Virtual realities may solve Fermi's paradox about extraterrestrials

The development of the metaverse venture on 3D virtual worlds may solve Fermi’s paradox about extraterrestrials. The answer to Fermi’s 70-year-old question “where is everybody?” might be: They are hooked to virtual reality goggles and do not engage in the actual universe that the rest of us share.

In his science-fiction book “Childhood's End”, Arthur C. Clark already forecasted virtual avatars as early as in 1953:

“First sound, then color, then stereoscopy, then Cinerama, had made the old ‘moving pictures’ more and more like reality itself. Where was the end of the story? Surely, the final stage would be reached when the audience forgot it was an audience, and became part of the action. To achieve this would involve stimulation of all the senses, and perhaps hypnosis as well, but many believed it to be practical. When the goal was attained there would be an enormous enrichment of human experience. A man could become — for a while, at least — any other person, and could take part in any conceivable adventure, real or imaginary. He could even be a plant or an animal, if it proved possible to capture and record the sense impressions of other living creatures. And when the ‘program’ was over, he would have acquired a memory as vivid as any experience in his actual life — indeed, indistinguishable from reality itself.” 


But the pleasures of enjoying virtual realities predated science fiction. Early versions involved abstract ideas such as life-after-death or geo-centrism, as well as materials such as cosmetic makeup and delusional drugs. In many of these cases, the virtual realities were invented to promote pleasing notions that the actual reality does not support.

The downside of subscribing to virtual realities is that they do not lead to responsible actions in compliance with the constraints of the actual reality we live in. For example, the illusion of geo-centrism would lead to the wrong design of a space journey from Earth to Mars. And even today, wishful thinking about colonizing Mars would not rid of the energetic particles that could trigger a death sentence within a few years for the first human residents on the Martian surface.

The dedication to a virtual storyline is particularly addicting for a community of people who are not seeking evidence for what they hold true. This does not only apply to political, philosophical or religious beliefs but also to a community of scientists who divorce their deliberations from the need for experimental verification, such as string theorists within the mainstream of theoretical physics over the past half century. Indeed, in his 1962 book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” Thomas Kuhn argued that we cannot distinguish between the psychological process of thinking up an idea and the logical process of justifying its claim to truth. 

This is also relevant in the search for technological equipment from extraterrestrial origin. It is often argued that the general public already believes that we are not alone in the universe and therefore the societal implications of finding technological signatures of another civilization will be mild. However, this argument is misguided. The response of humanity to such a discovery will greatly depend on the details of the findings: whether the equipment is autonomous or robotic, whether it is guided by biological or artificial intelligence, whether it represents a form of life that we had never witnessed, and finally — what is its intent?

These details will affect the protocol for engagement with what we find and will shape the understanding of the actual reality we live in and the many virtual realities that are possible, some of which already depicted in science fiction storylines.


Finding the truth about our cosmic neighborhood might clarify the nature of mysterious objects that were mentioned in the report  from the Director of National Intelligence, Avril HainesAvril HainesVirtual realities may solve Fermi's paradox about extraterrestrials Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against former top Saudi intel official Overnight Defense & National Security — Russian military moves cause for concern MORE, to Congress on June 25. These objects will be studied more thoroughly by a new government office, just legislated by Congress to start its operation in June 2022.

During the Ignatius Forum that I attended at the Washington National Cathedral on Nov. 10,  Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosFree speech, Whole Foods, and the endangered apolitical workplace Space: One important thing that might retain bipartisan focus Virtual realities may solve Fermi's paradox about extraterrestrials MORE mentioned that his aspirations for space tourism were triggered by his fascination with “Star Trek” as a kid. Hearing this confession, I told Avril Haines sitting next to me that I was never impressed by “Star Trek” because its storyline violates the laws of physics. Haines joked, “We have to work on you, Avi.” 

Avi Loeb is the head of the Galileo Project, founding director of Harvard University's Black Hole Initiative, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University (2011-2020). He chairs the advisory board for the Breakthrough Starshot project and is a former member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and a former chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. He is the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” and a co-author of the textbook “Life in the Cosmos,” both published in 2021.