“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious.
If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”
— Carl Sagan, Cosmos
When I was 14, I traveled to Colombia with my mother to visit some friends who lived in Medellin. They took us on a tour of the beautiful cities and even more beautiful countryside, where we stayed with some of the most amazing people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. The trip was a life-changer for me, and I’m not just saying that because I was introduced to the wonder of Colombiana and Manzana Postobon.
One night, on a back road a few hours from Manizales, Rafael pulled the Jeep over and had us get out and turn our eyes to the night sky. I had always heard the galaxy described as “The Milky Way,” but until that point I’d only seen the bare, few points of light one could identify over the light pollution in my northeastern American city. The Colombian sky was nothing like that. On this rural route, the old constellations were swallowed up by thousands and thousands of suns and stars, and winding through the center of it all was the white, cloudy, star-stuffed center of the galaxy. It was a dizzying kaleidoscope, an unbelievable treat — and I’ve never been back to a place remote enough to match it.
If this were Roddenberry’s Star Trek, Banks’ Culture or even or even Alien Nation, we’d have plenty of company in those stars. Aliens with five legs, two heads, green blood and black-diamond eyes; intelligent amoebas that live in nitrogen-gylcerin oceans; beings of pure energy who long ago uploaded their consciousnesses into computers we can’t even begin to understand.
Yet, in reality, we are greeted with a deafening silence whenever we look up at the sky.
Where is everyone?
There are a number of theories on this, of course. One is that we are truly singular; the first, or the only, species to grow intelligent enough to break atmo. The second is that we are extremely common, but that due to the almost incomprehensible age of the universe, the thousands upon thousands of alien societies we’re expecting to find have already risen and died, or have not yet been born. A third is that there truly is some sort of warp-speed Galactic Federation out there, but that due to our backwater location — we’re on an undiscovered Pacific island, we’re an an isolated Amazon tribe — we have no idea it exists. And there’s even a fourth: that aliens are everywhere, but they’re so advanced they think we’re no better than monkeys or amoebas.
Here’s a really great analysis on the subject by Tim Urban on Quartz, originally published on WaitButWhy.
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