Another attempt to address the Fermi paradox — aestivation

According to a research paper accepted for publication in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, extraterrestrials are sleeping while they wait. In the paper, authors from Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute and the Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade Anders Sandberg, Stuart Armstrong, and Milan Cirkovic argue that the universe is too hot right now for advanced, digital civilizations to make the most efficient use of their resources. The solution: Sleep and wait for the universe to cool down, a process known as aestivating (like hibernation but sleeping until it’s colder).


The universe appears to be cooling down on its own. Over the next trillions of years, as it continues to expand and the formation of new stars slows, the background radiation will reduce to practically zero. Under those conditions, Sandberg and Cirkovic explain, this kind of artificial life would get “tremendously more done.” Tremendous isn’t an understatement, either. The researchers calculate that by employing such a strategy, they could achieve up to 1030 times more than if done today. That’s a 1 with 30 zeroes after it.

Here is the full article, via the excellent Samir Varma.


I have hard time believing that the Universe is full of those tomb worlds full of sleeping aliens. Mostly because the aliens who are not sleeping would have an expansionist advantage over those sleepers. From this point of view, aestivation does not predict observing zero aliens, it just lowers their number.

Not just an expansionist advantage. It is too hot to use their resources efficiently? Well perhaps although your Playstation would have to be running pretty hot to make a billion year sleep before you pick up where you left off with the Umbrella corporation worth it. It is even less efficient to let someone else use your stuff while you sleep.

But this is an economics blog. What is the discounted value of the future value of all our stuff? $100 now is worth what a trillion years from now?

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I always thought that the Necrons had screwed the pooch by hibernating for so long and not maintaining adequate surveillance of their stellar neighborhood. They had the perfect opportunity to rise during the Age of Strife and the Fall of the Eldar Empire in the creation of the Eye of Terror by the the birth of Slaanesh.

Just wait until the Dragon awakens beneath the surface of Mars. Then the Imperium won't know what hit 'em.

You covered this almost exactly three years ago.

Robin Hanson destroyed the obviously flawed argument as well a year ago.

Is Tyler going senile?

Ah, but you missed the Straussian interpretation. Tyler means this post to follow his earlier post on the future of the intellectual right. Obviously, right wing intellectuals should go into cryonics and wait for a time when the world will appreciate their ideas.

One of the rebuttal's co-authors is occasional MR commentator Jess Riedel.

And Tyler is one of the most woke people out there, as many commenters here tirelessly point out.

Well he's certainly one of the most socially ambitious, and adept, which means he must broadcast it when he agrees with the woke. Indeed this is probably Tyler's core competence: Finding a way of agreeing on details when his deeper instincts differ profoundly...rather like a carnivore gushing about the inoffensive appetizer while anticipating the silence that will ensue when the entrees arrive and his vegan companion tucks in...

sometimes woke
is just another word for insomnia

Perhaps a picture-perfect proposition for solving insomnia:
Close your eyes and fall into a slumber as the universe around you and in you expands, slow and cool.

Just one more reason to destroy the sun.

You either destroy the sun -- stop it from fusing so its energy can be used more efficiently (so much is lost in convection alone) -- or bag it to minimize the waste. Anything less means you're not trying hard enough. But when at look up at the majesty of heaven's vault at night it's obvious the universe is full of losers.

Since the beginning of time man has yearned to destroy the sun

Destroying the sun would be devastating for women and minorities. But that's just what you want, isn't it?

Whats the difference? They wait for a trillion change vs billion.? Heat, radiation. We will be so gone, an unforgettable speck on some time line. Really silly, except for Sci Fi types.

As the universe is barely 14 billion years old, It's silly to speculate about what it might be doing trillions of years from now.

I wonder what discount rate the aliens have to make it worthwhile to forego life for trillions of years.

Maybe they read Stubborn Attachments and think the discount rate is zero.

A pessimistic bunch. Has Joel Osteen become a pessimist too? What if time is just a human construct to differentiate past, present, and future? Ever heard that dogs have no concept of time. That's why they will sit for hours waiting for their owner to return: whether it's five minutes or five hours or five days makes no difference to a dog. Indeed, I learned this morning that dogs age differently than humans. No, I don't mean that a dog's age is his human age multiplied by seven, rather a dog ages faster than humans early in life but then ages at a much slower rate later in life. Determining a dog's actual age requires a complicated formula: All I know is that as I have aged, time seems to have speeded up. Trillions of years doesn't seem nearly as long as it did early in my life.

