An Economic Answer to the Fermi Paradox?

by Paul Gilster on November 20, 2006

Those who ponder the Fermi Paradox might want to consider Myrhaf’s solution, one based on economics. If advanced technolgical civilizations really are out there, maybe they simply can’t afford to build interstellar spacecraft. Myrhaf assumes that the only realistic way to travel between the stars is via a slow generation ship, what Isaac Asimov once called a ‘spome’ or ‘space home.’ And he doubts anyone would attempt it.

Expensive? You bet. And maybe there’s no one with the deep pockets to build it. Governments are too inefficient, while capital investment is unlikely because interstellar travel has such a long timeline. Corporate heads looking for return on their investments aren’t likely to have enough patience for a slow boat to Centauri. Charity? Perhaps there’s a hope through what Myrhaf calls ‘committed visionaries,’ but we’re talking investment over the course of generations.

Does any culture have that kind of long-term vision once it develops the technologies that could build a generation ship? There’s a case to be made that by the time the tools are available, the will won’t be there, and thus the solution to the paradox is what Myrhaf says: “Where are the aliens? They’re at home watching TV. When their visionaries knock on the door, they say, ‘I gave at the office,’ then resume watching ‘Alien Idol.’”

Or maybe not. Posit this scenario: A culture at the end of its star’s life must make a decision about how to save itself. Its G-type star, much like our Sun, will swell into a red giant, destroying all life on the inner worlds of its system. But in the process, that star becomes the perfect launching pad for solar sail missions of enormous scope, the kind that could get a generation ship on its way.

Would government, private industry and charity all contribute toward a starship not for exploratory purposes but for survival? The betting here is yes, and in a galaxy filled not with Sagan’s million technological civilizations but perhaps five or ten, star-crossing expeditions like these would hardly be visible to astronomers on Earth. Myrhaf may be right about the cost and the political will, but sheer self-preservation may eventually get at least a few societies to other stars.

One other thought: never rule out the power of compound interest. Couple it with a truly long-term perspective — think centuries instead of single lifetimes — and philanthropy properly applied can work wonders.


ljk November 27, 2006 at 16:56

Maybe that is why we haven’t heard from ETI:

They are all gazing at their navels, or whatever
equivalents they have.

J. Galbraith November 27, 2006 at 18:30

Mckenna, Bohm, Bearden, Sheldrake, Greer,Spring Forest Qigong, Seth Material etc. the universe is a freaky place. and I am getting pretty bored with the stuff they teach in college which seems so unimportant compared to stuff like this and what you guys are talking about. Try getting through stat 218 after reading some of the above but make sure you have mastered Spring Forest Gigong before you read Bearden or Greer you will need it.

Casey V November 28, 2006 at 13:31

Gaining a position beneath the wing of another is to fully under-explore ones own consciousness and power. Why be given wings if one chooses never to fly. The wings are, of course, the concepts of others – Run with them.

3vilGUI November 29, 2006 at 16:04

I think the only chance we have is to build a powerful engine capable of lots of speed then transport a device and somehow use chips to upload are minds
and build robotic/synthetic body’s with the technology available.

Kal November 29, 2006 at 16:08

I don’t know if the human race is worth saving, maybe in far future everybody will get intelligent and responsible towards one another. Right now I’m for the doom of the human kind, save the animals if you care about them.

Mike November 29, 2006 at 16:49

I don’t think this hypothesis carries much explanatory power. Why would all alien cultures necessarily be capitalist? It’s a mistake to assume aliens will operate by the same rules of reason we do.

In fact, even we don’t reason very well. Consider e.g. religion. Religious dogma is an extremely powerful motivation for many people. Churches can be extremely wealthy. It’s not difficult to imagine a persuasive religious movement aggregating the resources required to launch an interstellar spacecraft. And the religious delusion could be even more prevalent in nonhuman societies.

vega November 29, 2006 at 22:34

It boils down to patience and reward. Human beings don’t have enough patience to embark on something that will take hundreds of years. They don’t have the faith in their fellow man to carry on the work after they have gone, to complete the end goal. They see little in embarking on an effort when they won’t live to see the reward.

It will take a major human evolution of technology, mind and body to acquire our sci-fi fantasies. Then again, who says we are worthy to travel. Look what we do to our own species and planet…

iwannago November 30, 2006 at 0:39

Why do we really need to be exploring other galaxies – we are so far apart, why would we need to go there. If our sun blows up it blows up, we are over. If we colonize elsewhere, it would merely be a fraud.

Sickmind Fraud November 30, 2006 at 0:52

It seems to me that the polynesian model for exploration is the most practical approach, especially if there is no light speed or FTL technology available. The essential requirements include

1) the ability to make the required transits in several weeks (i.e. a month or two) not in several months (i.e. a year or two)

1a)The transits to the inner solar system in several weeks require one level of technology. The transits to the outer solar system in several weeks require another level entirely.

