Imagine an alien. If you’ve been influenced by movies and television at all, the creature you’re picturing is probably two-legged, two-armed, bipedal and with a reminiscently human layout – head, eyes and mouth somewhere near the top. And while most of us recognise that this vision of extra-terrestrial life is a bit silly, conversations about life elsewhere in the universe are often still painfully unimaginative – we always seem to end up talking about large, multicellular, intelligent organisms.
We desire nothing more than to find an intellectual counterpart on another planet (even though we sit idly by as highly intelligent creatures on our own planet are in decline). But the chances are if there is life out there, it’s probably nowhere near that complex, although it may well be quite sophisticated in it’s own way.
If I were a gambling woman, I would bet that any life out
there in the universe is probably microbial. Here’s why.
Is Anybody Out there?
The universe is vast and ancient, containing billions of stars. The likelihood is that other Earth-like planets, suitable for intelligent life, exist out there. Given the vast amount of time available, some of these suitable planets should have evolved intelligent life, some of these lifeforms should have developed interstellar travel, which should in turn have enabled them to colonise the galaxy within just a few tens of millions of years. So, we should expect the universe to be teeming with intelligent life. Any yet, we find none. Despite 50 years of searching, we have not yet found any evidence of extraterrestrial civilisations. We have failed to detect artificial signals in space, and we have failed to find any artefacts of intelligent life. This is the basic tenant of the Fermi paradox; we expect intelligent life to be prevalent in the galaxy, and yet we are unable to find it.
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