The First Sentient Life in the Galaxy
One of my favorite quotes of all time is this one from The Fountainhead:
“You’ve never felt how small you were when looking at the ocean.”
He laughed. “Never. Nor looking at the planets. Nor at mountain peaks. Nor at the Grand Canyon. Why should I? When I look at the ocean, I feel the greatness of man. I think of man’s magnificent capacity that created this ship to conquer all that senseless space. When I look at mountain peaks, I think of tunnels and dynamite. When I look at the planets, I think of airplanes.”
A while back I wrote this article where I put forth the distinct possibility, at least to me, that simulation hypothesis is accurate, in that we might actually be all a part of some unfathomably advanced simulation of some kind. In my opinion, simulation hypothesis is the only thing that explains everything, including the many areas of the universe we don’t understand and can not make any sense of, from quantum physics to astronomy.
Religionists and those who believe in god can’t explain it. Atheists can’t explain it. Scientists can’t explain it. But simulation hypothesis might.
I don’t “believe” in simulation hypothesis, I just lean in that direction more than I lean in any religious direction or “there absolutely is no god,” neither of which make any sense to me. I really have no idea, and I’m the first to point out that there are many holes in the simulation hypothesis.
One of the odd things I pointed out in the last article is the weird fact that we have not heard one tiny peep of any communication of any kind on any wavelength from anywhere in our vast part of the galaxy from any other forms of life, despite the fact it only took human beings the ability to develop radio wave technology within just 5,000 years of civilization even though the universe is 13 billion years old. Given these figures, mathematically speaking there should be literally thousands, if not millions of other civilizations that developed as fast as we did in a galaxy that old and vast that we should be hearing from. Yet the entire night sky is… completely quiet.
It just doesn’t make any sense. Not to me anyway.
There is a second explanation for this besides the theory that we live in a simulation, and this explanation is equally odd and interesting. That is, we don’t live in a simulation and this is all real, but we are literally the first form of life to evolve to sentience in the entire Milky Way galaxy. Isaac Asimov’s fantastic Foundation series of novels puts forth this premise; that humans are the first, and thus only sentient form of life in the the galaxy, and his novels take place in a distant future where humans have colonized the entire galaxy… and it’s just humans, no aliens like on Star Trek or Star Wars.
My first thought when hearing this theory, and the biggest objection to this theory, is that the odds of us being the first creatures in the galaxy to achieve sentience and technology are astronomically small.
People who defend this theory say that it’s true, the odds are astronomically small. But they also argue that the odds of human beings existing anywhere at all are also astronomically small, therefore assuming that humans are the first form of intelligent life in the galaxy is not as far-fetched as things might seem.
I find this utterly fascinating. I don’t personally believe it, but the argument is thought provoking.
What if we were the first (or only) intelligent form of life in the entire Milky Way galaxy? Does that make you feel lonely, or really, really important?
It makes me feel not only important, but important on literally a galactic scale.
For example, if we were one of millions of types of intelligent aliens living in the galaxy, and we humans were stupid and nuked our own planet and wiped ourselves out, that would be horrible for you and me, but on a galactic scale, it wouldn’t matter at all.
But.. if we were the only (or first) form of intelligent life in the galaxy and we quickly (in terms of astronomical and historical terms) wiped ourselves out because we were stupid, that would be a tragedy of literally galactic proportions.
If we were the only form of intelligent life in the galaxy and we destroyed ourselves, we would literally doom our entire galaxy to perhaps billions of years of desolation. If you’re a nihilist, you probably don’t care, but the thought of that makes me a little sad.
If we were not the only form of intelligent life in the galaxy, but we were the first to achieve technology, if we destroyed ourselves, or somehow oppressed or regressed ourselves to the point where we never left our planet, that would be even worse. If we’re the first, we could literally colonize and rule the entire galaxy, either ruling (if we were assholes) or kindly shepherding (if we were intelligent and benevolent) the other, less evolved races in the galaxy so they could achieve greatness and peace faster than they could without us.
That leads into the second aspect of this. If we were the first, or even one of the first, and we went out into the galaxy Star Trek style and met other less evolved, less advanced races, how would we treat them?
Everyone likes to think we’d be kind and benevolent like Starfleet, but I don’t think so. I think we’d be much more close to how humans were portrayed in Avatar. We wouldn’t be the Evil Businessman™ trope or the Angry Army General™ trope often portrayed left-wing movies like that, in that we wouldn’t kill, oppress, or outright destroy lesser aliens. Maybe. But it’s quite likely we would just waltz right in and take their resources without asking them, perhaps at best trying to relocate them before we did so. Again, maybe.
Even considering the possibility that we are the only or first aliens in the galaxy to achieve a decent level of civilization and technology really gives one pause. At least it does for me. As I’ve analyzed before, even though I’m very pessimistic about the future of Western Civilization (it’s pretty much fucked at this point no matter what we do or who we elect), I am very optimistic about the long-term future of humanity. I think humanity is poised for really great things over the next 100 years or so. If this is all a simulation, it will be fun, but if instead we are the only or first beings in the galaxy, then what we do will literally affect perhaps millions of worlds across our galaxy.