Drake’s Equation and the Fermi paradox
R* x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x L = N
R*= Number of stars
fp = Stars with Planets
ne = habitable planets
fl = Planets which support life
fi = Intelligent life
fc = Detectable life
L = Detectable period
N = Possible communication
According to the Drake equation, there should be plenty of civilizations in outer space, spewing noise out of their radio stations. Assuming there isn’t a large government conspiracy dedicated to hiding the existence of extraterrestrial life, (which, given the conclusions we’ll come too momentarily, isn’t the craziest idea) we should be able to hear them. As you presumably know, man has yet to encounter a sentient species other than our own on Earth, let alone in outer space. So, in summary, where is everybody?
That question was first asked by Enrico Fermi, and was consequently titled “The Fermi Paradox.” Fermi argued that as life occurs at different times (there are likely millions of planets older than our own) if intelligent life could occur outside of Earth, a civilization would have long ago conquered the whole galaxy, before we even came to be. So effectively, we are alone in the universe.
But why are we alone? There are innumerable theories for this. It is largely believed that all sentient races are doomed to self-terminate. Either through nuclear warfare, pollution or disease, it is the fate of all species to ultimately kill themselves off. Other theories mention the difficulty in interstellar travel, and naturally religious creation stories are quite popular. There are many other theories, including:
Zoo Theory: an interstellar treaty prevents contact with “young” species, much like the prime directive in Star Trek. The Earth is a giant game reserve, and we are the most interesting animal on display.
The Killer Robot Theory: Killer robots are roaming the galaxy, actively seeking and destroying civilizations who make too much radio noise. This actually isn’t so far-fetched, as it is not implausible that we are simply not making enough radio noise to attract the attention of these killer machines, much like the Reapers in Mass Effect.
We are the Aliens Theory: We are actually the descendants of a super-race which spanned the cosmos a long time ago. For whatever reason, we have no recollection of our origin, and are instead left to reconquer the galaxy. This is likely the most realistic theory, as every other theory put forward is a little crazier.
But maybe, just maybe, mankind truly is alone. Perhaps we were created by the divine. Perhaps life is just a cosmic freak occurrence so rare, so bizarre, that it can only ever happen once. Regardless of what you believe, there is one certainty which can be universally agreed upon – that the search for life other than our own will not conclude until we actually find extraterrestrial life.