Where are all the aliens?

JUNE 2023

So, aliens. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I grew up on Dr Who and Star Trek. I also dream about aliens on a fairly regular basis. In one of my favourites, I had my chunky, two-handed blaster resting on my forearm as the broad line of alien soldiers was marching towards us, when someone on my side shouted, ‘Don’t shoot!’ Were they crazy? These were marauding aliens! What kind of a dream is it where you can’t shoot at an advancing alien army? I opened fire almost immediately …

And yet I don’t write about aliens (so far!). Why not? I think it’s a bit like the time I tried to write a play about a time machine but had to abandon the project because I couldn’t come up with a plausible theory about how it would work. In other words, I don’t seem to believe in aliens any more than I believe in time machines. I don’t know when exactly I lost my faith, but a news story from a couple of weeks ago offers a possible explanation of how it happened. I’m talking, of course, about the promising tale told by David Grusch, ‘a former intelligence official who led analysis of unexplained anomalous phenomena (UAP) within a US Department of Defense agency, [who] caused headlines around the world with his assertion that the US had been collecting non-human craft for “decades”.’

You can see from the quote that the initial excitement is already fading. And a few days later I read another article that referred to the House of Representatives committee that had been appointed to investigate and finished: ‘whether alien driving skills are on the agenda of the committee has yet to be disclosed’. In other words, yet another ‘alien cover-up’ story came to nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Wondering what everyone else thinks about aliens these days, I’ve also recently watched several videos by high-brow YouTubers who talk about the Fermi Paradox, though I confess I had to refer to Wikipedia for an explanation that I could understand. I think the gist of it is that if there are so many stars out there in our own galaxy, vast numbers of them with their own planets (plenty of which are bound to be in the ‘Goldilocks Zone’), why hasn’t anyone/anything been in touch already?

One explanation starts with the fact that the universe is 13.7 billion years old and that it has taken around 4 billion years for complex life to develop here on Earth, which means an unbroken chain in the development of life for about a third of the total time anything has been around in the known universe. What if that required period of stability hasn’t occurred in very many other places? And while we know that the first forms of life appeared very quickly – which might suggest it’s a simple and/or common process – we have no idea if this can be regarded as ‘typical’ or if it was another crucial piece of luck. For me, the key point is that we’re still a long way from understanding how – even given a suitable cosmic soup with all the relevant chemicals and other resources – life decides to emerge, and we certainly haven’t been able to reproduce the event. I’m not sure our ideas have changed much since Dawkins outlined a possible process all those years ago in The Selfish Gene: “At some point a particularly remarkable molecule was formed by accident. We will call it the Replicator. It may not have been the biggest or the most complex molecule around, but it had the extraordinary property of being able to create copies of itself.”

So, looking at things the other way, as Dawkins did himself (in the same book, I think), could it be that this spontaneous creation of life is an incredibly unlikely event, and that we needed a galaxy of 400 billion stars and perhaps 20 billion habitable planets for it to happen at all? In that scenario, it’s less hard to believe that we might be alone, and no amount of scouring somewhere as tiny as our own solar system is likely to produce the faintest evidence of life, present or past.

On the other hand, if the missions to Jupiter’s moons, Venus and other promising destinations do find signs of life, that changes everything, and Fermi was right: the ‘great silence’ is paradoxical! Meanwhile, those ‘“intact and partially intact” alien vehicles’ and ‘“malevolent” alien pilots’ that were said to have been recovered in the US (as always!) still fail to materialise, don’t they?

Next month I’ll be publishing Not Quite Blackmail Material on Kindle, with a suitably subdued fanfare and a special price for a limited time, as usual.

Until then, happy UFO spotting!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *