ET Wake Up
The Aestivation Hypothesis for Resolving Fermi’s Paradox
Of course I had to write something about this paper. It has three of my favorite things in the title (hypothesis, an obscure word used in a new way, and an H.P. Lovecraft reference that was also used in a Metallica song), and it is about one of my favorite topics, aliens. As an fyi, I copy-pasted liberally from Wikipedia for some of the background stuff. I did make some half-hearted attempt to substitute out a few words and rearrange some things. I’m lazy alright, so sue me*.
Given the very high statistical probability that intelligent aliens exist, it is a great enduring mystery as to why we have yet to be contacted by them. The problem was summed up by the physicist Enrico Fermi in 1950 in what later came to be known as Fermi’s paradox. In brief Fermi’s paradox is the apparent contradiction between the lack of evidence for intelligent alien contact and the high probability estimates that such aliens exist. Those estimates are best described by the Drake equation for the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations which posits that between 1000 and 100,000,000 civilizations probably exist in the Milky Way galaxy alone. It should be noted that others have used the equation with more pessimistic numbers for the inputs and come up with values of <1/galaxy. That said, the most recent observations from the Kepler telescope continue to suggest that the optimists (in terms of number of potentially habitable planets) are more likely correct, and possibly even on the low end.
Fermi’s argument which forms the basis of the paradox is a logical one and it runs thusly (great word isn’t it, thusly, it sounds so fancy, I feel like a scholar for the royal society of London at the moment, activate British accent and proceed). By the way another dude Michael H. Hart also helped but gets zero credit in the name. Sucks to be him.
There are billions of stars in the galaxy that are similar to the Sun, many of which are billions of years older than Earth.With high probability, some of these stars will have Earth-like planets,(the existence of high numbers of extra solar planets is continuing to be proven correct by the most recent observation from Kepler and other planet hunting telescope. As of the writing of this post however no exactly earth like planets [small, rocky, correct distance from sun for liquid water] had yet been found) and if the Earth is typical, some might develop intelligent life. Some of these civilizations might develop interstellar travel, a step the Earth is investigating now. (this was in 1950 remember, when everybody thought we would be living on Mars by 1970 and flying our cars to work where we would don our jetpacks and blast off to excitement in our jobs building dishwashers that also were ovens.) Even at the slow pace of currently envisioned interstellar travel, the Milky Way galaxy could be completely traversed in a few million years.
I had not noticed the similarities between the logical arguments of Fermi’s paradox and those of the simulation hypothesis before. That could make for a very interesting discussion. If you actually read the paper this article is about you will also find similarities/overlap between the aestivation hypothesis and the simulation hypothesis. It should be noted that Fermi’s paradox was proven to be an incorrect use of propositional logic way back in 1985. Essentially it fails when recast in the more appropriate for this type of argument, modal logic form. However, since nobody gives a shit about logic (see data science and machine learning for prime examples) and even fewer know what the f*!% I am talking about we continue.
According to this line of reasoning, the Earth should have already been visited by extraterrestrial intelligent aliens and yet all of the current evidence says we have not. As you might imagine there have been countless attempts to explain the paradox. The vast majority suggest that intelligent aliens are extremely rare or give theoretical reasons why such civilizations would not have contacted or visited Earth. The third major class of explanation revolve around conspiracy theories/cover ups, etc. which take the position that we have been and continue to be visited but nobody or only a a very select few know about it.
Finally, we get to the damn paper. Remember, the supposed topic of this very post. It was linked way up there at the beginning. Had the sweet title with the weird word and hypothesis and eldritch horror master (& horrible racist) H.P. Lovecraft. That’s the one. Go click on the link and read the abstract. Did you do it? If you did you are a sucker, hah! because I am going to paste it in below next.
Abstract — Sandberg et. al, May 2017
If a civilization wants to maximize computation it appears rational to aestivate until the far future in order to exploit the low temperature environment: this can produce a 1030 multiplier of achievable computation. We hence suggest the “aestivation hypothesis”: the reason we are not observing manifestations of alien civilizations is that they are currently (mostly) inactive, patiently waiting for future cosmic eras. This paper analyzes the assumptions going into the hypothesis and how physical law and observational evidence constrain the motivations of aliens compatible with the hypothesis.
Dude, sweet, you had me hooked at “aestivate until the far future” and I was all in by “produce a 1030 multiplier of achievable computation”, but you had to rub it in and drop the coup de grace “aestivation hpothesis” (hencefoth shall be referred to as AeH) which immediately turned me into a drooling AeH fanboy before I even read the paper. Catchy name, academic pedigree from the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society with legitimate scientists as authors, math, higher math, complicated calculations, even more complicated calculations, even more math, forty one, count ‘em 41 references including coming in at number 41 Mr. Simulation Hypothesis himself Nick Bostrom with the classic “Are we living in a computer simulation?,” The Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 53, no. 211, pp. 243–255, 2003. It even has pop culture appeal with the H.P. Lovecraft thing and a sense of humor about itself.
Boys and girls I am in love. Disappointingly only one table and no figures, ouch that’s minus 10 points for the no figure thing, though to be fair it might be a standard practice at the no doubt stodgy and old school British interplanetary society. That British accent I put on earlier is paying big dividends now.
The aestivation hypothesis makes the following assumptions:
1. There are civilizations that mature much earlier than humanity.
2. These civilizations can expand over sizeable volumes, gaining power over their contents.
3. These civilizations have solved their coordination problems.
4. A civilization can retain control over its volume against other civilizations.
5. The fraction of mature civilizations that aestivate is non-zero
6. Aestivation is largely invisible.
*Please do not sue me.