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.