There are 70 million billion intelligent civilisations in our universe, so why haven’t we met anyone from them yet? And why haven’t they explained teleportation to us? Maybe it’s down to us to sort out.
I’ve been making things for as long as I can remember. In the mid-1990s I made music and hacked Napster to spread my music worldwide. What I made landed me a record deal at the age of 17. I’ve never felt so rewarded for making something with my bare hands and my bare mind. It felt so powerful and surreal. Almost godlike.
As a scientist in the world of chemistry, I’ve made molecules by smashing together atoms with my bare hands, figuratively. When that breakthrough result showed itself on the screen of the analysis computers, I had the same feeling again. This time even more powerful. I was messing with the very fabric of space and time! Even more godlike.
I’ve made electronic circuits, drawings, wooden sculptures and what not. Regardless of what I’ve made, it’s always felt godlike. That’s why I’m so obsessed with making stuff. And that’s why I’ve written this story. A story about aliens, about why I believe you’re a god, and about the importance of making stuff.
You’re in a cabin, far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. You’ve never heard silence like this before. It’s a clear and chilly night. Not a single cloud is to be found. Now look up. Two thousand. That’s what you’d see. Roughly 2,000 stars gazing down at you.
“That’s a lot of stars,” you might think. They almost cover the entire sky and you have to concentrate just to find a patch of emptiness above you. But this is where things only begin to get crazy. Because those 2,000 stars represent only 0.000001% of all the stars just in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, conservatively speaking. Because there are an estimated 200-400 billion stars in the Milky Way. That’s… a lot.
What’s crazier is that, for every star in our galaxy, there’s another galaxy in the universe, which means there are about 70 sextillion stars in the observable universe. That’s 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. Did I mention things are going to get crazy? Good, because we’ve barely started.
Now, for all these stars in the universe, add the fact that most of them have planets around them. Just like our star, the sun. That’s a whole lot of planets. However, many of these stars are way hotter or way colder than our sun, which means that an earth-like planet is unlikely to exist around such stars. Scientists believe 5%-20% of all stars are like the sun. Let’s stay on the conservative side and go with 5%. That means there are “only” 3,500 billion billion stars similar to our own sun in the universe. Of all these sun-like stars, scientists believe 20%-50% of them have an earth-like planet around them. Let’s go conservative and go with 20%. That means there are approximately 700 billion billion earth-like planets in the universe. This is the point where we run out of scientific data. So we have to make guesses. Again, let’s try to be as conservative as possible. So let’s assume that for every earth-like planet, only one in 100 contains biological life. That’s 1% – 7 billion billion earth-like planets with biological life. Then let’s assume only one in 100 of these (1%) are inhabited by intelligent life on the same level as us humans. That’s 7 million billion earth-like planets with human-like intelligence in the observable universe.
If that doesn’t blow your mind right out of your face, I don’t know what will. But it begs the question: if there are so many of them out there, why haven’t we heard from them yet?
This is known as the Fermi paradox. The paradox of why we can’t see a single trace of any intelligent life, even though the universe should be sprawling with it, statistically speaking. And there’s a vast number of theories that try to explain it. For example, one is that we are the first intelligent civilisation; another is that intelligent civilisations tend to annihilate themselves once they reach a certain level of intelligence, which eliminates the chances of several intelligent civilisations existing at the same time. That’s not implausible, considering the amount of nukes we have on earth.
But again, they’re all theories. We can neither prove or disprove them with the current level of scientific understanding we have today. Which begs the question: do you believe there are aliens? If yes, how come we haven’t seen them yet? If no, how do you explain the statistics that are extremely in favour of them?
I have chosen NOT to believe in aliens for philosophical reasons. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that I use the same reasoning in my active decision to not believe in a god. So from here on, you’re free to exchange the word alien with God.
And my reasoning is pretty not sure actually exists. And in doing so, let’s say in the case of teleportation, I’m giving the concept of teleportation a stamp of “impossibility”. Because I’m hoping that aliens will figure it out and then give it to us for free. Thus, I decide to not dedicate my life to figuring it out myself.
But imagine if the inventor of vaccines had delegated the concept to an alien species (or an act of God – it’s the same thing), because of how impossible such a concept seemed before it was invented? The same goes for antibiotics, cars, computers, mobile phones, the internet… The concept of an airplane was as alien to humans 2,000 years ago as teleportation is to us today. The same goes for many different works of art and design. But when we use our imaginations, creativity and passion for making things, every now and then we manage to surpass reality, in a sense.
So making things is a bit like being God for a while. Because making something that didn’t exist before is godlike (or alien-like – your choice). It’s as complex as it is pure and simple. And I think all of us know this subconsciously. That’s why we are so afraid of making things. Because first of all we have to take the responsibility of making the thing we so strongly believe should exist, which is a huge burden on its own. And then we have to put our entire dignity on the line when we show the world what we’ve made.
IT’S SO DAMN SCARY. And that’s exactly the way it should be. Because who said being God is easy? I sure as hell didn’t. I just said you’re a god.
Words by Dr Ashkan Fardost
1: The Milky Way
2: The Nazca lines in Peru, possibly created by the nazca people to be seen by their gods
3: Vintage Vaccination
4: The Four Laser Guide Star Facility for the adaptive optics system on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile