My near philosophical musings about the world in general its problems and possible ways out.


Where are all the Aliens?

Not long ago a colleague handed me over a book. “Here read this, it’s a classic.” It was the famous Arthur C. Clarkes “Childhoods End”, a (science fiction) classic indeed. Here suddenly monstrous star ships arrived and positioned themselves above each major city in (our) world.

At first nothing else happened for a while. Then these others had learned enough to contact the UN and gently persuaded them to convey a message to us earthworms. From then on these ‘Overlords’ took over the oversight, guidance & stewardship as benevolent dictators, when they felt a need to do so. Although this was not often the case henceforth a golden age of mankind gently unfolded – leaving us happy idiots to some slight and creeping cultural degeneration until ….

Well I don’t want to tell the story here. It was about the year 1953, more than 60 years ago, when Arthur C. Clarke expressed this – rather common – expectation, that there should be higher civilisations out there, much further developed than we bloody earthlings. Hmm, should they? But where are they?

Brighter minds already noticed this anomaly, aka “the Fermi Paradox”, first introduced by physicist Enrico Fermi. He asked the question, “Where is everybody?” Or, more specifically, “Where are all the aliens?”

When we factor in the size of the universe, the number of Earth-like planets, and a range of other variables (as outlined in the Drake equation), there should be tens of thousands or more extra-terrestrial civilizations in the galaxy. And with the galaxy being around 10 billion years old, scientists say that intelligent worlds have had plenty of time to contact one another. So if aliens should statistically exist, why haven’t we encountered any yet?

In one of the plenty publications for believers the question has been discussed further (of course): 10 Reasons That We Still Haven’t Found Aliens.
The hit list ready like this:
  1. Earth Is Special
  2. All Intelligent Life Hits a Stumbling Block.
  3. They’ve moved out Of the Universe.
  4. Earth Isn’t As Great As We Think.
  5. We’re living in a Virtual Reality.
  6. We Live In The Cosmic Boonies.
  7. We Haven’t Spotted Their Signals (Yet).
  8. We Can’t Recognize Their Signals.
  9. Super-Organisms Are Inherently Suicidal.
  10. They Walk Among Us.
Now take your choice out of this rich menu.

My personal opinion? Well I think, the closest we ever come to shaking hands with our ET-counterparts will be stumbling upon their ruins, hence some kind of blended scenario of 2 and 9.

In 2013 in his lucid article “Primeval planet: What if humans had never existed?” Christopher Kemp asked the question “Is there some sort of inevitability on our having become what we became?

I think there is.

As individuals we are nothing more than hormone junkies with the illusion of a free will. As a species we are following a pre-set program, called the evolution of life. There is an underlying biological evolution. On top of that a cultural evolution takes over at a faster pace. And if not we humans did and do it, there still would have been selective pressure for some other species to go through the same kind of development that we did.

You may agree to it or not. But even, if you do so for us here on earth, will the same driving principles apply on totally different planets in distant solar systems? Are these driving forces truly universal?

You might have had the chance to watch Alien Planet, a video in which NASA shows how they would explore an exo-planet, called Darwin IV, with their future space technology. As they explain further, it also gives some educated opinions regarding the likelihood of alien life, and how we could study such life forms by some of the greatest scientists and astronomers in the world.

What is more even interesting however is what James Kirkland assumes about the likelihood of intelligence evolving from ‘common’ life: It will be the predators, those who thrive on pack hunting, which will first have the need for coordination, communication, a ‘cultural’ layer on top of their biology.

And they will be very aggressive, most probably so much so, that will be constantly engaged in fierce competitions, fights, wars. And – as they become more and more intelligent – they develop weapons, more and more powerful – until they will be easily capable to destroy, one another, hence themselves.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

And there is something else, which does not support optimistic views. Life is a form of self-organization, far from energy equilibrium. Life needs energy. And the higher organized life becomes the more energy it needs. Predators prey on herbivores, which have to consume lots of low energy leaves and grasses. The predators benefit from the high energy concentration meat. Higher sophistication requires even more energy, as we experience in our daily life. This energy acceleration surely doesn’t happen just by accident.

There must be a fundamental underlying reason for it.

Energy is precious and a limited resource. Competition will be focus on it. In the end there will not be room for everyone.

Combine both driving forces and you will end up with a bleak outlook – not just for the ‘human civilization’, but for any alien civilization as well. And this might be the reason why we may wait forever, without ever getting into contact with any intelligent life form.

They are all dead already.


What fools these mortals be

Just recently I (again) read a shocking story about ‘How China's one-child policy has ruined the marriage prospects of its young men’.  How could this be? Such population growth measures just limit the population growth. They don’t have per se the potential to skew any gender distribution. – Well not per se, but … a bit further down in the article the innocent sentence “…, combined with a cultural preference for boys, …” reveals the total brutal truth. Chinese (and may other) parents simply don’t want girls – they want boys. So, if they are blessed with a female foetus, there is a tendency to simply kill it.

You may well call it murder. So the system works as designed: If you don’t want girls, you will never have women, which your proud boys, once they became men, could marry. It is that simple. So, where is the problem? No one can be so stupid, not to instantaneously see this simple equation.  The sad truth is, journalists can. Eric Schulzke even seems to be a Westerner. Nevertheless, only the hell is the limit to his stupidity. Well not all is wrong: He correctly points out, that, all these young men, without women, jobs and without future, do what young men in such situations always used to do. They start turmoil, civil unrest, even outright wars.

So, what to do?

As the academic and popular science author Jared M. Diamond points out in in his 2005 book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”: there will be a solution. It might just not be a pleasant one.  Perhaps a collapse of the unpleasant kind?  Well, that sounds cynic. But it is just one of the options – one of the most likely ones.

You might have heard of the Earth Overshoot Day. In 2014 it was August 19, marking the date “when humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year. For the rest of the year, we will maintain our ecological deficit by drawing down local resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We will be operating in overshoot.”

The Earth Overshoot Day is just a drastic illustration of the results of the applied footprint theory:
  • Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year.
  • Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. And of course, we only have one.
There are more fine-grained and scientifically better funded theories, e.g. like this one here.  However there is no way around the simple conclusion, that we are already too many. There is no chance, that all the emerging markets and developing nations will ever be able to reach an average ‘western’ standard of living. The necessary resources simply don’t exist – down here on earth. Even worse, even if we proud Westerners could be able to defend the great economical divide and keep all newcomers out, we will have to reduce our standard of living drastically.  The resources will not be available for long. We are simply too many.

So what can we do? Fortunately there is one country – only one – which acted prudently on this challenge: After several trials and and years of considerations it was the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who in 1978 established the one child policy that limited the number of children people could have to only one.

Most probably this was the wisest decision in history of mankind – but it will not suffice. It came late and found no followers. The less prudent rest of the world happily switches to the overdrive mode – on the racetrack to hell.