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A tale of intimacy and loss

Category: Cosmogony

A Probabilistic Analysis of the Fermi Paradox

Just a thought… 1500 years later…

I thought it appropriate to post this paper here, among the pages of an incomplete dream…


Evan Solomonides, Lisa Kaltenegger, Yervant Terzian
The fermi paradox uses an appeal to the mediocrity principle to make it seem counter-intuitive that humanity has not been contacted by extraterrestrial intelligence. A numerical, statistical analysis was conducted to determine whether this apparent loneliness is, in fact, unexpected.
An inequality was derived to relate the frequency of life arising and developing technology on a suitable planet in the galaxy, the average length of time since the first broadcast of such a civilization, and a constant term. An analysis of the sphere reached thus far by human communication was also conducted, considering our local neighborhood and planets of particular interest. We clearly show that human communication has not reached a number of stars and planets adequate to expect an answer.
These analyses both conclude that the Fermi paradox is not, in fact, unexpected. By the mediocrity principle and numerical modeling, it is actually…

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Return to Earth

Black Hole We remain silent for long minutes, as Gabrielle’s words continue their journey through our minds. Sarah’s holding my hand: suddenly I am aware that we have a very physical presence here: is it the power of illusion, or have we in some way “borrowed” bodies? And what do Gabrielle and Elga look like in their native forms? I decide to ignore that latter thought.

Elga speaks: “In our coven, there are some who believe you humans do not deserve to be protected, and that, at best, you should be quarantined and ignored. We cannot be sure that this view may not become a majority. So we wish to prove them wrong. It is our belief that if you do not receive any help from outside, which means from us, your civilisation’s chances of survival may be slim. Even assuming you see reason and stop destroying your planet, asteroids or other galactic incidents will finish you off, in due time. We are convinced you will need some help, and probably sooner than we thought a few centuries back. The four of you – Julian, Sarah, Jane and of course Melissa – can do a lot to strengthen our case.”

We are stunned. It is Sarah who finally replies for us: “I can say for at least three of us, and I am sure Melissa agrees, that we are willing. But what can we do?” There is another pause then Gabrielle speaks. “It is a long-haul project. Remember that we have been observing you for millennia. We rely on Melissa to explain to you – and she has started with you Sarah – how you can communicate with us more easily. We have invited you here, not to show off, but to facilitate your understanding of what we have undertaken. For us your main task will be to communicate back to your people, through your writing, your friends, whatever influence you may already have or develop in the future, and slowly begin to suggest that you are not alone. This will be difficult. It will take time. We decided to work with individuals like yourselves rather than institutions, because we do not want to panic you: our experience elsewhere has taught us to be patient. You will have to be cautious too, since a healthy skepticism will meet any affirmation that we – “beings from Andromeda” – are close to your world.  In fact we believe that this may not be the most helpful starting point. It will be up to you. Our own experience is that an appreciation of the possibility – a finite probability – of close-by intelligent life and friendly civilisations maybe the way to prime consciousness. Many of your mainstream scientists will deny the practicality of communication – the Fermi paradox. Others may be more questioning of the received wisdom.” We are now silent, reflecting, as we retrace our steps along the beach. The moons are bright in the dark sky.

Elga wishes us well and promises to be in touch. We thank her for talking to us, and assure her of our willingness to help her to help us. The little sphere is back, and Gabrielle says that she will accompany us back to the cloister. The return journey appears to take a little longer but when we stand, close to the medieval column and the statue of the saint, Jane says that we have been away only for fifteen minutes at most. We agree with Gabrielle and Melissa to meet at their house in a week time. The three of us then walk back through the sleepy streets to our car, parked near the library. Sarah and Jane are chatting amiably. I am deep in thoughts, Sarah will drive. We, the space and time travellers, will need seven hours to go back home…

A view from afar

Mesmerized I know we are now far away from our world: I say “we” because I can see Sarah and Melissa standing a few steps from me, looking up at the sky. There is a structure, and I am guessing we are inside it: it is enormous, and as I try to trace its shape I am beginning to see that we must be inside the pyramid Gabrielle showed me a few weeks past, when I was at her place. Outside is the infinite blackness of space, alien stars glitter, bright and silent, I know that this is not our galaxy: it must be Andromeda, Gabrielle’s home.

