Existential Risk and the Fermi Paradox

We know that complexity is the worst enemy of security, because it makes attack easier and defense harder. This becomes catastrophic as the effects of that attack become greater.

In A Hacker’s Mind (coming in February 2023), I write:

Our societal systems, in general, may have grown fairer and more just over the centuries, but progress isn’t linear or equitable. The trajectory may appear to be upwards when viewed in hindsight, but from a more granular point of view there are a lot of ups and downs. It’s a “noisy” process.

Technology changes the amplitude of the noise. Those near-term ups and downs are getting more severe. And while that might not affect the long-term trajectories, they drastically affect all of us living in the short term. This is how the twentieth century could—statistically—both be the most peaceful in human history and also contain the most deadly wars.

Ignoring this noise was only possible when the damage wasn’t potentially fatal on a global scale; that is, if a world war didn’t have the potential to kill everybody or destroy society, or occur in places and to people that the West wasn’t especially worried about. We can’t be sure of that anymore. The risks we face today are existential in a way they never have been before. The magnifying effects of technology enable short-term damage to cause long-term planet-wide systemic damage. We’ve lived for half a century under the potential specter of nuclear war and the life-ending catastrophe that could have been. Fast global travel allowed local outbreaks to quickly become the COVID-19 pandemic, costing millions of lives and billions of dollars while increasing political and social instability. Our rapid, technologically enabled changes to the atmosphere, compounded through feedback loops and tipping points, may make Earth much less hospitable for the coming centuries. Today, individual hacking decisions can have planet-wide effects. Sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson once described the fundamental problem with humanity is that “we have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology.”

Technology could easily get to the point where the effects of a successful attack could be existential. Think biotech, nanotech, global climate change, maybe someday cyberattack—everything that people like Nick Bostrom study. In these areas, like everywhere else in past and present society, the technologies of attack develop faster the technologies of defending against attack. But suddenly, our inability to be proactive becomes fatal. As the noise due to technological power increases, we reach a threshold where a small group of people can irrecoverably destroy the species. The six-sigma guy can ruin it for everyone. And if they can, sooner or later they will. It’s possible that I have just explained the Fermi paradox.

Posted on December 2, 2022 at 3:07 PM40 Comments


Jon December 2, 2022 3:21 PM

Except there’s an awful lot of boys and girls furiously beavering away to stop it being a problem. Some paid, some volunteer, who are putting their backs into making this not happen.

They get no press, those who fixed the Y2k problem – and won’t, in 2038 either, but their work is as essential as those who came before.


Clive Robinson December 2, 2022 5:03 PM

We have a saying that appears in one form or another in most cultures and it’s English version is

“There are two sides to a coin”

That is the literal sides of Obverse (heads) and Reverse (tails) but also the idea of “an upside” and “a downside” after it has been flipped and the hand of fate has intervened.

But as I point out about technology it has function but that is not inerently good or bad. That is a “good” or “upside” occures when an observer thinks the results of the technology put to use by a directing mind are in some way benificial. Likewise “bad” or “downside” when an observer sees the results as non benificial.

That is a singular event can be both good or bad, the scope or degree almost irrelevant in the observers eye.

Even “death” be it of an individual, group, race, or global population will always be seen by some as “bad” and others as “good”.

But humans are not the only creatures on this planet, which gives rise to an interesting set of issues.

Take a pathogen it has no “agency” it mearly infects hosts that come into contact with it. Yet we tend to ascribe malice or bad to it as we’ve seen with C-19.

The fact a pathogen that originates from a bat in a cave in some wilderness area becomes an existential risk to mankind, is very much down to the actions stupid or othereise of humans who do have agency, so can prevent it if they act. But more importantly unlike most crearures humans have the ability to see into the future thus assess “risk” and make plans that have choices within them.

The risk of C-19 had been “talked to death” years if not decades before it was known to exist. You can look up the science papers and healtcare contingency planning for epidemics and pandenics.

So the obvious question is,

“Why did we let it happen?”

Find the answer to that, and you will find the answer to why humanity may never get off this planet let alone out of the solar system.

Appart from a few predictable “natural events” that have always been with us as the clock ticks round thus slowly become more likely, nearly every existential threat to mankind is entirely avoidable and mostly down to human failings to start with.

Thus lets assume it is a charecter flaw, in humans, I rather suspect it is, then why has evolution not removed it from humans?

It could be that “risk taking” has an “upside” that under certain conditions out weights the “downside”.

The mere fact we have “technology” when other creatures do not, and we have become one of the few creatures that can control their environment beyond the strictly local might be both an evolutionary advantage and disadvantage the measure of which changes with time or scope.

As a friend once observed from racing cars,

“If you put nitrous in a mini it will certainly get you there quicker, but the engine will burn out way way faster”.

Thus “the candle that burns twice as bright” actually lasts a lot less than “half as long” (actualy true for an individual flame).

