“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong” – H. L. Mencken
Douglas Adams once said, “Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet”, but we place enormous faith in the inevitability of technological progress, sure that our scientists and engineers can eventually solve all problems involving natural law. Heck, somebody’s got to be working on an app for that. They’ve got a pretty impressive track record so far, so perhaps our confidence is not entirely misplaced. For those of us born in the 70’s, we were raised on healthy doses of Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and stacks of science fiction that made it seem that the expansion of the human race out into the galaxy was a foregone conclusion, and that we would one day meet other sentient creatures and swap stories was just a matter of somebody’s technology making the great leap into the future of faster-than-light travel. Once we started landing people on our own moon and hurling space probes into the void, visits from extraterrestrials started to seem a lot less far-fetched. The absence of any definitive proof that the aliens are among us in the form of direct contact has led to speculation regarding a deliberate effort to obfuscate, ranging from abductions for the purpose of genetic harvesting to the Zoo Hypothesis, but we seem to intentionally neglect the most obvious reason that we have not and may never have any kind of intercourse with extraterrestrials, that is, the galaxy is a really big place, stuff is very far apart, and the natural hurdles to interstellar travel may simply be insurmountable.
Astronomers estimate there are roughly 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, suggesting that there could easily be as many as 8.8 billion habitable Earth-sized planets orbiting other stars. That seems like good odds. The nearest multi-planet solar system to us happens to be Gliese 876 and it is 15.3 light years away (about 145 trillion kilometers). That means that, travelling at the speed of light, it would take us over 15 years to get there. Not too shabby for intrepid explorers such as ourselves, except for that whole travelling faster than light thing. According to most physicists, matter, of which we and anything we build are inconveniently made, has a “subliminal” speed limit. The problem is that as you get close to light speed, the energy required to move even a little bit faster basically becomes infinite. Even when you get near the speed of light, weird stuff happens to matter and energy anyway. There’s the whole time dilation thing with thousands of years passing on Earth relative to the short amounts of time for our astronauts. You also wouldn’t be able to see very much due to aberration (the narrowing of your visual field into a tiny tunnel). Oh, and at such speeds, should you happen to run into an atom out there in space, it will tear a hole in your ship. That’s a lot of inflight patching, assuming everything just doesn’t fall apart from the wear and tear and you wind up sucking vacuum.
Thus, a lot of hope centers on wormholes, or Einstein-Rosen Bridges, a hypothetical topological feature that would fundamentally be a shortcut connecting two separate points in spacetime that could connect extremely far distances such as a billion light years or more, short distances, such as a few feet, different universes, and in theory, different points in time. It sounds suspiciously like a warp drive. Cool, except for the fact that most physicists say it would wreak havoc with matter, and you wind up as an undifferentiated ball of plasma on the other end. Given the natural barriers to getting up the speed or shortening the distance, the hopeful mutter about “generation ships” designed to raise successive generations of explorers in a closed environment, so that the descendants of the original crew will ultimately arrive at the desired destination. Assuming of course, the ship survives that long, they don’t murder each other, they manage to figure out how to keep providing enough food and water, and anybody remembers why they set out in the first place.
Now, maybe we will triumph over these obstacles someday, but as we are a relatively young solar system in an extreme backwater of the Milky Way, had anyone out there ever solved the problems inherent in interstellar travel, we would expect to have heard from them or at least seen some busy extraterrestrials moving about out there in the great beyond. Unfortunately, the deafening silence out there in the universe would seem to suggest that nobody has quite figured it out. Don’t get me wrong, my fingers are crossed, and I’m hoping for a warp drive, but one must consider the possibility that given the distances involved, even if there are sentient critters loitering about in the galaxy, they may simply be keeping it local. Johannes Kepler said, “When ships to sail the void between the stars have been built, there will step forth men to sail these ships,” but what he didn’t reckon was the question of whether they would ever get there. After all, the older I get, the further away the corner grocery seems.
“Unfortunately, the deafening silence out there in the universe would seem to suggest that nobody has quite figured it out.”
Naw, I don’t think that it suggests this when there are so many other possibilities. Besides, there have been new advancements in this EM drive that may turn out to be an accidental warp drive, which might even have a connection to the warp drive that that dude named David Pares is trying to build in his garage.
Hey, I’m hopeful, just considering worst case scenarios.
I found a link to this article from a couple of years back explaining the so-called “Fermi Paradox” and how it has been used (and abused) to try to make the point that aliens must not be out there, and that we must be alone. I thought that it has some relevance to the subject matter, so I’m posting it in case you are interested. Here you go:
Reblogged this on West Coast Review and commented:
If you aren’t following esoterix.com do yourself a favor and start today. Today’s super interesting post gets five out of five stars from West Coast Review.
Our best hope was finding other intelligent life in our solar system, but that’s been shot to hell. So, given that we’re so distant from any other life in the galaxy that the odds against meeting might really be insurmountable, what difference does it make? For all practical purposes, we are alone.
Reblogged this on Kate McClelland.
I don’t put much stock in the inviolability of what we refer to as our laws of physics. They may turn out to be little more than provincial statutes. It’s a bit prideful to treat our current understanding of space-time as more than a temporary and incomplete best guess about how the universe operates. Given the hints we have about such phenomena as quantum entanglement, dark matter, dark energy, and so on, it would be more reasonable to think of our contemporary understanding of physics as the cute babblings of the diaper-clad–full of promise but rudimentary.
From your argument that if extraterrestrial beings had overcome obstacles to interstellar travel, we would have seen/heard them by now, I take it that you have dismissed the extraterrestrial hypothesis as a plausible explanation of unidentified aerial phenomena reported to display design or performance characteristics that are beyond our current technological prowess. I would be interested in knowing why you have rejected the ET hypothesis.
I neither reject the possibility of extraterrestrials nor accept the inviolability of our current view of physical law. Merely considering a “what if?” in the same way one might consider the possibility that the Hari Krishnas have a cosmology that turned out to be 100% accurate.
I want to believe 😁👽 and in the meantime read Baxter & Pratchett 📚🌎
When I was very young, I remember being informed by adults in tones ringing with absolute conviction and certainty that “man would never, ever, get to the moon”. The reason being that we could never overcome the conflict of energy required to lift the weight of fuel required to produce said energy. i.e the more fuel you have to give lots of energy, the more it weighs, so more fuel needed etc. Well – no more !! so – I dont worry too much about what physicists say.
It’s our distance out in the far reaches of the galaxy and the lack of ever seeing any other galaxy people that worries me. Its as if we are the galactic equivalent of Australia in the 19C – far enough away to put the unwanted criminals and psychopaths where we could happily ignore them while enjoying a rational life. !!
Looking around me at most of human behaviour, I think I can see their reasoning – after all, if you didn’t have to come here, to wars, madness and all – would you?