We are yet in the process of forming a cosmological worldview that is “universal” at least in relative scale. In my own solitary opinion this universal worldview has been limited by an incomplete and insufficient Big Bang cosmological paradigm that asks fewer questions than it answers—but that is a blog for a different day.
The central question on the line here and now is Fermi’s paradox intelligently posed as an as yet unanswered question—“If they are out there, then where are they?”
Just to cast this question as it has mainly been posed as a SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) type problem, may be restrictive in itself, as SETI research and theory has been part of a larger theoretical research set of the applied search for extra-terrestrial life ultimately of any form or kind, however possibly intelligent. Even more, it is important to understand how critically significant answering this question may be, not just from the standpoint of our interest in space, space travel and colonization, to include the reasonable transferability of earthbound biomes in relatively permanent, long-lasting space-bound biospheres (think at least Winogradsky columns or even extreme cancer cell cultures on petri-dishes.) The search for extra-terrestrial life, especially ET intelligent civilization, is a huge driver of space-directed scientific curiosity, and actual discovery of ET lifeforms will surely lead to more questions than answers, but that is the basis and goal of good science.
I cannot but approach the problem from a General Systems Theoretic approach as an anthropologist interested in the possibilities and limitations of space-culture and civilization. Extraterrestrial life is possible not just because it is imaginable, but also because we know it actually exists, if only upon earth. Stochastically speaking, with an infinitely open system, infinite possibilities entails in the structure of the large and long-run the near certain likelihood of the rarest of extreme possibilities. In short, given the right conditions, life will emerge and intelligent civilization will evolve, however unlikely its odds of survival in the large and the long run.
Several conditions must be met or dealt with if we are to perchance discover ET sooner than later, if ever at all. These conditions include:
1. The presumption of an infinite and open universe, permitting ages of star-systems well beyond those cosmogenic models delimited by Big Bang theory (They are probably out there, but most likely too, too far away to be immediately contacted much less reciprocated within two-way communication.)
2. A realistic rendering of the Drake Equation based upon increasing observation of Extra-Solar planetary bodies and systems well beyond our immediate Solar compass must come from our exploratory discoveries and adjustments as they happen and have happened. Already, we are coming to realize a Milky Way far more populated with diverse planets and other kinds of star systems than we ever could previously imagine or credibly believe. We may well yet find ET life forms very common in different forms of adaptation within many proximate star systems.
3. A realistic accounting of general relativity that entails our incomplete knowledge of a contemporaneous, instantaneous Universe beyond our relative sphere of the observable universe (the likelihood that intelligent civilizations probably exist but are too far away to readily contact without prolonged “delay” or with reasonable simultaneity.)
4. A realistic accounting of advanced civilizations on the higher end of the Kardashev Scale, which by chance may exist relatively proximate to our Solar system and that have enough curiosity and capability of signaling to be detectable from our Solar System.
5. Last, but certainly not least, is the expansion of our sphere of observability by our increasing technical and technological capacity to send out long-term “un-humaned” robotic, relatively autonomous, space vehicles with increasing capacity for long-distance and fine-scaled observation, for advanced communication, both back home—to earth—and to other mission vehicles, as well as also for targeted broadcasts well beyond into the greater depths of extra-Solar space.
By way of refrain, our interest in space exploration, observation and discovery, in large measure driven by the quest for ET life-forms, parallels both our human-interest based quest for long-distance and long-term space travel and space-colonization, and our growing earthbound global circumscription by human civilization, impacting global ecologies on all levels, in all ways, and in all places. However small or large we see our living planet, it is ultimately finite within an otherwise infinite universe, wherein exists all the stochastic possibilities, long-run likelihoods and potentials for ET life-forms.
We must remember finally that all systems have their beginning and their end, and our only ultimate hope of survival rests with the stars.
In regard to Fermi’s profound Paradox, the solution may be to answer the question with another hopefully profound question: Of all the stars in our nighttime skies, which is not home? It is only in and among the stars that we will find our full humanity.