Astronomers estimate there are more than 2 trillion (2,000,000,000,000) galaxies in the observable universe, and these galaxies encompass more than 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets.
That makes for vast real estate on which some forms of life could exist — and that’s not even counting the various moons upon which life also could exist.
(Scientists even believe life may exist on certain moons in our own solar system.)
Admittedly, most of those planets and moons are not welcoming for what we consider to be life, and on most of the remaining, life either may not yet have developed sufficient intelligence to contact us, or for us to understand their contact.
Yet, 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 is a truly gigantic number, and we might think that by now we would have been contacted by at least one alien. So, in the words of Enrico Fermi, “Where are they?”
Among the many problems of intergalactic communication is that of timing.
While there has been life on earth for about 4.5 billion years, only in the past century or so have we been technologically sophisticated enough to initiate or receive contact with an alien life civilization. If someone had tried to send us a message just five hundred years ago — a mere speck in cosmic time — we wouldn’t have received it.
That may be the case with any alien forms. They may not yet be technologically advanced, at least not advanced enough to send radio messages, much less to actually travel among the stars.
I suspect there is an additional hindrance to inter-alien communication: Any life form that is clever enough to initiate such communication also is clever enough to destroy itself.
Think of what our cleverness has brought us: ever more deadly guns, nuclear weapons, poison gasses and liquids, and sophisticated weapon delivery systems.
Only in the past few decades have we had the war capability to destroy virtually all life, certainly all life advanced enough to receive and understand alien communications.
And it’s not just intentional war: We inadvertently or just carelessly have poisoned our air, our water, and our land. We have heated our climate to the point where some lands are, or soon will be, too hot for human life.
And though most of us say we would like peace and the preservation of our environment, that has proven to be mere lip service.
We have elected, allowed, and/or supported such anti-life leaders as Ivan IV, Stalin, Hitler, Kim, Mao, Duvalier, Amin, Pol Pot, Mussolini, Mugabe, etc., none of whom could have survived without the active participation of their thousands of followers and lackeys.
If humanity is a typical example of what an intelligent life form eventually becomes, whoever or whatever created the universe exhibited wisdom in keeping us lifeforms lightyears apart, for our first instinct is to conquer and/or destroy.
Consider where we are now.
We know for certain that our activities are causing global warming by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide and methane — greenhouse gases — blanketing the earth.
We have the technology to use non-greenhouse sources of energy, and we even have developed a financial system — Monetary Sovereignty — that could fund the development and uses of those sources.
Yet we have elected, and we follow, leaders who not only fail to address the problem, but who deny there even is a problem. They have convinced a great multitude that:
- The world is not warming, or
- The world is warming but humanity is not responsible, or
- A warmer world is better, or
- The problem is not urgent, or
- The problem is too expensive to fix, or
- There’s nothing we can do because other people are doing nothing, or
- We will be dead before anything bad happens so don’t worry.
Millions of us elect and continue to support leaders who claim all of the above.
Are we typical of intelligent life in the universe? Are we the inevitable result of intellectual evolution?
The universe is a harsh place, constantly fighting life, constantly destroying what life has built. Here is Earth, the most life-friendly place we know, yet 99.9% of all the species that ever have lived here, are gone.
Earth has witnessed five mass extinctions when more than 75% of species disappeared. Palaeontologists spot them when species go missing from the global fossil record.
“We don’t always know what caused them but most had something to do with rapid climate change”, says Melbourne Museum palaeontologist Rolf Schmidt.
Climate change always has been a killer. We are smart enough to know this and we are smart enough to know we are causing climate change. But somehow, our smarts don’t seem to work full time.
Experts believe that a sixth mass extinction is on its way. Estimates vary, but somewhere between a few dozen to more than a hundred species go extinct every day.
At that rate, it would only take a few tens of thousands of years to wipe out the same number of species as the third mass extinction.
This time, however, we can’t point to a meteorite as the cause. We only have ourselves to blame.
THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT
A species generally sticks around for anywhere from 1 million years (for mammals) to 11 million years (for marine invertebrates).
But we are the first species on earth, mammal or otherwise, that has had the power to destroy every living thing, and we are using that power right now.
With ecological suicide, war, and our indifference to the lives of our descendants, we greatly have accelerated the speed of our demise.
Has evolution made us this way? Evolution cares only about the near future. The sole question is, will a species survive long enough to create viable progeny?
Survival is a battle. We came from species that had to fight against nature and all other species, from viruses to predators. To survive, we became programmed for the fear and hatred of “others.”
We are evolved to be me-oriented, near-term animals. And though, intellectually, we know we should protect the earth for future generations, we simply are not constructed to worry enough about what happens a few centuries from now.
We burn fossil fuels and cut trees to pollute the air, water, and land. We spread plastics and other poisons into the oceans, lakes, and rivers. Our farming methods damage the land for future farmers. Well-meaning ignorance has banned genetically modified foods that could feed more of us, better.
We follow leaders who preach scorn for the “others” they claim can harm us — the basis for war and bigotry.
Pacifists are jeered. War-mongers are venerated. Love is weak. Hatred is strong. Bigotry is more powerful than compassion.
By what logic can anyone predict that the human species will not destroy itself within the next century? We are heading pell-mell into a dystopian world of misery and extinction.
And we know it. We even predict it. In fact, we love it. When I review Netflix, I see dozens of movies about gloomy, grim, somber, dictatorial, tyrannical, oppressive societies but almost none about joyful life.
Why do we find hell more enthralling than heaven?
It’s because of the battle. We have evolved not only to wage the battle but to enjoy the battle.
Evolution forces us to enjoy what we must do to survive — sex, eating, and killing are examples — so that we will do it willingly, eagerly. We happily battle nature.
We treasure guns. We love hunting animals. We enjoy killing. Animals. Trees. Everything.
As the song goes, “Pave paradise and put up a parking lot.” We bend nature to our will, not understanding that we are part of nature. We bend ourselves.
We battle each other, though the wreckage of our battles diminishes our lives.
Imagine what our first step will be if ever we learn aliens are coming. We will assemble the military for battle. That is who we are.
IS THAT HOW ALIEN SPECIES EVOLVED?
If any alien species evolved intelligence, as we did, did they also evolve the offensive-turned-self-destructive tendencies we have?
Are there no paths evolution can take, in which intelligence leads to compassion and mutual aid?
Animals generally do not destroy their own worlds. Birds don’t soil their own nests. So is there some point at which intelligence inevitably crosses some barrier, and begins to eat itself?
If so, that would explain why we never hear from any aliens. They suicide before they can learn how to communicate across the vast reaches of space.
If an alien species does make that connection, and successfully contacts us, why? Will it be to conquer and destroy, or will it be to make new friends?
Why do we hope to find them out there when our first instinct will be to kill them?
Rodger Malcolm Mitchell