Is it that this defect is not specific to humans but all species that can do more than basic planing and local environment control. We rush forward oblivious to changing risk and thus kill ourselves off?

Think back to C-19 it could have happened at any time in human history, in fact some other pathogen salmost certainly have repeatedly down the centuries. But we did not have global travel of any real speed or distance much more than a century ago. The last global pandemic was almost exactly a century before, which would suggest that the capability of an existential pathogen to arise is actually quite high at once a century or so. But it is only in the last century that transport has been fast enough and broad enough in scope and distance covered to make such apandemic possible.

Thus the technology we broadly see as “good” that of fast air travel, is actually quite “bad” as it is a pandemic enabler once it crosses a threshold…

When looked at this way, it flips the question from,

“Where are the extraterrestrials?”


“Why have we not wipped ourselves out yet like all the other extraterrestrials?”

Perhaps a too sobering thought for a Friday…

Steve December 2, 2022 5:46 PM

The only paradox about the “Fermi Paradox” is that it really isn’t one. It’s more of a conundrum, really. . . a question having only a conjectural answer.

Though the answer to the conjecture is probably that aliens are really, really far away. Looking at my dogeared copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Space,” it says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the street to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space, listen…”

Ahem. . . where was I. . . oh, yes, aliens are really, really far away, the Universe is fresh out of dilithium crystals, and nobody’s disproven Einstein’s equations yet, so don’t expect anyone to come calling any time soon.

Clive Robinson December 2, 2022 6:26 PM

@ Jon,

Re : Something always there to remind me…

With regards,

“those who fixed the Y2k problem – and won’t, in 2038 either”

As a general case it’s a problem that will not go away ever as long as we record time.

Because “Integer Overflow” is a given at any practical precision.

As floating point numbers are actually “only integers” in a format that scales the precision or lack there of, the overflow issue remains. In fact it’s easy to see that no matter what the number format is, you will always have insufficient precision to stop overflow.

But overflow is not a problem as such, it’s “What we do, or do not do” about it that is the actual problem.

In the DEC version of Unix manuals there was a section on how they dealt with time differently to most other *nixs of the time and how they had a four digit not two digit year. There was a foot note acknowledging that this would eventually be a problem, but that they assumed by then it would nolonger be an issue…

There are only two solutions that will give both precision and longevity,

1, Excessively large integers.
2, Move the base epoch.

Of the two the second is actually most sensible for practical use, provided the first is used to keep track of the epoch changes in some manner. Think of it as a “watch and calender” solution. The watch maintains a good precision across the day, and a calender takes care of those daily epochs where the watch “overflows”.

Rudolph December 2, 2022 7:31 PM

@ Steve,

Though the answer to the conjecture is probably that aliens are really, really far away.

“Perhaps, I dare say, even on other planets”, to quote John Hodgman’s humorous take on the subject. (youtube-dl 8W51H1croBw; “A brief digression on matters of lost time”, TED 2008).

More seriously, Wikipedia’s page on the subject has a section called “It is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself” with lots of references. This idea and similar ones (“It is the nature of intelligent life to destroy others”) are not new, and have been reasonably popular in science fiction—probably starting around the time atomic weapons were invented.

Matt A December 2, 2022 9:01 PM

This is how the twentieth century could—statistically—both be the most peaceful in human history and also contain the most deadly wars.

Uh – you meant “twenty-first century”, right?

Clive Robinson December 2, 2022 9:17 PM


“… probably starting around the time atomic weapons were invented.”

Depends on what you mean by invented…

The ideas go back at least as far as H.G.Wells. Who many believe “invented Science Fiction” only a short time after the word “science”[1] was accepted as the name collective name of the rapidly growing proffession.

[1] What we now call “The Gentlemen of Science” where in their own view men of philosophy and gentlemen usually of independent means. Later as it grew into a paid proffession and experimentation became the norm as chemistry made great strides to supporting industrialisation it was felt there was a need to make a distinction from “natural philosopher” (which technically some still are as that is what their “chairs” of professorship at older universities are still called). But it was not untill 1833 that William Whewell coined the term scientist, which we still use today. H.G.Wells was born in 1866 and started writing many works only some of which were either science fact, or science fiction. He trained in biology and was a proponent of evolution and socialism[2] and his first notable novel of science fiction was “The Time Machine” in 1895.

[2] As always it needs to be noted that the USA meaning of “socialism” has next to nothing to do with what socialism started as, grew into, and still is today, not just as a philosophy but cultural and religious way of life. The USA meaning as the quote,

“Ment to scare the stupid and the infantile”

implies is not for those who are more worldly wise, and is used in the same manner as “Reds under the bed” etc. The attitude comes about from a quite deliberate misinterpretation of facts and others works such as English philosopher, economist, and politician John Stuart Mill’s 1859 essay “On Liberty”,


lurker December 2, 2022 9:45 PM

The aliens are hiding, from each other, not from us. Liu Cixin’s Three Body Problem trilogy must be only one of many such works proposing this theory, it just happens to be my most recent read of the topic. A safe secure future depends on not being seen or heard.

