What I think about aliens
The universe is big. Really, really big.
That seems like all a person really needs to know.
But maybe it’s smaller than it seems?
I think the universe is teeming with life. Any other view seems crazy to me. Why? Mainly because there’s just too much planet out there. How could life only turn up once? This can’t be the only giant rock that scum started growing on.
There, I said it. Here’s some other things that I suspect are true:
The Fermi paradox makes incorrect assumptions (so it’s wrong). The most likely explanation: there is a sort of energy that’s easy to access that we don’t comprehend yet.
Aliens have been here any number of times, and are maybe on some level “here” all the time.
It makes sense that we have only seen them here and there and in ways that are hazy and unproveable. I think it is 100% intentional. Ohio State University’s Alexander Wendt seems to basically agree or at least sees this as one strong possibility.
The speed of light really is a fixed universal speed limit but it doesn’t matter because there is some other way of moving through space.
I think we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of physics and many more paradigm shifting, mind-bending breakthroughs are ahead and someone who is very outside the mainstream of the discipline will make every single one of them.
So how would space travel work outside of traditional physics?
- If you put a gun to my head, I would say that there is a way to move through consciousness as space, because consciousness is actually a part of the universe.
- But also maybe “warping space” or
- Something-something “quantum” — it doesn’t matter, honestly.
There’s something we aren’t looking at. There’s something we don’t even know how to look at.
How does this make sense in my head
While I don’t broadly ascribe to the rationalist worldview, I do think “Meditations on Moloch” is one of the best single pieces of writing I have ever read. It is very long and it is very brilliant, but let me try to sum it up for you: there’s always a short term gain to be had by acting selfishly and cheating so rationally speaking that’s what you’d think everyone would do but in fact we have only gotten this far because again and again people don’t when they should.
If you are reading this no doubt you are forming arguments in your head to this right now because it is counterintuitive and, particularly in this moment, all the messages are just the opposite. For now just trust me that if we sat down to have this conversation any objection you’d want to raise to the above, I would have an answer that would satisfy me. I’m not saying it would satisfy you, but this essay is about what I think, not what you think.
So, I think the world functions on a yin and yang basis, and selfishness and selflessness are one of those dualities. The world needs selfishness, but total selfishness is bad. Societies do best when they use selfishness to find new ways forward and selflessness to lock those gains in and close out a sphere for selfishness to exploit people.
It makes sense to me that spacefaring races would be ones that have overcome a lot of selfishness. They have solved a lot of big coordination problems and definitely are not warlike at all. It would make sense to me that spacefaring races would be driven more by curiosity than avarice. In fact, traveling space seems like it would be so extraordinarily resource intensive that any race that did it must have effectively solved for abundance.
If there are spacefaring races, I would imagine they have largely found each other and have been around a very long time. They would know how lesser races tend to behave when they come into contact with another intelligent life. The movie Contact captures this really well. They know they need to go slow, in a way that most people on the planet can’t even really believe.
It makes sense to me that they would make contact only if and when they knew we were ready for them to do so, because of prior lessons in ancient history on older planets.
Does this sound a lot like how people rationalize God’s mysteriousness and unprovability? Yes. What of it?