I turn towards my lovers: they are so beautiful, talking in low voices and looking at me. I get closer to them, Melissa smiles at me, a hand on Sarah’s shoulder. “Gabrielle has asked we wait here for  little while. She will be with us shortly.” Her voice reaches me clear as crystal and as she speaks I realise how incredible is our presence here, if we are really here.

The apex of the pyramid must be several kilometres high above us. The immense structure appears to be stationary, at least relative to the stars we can see. The gravity is evidently identical to what we know on earth. Sarah must be reading my mind, as she says: “This station is kept as a historical relic, and also to welcome visitors such as us. The nearest planet is visible only when the station comes nearer to its orbit, but this happens only once every ten of our years”. I assume Sarah has learnt these facts from Melissa. Soon I am aware of another presence: Gabrielle has joined us and is walking towards us. “Thanks for waiting for me”, she says with a gracious smile, “Have you found the trip comfortable?” she asks mischievously. “We guessed the teleport must be close to the statue of the saint”, says Sarah, “it’s just instantaneous isn’t it?” “Not quite”, replies our teacher, “you lost a few milliseconds, partly due to the very cautious way we have engineered the teleport”. I see more mischief in Gabrielle’s eyes, and I reflect that if this is an illusion it is just perfectly designed. Gabrielle signals us to follow her and the four of us start walking in the direction of a small platform that seems to have materialised in front of us. “You are going to meet a friend of mine” Gabrielle says in a calm voice. “In your terms I would call her the head of my faculty” she adds addressing herself to Sarah. I am thinking of what Gabrielle could mean by “faculty”. Is this a reference to her historical studies? Or does she mean the faculty of galactic colonisation?

Soon the four of us stand on the platform. Gabrielle has conjured up a little crystalline sphere which hovers a few meters above us and appears to be communicating with it. After a few minutes she says: “Elga will appear to you in the shape she is most comfortable with talking to beings such as you. Her mastery of your language is not perfect, and you may have to be a little patient when she thinks between sentences…” I am aware of the little tension rising in the three of us, even Melissa. Sarah looks at me and sighs. Who’s Elga?

We are waiting silently. Gabrielle is immobile, surrounded by a pale halo around her very human silhouette. Then the light is suddenly dimmer around us, and what resembles the sound of waves can be heard, faint but vivid. I can now see a beach: the waters are dark violet with beautiful strikes of gold, the small waves licking the soft sand: the four of us are now standing on the beach, and it must be evening tide. I look up and see three moons, high above the dunes. As I turn back towards Gabrielle I see her:  a tall woman standing at the water edge, red-skinned and black hair falling in cascades over her beautiful shoulders, who is wearing a white toga. “I am Elga, and I am honoured by your visit” says the stranger in a melodious voice. “I hope Gabrielle has explained that I am not totally fluent in your language”. The three of us are stunned, me by Elga’s beauty and the strangeness of her apparition. I reflect that we must have teleported again, this time to Elga’s place. Gabrielle is nowhere to be seen. Sarah, calm and smiling, is introducing the three of us, describing who we are and how we are related, expressing our pleasure to meet Elga. I am watching, paralysed, as Elga hugs the other two and turns to me: “Gabrielle has told me about the three of you. I was eager to meet you, and tell you how important it is now for you to help my friend in her work. What Gabrielle has started, her project as you would say, is important for both our people.” Elga holds me looking straight at me: “And you Julian have a special role, you and Melissa, and of course Sarah your companion, have special roles in the project.” We start walking along the beach. The little waves are fringed with silver. Gabrielle is back with us and walking next to Elga.

Then Elga tells us about the project.


ND-en-Vaux 02

We know that our friend Gabrielle is in trouble but we don’t know what for, or who with. Strangely I feel that the reason must be related to her interest in the old town, my town, the place where Melissa and I lived. I don’t know why this came to my mind: the clue must be there. Why was Gabrielle interested in that small place, out of thousands of much more glamorous towns and cities? Why that spot? Was it really because of her interest in history, in that land wounded by so many battlefields? Yes, she is a historian. And I ponder: what does it mean for a being who live for millennia? What perspective does she have on our history?

