From: Robert Reining (
Date: Mon Dec 23 2002 - 13:14:58 MST

The Fermi Paradox, updated with current thinking, depends on at least 2

1. There are many advanced civilizations in our galaxy with the ability to send
representative entities across interstellar distances to visit or interact with
other civilizations. Fermi's original thinking was based on projections from
fission physics. Today, we'd include deuterium fission, mag sails, and
matter/antimatter drives among the potentially feasible drive/deceleration
technologies. The specific drive technology doesn't matter, but it is
reasonable to assume that it will be feasible for us to accelerate a minimum
payload mass of several kilograms to near light speed in the not too distant
future. Note that in the case of humans, a craft of less than 10,000 kg implies
that the craft does not carry living humans, (even in suspended animation) but
instead contains an AI.

2. At least some portion of such civilizations have the desire to conduct such
visits. Note that this is more than just an ability to visit, it is an actual
desire to interact with alien species. Implicit in this assumption, though
rarely noted, is the assumption that interstellar travelers benefit from their
travel, or at least don't incur great penalties.

The paradox is that we *don't* see a sky full of various visitors.

We can append an even stronger paradox which is that sufficient technology to
get to the stars would imply mature nanotechnology and the ability to conduct
engineering schemes on such a large scale as to be perceptible across
interstellar distances--such as moving several suns into geometric shapes for
the heck of it.

Several explanations for this paradox have been proposed on this list and on
other lists:

A. There is a "great filter" which dramatically reduces the number of visitors.
One such filter is that all or nearly all civilizations with sufficiently
advanced technology destroy themselves--e.g. fusion war, gray goo, green goo,
and so forth. Alternately, any civilization that doesn't keep quiet gets
stomped by nasty civilizations that prey on fledgling intelligences.

B. All civilizations that escape destruction develop Super intelligent AI,
transcend and become incomprehensible to pre-transcend entities. This is an
interesting alternative because it implies that visitors could actually be
already here and we'd know it if we just had sufficient intellect to perceive
them and interact with them.

I can think of a new explanation that reduces the likelihood of the paradox:
penalties associated with both the mass constraint and the Einstein time
dilation caused by near-light-speed travel.

The essence is that assumption 2 doesn't hold, even if we assume 1 is still
valid: that the stay-at-homes have such great advantages relative to travelers
that no (or very few) entity ever wants to travel. The idea is that entities
with more computing power have an overwhelming developmental advantage over
entities with less computing power. And that the mass and relativistic time
dilation constraints of near-light-speed space travel drastically reduce the
relative computing power of the travelers. Time dilation is a relative
disadvantage because computation amongst travelers proceeds more slowly than
amongst stay-at-homes.

I think the potential reality of such developmental relativism is likely more
apparent to the readers of this list than to others, and of particular interest
to this list it potentially opens up a little window into post-singularity
life. It implies that development proceeds for a long time after a given
civilization's singularity. If post singularity development ever plateaus, then
you'd expect to see a bloom of star travel, since travelers then wouldn't lose
too much developmental advantage relative to homebodies. It also implies that
post singularity entities "care" a lot that they don't fall behind their peers.
This could mean that post-singularity entities continue to compete amongst
themselves, or it could mean that they greatly desire to continue to be able to
comprehend each other. Alternately, it could also mean that post-singularity
entities become one giant entity and the prospect of splitting into
developmentally divergent entities is abhorent to such an entity.

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