The Fermi Paradox – alone in the galaxy

After a long and winding discussion of the Fermi Paradox, we concluded there are 0.5 high tech civilizations in the galaxy today. (For the sake of human ego, we’ll round that up to 1). In other words, we’re alone in the galaxy.

Oh, there are plenty of life-bearing planets out there. There might be millions where single celled organisms extract energy from undersea vents, far below planetary surfaces smothered in ice. Hundreds of thousands where packs of predators hunt packs of prey, but species members can’t cooperate. Thousands where intelligent tool-users never broke out of the Malthusian trap. Perhaps they didn’t have fossil carbon to burn to bootstrap themselves to nuclear fission or beyond.

Scariest to us, there might be hundreds where intelligent beings spend their lives staring at screens or immersing themselves in virtual reality… and hundreds or thousands more where artifacts remain while their one-time users have committed suicide, gone back to the land, or devolved into creatures that no longer think or dream. This is the only Great Filter we haven’t yet passed.

Other than that, there’s not much to fear in the cosmic neighborhood. Beyond dinosaur-killing asteroids, but hey, they’re part of why we’re here. Of particular note, there are no Exterminators out to destroy us, because they would have obliterated all life on Earth before the Egyptians completed the Pyramids.

Again, we’re alone in the galaxy.

Now what?

A man opening his arms to the Milky Way, evoking the Fermi Paradox as reason to rejoice.
jankovoy, Image ID 84086784,

Should we despair that we are essentially alone in the galaxy? That we’ll have to undertake prodigious feats of engineering to travel tens of trillions of miles, just to find the equivalent of slime molds, nature red in tooth and claw, Stone Age cultures, or graveyard worlds of abandoned tech? That the Star Wars cantina, the United Federation of Planets, or the Uplift universe, with humans and aliens peacefully coexisting (well, except for Han and Greedo) as equals, are impossible?

Or should we rejoice? We’re like the first proto-Polynesians who guessed there were thousands of islands across the vast ocean before them. Or the ancestors of today’s First Nations/Native Americans/pueblos originarios, who made it south of the ice pack into Americas teeming with game, and no human competition (maybe).

The galaxy belongs to our descendants. They can observe the slime molds and the pack animals from orbit. They can meet with the Stone Age cultures and explore the ruins of extinct civilizations. Perhaps they can even pry a few individual aliens out of virtual fugue and back into the real world.

Our descendants won’t need to settle any living world. There will be enough Venus-like and Mars-like planets out there for terraforming, or raw material to build Ringworlds and L5 colonies. If you have the energy sources and engineering skill for interstellar travel, then terraforming and orbital mega-construction projects are easy.

The galaxy belongs to our descendants. We don’t know exactly what they’ll do with it. But we don’t have to. We just need to prepare them to build the futures of their choice.

Thanks for exploring the Fermi Paradox with me

Since I’m a science fiction writer, you might be wondering how I’ve addressed the Fermi Paradox in my work.

The Confederated Worlds series (starting with Take the Shilling, yours free) assumes f_l is low. The settled worlds of all three interstellar republics were terraformed.

New California and The Reincarnation Run might share the same universe, just hundreds or thousands of years apart. I haven’t decided. New California has a living biosphere but in the slime mold stage—native life never evolved out of the oceans.

Azureseas: Cantrell’s War takes place in a universe where f_c is low. That pesky lack of zombie trees… I’ve also just spoiled the surprise for you, but it’s still a surprise to Cantrell when the truth about his “animal” control mission comes to him out of thin air… Also set in the same universe is short story Return Blessing (first published in Analog magazine).

Thanks again for exploring the Fermi Paradox with me. See you next time!