The Fermi Paradox. A now commonly known claim made by Enrico Fermi (famous physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project A.K.A. the first nuclear bombs) while he was having lunch with a few colleagues. While the Fermi Paradox is less of a paradox and more of an argument (if you want more proof, The Space Perspective proves this is not a paradox using the Drake Equation), it does make an interesting postulate as to why we have not yet observed any signals or messages from alien civilizations.
While many theories float around the internet about the possible answers or reasons why Fermi’s postulations are correct, one comes from an individual many look to as the face of space travel and humanity itself: Elon Musk.
Elon Musk himself is not a doctor of physics nor a philosopher. In fact, professionally he has two bachelor’s degrees in Physics and Business, respectively. But, Elon Musk has many a time gone on television and other outlets to express his ideas and allow the world to know exactly what he thinks. Whether the world would have listened just as intently if he had finished his PhD program versus becoming the serial-entrepreneur he is today is up to interpretation. Anyway, my short aside about Musk’s and society’s focus on celebrities ends in this paragraph.
To sum up the point, Elon Musk theorizes that we are most likely living in a simulation. This fact alone automatically brings up the idea of robots and automated society, but the reality of it is that as humans we make our own simulations every day in a variety of aspects. Look at laboratory experiments, where rats are subject to an environment that is supposed to simulate a certain condition for the sake of academic endeavor. Look at car manufacturers who originally test their cars on closed-course tracks in order to test for a variety of different malfunctions and conditions which may affect their product. Simulations are prevalent in human life and are not just encoded in our binary devices.
In fact, the simulations that are described by Musk are ambiguous in their detail. Yes, the interview does note that AI running simulations and more-intelligent beings running simulations is probable, but there is another idea about seeding different galaxies in order to promote life. What if the reason why we have not heard any signals from other alien civilizations is because we are simply a well-kept scientific experiment? In a world where an advanced civilization has mapped the entire Milky Way but found no other evidence of life, is it possible that they chose to put microorganisms from their home on Earth to begin breeding life? Did they chose such a habitable planet, with a gravity that could overcome by rockets, knowing that we would one day advance into a space-traveling race? In other words, is Earth simply chosen by design out of any other planet in our solar system?
Another question that this brings up is how many simulations could possibly exist? Is this a simulation that the aliens cared to track for the millions of years life took to develop for educational purposes? And are we still being tracked? I know that some of you out there view this as farfetched, but Elon Musk is not the only one to propose life coming from outer space. Stephen Hawking also proposed that Earth may have gained its life via panspermia, a phenomenon that states that extremophiles riding on asteroids that end up hitting Earth. But then this beckons the question of where did that other life come from…
Going back to Elon Musk’s theory, then we must say, “Well, if these aliens are observing us, how have we never observed them?” And the answer to that may be that they are using a communication method we cannot detect yet. Maybe, once we do, they will obliterate us. Or maybe, we will be allowed to coexist peacefully with them after they explain that the population of life on Earth was all a simulation of theirs. More importantly, however, is to note that the organisms they used to populate Earth most likely came from their home environment. Depending on how life develops, we may just look just like them. They could be living among us, observing at this very second. Or, they could be in the shadows, only coming down to Earth when needed. And maybe, when they come down from Earth, certain cultures view this as the arrival of an omnipotent being. Maybe the idea of a messiah in many religions is simply based upon the arrival of an advanced being that we misinterpreted. Or it is a test of theirs to see how far and what kind of far-fetched stories we will create to explain the existence of something we cannot understand. Note, I am not trying to debunk any beliefs, but rather provide an explanation as to why the messiah motif is so prevalent in many religions and our beliefs and provide evidence for the possibility of Elon’s theory.
There are so many questions that are left unanswered by the Fermi Paradox, and while Elon’s simulation theory may help explain why we have not heard from other civilizations (at least if we extrapolate it a bit), it still leaves much unanswered and much to wonder. But, the reason why these theories and conversations and equations are made is for us to think, dream, and explore. So much of space is not understood and we have so much more to learn about all facets of life. Providing a basis for curiosity is not meant to be taken with great criticism, fear, or frustration, but is an inviting invitation into the boundless realm of idea and initiative. That, itself, I think is the beautiful outcome of all of our unanswered questions.
P.S. If you’d like to see the entire interview with Musk about his theory you can find that here.
Also, if you want a more concrete and visual explanation of what the theory means, you can find that in a beautifully illustrated video made by Vox.
Featured image sourced from Gizmodo