Monday, September 10, 2007

The Fermi Paradox: The Apocalyptic Hypothesis

Nuclear ExplosionOne of the more ambiguous parameters of the Drake Equation is fL, which is the fraction of the duration of a planet's existence during which communicating civilizations exist. In other words, this is the average "life span" for an intelligent species. If fL is a low number, this would indicate that most intelligent species have a very short period of existence and that, consequently, the average density of intelligent life for any given period of time would be low enough to satisfy the Fermi Paradox. One possible mechanism that would promote this would be the development of self-destructive technologies. Our own species appears to be passing through a period of its development where there are any number of ways that we could bring about our own destruction, including nuclear holocaust, environmental collapse, biological warfare, and so forth. Nor does the future appear to be getting any safer as is seems that such "horizon technologies" as nanotechnology will offer us even more paths towards self-destruction that are even easier to take.

Exploding StarCritics of the AH argue that it is an extremely pessimistic premise and that there is no good reason to suppose that "technological adolescence" has a particularly high mortality rate. They note that we seem to have cleared many of the hurdles that have faced us and that, for the time being, it would even seem that we are moving away from the brink of disaster. Proponents of the AH agree that it is a pessimistic hypothesis but point out that this does not dismiss its potential viability. That note that, unless we have cause to believe that other species are wiser than us, a dangerous period of technological adolescence seems to be practically unavoidable, particularly given that there seems no end in sight of the deadly hurdles that a species must clear.

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