In this essay we will reveal a brand new and terrifying solution to the Fermi Paradox. This essay assumes the reader is familiar with the Fermi Paradox.
We are currently living in an age where the most advanced technological societies have the lowest birthrates. At this point, birth rates for these societies are universally below replacement. Moreover the genetic quality of the few offspring actually produced is increasingly of lower and lower quality. To the extent that their technology is also adopted by the less advanced technological societies then they too begin to suffer the same dysgenic trend towards below replacement fertility and increasing dysgenic quality.
This is the picture painted by Professor Dutton which can be readily accessed from his youtube channel the Jolly Heretic. This picture is broadly supported by two other academic enterprises, one of which is the mouse utopia experiments which began in the late 1940s. The other supporting evidence is in the study by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson that can be accessed through their jointly authored book, Empty Planet – The Shock of Global Population Decline.
The mouse utopia experiments demonstrate the dysgenic and fertility crushing effects of utopian living conditions, at least for mice. The Empty Planet study shows that at least the fertility crash associated with utopian (or urban) conditions is actually also affecting homo sapiens in the real world, right now.
My thought is that if this scenario was not just a universal for earth life but any technological species in the universe then it might be a solid solution to the Fermi Paradox as a candidate for a Great Filter. In this essay I will elaborate on these thoughts. As the title of this essay hints, I would call this idea the Dysgenic Utopias Fermi Paradox Solution.
At first glance the idea of dysgenic utopia could be seen as a paradox of its own. If something is dysgenic then how can it be a utopia? Thus it might be another paradox that a paradox could be used to solve another paradox, but so it may be as I hope I shall show here.
To address the apparent contradiction between the idea of dysgenics and the idea of utopias I will demonstrate that a true utopia must cause dysgenic effects. Consequently any utopia must cause its own collapse into dystopia. The critical ingredient is Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection.
Natural Selection ultimately only cares about fertility. Does a set of genes increase or decrease reproductive fitness? However intelligence can also be selected for as far as it increases fertility, the same for other capabilities such as strength or whatever else.
I think we need to recognise that intelligence is quite well distributed on this planet. Many species beside our own seem to be quite intelligent and that over the broad stream of evolution of life on this planet intelligence has been promoted by selection pressures. So far this observation only deepens Fermi’s paradox, if the trend for all of earth life is towards increasing intelligence then how could that not also be the case for every ecological niche in the universe?
Any place that can have life, should inevitably have intelligence and that should eventually lead to technological intelligence. However as any stock trader should know, no trend can last forever. Exponential growth is a fantasy. Whatever goes up, contains the increasing inevitability of going down.
Technology might be the tipping point that trips the positive feedback loop that creates increasing intelligence from natural selection pressures into a negative feedback loop that lowers intelligence and also fertility. Why? When an intelligence becomes increasingly technological it becomes increasingly distant from the selection pressures that created the intelligence in the first place. A technological society does not struggle for food, it does not struggle against disease, it does not struggle to exist. The lack of struggle depreaciates the reproductive value of those with the intellectual means to solve these problems. This results in an overall lowering of intelligence in the population.
Another critical assumption to the making of the Fermi Paradox is that the technological life should want to colonise outer space. Schooled by biology this makes sense up to a point. Virtually every ecological niche on this planet, no matter how harsh, seems rammed with as much life as it can sustain. Every living system is trying to expand and colonise as much as it can.
Outer space is a very harsh ecological niche for DNA machines like our earth life but it also has limitless matter and energy too. Life ultimately needs matter and energy. A technological arrangement like a Dyson Sphere could provide limitless matter and energy to support a human population trillions of times that of current human population on earth.
Perhaps you are now starting to see the problem… If our population has hit a peak and is doomed to decline then why would we ever want to endure the rigors of colonising such an extremely harsh set of ecological niches? In addition, if our technological prowess causes declining intelligence through weaker selection pressures for intelligence then we would not have the critical means to colonise beyond earth even if that is what we wanted.
Demographics is destiny, as it is said, and it seems that our current demographics hint that within a generation or two the colonisation of outer space will be beyond both our means and motive. For any endevour to succeed there must be sufficient means and motive. The more difficult the endevour, the stronger the means and motive must be. The colonisation of outer space would be an endevour far more difficult than any endevour attempted by any species on earth up to the present time. With a world population declining in fertility and intelligence the motive and means for scaling that difficulty will wane.
