Monday, September 17, 2007

The Fermi Paradox: The First Come, First Serve Hypothesis

StrawberriesThe FCFSH is a variation of the Cosmic Isolation Hypothesis that does not rely on the proposition that intelligence is intrinsically rare. The FCFSH uses the Weak Anthropic Principle in an attempt to demonstrate that if you are an intelligent species then you should expect to find that you are the first intelligent species to arise in your home galaxy. The reasoning behind the FCFSH is thus: even if a species disperses through its galaxy at a mere 1% the speed of light, the amount of time that it would take such a star-faring species to colonize every star in an average galaxy (e.g., our own) would be a mere 10 million years. While 10 million years seems like an extremely long period of time compared to our own history, it's an eye-blink in terms of evolutionary time. The FCFSH further hypothesizes that such widespread colonization would tend to preclude the development of additional intelligence. Therefore, the only intelligence likely to develop within a galaxy will be the one that first develops within a galaxy. Ergo, if you are an intelligent species, you are automatically going to be the first.

Critics of the FCFSH complain that it makes a number of hidden assumptions, the most prominent being the supposition that existing intelligences automatically preclude the development of new intelligent species. It also supposes that interstellar colonization is the de facto behavior of intelligent species (see the Stay at Home Hypotheses). Supporters of the FCFSH suggest that these criticisms violate the Copernican Principle which states that, unless we have empirical evidence to suggest otherwise, we should always assume that there is nothing unique about our status in the universe (e.g., we aren't at the center).

One bit of data that may support the FCFSH is the recent observations that our Solar System is probably among the first generation of systems that have enough complex elements (e.g., carbon) to support life. If intelligence is something that evolution has difficulty producing, we may well be among the first intelligences in our galaxy, if not the first.

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