Categories: Astrobiology

Why Finding Alien Life Would Be Bad. The Great Filter

Since the Universe is big and old, and life on Earth didn’t take relatively long to evolve, then life should be everywhere in the Universe. And yet, no matter how hard we look, we don’t see any evidence of it out there, not on Mars, not sending us radio messages, and not taking over entire galaxies and using up all their energy.

This, of course, is the Fermi Paradox, and it’s an absolutely fascinating concept to think about. There are many possible resolutions to the Fermi Paradox, but most of them are unsatisfying. Sure, we could be living in a cosmic zoo, or we fundamentally misunderstand how difficult it’ll be to travel to another star.

And maybe we’re just the first lifeforms in the observable Universe that have reached the level of technology that can conceive of exploring the Universe. But then, what are the chances of that? That really seems unlikely.

But then there’s the idea of the Great Filter. That there’s some kind of event that affects every single intelligent civilization, stopping it from reaching out into the galaxy, sending out signals, and exploring other worlds. Something wipes them out every time.

A scene from the episode

And considering the fact that we’re on the verge of becoming a multi-planet species ourselves, this concept of the Great Filter becomes even more unsettling.

It could be right around the corner from us.

Our friends at Kurzgesagt just released a video all about the Great Filter, and honestly, I think it’s the best video they’ve ever done. The animation, as always, is excellent, but the way they approach the Great Filter is really innovative, showing how evidence of life in the Universe is actually a bad sign, since it means we’re probably not the first life forms out there.

Which means the Great Filter is even more likely.

If you want to support what Kurzgesagt is doing, join their Patreon program and help them make even more videos.

Fraser Cain

Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

View Comments

  • The very first paragraph assumes that the thousands of years of UFO and extraterrestrial sightings- and the countless now-declassified or leaked government documents showing extreme interest in the sightings- are just all figments of the imagination.

    Open-minded approach as always, Frasier. I wouldn't expect anything less.

    • "The very first paragraph assumes that the thousands of years of UFO and extraterrestrial sightings- and the countless now-declassified or leaked government documents showing extreme interest in the sightings- are just all figments of the imagination."

      And your point is???

  • "Something wipes them out every time. "

    Yeah. It's called a gamma ray burst. Basically, gamma ray bursts used to happen relatively frequently in the galaxy (one burst every between 10,000 years, to one burst every 1,000,000 years). None have been observed in our galaxy, so far. In fact, GRBs close enough to affect life in some way might occur once every five million years or so — around a thousand times since life on Earth began (Source: Wikipedia). And, since earth isn't devoid of life, none pointing toward us has ever gone off in our galaxy during it's entire period of life. So, apparently, these things are taking much longer than 5 million years to go off, now (considering that any gamma ray burst detected has happened millions or billions of years ago).

    There's a scientific paper on it here: https://arxiv.org/abs/1609.09355

    Wikipedia has information on this as well: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamma-ray_burst#Rate_of_occurrence_and_potential_effects_on_life

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