The Fermi Paradox is that such a distinguished name should be associated with absurd piffle.

Still, I know the answer. Ask Prof Neil Ferguson to model it.

Attempts to answer the Fermi Paradox are, essentially, attempts to psycho-analyze entities we know nothing about. We have nothing to base any speculation on other than the fact that we haven't found anything upon which to base speculation. We don't know how alien life would communicate; we don't know its cultural makeup (which affects communication); we don't even know its CHEMICAL makeup. We assume carbon-based with water as the primary solvent, but it's been known for decades that this is not the only viable metabolic system for life, and possibly not even the only one in our own solar system.

Any attempt to answer the Fermi Paradox at this point is pure speculation. It's useful in as much as the attempt provides a testable working hypothesis; in so far as any attempt is taken as an answer, however tentatively, the attempt becomes outright dangerous to scientific investigation of this issue. Humans stop looking for answers once we have one we believe is plausible. It's something that scientists have had to learn again and again, which has held back science for decades if not longer in some fields, and which we should be trained to avoid. Yet here we are, attempting to provide answers to a question when the only data we have is that we have no data....

from the article
"They allow us to think proactively about some of the problems we as a species face, or may one day face, and prompt us to develop strategies to actively shape a more prosperous and secure future for humanity."

Sounds nice, but in terms of scientific investigation such statements are meaningless. A scientific hypothesis takes the form "If I'm right, we should look here using these methods and find this." What you've quoted is a mission statement, not a hypothesis. Not necessarily useless, but certainly NOT scientific investigation.

didn't say it was a hypothesis. it was an oddball mostly sci fi article
to stimulate thought while we are eating pancakes
& we actually understand the concept of hypothesis
how long since you washed your hands

A quibble: There are plenty of scientific ways to attempt to answer, or at least narrow down the parameters of the problem. We can scan the sky for signals, we can look for technosignatures of civilizatikns or signs of biospheres. We can look for life in our solar system, which will help tell us how easy it is to evolve. There is plenty of other real science that's helping us understand who or what might be out i the universe.

The paper in question is not one of them. It's more like the background research and speculation a hard science fictiin writer might come up with to justify his story.

"There are plenty of scientific ways to attempt to answer, or at least narrow down the parameters of the problem."

Agreed. Speculation along those lines is within the tradition of scientific investigation. One scientist, for example, speculated about a metabolic pathway using liquid methane as a solvent, and figured out some testable predictions to determine if such a pathway existed. This paper was published at about the time a NASA probe found such evidence (not proof, certainly, but evidence) in the atmosphere of Titan. That sort of thing meaningfully moves human understanding forward. Likewise, Lovelock speculated (prior to the Gaia Hypothesis) on how to detect biospheres around alien worlds, in a way that's hard, but increasingly possible. It's pure speculation, but it's TESTABLE speculation; it's only speculation because we haven't yet tested it.

I just don't see the Fermi Paradox contributing any such testable speculations. The two scientific ideas are the product of chemistry, something we can know for certain (at last for a broad range of parameters). The Fermi Paradox relies on psychology and technological developments, things we can't even predict reliably in our own species at this point.

The Big Bang Universe is fictional sci-fi. Ya'll might as well might be discussing Jetsons physics.

science is violence

A candidate for the Ig Nobel Prize?

I noticed that one of the authors also published a paper to answer what has caused me many sleepless nights:
This paper explores the physics of the what-if question "what if the entire Earth was instantaneously replaced with an equal volume of closely packed, but uncompressed blueberries?"

For anyone who hasn't read it, here is a link to the 'blueberry earth' paper Rebes mentions - clearly just a bit of lighthearted fun, but highly recommended to those interested:

Also, here is a paper from 2018 (with one of the same authors, and also covered on MR) arguing that when we properly model our uncertainty over each of the parameters informing the Fermi paradox, the paradox goes away: Also highly recommended.

Green Lives Matter.

Waiting is nonsense. They evolved in our current universe and they like it and deal with it as it is and prosper.

