Why We May Never Find Intelligent Life in the Universe
When you consider the fact that there are billions of galaxies and each has possibly well over 100 billion solar systems, the chance of intelligent life existing elsewhere must be enormous.
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?
To understand why can't we find intelligent life, we need to be clear on what we're seeking. What we are looking for may not be what we think it is. Even on our planet, we have a tremendous number of different life forms.
Consider All the Forms of Life on Earth
Look at how vastly different each species is on Earth.
- Take birds, for example. Birds have no hands or fingers to handle and manipulate their environment. Nevertheless, they adapt remarkably well 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 various forms of life can be so different.
- 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 job 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 that others may be sending our way.
What Stands in the Way of Finding One Another?
The Limitations of Time and Distance
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 that we humans exist.
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 no longer exist by the time their transmission reaches us. Besides, we may no longer be around by the time a response to our signals would get back to us.
I think that 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 higher 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.
Even if they were still around, imagine how different their descendants would be after billions of years of evolution. They may not be interested in following up with the attempts of their ancestors to find other life forms.
Furthermore, because 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 have (or had) the same technology in the same small segment of time.
Communication Can Be Incomprehensible
If any intelligent beings had been sending us signals, they might have been using a completely different method—one that we haven’t been able to monitor.
Even other animals on Earth use a variety of communication methods that are very different from the way we humans communicate with speech. Consider these two examples:
- Whales, dolphins, and porpoises, use a low-frequency sound that travels through water to communicate with one another.
- Bats use sonar that bounces off objects so they can determine what is in their path.
Those are just two examples of how challenging it may be to communicate, should we ever meet up with intelligent life in the universe.
One might think we should have picked up these signals that were designed to compensate for language barriers. However, if the method of technology is different, it may be invisible to our equipment.
Alternative Physical Traits May Be Unrecognizable
Our five senses limit us to what we can be aware of and visualize. We even base our technology on our limited considerations.
We have our own interpretation of life. That may be a limiting factor. We are carbon-based animals, and other life forms may be based on an entirely different chemical structure.
If we were to look directly at an intelligent being made up of different chemistry, we might not even know it. It would be invisible to us. We may not be aware of its presence due to a vastly different body and chemical makeup.
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 little that we are not aware of them.
Maybe some dust particles floating through the air are UFO's from outer space with several little people inside, viewing us and monitoring everything we're doing.
When we observe animals, we see that they have a knack for making use of the elements of nature. They survive well in their habitats.
Humans, on the other hand, tend to destroy their environment. That 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 expect the human race to 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 that we can appreciate our existence in the universe.
How a Life-Supporting Planet Provides Protection
With billions of galaxies in the universe that may have the potential for Earth-like planets in their solar systems, the possibility for intelligent life must be high. 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 different 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.
So, why haven't we found intelligent life? 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 billions 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. Even if we do approach one another, we may never recognize a vastly different type of life-form.
Once we realize all this, we can appreciate how small the chance is of finding intelligent life somewhere else in the universe.
Questions & Answers
© 2015 Glenn Stok