Since the dawn of humanity, we have gazed up to the stars and wondered what else is out there. For many people, it seems certain that we can’t be alone in the universe – but that begs a question. Namely, why haven’t we found evidence of these extra-terrestrials yet? Well, a Russian physicist has devised a theory to account for this lack of proof. And if it proves to be accurate, the cosmic implications are pretty bleak.
The man behind this hypothesis is Alexander Berezin, who is an expert on theoretical physics and works in Russia’s National Research University of Electronic Technology. The scientist wanted to address why we haven’t found proof of alien life yet. And to do this, he had to face up to an improbability known as the Fermi Paradox.
The paradox is named after the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi, and its premise is rather simple. In essence, the theory wonders why we can’t find evidence of extraterrestrial life despite living in such a large universe. Indeed, we might sum the paradox up in the form of a question supposedly posed by Fermi himself, “Where is everybody?”
It was this aforementioned riddle that Alexander Berezin sought to grapple with, and eventually, he reached his own conclusions. But even though the theoretical physicist argued that his idea was uncontroversial, he acknowledged that people might be reluctant to subscribe to it.
In a paper – titled ‘First in, last out’ solution to the Fermi Paradox – Berezin explained his thoughts as to why people might sweep his hypothesis aside. In his own words, “It predicts a future for our own civilization that is even worse than extinction.” Not unreasonably, the expert suspects that this might be a hard pill to swallow.
The possibility of alien life on distant planets has long been a source of human fascination. And the notion that extra-terrestrials might actually visit Earth has also long captured the collective imagination. The modern-day UFO phenomenon really took off after 1947, after a civilian stumbled upon some strange wreckage in Roswell, New Mexico.
The Roswell event occurred as the Cold War was kicking off, at a time when some newspapers were already running stories about so-called “flying saucers.” This particular account, however, was seemingly confirmed as reality by the Roswell Army Air Field itself. Soon after, though, the U.S. military became involved and instead asserted that the discovered wreckage had really derived from a crashed weather balloon.
Many people remained suspicious of the weather balloon account, and eventually the Air Force conceded the point. In 1994 it released a report admitting that the wreckage had once been a secret military spying appliance. This instrument was made up of balloons and audio recording technology, with an aim to floating above the Soviet Union and picking up sound waves.
So, the Roswell incident appears to have an earthly explanation, though general theories about UFOs have continued to thrive. And in 2017 believers of extra-terrestrial visitations received what they surely saw as something of a vindication. That year, you see, the Pentagon acknowledged that it had indeed once run a program looking for alien tourists.
Then in April 2020 perhaps the greatest official indication yet for the existence of UFOs was provided by the Pentagon. Basically, it all came down to a series of videos depicting “unexplained aerial phenomena.” These clips had been circulated before, but the footage hadn’t ever been officially confirmed as genuine. Now, though, they had.
One of the videos was shot by Navy pilots in 2004, and it depicts a strange, round entity floating above the Pacific Ocean. The other pair of clips were taken in 2015 and present unusual bodies traveling through the sky. One of these objects starts revolving, much to the shock of the onlooking pilot who exclaims, “Look at that thing, dude! It’s rotating!”
The Pentagon subsequently released a statement in 2020 to address these clips. It read, “[The Department of Defense] is releasing the videos in order to clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos. The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as ‘unidentified.’”
Of course, these videos are far from unequivocal proof that extra-terrestrials have been visiting Earth, and much more mundane theories have been posited. There are those who believe the unexplained aerial phenomena in the clips are merely manmade airplanes and balloons. However, thanks to optical illusions created by the cameras filming the objects, they appear more otherworldly than they really are.
Of course, it is not certain that these videos depict alien spacecraft, but the possibility of extra-terrestrial life remains. And this is a persuasive notion when we consider the sheer number of potentially livable planets in our galaxy alone. Indeed, there could be up to five stars similar to our Sun for every one Earth-like planet in the Milky Way, according to astronomers from the University of British Columbia.
Apparently, a planet needs to be rocky and similar in size to our home planet to be considered Earth-like. It must travel around a star which is similar to our Sun – such entities are referred to as G-type stars. Furthermore, the planet must also be far enough away from its G-type star so that it can accommodate water in liquid form.
University of British Columbia astronomer Jaymie Matthews offered his thoughts in an interview with Science Daily in June 2020. He said, “Our Milky Way has as many as 400 billion stars – with 7 percent of them being G-type. That means less than six billion stars may have Earth-like planets in our galaxy.”
From our perspective here on Earth, six billion might seem like a huge number of planets potentially capable of harboring life. But if this is the case, shouldn’t we have stumbled upon some evidence of aliens by this stage? Well, this is the very question at the heart of the Fermi Paradox.
The theory itself can apparently trace its roots back to a lunchtime chat back in 1950. Enrico Fermi had been having an informal conversation about UFOs. And the caliber of his scientific achievements had been quite astonishing to that point, so we can assume that the chat was rather sophisticated. After all, Fermi was responsible for the first ever nuclear reactor.
Fermi is said to have formulated a few broad calculations to support his paradox, but he never actually considered it in earnest. Rather, an astrophysicist named Michael Hart thought about it more carefully – publishing a paper on the subject in the mid-1970s. As such, there are those who believe that the paradox belongs more to Hart than Fermi.
The paradox is based on a simple enough premise; that is, we can say that there are a large number of Earth-like planets in our galaxy. Furthermore, if we presume that our planet isn’t exceptional – as understood from the perspective of the Copernicus principle – then it stands to reason that lifeforms should be present on some of these other worlds.
