I like thinking about the universe and Humanity’s place in the scope of Everything.
My friends sometimes ask my opinion on big outer-space questions–maybe the most common question I hear is, “do you think there are aliens?” Of course, my friends mean, do I think there is other intelligent life in the universe?
Yes, is my answer. There almost certainly is other intelligent life, but the question actually implies an additional question. The implied part is “…And are they here?” That has a different answer, I think. The answer is no, and no we have not been visited before, and no, we almost certainly will never find other intelligent life in the universe.
Here is how I think about it: it’s a numbers game. The universe is infinite (or nigh-infinite, but close enough as far as we are concerned). There are hundreds of billions of galaxies out there with hundreds of billions of stars inside each one. As you approach a number like Infinity, it becomes evident every possibility has an increased chance of becoming true–maybe even millions or billions of times over.
Think about it in terms of winning the lottery. Your chances of winning the mega-millions jackpot (matching the numbers of 5 balls, each numbered between 0 and 56) is one in 175,711,536. Not impossible, but certainly not very good. The lottery jackpot is usually shared between one, or a few, states. What if we had everyone on Earth playing for the same jackpot? The chances of you winning become slimmer (because there are 7 billion of us on Earth–many more than the population of a few states), but the chances of someone winning increase. There are 7 billion chances instead of just a few million (the population of a few states).
If the jackpot we are playing for is finding other intelligent life, then again, the chances of us hitting the jackpot are unfortunately very small, but the chances of someone hitting the jackpot eventually are very good.
The likelihood that all the right combinations of ingredients to create life have occurred before and elsewhere are high. The universe could be teeming with life. But we will almost certainly never find it, and it might not be a good thing if it finds us first.
The reason we will likely never encounter life is simple: space. The distance to even the nearest star (Proxima Centauri) is 4.2 light years. That means if we had the technology to travel 186,000 miles per second (the speed of light) then it would take us more than 4 years to get there. We, of course, can not travel that fast and with the best technology we have, it would take us hundreds of years, if not thousands. That’s assuming there is life anywhere near Proxima Centauri, and that we could find it or that it could find us.
Here’s the more logical issue, though: if space aliens developed the technology required to get here (technology we can not imagine yet, even if they were in our own cosmic backyard), then we would be of almost no significance to them. If they can get here, they will seem so far advanced to us we would not even be able to communicate. It would be like us trying to talk to amoeba. Not to mention, if they can get here, they will already have had the technology to study us from afar and may not even need to come. It is only our vanity that makes us think they would care enough to probe us or want to sit down for a chat or engage in war.
The same is true in reverse. If we develop the technology required to defy Time and Space and travel the cosmos at any significant speed, whatever species we encounter would seem, well, retarded. In fact, chances are if we have the means to warp space or exceed the speed of light, we have evolved beyond anything you or I would recognize as human. We would more likely be, at that point, a race of energy beings, perhaps indistinguishable from light itself. Our fragile human bodies simply could not endure faster than light travel so we would need something new.
It is not difficult for me to imagine (even within the next 100 years) a technology that essentially allows us to “upload” a personality (via brain-mapping, and then transfer of information) onto the world wide web for storage and then download the same personality into a different body later. We could potentially travel this way, carrying in our spaceship only the separate ingredients of a human body, to be assembled molecule-by-molecule when we arrive at our destination. That might even be thinking too small. If such a scenario becomes reality in the near future, we might stop thinking about the human body as an ideal form anyway. Instead, we might download our personalities to specialized robot bodies specifically fitted for the task of, say, surviving an atmosphere like that of Mars.
This is a very simplified view, but the main take-away is there is almost certainly other intelligent life in the universe, though we will almost as certainly never find each other. If we did, it would look nothing like it does in the movies.
Space aliens would not be interested enough to want to steal our resources (or if they were, the war would not last but a few seconds–there would be no hand-to-hand combat–if they have the technology to get here, we have already lost), and space aliens would definitely have no interest in anally probing hillbillies. Arizona just needs to accept that.
I love thinking about space aliens and being part of an even more enriching universe. I love sci-fi films; I never miss a space movie–but I also recognize it is only hubris that compels us to buy into conspiracy theories and make fantastic the unexplained.
Sadly, the only space aliens we will likely ever see are the ones created by special effects and comic book artists.
But it’s still fun to imagine we are not alone.