Earth's City Lights, Courtesy of Marc Imhoff of NASA GSFC and Christopher Elvidge of NOAA NGDC. Image by Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon, NASA GSFC.

Earth’s City Lights, Courtesy of Marc Imhoff of NASA GSFC and Christopher Elvidge of NOAA NGDC. Image by Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon, NASA GSFC.

This is the last of the “where is everyone” series. For now at least – I think I’ve covered the only real alternatives, since the possibility that we’re actually alone in the universe (other than functionally alone) is essentially zero.

And so, what is the last possibility, given that we’ve taken a look at an engineered universe, and a universe where physical beings that require chemistry and plumbing to exist?

Well, this take is two-fold, so read on to find out.

Firstly, of course, it could simply be that the laws of our reality do not allow for interstellar, much less intergalactic travel. Or rather, that the chance that an intelligent civilization of the correct level of technology and temperament has not arisen yet near enough to us to have sent probes and/or colony vessels.

This seems likely, whichever other theory you ascribe to – our nearest star is around four years away at the speed of light. That’s a hell of a long way through euclidean space at non- or even partially- relativistic speeds when using newtonian-style thrusters. Not to mention the merry hell that time dilation would play with any crew and passengers.

But, importantly, it is very possible. See, life as we know it requires three things – water, oxygen and carbon – above all. And these things are very, very common in the universe. Finding all of them at the bottom of a gravity well floating around a star is very, very likely given the scale of the galaxy.

So why might aliens intentionally leave us be? Well, to be honest, I wouldn’t blame them. We’re a violent, xenophobic, barely rational, barely sentient tribal species that has only just worked out that there’s a better way of doing business than getting a rock and hitting somebody with it, better ways to communicate then flinging feces and we’re still not quite sure on the whole respecting each others differences thing.

Let’s face it, I wouldn’t talk to us in case my civilization caught a bad case of the stupid.

Even looking beyond that, it would do all of us well to remember what happens to any “lesser” civilization when it comes into contact with a “greater” one (those quotes are there for a reason, and it’s not to lord it over the examples): it is destroyed.

During WWII, strange people turned up on remote islands, built towers out of trees, and then strange metallic birds flew in, bringing all sorts of wonders. No wonder that the inhabitants of those islands chopped up their own trees and built their own control towers in the vain hope that the skygods would return for them too.

And look what happened in Africa, let alone what happened all over North and South America. Those civilizations were irrevocably changed by contact with more powerful peoples. I’m not going to pay any homage to the crap that makes up the “white man’s burden” bullshit, because it’s pointless and demeaning on all sides to bring that up as either crutch or ancestor-guilt. Instead, I’m just going to say – the researchers that value uniqueness do their level best not to let their own ways of doing things infect the societies and peoples they interact with, no matter how squalid or terrible things seem. Not because they do not care, but because that noosphere is precious just for existing.

Of course they have compassion, and will treat injuries or do a judicious amount of story-telling and educating, but there is a doctrine of non-interference even with remote tribes of man which echoes modern protectionist speech about nature: take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.

The remaining theory, then, is that the Earth has been left fallow until the beasts that live there grow up enough to put away their brutal pasts, leave behind their childish things and step into the light.

You don’t need to be some rainbow-hued starchild to see world peace, societal advancement and a truly global and then stellar civilization of well fed, well educated and healthy people as a good thing.

Because even if there’s nobody out there, isn’t the maximizing of goodness a worthy cause and goal?

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