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Are We Alone?


This essay explores the question, Are we alone in the universe? Is there life in other parts of the universe? If we are the only life in this vast universe, that is astounding. If we are not, that is equally astounding. You might think the only sane approach with the lack of evidence is to be agnostic. I argue that we should presume there is life elsewhere until we find evidence otherwise.
Sometimes I think we’re alone. Sometimes I think we’re not. In either case, the thought is staggering.
~ Richard Buckminster (Bucky) Fuller (born:1895-07-12 died:1983-07-01 at age:87)

The Trend

Man has a collective ego that makes him want to believe he is terribly special and unique. He lied to himself for centuries that the earth was the center of the universe. He puffed himself claiming he was made in God’s image.

Galileo Galilei, Darwin and the VLBA (Very Long Baseline Array radio telescope) successively humbled him and pointed out he was nothing special. I expect this trend to continue. The earth is just as average run of the mill planet in the backwater of an average galaxy, of no special cosmic significance. We love it dearly, but that is only because we live here.

The Grand Assumption

Though we have only put foot on the moon, we confidently assert that the laws of physics are the same throughout the universe. The rest of the universe is made of the same elements as matter here on earth. We came to this conclusion by careful study of spectral light from the stars. Physics is the same everywhere. Biology is just a branch of physics/chemistry that studies carbon, so we should expect the same biology in places in the universe with similar conditions to earth.

The Fish Analogy

Let’s say you went to New Zealand and studied a mountain lake and discovered lo, it had fish. What would be your natural assumption be about other similar lakes? Most people would, as a working assumption, presume they too had fish. Yet most humans do the opposite when it comes to extra-terrestrial life. They claim "This is an holy lake blessed by God. It is impossible any other lakes could have fish in them. Only crazy people believe in fish they haven’t seen."

A scientist says, "We have only studied one lake so far. It has fish. The odds of this being the only lake with fish is thus quite remote since there is nothing special about this lake."

Life Is Easy

For many years, we believed that creating life was exceedingly difficult. It was something only a God could do. Now, any undergraduate geneticist can create simple organisms like an HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) virus or a polio virus using gene sequencing. We have discovered organic molecules are common in space. We discovered that the basic amino acid building blocks automatically form from the action of lightning on a mixture of gases similar to the early earth’s atmosphere. We discovered that life appeared almost the instant the earth cooled. It looks like either life was seeded from space like dandelions, or arose spontaneously. The chemistry of carbon naturally gives rise to life with little prodding.

If it happened so easily on earth, it surely would happen pretty well anywhere else.

Where Are the Little Green Men?

Keep in mind that earth has had life for hundreds of millions of years and only in the last blink of an eye did it evolve little white men. Only in the last few decades did it house ones capable of advertising their presence to the universe by broadcasting I Love Lucy reruns.

I believe life is abundant in the universe, but technological life like ours is rare.

We most likely will not be here in 100 years. We will either nuke ourselves back to the stone age, kill ourselves with biological warfare, destroy our ecosystem with global warming, or simply be unable to sustain the complex technology that supports our huge populations. We are like monkeys experimenting in a fireworks factory. We are smart enough to get into trouble, but not smart enough to use restraint to avoid killing ourselves. We evolved our intelligence too quickly.

I presume this is a universal problem. Most intelligent species kill themselves off within 100 years or so after attaining the ability to communicate across the cosmos. It takes millions of years to evolve another stab at it. At any one time, then, there are not many intelligent species out there.


What kinds of technological species would manage to hang in there for a million years or so? They would have evolved their intelligence slowly. They would be extremely cautious and conservative. They would know to keep well hidden to avoid being attacked by predatory species. Any sane animal keeps a low profile in a hostile or unfamiliar environment.

Humans are like sacrificial goats bleating to the universe. Come and get me! We are so naïve when we have absolutely no idea what dangers may lurk out there.

Won’t Anyone Talk To Us?

Advanced technology in the wrong hands will only harm. A wise extraterrestrial civilisation would carefully encode any messages it broadcast so that a primitive race like ours could not read them and misuse them. To us they would just look like static.

Are We Being Observed?

Since it takes too long to physically travel interstellar distances, I would imagine, if we were being monitored, it would be from a great distance, or via miniaturised electronics disguised as various natural objects, perhaps as small as grains of sand.

The extraterrestrials would look upon us the way we study the habits of some endangered monkey. For them, the evolution of a technological species might be a rare event and something worthy of study, without interference. They would know our odds are remote of us surviving more than another century, but we would be interesting just the same, partly for the sheer entertainment value. Man has got to be one of the strangest creatures. Perhaps we appear on the Milky Way’s Funniest Home Videos or Wild Kingdom.


Though everyone should remain agnostic until we have at least investigated the earth-like planets of a few other stars, I think the working assumption should be that the rest of the universe works by the same physical and biological laws as here. Since there are billions of earth-like planets, there have to be billions of planets supporting life. Intelligent technological life on earth in historic terms has been extremely rare. I suspect it is similarly rare in the rest of the cosmos. However, all it would take would be for one technological species with a million year head start on us, to basically have all the inhabited planets in our galaxy sewn up. We well may be living on a nature reserve called Planet Earth, kidding ourselves we alone.

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