The Fermi Paradox Is Personal

Today, for my work-in-progress science-fiction novel, I’m researching the Fermi Paradox.

Before you ask: No, I’ve never seen a UFO, and I find the conspiracy theories about government cover-ups implausible.

I’m researching the Fermi Paradox because last night, while walking in the forest seeking inspiration, it occurred to me that: for every possible solution to the paradox, there is a corresponding proposition about human nature and/or the human condition.

In other words, every possible solution to the paradox is personal.


1: “the aliens are deliberately not contacting us.” = “they don’t like us, we’re not good enough for them; there’s some reason why they’ve judged us unworthy to know them.”

2: “They’re too far away to contact us, or for us to detect them.” = “We will be alone forever.”

3. “It’s the nature of life to destroy itself before reaching its fullest potential.” = “We are by nature flawed and foolish.”

4. “They failed to overcome an extraordinary civilizational or evolutionary obstacle, and so never developed to a level where they could contact us, or we could detect them.” (ie. ‘great filter’ hypothesis) = “Our biggest challenges as a species and/or as a civilization are yet to come. We, too, might fail to overcome the same obstacles.”

5. “They’re all hiding from each other.” (ie. the ‘dark forest’ hypothesis) = “We are by nature violent and paranoid.”

6. “They’re here, but the government keeps them secret.” = “My government thinks that I’m untrustworthy and stupid, or prone to panic, or that for some other reason I don’t deserve to know the truth.”

7. “They’re here, but they reveal themselves to very few people, perhaps according to a first-contact plan.” = “If I am not among those who get to see them, then I am unworthy, unimportant, undeserving, or for some other reason there’s nothing special about me.”

8. “They’re not contacting us because they wish to ‘contain’ us, to prevent our wars from spilling out into space.” = “We are a violent, war-like, and dangerous species.”

9. “There are no aliens.” = “The massive responsibility to craft or to discover the meaning of life falls to us, and us alone.”

Notice the tragic character of each of these propositions; tragic in the sense that they provide no validation, no reason for us to feel good about ourselves. Some even provide a footing for a kind of grim pseudo-intellectual misanthropy: the modern version of Original Sin.

And to tie a ribbon on it: if tomorrow the aliens revealed themselves to all humanity, the search for meaning would only get more complicated, and not simpler. We would have a new immensity of ‘the other’ to face, and we’d have to invent whole new ways to configure ourselves and respond.

So! This weekend is the first in around six weeks in which I will have no visitors. Perfect for a hike to the lake, and for cooking a nice dinner for myself, and for fitting these thoughts into the theme of the novel – and for finding a way to turn that tragedy into something beautiful. As I think we all must do.

[Image by Brandon Siu, from unsplash dot com. There’s a setting in my novel which looks like this.]

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