I believe that there are three stages to the progress of colonisation. The first stage is scouting, the second is extraction and the third, most crucial, stage is homesteading. The first stage is governed by idle curiosity, it is the science stage. The second stage is governed by material desire, it is the commerce stage. The third stage is governed by settlement for its own sake.
Only this last stage is true space colonisation and only this last stage would produce the technosignatures that we are missing in the sky which gives rise to the Fermi Paradox. No one needs a Dyson Sphere solely for the purpose of science. No one needs a Dyson Sphere solely to extract resources for earthly consumption. The only reason to be for a Dyson Sphere is to support the material needs of a permanent settled population off planet numbering in the trillions or even quadrillions.
In a way we have been in the science stage for thousands of years. Some of our species have been studying the stars, mapping the heavens, theorising about its movements for that long. Since sputnik we have begun exploring space by proxy and in person. It could be argued that from when we first began navigating our travels on earth by referencing the stars that we were in a slight way extracting useful resources from space. Albeit that resource only being information. This last century has seen GPS and communication satellites which represents a slight deepening of the extraction of utility from space.
Perhaps SpaceX and Musk’s dreams of Mars may represent the beginning of an age where some mining of physical resources like metals from off world sources for consumption on earth.
None of that is true colonisation though, just science and commerce for use on earth. Why does any creature colonise a new environment? The universal reason is because the creature’s existing niche is insufficient in some way, too crowded or too poor. The more different and thus relatively harsh the new environment is the more insufficient the original environment must be to motivate the migration.
We can see by the fact that we have yet to colonise every viable ecological niche of earth that the much harsher niches beyond earth are still way beyond a rational target for colonisation. Think about the fact that the deserts, oceans and polar regions still remain uninhabited by self-sustaining human colonies.
Oh there is science and there is commerce in all regions of earth, Antarctic science stations and deep sea oil rigs for some examples, but not true colonies. No reasonable person should look to migrate to Mars or the Moon, let alone Alpha Centauri until all of Antarctica, the Sahara and the vast ocean deeps are filled up to the brim with humanity. All of those ecological niches are, for all their extreme harshness, far less harsh than anything off world and they are all a good deal easier to reach too.
Now it may be counter argued that this assertion should just postpone the date at which human life settles the stars. That would be so if the enormous spike in human population growth could be sustained for another two or three thousand years.
At such a point, there would be a trillion people on earth. Even the deepest oceans, most frozen extremities and hottest deserts would be filled to the brim with heaving humanity. But see, for a species like us that evolved from the Savannah and prospered in the temperate forests of Europe and Asia we could only truly colonise such relatively harsh environments as Antartica and the ocean deep cocooned within a deep shell of technology.
However this shell of technology separates us from the selection pressures that create and maintain our intelligence and our fertility… Without a sustained excess of fertility we have no motivation for populating harsher environments. What goes for us on earth will go for life on other planets.
Currently there is much speculation that ice shell worlds could host alien life. In our own solar system there is the moon of Jupiter we call Europa. It is believed that in between the moon’s icy exterior and its rocky core there is a layer of liquid water. In this layer a form of life not so very different from what we know from our own planet could exist. Although, unlike Earth life, geothermals rather than solar energy would be their primary energy source.
Given the advantages of intelligence to a reproducing DNA machine we should expect that if life is possible in Europa then it should tend to produce intelligent life just as happens on Earth. However life that adapts to an ice shell ocean could never colonise even the surface of that moon without a technological shell.
That might be possible but should a life form there develop a technological ability sufficient to enable it to colonise the surface of the moon it would also separate itself from the very selection pressures that enabled it to be both fertile enough to need to colonise the surface and intelligent enough to be able to sustain doing it. This is how dysgenic utopias could be a universal great filter that did not just affect earthly technological populations like our own but that of all aliens too.
This solution to the Fermi Paradox suggests that life and even intelligent life can be common, even ubiquitous, but yet every leap into technological life ultimately results in a back slide into lower intelligence and smaller populations from the dysgenic effects of being removed from the Darwinian selection pressures of a non-technological life.
Do you think this is a good Fermi Paradox solution?