Why Intelligent Life in the Universe Is Beyond Our Reach
When you consider the fact that there are millions of galaxies and each has possibly millions of solar systems, the chance of intelligent life existing elsewhere must be huge.
Ever since humans began looking up at the stars, we awed at the vastness of the universe. We felt it's unimaginable that we should be the only ones here. So if the chances are so high that life exists elsewhere in one form or another, why have we not heard from them?
In order to understand why intelligent life is beyond our reach, we need to be clear on what we're asking. What are we looking for when we say we're searching for intelligent life? It may not be what we think it is.
Consider All the Forms of Life on Earth
Even on our own planet, just look at how vastly different each species is.
- Take birds for example. Birds have no hands or fingers to handle and manipulate their environment. Nevertheless, they are very adapted to their lifestyle.
- There are fish that don’t have eyes. Known as Amblyopsidae1, they live in dark underwater caves where there is no light, so they don’t need eyes. That’s just another example of how different various forms of life can be.
- Let’s not forget bacteria. These living creatures don’t even have brains. Bacteria survive very well, even without a brain2. They probably have better survival skills than we do. Is that intelligence? Imagine being visited by an alien from outer space like that!
How Scientists Are Searching for Intelligent Life
With the latest technology, scientists have been very busy with the task of searching for intelligent life out in the universe. The task is known as Active SETI3. It works like this:
- They send radio signals into outer space announcing our presence in hopes that someone will receive those signals and respond.
- They monitor all possible frequencies to find if there is any communication being sent our way.
What Stands in the Way of Finding One Another?
The Limitations of Time
Sending out signals and monitoring for a response may be in vain. Even at the speed of light these signals take too long to reach any possible extraterrestrial life within the same period of time that we humans exists.
It takes more than ten billion years for a signal to reach us from the farthest reaches of the universe.
If there is intelligent life elsewhere, they may be long gone by the time their transmission reaches us. In addition, we may be long gone by the time a response is received for our signals we send out.
I think time is the biggest problem with detecting life elsewhere, since our signals and theirs (if any) need to travel a distance of many light-years. The farther away any potential intelligent life may be, the greater the chances are that we both will miss each other's attempt at communication.
It's useless if we both exist at the same time. Think of it this way: If a signal takes ten billion years to reach the Earth, then that other intelligent civilization would have existed ten billion years ago and most likely is no longer around to receive our return communication.
If they are long gone, their signals might just be reaching us now—since it takes billions of years to reach us at the speed of light.
Even if they were still around, imagine how different their descendants would be after billions of years of evolution. They may not even be interested to follow up with the attempts of their ancestors to find other life forms.
Furthermore, considering the fact that we humans only had the technology to communicate via radio signals for about 100 years, it's understandable that there would be a small chance of finding a similar species that has (or had) the same technology in the same small segment of time.
Communication Can Be Undecipherable
If any other form of life had been sending us signals that are just reaching us now, it may have been with a completely different technology that we haven't even discovered yet.
One might think we should have picked up these signals that include some form of intelligent meaning in the code to compensate for language barriers. But if the technology is different, it may be invisible to our equipment.
Alien Life May Be Visiting Us Right Now!
I'm not talking about UFOs. Who's to say that any living creatures that may try to visit us are anything like us? Why do we limit ourselves to thinking that they need to look like humans to some degree? That's why I initiated this article with a discussion of other forms of life we have right here on Earth. That's a wake-up call.
Let's think, for a moment, how different outer-space aliens can be.
If there is intelligent life elsewhere and they are capable of visiting us, they may be so much bigger than us that we are just a piece of dust as far as they are concerned.
For this reason, they can't find us. We can't see them either because we are just molecules floating around, possibly in their bloodstream.
On the other hand, maybe we live on an atom that they are inhaling as they breathe.
It could also be possible that intelligent visitors are so small we can't see them. They might be flying around us right now. Like drones, but so small that we are not aware of them.
Maybe every dust particle floating through the air is actually a UFO from outer space with several little people inside, viewing us on their tele-macroscopicscreens. (I made that word up.)
When we observe animals we see that they have a knack for making use of the elements of nature. They survive well in their own habitats.
Humans, on the other hand, tend to destroy their environment. This may be a controversial statement, but that’s for another discussion.
The way it seems, in my opinion, intelligent beings tend to destroy their ecosystem and would not survive long enough to make contact with other worlds, or to receive a reply while still alive. Can we really expect the human race to still be around in a billion years when a response to our signals might be returned?
Limitations for Life-Support
Up until this point, I discussed the limitations of finding intelligent life elsewhere. As a final thought, I'll remind you of the uniqueness of our Earth so we can appreciate our existence in the universe.
The Protection of a Life-Supporting Planet
As I said earlier, there are millions of galaxies and that means there are billions or trillions of planets. However, any planet needs to be perfect in many ways to support life.
Earth happens to be just the right distance from the Sun to support life. Not too hot and not too cold. But it takes much more than that!
The Earth is special since it has a metal core. As the Earth rotates, that metal core becomes magnetized. The magnetic force surrounding our Earth diverts the dangerous solar wind plasma radiation towards the poles where no one lives.
If it weren’t for this magnetic field, the radiation of the solar winds would kill any chance of life on Earth.
This radiation, made up of electrons, protons and alpha particles, is what produces the polar lights as it falls in at the magnetic poles (Aurora Borealis in the north and the Aurora Australis in the south).4
Life Support System
Earth is a self-contained life support system. Gravity keeps things in place. Otherwise our water and atmosphere would drift away.
Besides needed for breathing, our atmosphere protects us from asteroids. Most of them burn up on entry. And our ionosphere protects us from ultraviolet rays.
Water makes up 71% of the Earth’s surface and is what makes our planet a life-supporting ecosystem.
Despite all the issues I mentioned that stand in the way, the chances that similar worlds exist elsewhere must be greater than zero due to the many millions of galaxies that exist.
However, the limitation of time to communicate and the destruction of a species by their own actions, definitely stand in the way of any possibility of finding one another.
Once all this is realized, one can appreciate how small the chance is of finding intelligent life somewhere else in the universe.
© 2015 Glenn Stok