“If we are not alone in the universe, then why has no one appeared yet?“. This is a paradoxical question posed by Enrico Fermi (“The Fermi Paradox”) to Edward Teller in the Los Alamos laboratory cafeteria in 1950 while discussing UFO sightings.
What is the Fermi Paradox?
Often, Fermi’s question serves as a reminder of the more optimistic perspectives set out by the Drake Equation, which paints a picture of a universe populated by countless planets inhabited by advanced civilizations capable of establishing radio communications, sending space probes, or even colonizing other worlds. . . .
The “paradox” emerges as a puzzle among claims widely shared and supported by Drake’s assessments., which would point to a cosmic reality permeated with life and intelligence beyond Earth, and empirical evidence gathered from astronomical observations that seems to contradict this hypothesis. This leads to a kind of bifurcation: either Drake’s conclusions and estimates may contain errors, or our interpretation and understanding of current data is inherently limited and not exhaustive.
Back in 1961, the outstanding American astronomer and astrophysicist Frank Drake put forward this idea. In fact, his goal was not so much to establish the exact number of alien civilizations, but to provoke a fruitful scientific debate., during the first meeting dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. It is, in fact, a series of conjectures partly based on observational data, partly derived from extrapolation of experimental data concerning our solar system, and partly made up of logical conclusions, although not experimentally confirmed. This is the Drake equation:
N = R*fp*ne*fl*fc*L
N = number of intelligent civilizations in our galaxy
R = number of rising stars per year in the Milky Way.
fp = % of stars with a planetary system
ne = % of planetary systems with life-supporting planets
fl = % of planets in the Milky Way that have evolved life
fc = % fl on which intelligent life exists
L = average lifespan of intelligent civilizations
M = nN = intelligent civilizations in the universe, where n = the number of galaxies comparable to the Milky Way. Most recent reviews suggest that N is between 10 and 30 and n is at least 100,000.
Explanations of the Fermi paradox.
Interpretations (explanations) of the Fermi paradox are countless:
- Earth rarity. Planets suitable for habitation of highly developed civilizations are extremely rare (D. Brownlee).
- Extreme distance in space-time.
- Extraterrestrial civilizations that refuse contact with other civilizations in order to ensure the survival of their species (Liu Qixin).
- Means of communication unknown to us (gravitational waves – neutrinos – brain fields).
Each of the above arguments is rooted in the wealth of data and experience that belongs to our planet.However, what is missing is a detailed study of the concept and inner meaning of Mind, its extension to the many and potential civilizations that could inhabit the universe.
Fermi paradox from the entropy point of view
An advanced civilization internally strives for globalization: geographical expansion, elimination of physical barriers, elimination of ethnic differences, reduction of cultural differences, unification of faiths and religions, globalization of facilities and services, etc. But there is another important factor: (uncontrolled) world population growth in connection with the development of medical science and, as a result, an increase in the average life expectancy.
Now civilization is not only a dynamic system, but the expansion of this concept is justified by the globalization of both the physical and social system. Interventions on the planet, on the one hand, and dissemination of information and cultures, on the other, lead to the elimination of differentiation between territories, species, societies, ethnic groups and individuals.
That this is an isolated system, except for solar radiation and cosmic dust (current space launches are irrelevant), follows from the very hypothesis that the search for other advanced civilizations and other equivalent planets Earth continues.
The Fermi paradox and the second principles of thermodynamics
From the second law of thermodynamics: “In an isolated dynamical system, entropy can never decrease” therefore we get a continuous and progressive increase in the Entropy of an advanced civilization or, for the statistical value of Entropy (Entropy = level of disorder), an advanced civilization tends to increase its disorder. It may seem paradoxical that an increase in human intervention aimed at the uniformity and standardization of territories, cultures, facilities, services, ethnic groups, lifestyles, history and ideologies can lead to an increase in “disorder”, but this directly follows from the concept of disorder.
Imagine an ice cube in a glass of water. Ice has a perfectly ordered and rigid hexagonal crystal structure. Dissolving, the molecules find themselves in Brownian motion with a statistically chaotic distribution: disorder, and with it entropy, increase. In addition, entropy grows as the elements of the system increase. In this case, uncontrolled population growth leads to a logarithmic increase in entropy (or system clutter if you prefer)
In the same way, a well-organized, but not yet fully globalized (and therefore evolving) civilization has an ordered, but not yet completely unified structure (even physical), where there is still a distinction between individuals, states, ethnic groups, technical means or services, territories. perhaps, while total globalization implies an increase in Entropy and Chaos.
A possible explanation for the Fermi paradox is to consider the life of an intelligent civilization limited to a stage at which the possibilities of galactic communication have not yet been reached, but which has passed a stage at which entropic disorder reduces its survival. Under such conditions, the existence of intelligent civilizations is extremely small, and this can explain the Fermi paradox.
This thought (it is not allowed to define a hypothesis, conjecture, let alone a theory) stems from the statistical-thermodynamic consideration, according to which the chaos of any complex system arises due to an increase in its entropy: this is strictly true for isolated systems and an extragalactic civilization, of course. is.
It took human civilization (so to speak) about 300,000 years to reach the stage, the current one, where interplanetary (not intergalactic) travel is possible, as well as potential and theoretical (hopefully) total war. Will we be able to meet a new extragalactic civilization under such conditions?
dr.eng. Alberto Sacchi, who graduated in electrical engineering in 1962 at Polimi, is a former top manager of numerous US and Swiss SME groups, a passionate science communicator, author of dozens of technical publications in trade journals and popular science essays in mathematics and physics, and science fiction stories. and books. The experience gained in both engineering and management allows him to make a unique contribution to the dissemination of scientific knowledge.