The small town grew from a medieval market place to a garrison town on the eastern marches of the kingdom, and on to an industrial town in the nineteenth century. I am looking for something unusual, something that may have attracted Gabrielle’s attention. From time to time clear memories of buildings and churches reveal themselves to me: I am looking at old pictures, and an irrepressible nostalgia overcomes me. I see the small river flowing past our house, the trees reflecting in the water and the kingfisher my mother so loved… I want to talk to Melissa about all this, but she seems more interested in gossiping with my wife and sister, or am I being very unfair? Then the town was still full of older houses, some of them going back to the fifteenth century or perhaps earlier. Once – I must have been still very young –  we stayed in a very old house where the walls were thick but hollow: at night we could hear the rats running along the walls. There was a water fountain in the paved courtyard, flowing into a heavy stone basin that was very ancient.

I am looking further at the history, a famous general was born there, who made his name in North Africa, in the last century. The presumed inventor of a precursor of the helicopter was born there too…  Perhaps I have to go back further, to Roman times, to the reign of Aurelian, and the great battle that took place nearby, that sealed the fate of the Gaules? The town became christian under Constantine and the religious peace that was the hallmark of his reign. After that the town bishops became very powerful, holding their own against their rivals and even the King. The town hosted knight templars… Images and memories cross my mind, the town was on main the road to Burgundy, and on the invasion routes from the East. Gabrielle has never told me what the origin of her interest in the region was: how far back does that interest reach? I need to see Melissa, she, of all people, must know something of Gabrielle’s studies.

I am looking again at the long list of famous people who were born, lived or died in the town: artists, soldiers, writers, engineers… The town still hosts one of the top engineering schools in the country. But what about the surroundings? Farming is the main industry in the region, and, on the hills, the vineyards that gave it their name.

All this is very far from the cosmogonic perspectives that Gabrielle opened for us. And yet she was, still is, there, looking, scanning vast archives…. What is she looking for? Then I remember Melissa’s page: the pictures of the old churches, and as I open the laptop, and log on, suddenly I see it: the old cloister, the stern ascetic face of the saint – I have no recollection of Melissa’s interest in medieval art, but here is the proof. Is that a clue? Is there something hidden in those old stones?

Vue de Châlons-en-Champagne 220407

Fermi’s Paradox

Singularity In the silence of the old house Gabrielle spoke.

I have grown very fond of you Julian, of your enthusiasms, your doubts, your aptitude to love the way you humans do, which is far superior – and how much more intriguing – to our intellectualised feelings. I wish those of my species, and we are legions, could see you, or Melissa, or Sarah, the way I see you now: creatures of infinite weakness, and yet so full of warmth and intelligence.

It was around 1950, at Los Alamos, that a group of your brightest physicists discussed the question of “us” – the “extraterrestrials”. Edward Teller, just fresh from working out the Hydrogen bomb, and Enrico Fermi, expressed the paradox in those terms: “they” should be everywhere by now – meaning intelligent space-faring civilisations – but, if so, where are they? Later Frank Drake expressed the question mathematically, the “Drake equation”.

Of course there are good reasons why space-faring is not all that simple. For a start actual distances, even merely within your galaxy, are immense. Then not all civilisations wish to colonise anyone: we were for a long time, and are still, determined not to disrupt any other intelligent life form, for their sake and ours. Yet the paradox is only a paradox for short-lived intelligent species. For us, who collectively live for millennia and are therefore near immortal, in your terms, the question is one of ethics, not physics. Of course as soon as one accepts the feasibility of inter-galactical travel the paradox itself disappears: among the billions of billions of star systems life abounds, and so does intelligence.

Once I explained all this to Melissa, who was still a child. I have shown you “pictures”, or rather, I invited you to take a glimpse, all the way to my “place”. There is no violation of physical laws, just a better formulation of them, what your most advanced scientists call quantum cosmogony. So now, I invite you to look around you. You are still on the edge of our galaxy, the one you call Andromeda, a neighbour of yours. You call yours the Milky Way, a name that puzzled us for a long time. Of course we had to see it as you do, for us to understand, at last. Your star is very much on the edge, at the periphery of your galaxy. At the centre of all spiral galaxies, the ones that are most welcoming to planets and life-spawning stars, like yours and ours, is the singularity you describe as “black-hole”.

They are the solution to the paradox. The singularities are, if you like, like teleports, just a little more difficult to “handle” than in your fiction. They are the gates to space travel, long distance. All space faring civilisations had to attain that knowledge, and the technology to use it, before considering their own solution to the “paradox”.

I see you are beginning to understand. The singularities are short cuts through the intimate structure of space-time. Mastering the mathematics necessary to exploit their properties took us hundreds of human millennia.

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