We might then suggest that some of these aliens exhibit intelligence, and that over time they improve their technologies. This means that these beings should eventually be able to develop the ability to travel through space. Of course, such excursions would take a long time. But given that many of the other Earth-like planets in our galaxy are much older than our own, enough time should surely have now elapsed to allow aliens to reach us. But that still leaves a big question: why haven’t we noticed their existence yet?
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute is a California-based non-profit organization looking for alien life. And the group considered Fermi and his paradox in an online article. It wrote, “Fermi realized that any civilization with a modest amount of rocket technology and an immodest amount of imperial incentive could rapidly colonize the entire galaxy.”
The post continued, “Within ten million years, every star system could be brought under the wing of empire. Ten million years may sound long, but in fact it’s quite short compared with the age of the galaxy, which is roughly ten thousand million years. Colonization of the Milky Way should be a quick exercise.”
And yet we remain ignorant, despite all these points suggesting that we should be aware of extra-terrestrial civilizations. And therein lies the paradox. So, what does all this mean? It could simply indicate that the Copernicus principle doesn’t hold up and that the Earth is genuinely unusual in that it bears intelligent life. Or, maybe it shows that large-scale interstellar journeys can’t actually be completed by us or any other beings in the galaxy.
Another proposed solution to the Fermi Paradox has suggested that we’re perhaps unable to identify extra-terrestrial lifeforms as living things. This idea is rooted in the notion that aliens are actually so far from what we understand about life that we wouldn’t even recognize the beings if we saw them. Alternatively, another theory argues that alien communities are purposely keeping us ignorant to their existence.
But in 2018 Alexander Berezin added his own creative thoughts into the mix. The Russian theoretical physicist laid out his reflections in a paper and referred to his solution as “First in, last out.” This work, however, had not yet been reviewed and critiqued by any of his peers as of that year.
First off, Berezin considered the possibility that we earthlings define life in far too limiting a manner. He reflected on the sheer variety of living things on Earth alone and argued that we can’t grasp the range of conditions in which life could potentially emerge. Moreover, it just wouldn’t be possible to take note of every manner of living thing in our universe.
After all, Berezin has suggested, alien life could exist in a variety of forms. It might be biological in some way– much like us here on Earth. Or it could be more akin to artificial intelligence. In his paper, Berezin even suggested that aliens might be comparable to the obscure, planet-sized intelligent entity that appears in the classic Soviet sci-fi film Solaris.
Berezin noted the potentially obscure nature of alien life and suggested that we should focus on one thing in particular. He wrote, “… The only variable we can objectively measure is the probability of life becoming detectable from outer space within a certain range from Earth. For simplicity, let us call it ‘parameter A.’”
Berezin argued that parameter A can be arrived at only after a civilization develops the capacity for interstellar travel. And this is where Berezin’s theory takes a darker turn. He’s suggested that any civilization capable of building technologies that can undertake such journeys would actually wipe out all other alien lifeforms in the galaxy.
At a glance, this might seem like quite a drastic and strange conclusion to draw. But Berezin did stress that this destruction of life wouldn’t necessarily be the developed civilization’s intention. In his paper, in fact, he set out an interesting analogy to help illustrate his point.
Berezin explained, “I am not suggesting that a highly developed civilization would consciously wipe out other lifeforms. Most likely, they simply won’t notice – the same way a construction crew demolishes an anthill to build real estate.” This, the author wrote, is a comparable notion to the tragedy of the commons.
Put simply, the tragedy of the commons refers to the idea that people will use up a resource at the cost of others. When followed to its logical conclusion, it means that the material will eventually be exhausted. In essence, Berezin has applied this rationale on a galactic scale.
Berezin went on, “The incentive to grab all available resources is strong, and it only takes one bad actor to ruin the equilibrium.” So, a highly developed civilization with the capacity to undertake in interstellar travel might still not have come across extra-terrestrial life forms. Instead, it may have inadvertently destroyed all other life.
However, Earth and the Sun are still intact, and it leaves us grappling with an interesting question. Human beings are still active in the galaxy – working away here on Earth. And our civilization has already started the process of interstellar space travel. So, what exactly does that mean within the context of Berezin’s outlandish theory?
If human beings exist today – which, evidently, we do – then we can say that we are, in fact, the most advanced civilization in our galaxy. And as our space-traveling technologies improve, it is us who will inadvertently destroy all other life surrounding us. As Berezin phrased it, “We are the first to arrive at the stage. And, most likely, [we] will be the last to leave.”
Not everyone is convinced by Berezin’s eccentric ideas, however. SETI Institute astronomer Dr. Seth Shostak, for one, has his reservations. He has compared the Russian’s theory to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – the sci-fi franchise conceived by Douglas Adams. In 2018 he wrote in an NBC article, “… It’s the same basic idea. But unlike Adams’ story, Berezin’s doesn’t make much sense.”
Shostak also took umbrage with the Fermi paradox more broadly. Though he acknowledged it as an interesting point of discussion, the expert ultimately expressed his belief that the paradox has little genuine value. Indeed, the question’s inadequacies will be laid bare if evidence of alien life ever emerges.
“The paradox continues to fuel many lunchtime conversations, which at least is a nice diversion from gossip or politics,” Shostak went on. “But if we someday find a signal from space, Fermi’s question will become nothing more than an historical curiosity. A bit of misplaced musing that confounded Homo sapiens for a few decades.”
As for Berezin, he apparently hopes that his own theory proves to be inaccurate. He wrote in his study, “What can we do to prevent this? Most likely, nothing. But I certainly hope I am wrong. The only way to find out is to continue exploring the universe and searching for alien life.”