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10/11/2016

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MadRocketSci

One of my personal ideas about the Fermi paradox is that you have to consider the time dimension. Space is vast. Time is also vast. Throw a dart at the dartboard of geological time with respect to life on Earth: How lucky do you have to be to hit the range of human tool-using civilization (nevermind radio-capable civilization)? Earth was a blue planet full of unintelligent life for something like 3 billion years - if aliens had been broadcasting at us during any of that time, it would have fallen on deaf ears.

Of course we'd like civilization to stick around a while heading forward into the future - but how long is "a while"? How long will we be using radio?: We didn't know what light was 400 years ago! If our ability to go deeper into the laws of nature and develop ever more powerful tools is unbounded, then we (and hypothetical intelligent aliens) won't be (primarily) using any of our current toolset for longer than a few thousand years. Relative to the geological/evolutionary timescales, the timescales of intelligent life solving problems is practically instantaneous.

So maybe Earthlike planets are plentiful - there are certainly enough stars out there in our galaxy alone. But maybe we'll go exploring and find worlds full of animals, and the occasional aftermath (whatever it happens to be) of hundreds of millions, or billions of years of intelligent thought, but we'd be exceedingly lucky to find anything near peer-level.

MadRocketSci

I suppose on the other hand, if we do find radio-communicating aliens, it could potentially mean a few things:

1. Even with arbitrary amounts of time to develop technology, light is still somehow the best way to communicate over long distances. Points to some dismal "technological ceiling", maybe, implying a lot of things about what we might never be able to do.
2. Someone knows we are here, and is really *really* interested in getting our attention. Interstellar communication that we have any hope of picking up is probably directional, meaning they have to be consciously pointing a gigantic dish at us and pouring on the gigawatts over centuries of time.

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