NASA scientists have explained in a new paper why they believe it’s likely we haven’t ever encountered intelligent extraterrestrial life — and it’s heartbreaking.
All intelligent life, they argue, has likely destroyed itself before reaching a sophisticated enough point in evolution to support such an encounter. And the same fate likely awaits humans unless we take action, they believe.
The “Great Filter” theory — as in “filtering out” various forms of life — argues that other civilizations, possibly several, have existed during the life of the universe. But they all destroyed themselves before they could make contact with Earth, noted the paper, “Avoiding the ‘Great Filter’: Extraterrestrial Life and Humanity’s Future in the Universe.”
The scientists fear that all intelligent life, such as humans, have deeply ingrained dysfunctions that may “snowball quickly into the Great Filter,” they wrote.
But there’s still a bit of hope for humans — provided we can learn and take steps to avoid our own extinction, noted the paper by a team of researchers based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in southern California.
“The key to humanity successfully traversing such a universal filter is… identifying [destructive] attributes in ourselves and neutralizing them in advance,” astrophysicist Jonathan Jiang and his coauthors wrote in the paper that appeared online on Oct. 23.
The paper has not yet been peer-reviewed.
Whatever seems likely to wipe out humans would conceivably also threaten intelligent life on other planets, the authors argue. The likely culprits — which could be impacted by humans or other intelligent life forms — include nuclear war, pandemic, climate change, and uncontrolled artificial intelligence, the authors note.
The trick, the biggest challenge of all, will be to work together to survive, the researchers said.
“History has shown that intraspecies competition and, more importantly, collaboration, has led us towards the highest peaks of invention. And yet, we prolong notions that seem to be the antithesis of long-term sustainable growth: Racism, genocide, inequity, sabotage,” the writers warn.
Check out the full paper here.