Hope We ARE Alone (‘Cause That’s A Good Thing)
It would be good news if we find Mars to be sterile. Dead rocks and lifeless sands would lift my spirit.
Conversely, if we discovered traces of some simple, extinct life-form–some bacteria, some algae–it would be bad news. If we found fossils of something more advanced, perhaps something that looked like the remnants of a trilobite or even the skeleton of a small mammal, it would be very bad news. The more complex the life-form we found, the more depressing the news would be. I would find it interesting, certainly–but a bad omen for the future of the human race.
It’s very improbable that our technological civilization is here. That’s a fact, and the only question is “How improbable is it, Johnny?” Every day that goes by without us “hearing” extra-terrestrials makes intelligent life (life intelligent enough to build a radio, anyway, which is a pretty low bar) more unlikely.
So why does the prospect of finding Little Green Men (LGMs) on Mars scare Nick Bostrom so? Because if even simple life is unlikely (and not found, even on Mars) then we’ve already been lucky enough to get past the rough patch, the thing or things that make other life in the galaxy really, really difficult.
But if we find the remnants of LGMs on Mars or anywhere else, then that means that we can expect a great deal of trouble ahead. It means we’ve yet to face some existential threat that no other civilization in the galaxy has survived. He calls that “The Great Filter”.
[I]f we discovered the fossils of some very complex life-form, such as a vertebrate-like creature, we would have to conclude that this hypothesis [that the Great Filter is behind us] is very improbable indeed. It would be by far the worst news ever printed.
Yet most people reading about the discovery would be thrilled. They would not understand the implications. For if the Great Filter is not behind us, it is ahead of us. And that’s a terrifying prospect.
So this is why I’m hoping that our space probes will discover dead rocks and lifeless sands on Mars, on Jupiter’s moon Europa, and everywhere else our astronomers look. It would keep alive the hope of a great future for humanity.
Have I scared you yet?