What if we’re truly alone?

At least once, you’ve looked up at the night sky and asked the same longstanding question we’ve all asked at least once, “Are we alone?” With all those points of light out there, we can’t be the only intelligent beings in the universe, right? There must be at least one technological civilization aside from us in the great vastness that we call the cosmos.

The astronomer Carl Sagan was famous for his quote in his book and film, Contact, “The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” Yet, for some of us, it’s incredibly hard to fathom that it’s just us in the vast unknown full of so many stars and a growing list of exoplanets being discovered on a near daily basis. However, despite all our endless searching, we’ve so far found no one.

So, what if you found out one day that it is just us? What if in the great cosmos, out of all the planets, stars, and galaxies, we are truly alone? How would you look at the universe? At humanity? At yourself? Would you believe it? Would you stop looking up at the stars entirely? Would you feel disappointed that we’re alone, that we’re truly it, or would you feel a sense of optimism knowing that the longstanding question has finally been answered once and for all?

The film, Ad Astra, showed Roy McBride played by Brad Pitt searching for his father, H. Clifford McBride, played by Tommy Lee Jones, the latter of whom was on a mission at Neptune searching for intelligent life outside of the solar system and in the rest of the universe. In the end, Brad finds his dad alone on the space station orbiting Neptune, only to discover that his father didn’t find anything. No intelligent life anywhere in the universe. He discovered that we’re it.

Throughout the film, Roy was struggling to reconnect with his father and his father was struggling to connect with the universe, and this only serves as an appropriate analogy for our own pursuit of answering the longstanding question. At one point when he’s on Mars, Roy asks himself regarding his father, “I don’t know if I hope to find him or be free of him.” In our own pursuit of trying to answer the longstanding question, what if it’s not that we’re hoping to find intelligent life, but that we’re trying to be free of knowing if there’s intelligent life?

In the end, when Clifford disappointingly tells his son that there’s no one else in the universe and that he’s failed in his mission, Roy doesn’t respond with anger or disappointment, but with optimism, telling his estranged father with a smile, “Dad, you haven’t. Now we know. We’re all we’ve got.” In that moment, it was as if the literal weight of the universe was lifted from Roy’s shoulders knowing that we’re it. After Roy unfortunately leaves his father to die in the void, Roy notes that he can’t wait for the day that his solitude ends, and the film ends with him reconnecting with his wife.

While Roy felt almost relieved to finally know the answer to the longstanding question, it’s important to ask if you’d feel the same way? Because, despite all the hopes of us finding intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, we must face the real possibility that we’re it. That’s it just us, and where do we go from here?

Are we alone in the universe?

Maybe we truly are.

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

4 Replies to “What if we’re truly alone?”

  1. The probability is such that I’m sure there are other beings in the universe who have achieved at least our level of technology. If someone claims they have shown that this is not the case I will disbelieve them because it is physically impossible to prove that.

    But we are alone. The probability that there is a civilization which has achieved our level of technological proficiency and can contact us and will choose to contact us – is abysmally low.

    There were a whole lot of improbable events which led to our existence and the probability that this happens often is very low indeed.

    But if one considers the probability that enough of the improbable has happened somewhere in the observable + unobservable universe? I consider this to be highly probable indeed.

    I should also point out that the probability of a useful/helpful result from making contact is not good. A civilization exercising good sense won’t be bothering to try to contact us or anyone else.

    Upshot is that they are out there somewhere even though we are very unlikely to ever know that they are. But we are alone in that we aren’t going to know that they exist.

    Heck, even in the highly improbable event we make contact we’ll still be alone since interstellar travel is never likely to be practical and interstellar communication isn’t much more likely to be useful.

    Seriously, let’s assume for the sake of argument that we discover a technological society 5,000 light years away and we figure out how to send and receive messages. The turn-around time on a question and answer would be around 10,000 years.

    Let’s assume we ask the space aliens how to accomplish a technological task? Even if they know how to do that it’ll be 10,000 years before they can tell us and in those 10,000 years we’d have learned how. If you are trying to do social media – by the time you get your response about which deodorant they like most that deodorant will be out of production and they’ll be using something different and so will we.

    It just doesn’t matter. We need to stop hoping that magical aliens will come to us and solve our problems. We need to work it out ourselves.

  2. How are we ever going to know? It would seem impractical we can observe every single exoplanet in the universe. In fact distant galaxies are effectively inaccessible forever. Unless there’s some spacetime warping type method that exists. The problem with such ideas (i.e. far fetched) is that it seems reasonable we’d have seen something by now or evidence of someone else using it. We’d have been visited by now considering how interesting Earth seems to be. Your only option there is to ignore Occam and just say that is in fact all happening, it’s just all invisible and leaves no trace.

    So no, the only hope is to discover that we’re not alone rather than somehow discovering we are alone. That would either be alien evidence discovered here, or thru SETI. But those too would’ve happened by now, probably, if civilizations are ubiquitous.

  3. Man, talk about egotistical humans thinking they are ‘the’ intelligent beings in, of all things, the universe!

    We’ve just begun to think in terms of wondering what’s out there beyond Planet Earth—just a few hundred thousand years in terms of rational thought. I use the term ‘rational’ loosely because I believe at some future time understanding how other rational/intelligent beings view humans and our narrow interpretation of life and our place in it, will be up for review! In my mind this is not only rational, but imagining that we might just be all there is, is another way of saying that we simply have not lived long enough or smartly enough to think otherwise.

    Here’s a thought—if humanity manages to thrive in various places throughout our solar system over the next few thousand years; and our race continues to develop to the point that many current walls separating us from physically going ‘out there’ disappear–and they will, then the game of intergalactic companionship will continue as intended. Surely the same will be happening with other species as they progress similarly.

    Not that this progression will be without setbacks, issues. Looking back over the history of the human race begs the question as to how we managed to survive to this point! And we’re not out the woods yet, by any means. We can, and might, annihilate the human race. If we do, then the question of interacting with other ‘intelligent’ species is moot. But if we don’t, then I strongly suggest that the future of the future of our place in the intelligent universe, seems bright. IMHO!

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