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Why Human Nature Could Explain a Lack of Alien Life

Solving the Fermi Paradox may be as simple as examining life here on Earth


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Trevor Mahoney

3 years ago | 5 min read

Who are we as people? Are we born with preconceived notions about the way things need to be or are we taught?

We all have biases in our life and believe in certain things that others do not. Sometimes those beliefs, no matter how wrong they may be, are strong enough to throw entire countries at war with each other.

The concept of nature vs. nurture often comes up when discussing humanity. Our history is checkered with violence and destruction. This past has led people to wonder if this is something we can evolve out of, or if this destructive nature will plague us till the end of society.

Even though we are making stunning developments in regard to new technologies and it seems as if humanity as a whole is getting more advanced, it’s all for naught if we can’t squash our tribalistic tendencies.

Nuclear energy was discovered in the 1930s by Enrico Fermi and the first nuclear chain reaction occurred in 1942. What did we do with this knowledge? We discovered how to turn it into a devastating weapon in World War II.

Humans have a tendency to turn anything into a weapon if possible. That’s why there are a large number of ethical concerns regarding artificial intelligence and robotics.

While there is a large amount of good that can come from these developments, there will always be those finding ways to use it for violence. In fact, the military robotics market has been estimated to reach $245.1 billion by 2026.

It’s not just war either. Humans have routinely chosen bad choices because short term good will come to a select few. For example, greed has motivated many corporations to discretely shut down renewable energy developments since they are less profitable in the current moment.

This, along with other poor choices, has led us into a climate change crisis that seems to be at a tipping point.

Here’s the thing. Societies on Earth have been in conflict with one another since our earliest days, and we seem to naturally lean towards selfish, individualistic tendencies. Is this something that can be overcome by advancing technology or are those advances just going to make matters exponentially worse?

Examining our human nature here on Earth could offer some insights into why we have not discovered alien life out in the stars.

Let’s assume for a minute that human nature is an inherent part of who we are and that these destructive tendencies cannot be overcome. If this nature is just a side effect that comes with intelligent life, then it’s not really a surprise that we’ve never discovered aliens.

Putting this question of human nature on a grander scale and applying it to any potential life in the Universe lines up with a concept known as the Great Filter theory.

That same man who originally showed that nuclear energy could be possible, Enrico Fermi, was the same man who created the famous Fermi Paradox. Essentially, he just asked one simple question: where are all the aliens?

There has been a slew of theories that have popped up over the years, but one of the most realistic, and concerning, ones is the Great Filter theory.

In short, this theory says that there is a filter, either unnatural or natural, that all life comes across and rarely gets passed. If the filter is behind us, then it was likely the jump between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. However, it’s equally likely that the filter could still be ahead of humanity.

Humanity is still young in the grand scheme of things, so it would not be surprising if we haven’t reached the filter. However, that makes one wonder what the filter could possibly be.

Many arguments focus on nuclear weapons or something similarly destructive. Some people focus on climate change as the potential filter that ends life across the Universe.

However, what if the filter is all those things combined? What if the Great Filter has been a multi-century battle that is going on today?

Perhaps the Great Filter is our human nature. Going beyond that, the Great Filter may simply be the nature of life.

If we can’t control who we are and allow our society to devolve into conflict for years to come, it’s extremely likely that those conflicts will soon have the potential to be world-ending. In fact, they already have that potential.

Out in the Universe, intelligent life may have evolved in a similar mental way. Even if alien life looked completely different from us and their technologies seemed foreign, their natures may not be different. They may suffer from the same destructive tendencies brought on by greed and selfishness.

We may not have detected life in the Universe because no life has been able to evolve past a similar level to our own. Whether it be due to climate change, destructive power, or some other world-ending event, species around the Universe may be prone to wiping themselves out.

So if the Great Filter is an ongoing challenge, what does that mean for us? Well, it means we still have the potential to move past it. Our society needs to focus on becoming a little more collectivist and a little less individualistic.

We have petty conflicts with other countries and can never seem to find common ground that lasts. If we do not overcome this nature, it may lead to our society's destruction in the end. What’s scarier is that this destruction could be due to a single country that decides to launch a weapon.

Until we come together as humans, our divisiveness may be the cause of our destruction.

Assuming this theory is true and that humans may be alone right now, overcoming this barrier that afflicts species around the Universe is our choice. Perhaps we overcome it and discover other life that has done so as well.

Regardless, humans need to focus less on technological advancements, and a little more on societal advancements. At the end of the day, the future is what we make of it and whether we are here for the future is up to us.

What do you think? Could human nature be the Great Filter or do you think there’s another reason we’ve never seen alien life? Let me know your thoughts below.

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