1b)Transits between the outer planets are still going to take a long time. I t probably doesn’t get any better in the Oort Cloud

2) The ability to ‘live off the land’ when you get there, even if it is not that bright/sunny out there

3) The ability to make more in terms of transportation and other resources.

4) The ability to survive major issues such as human politics, radiation, system breakdowns, etc…

The model is small space ships gradually moving out through the solar system and the Oort cloud, like the polynesians moving out through the Pacific Ocean on their voyages of exploration.

Space is a very unforgiving place. You have to get it right the first time. and have the resources to get it right if you really do mess up. Or even if you don’t, but are just unlucky.

VJ November 30, 2006 at 2:38

How long did we have the ship before earth was explored fully? And, now how long have he had the power to go to the moon?

The drive to explore and find new worlds has been part of our collective consciousness right from the beginning. We arent even on Type 0 of the Kardashev scale. Arent we presumtpuous to think about interstellar travel right now? We have glorious solutions for the simplest of problems. We complicate things trying to find an answer. As a species I think we would first need to develop some level of collective consciousness. Something like a jellyfish. A colony of humans with a collective brain. Now when we talk about advanced civilizations, it wouldnt be wrong to assume that they might have reached this level of developing some kind of collective brain for their planet or heck even an interstellar galactic brain with the cooperation of multiple civilizations.

For such a civilization, why would they be prepared to explore? Everything is already known to them. What would be their purpose for existence? Certainly not hedonism and not knowledge seeking either. Without any purpose, life would tend to be extremely boring. That kind of a civilization would be more interested in things which physics doesnt allow them to – changing constants, or even creating life or other universes. They would want to play god.

Now what if this had already happened? Maybe its just an endless cycle. Maybe someday we would be able to develop a collective brain and reach out to another planets brain and so on…and maybe one day, we would start experimenting and start playing god!

ljk November 30, 2006 at 5:37

Kal Says:

November 29th, 2006 at 16:08

I don’t know if the human race is worth saving, maybe in far future everybody will get intelligent and responsible towards one another. Right now I’m for the doom of the human kind, save the animals if you care about them.

Yes, let’s doom the human race – that’ll certainly make
sure we have the chance to develop into a mature species.

Then again, scientists just figured out that whales may be
even smarter than we thought. No wonder that Big Black
Space Cigar came to Earth only to visit them in Star Trek 4:
The Voyage Home.

As for that other comment about colonizing other solar
systems being a fraud: What?? Our Sun is going to die in
a few billion years (but not by blowing up – read an astronomy
text) – so we should just give up now? Oy, no wonder that
nobody else in the galaxy wants to deal with us.

Geek Jedi November 30, 2006 at 9:44
Brian November 30, 2006 at 12:54

VJ: “Arent we presumtpuous to think about interstellar travel right now? “

Well .. no. We’re not sending designs out to a shipyard we’re kicking the idea around over coffee (as it were) so when it DOES happen we’ll have some ideas about how to proceed so we’re not making it up as we go.

It is certainly possible that some people in this thread will be around then – and not beyond imagining that some of them might be on the planning board.

That thinking ahead thing is a good idea.

As a species I think we would first need to develop some level of collective consciousness. Something like a jellyfish. A colony of humans with a collective brain.

Ugh. I don’t know what you’d call people like that but human .. no. Besides we’ll get the next best thing by having a cybernetic hookup – you’re using a primitive version of that right now.

bigdan201 December 9, 2006 at 4:32

edg doveyoung had some very interesting posts in here..

Interstellar exploration and colonization is the single most important goal of humanity to ensure our survival and growth. The clearest way to do this that i can see is Foldspace.. using gravity to actually bend and fold the fabric of space-time. This way, we could travel a very short distance and skip to alpha centauri or wherever else we want to go. The distance would only be limited by how much gravitational power we could muster up.

It’s still a very long way off – but its the best solution i could see for crossing the huge expanses of space.

Until then, we’ll probably hang out in our solar system and expand however we can here. But I can’t wait until insterstellar travel, its the next huge step.

Timothy J Mayes March 8, 2007 at 15:10

Capiltalist economys can afford to build atomic or thermonuclear pulse
drive starships that can achieve perhaps 10 or 15 % of light velocity.
Antimatter is so terribly expensive to produce in quantity and store it artificially that only a society that has a socialist economy , and purely altruistic motives can afford to use antimatter-matter annhilation rockets for interstellar space flight at up to perhaps 50% or 80 % of light velocity.

ljk August 6, 2007 at 12:33
ljk May 21, 2008 at 16:25

Coming of Age in Second Life

An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human

Tom Boellstorff

To read the entire book description or a sample chapter, please visit:

Millions of people around the world today spend portions of their lives in online virtual worlds. Second Life is one of the largest of these virtual worlds. The residents of Second Life create communities, buy property and build homes, go to concerts, meet in bars, attend weddings and religious services, buy and sell virtual goods and services, find friendship, fall in love–the possibilities are endless, and all encountered through a computer screen. Coming of Age in Second Life is the first book of anthropology to examine this thriving alternate universe.

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