From the CDS, a valid proven approach deal with to Covid
The Center of Disease Control

Another press release from the National Research Institute of Absurdistan

Also from the lead wise author of this article

Blueberry Earth

Authors: Anders Sandberg

Abstract: This paper explores the physics of the what-if question "what if the entire Earth was instantaneously replaced with an equal volume of closely packed, but uncompressed blueberries?" While the assumption may be absurd, the consequences can be explored rigorously using elementary physics. The result is not entirely dissimilar to a small ocean-world exoplanet.
Submitted 27 July, 2018; originally announced July 2018.

They are shut down due to their own COVID pandemic.

One of the implicit assumptions behind the Fermi Paradox is that intelligent life has the means to make itself known to us, e.g. by sending out fleets of billions of planetary probes, or doing something that will be noticed throughout the galaxy, building Dyson spheres that spell out "ET" or whatever.

Those probes would have to travel for who knows how many eons, be self-repairing, and cost who knows how many star dollars or bars of latinum or whatever. We don't even know if building a Dyson sphere is feasible for a given civilization.

What civilization has the resources to do such a costly, uncertain project? Not one that is so resource-starved that it has to deal with this: "the universe is too hot right now for advanced, digital civilizations to make the most efficient use of their resources".

Guess we got got in the Surge and we're all just waiting for the Transcend to reappear. Hopefully the Blight won't make a comeback.

Might the solution, inasmuch as one is needed, to the purported "Fermi Paradox" not simply be that the Universe (including this galaxy) is unimaginably huge, almost completely empty, intelligent life rare and evanescent, and that there is no way to achieve faster-than-light travel? In other words, we haven't met the neighbors because they're too far away, and there aren't very many of them in the first place.

I know that this objection kind of spoils it for a lot of people, and that I may be considered churlish for even suggesting it, but that's just the way my mind (such as it is) operates. (Don't get me started on the idea of Mars colonization.)

Granted that Enrico Fermi had at least two SD's of IQ over what I possess, but maybe he was simply amused by watching his colleagues chase their tails getting all worked up over a dorm-room exercise in pointless speculation.

It might be the solution.

Then again, given our current knowledge, it's equally probable that the alien civilizations believe that we haven't advanced enough to make contact with and are cloaking their existence from us.

It's equally probable that we simply aren't looking in the right place. SETI focuses on worlds with liquid water, which we know aren't the only candidates for life. It's like looking for your keys under the street lamps in a parking lot because that's where looking is easiest--unless you parked under a street lamp, you won't find them. Doesn't mean they aren't there.

It's also equally possible that we haven't found them yet because we've only just started looking. How long have we been making serious attempts? 50 years? 60? Space is HUGE; 60 years isn't enough to figure out what all is in our own solar system, much less if life exists outside it.

The point is, the only rational thing to say on this matter is "We don't know", and then try to define the limits of our knowledge and expand them. And there are a LOT of unknown. For example: Define "life". We can define Earth-like life to some extent, but the edges get very, very blurry even in our own planet, with things we can physically touch and manipulate and grow and get infected by. We have no clue how to define life based on anything but our one sample. And that's just one question we need to answer to begin to address this paradox in any meaningful way.

I suspect it depends on how much a civilization is willing to fragment itself permanently. Digital civilizations are going to fragment even more than mostly-biological ones, because of the enormous differences in subjectively simulated time versus the distance required even to send a signal over light-years. Countless trillions of subjective years might pass inside a single solar system's network of digital beings compared to a mere handful of years spent "in transit" as a radio signal.

It makes me think of Vernor Vinge's Fire Upon the Deep, where transhumanist super-civilizations out in the galaxy's edge rise and fall within the span of ten years, with most not even making it that long.

What about the Fauci paradox?

I almost thought Cirkovic was a serious guy then I saw he was publishing a lot with those guys

Could get more done, yes. But still not as much as if they were active now and had been building infrastructure for the next trillion years.

While also putting themselves at the mercy of other machine civilizations that didn't 'take a nap' and were busy turning as much of the universe into computronium as they can in the meantime.

The authors state (of civilizations having achieved post-biological intelligence) that "It’s not something that is necessarily unavoidable, but it is highly likely.” Assigning a prior like this in the absence of evidence is pretty far from scientific, and makes it hard to take any of this seriously (not that it was easy to begin with).

The authors later seem to agree with me: "Any assumption is extremely speculative."

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