Clive Robinson December 2, 2022 11:22 PM

@ lurker, ALL,

“The aliens are hiding, from each other, not from us.”

No they are just “living with entropy and information density”…

Less than a century ago things were both more chaotic and more ordered at the same time, and thus the movment of information was slow and because of that low density.

Back then most of the world did not have grid power, and the grids that did exist were in commercial competitian and as such in a death spiral / tail spin of conflicting standards non of which were compatible.

Radio broadcasts were very few and of such low frequency they were nearly perpetually trapped under Earth’s rather odd “magic shield” the then unknown ionosphere and it’s layers of reflecting charged particles.

With WWII HF and VHF communications went from vague curiosity of odd ball scientists to hard fact systems of major power and range. But the number of broadcasters was limited.

It was at this time for just a few short years mankind pumped information out into space.

Now our desire for information density means billions of very short range low power transmitters that can only be heard as noise in earths orbit without the use of highly specialized and massive antenna arrays.

We are nolonger sending clear signals out beyond the solar system just incoherent chaotic noise that can not be sorted from natural noise.

So even though we push out far more power, it is spread out wide and low and is below the noise floor hidden from view. Not out of fear, but the greed of more information density.

lurker December 3, 2022 12:20 AM

@Clive Robinson

EM waves are rather inefficient for deep space communication. Gravitation waves go further, and are easy to focus when you know how to manipulate the Strong Force. Oh, sorry, not yet? Then how about neutrino beams?

Clive Robinson December 3, 2022 4:48 AM

@ lurker,

“Gravitation waves go further, and are easy to focus when you know how to…”

The amount of power needed to generate “gravitation waves” is according to theoretical physicists immense. Worse you need a quadrapole radiator.

As far as we know also gravity waves can not be “focused” in the conventional sense as even stars are effrctively transparent to them,


But yes I do remember reading the SciFi story. The description of the machine yes, the plot no, other than it was one of those “do not tamper with old abandoned alien tech” moralizing types.

Winter December 3, 2022 7:55 AM


“It is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself”

That holds for all succesful species [1].

Any succesful species will outstrip it’s environment’s carrying capacity and/or attract pathogens, parasites and other entities that will harvest it.

Humans are not that special, even in causing climate change.

When plants (actually, blue algea) developed oxygen producing photosynthesis, they poisoned the whole biosphere, killing most surface dwelling life. A few bacteria managed to develop a chemical pathway that could use the oxygen. One of these became our mitochondria.

Then plants developed a new indestructible product, lignine or wood. The indestructible stuff protected plants against herbivores and pathogens. It didn’t decompose and formed kilometer thick layers of organic matter that changed into the coal and oil we are now burning. All that organic matter was made out of CO2 taken out of the atmosphere, which caused considerable global cooling. Again, killing off a lot of life.

The crisis was solved by fungi, molds, that figured out how to use oxygen to break down wood, white rot.

Few species live for more than a few million years. We will not be different.

And why we do not see aliens? Maybe faster than light travel is simply impossible?

[1] Unsuccessful species are destroyed, that is why they are unsuccessful.

Clive Robinson December 3, 2022 10:03 AM

@ Winter, Rudolph, Steve, ALL,

“And why we do not see aliens? Maybe faster than light travel is simply impossible?”

Does that matter?

Mostly not, as I’ve said in the past,

1, What would be the purpose of traveling vast distances?
2, What would be the cost in energy of traveling vast distances?

There is generally no real benift. Because at the end of the day, –when you analyze it sufficiently– you find “travel” is a method of communication that whilst it can have a very high bandwidth, has a very high latency, and as such over large distances the trade off of increased bandwidth for longer latency does not “pay off”.

But also “travel” has a much higher risk of failure, the longer the distance, the faster the speed of travel the more probable it will fail and importantly the higher the cost in many ways. Where as “massless photons” are easy to send in number, and repeatedly, at the lowest cost for information transport.


“Why travel?”

Well one is to alow “interactive information exchange’, but when you consider this carefully you can conclude this is only needed when a “threat” or “danger” might be involved and “trust” of both forms have to be involved in a stepwise ratchet mechanism.

The only other reason to travel is due to “threat” and that is to expand out due to resource limitations.

That is you purposefully chase after resources that “others” might have, in what is effectively an endless “war” of conquest. Such expansion logically moves outwards slowly in a ring. That is whilst it has a point of origin, the resources get exhausted and all to quickly the cost of bringing them back, effrctively exceeds the value in doing so. This is the real reason empires fail, is they effectively “hollow themselves out” and live on the periphery or surface of the expansion, untill either resources are nolonger available or the invasion happens too fast and the invadors thin themselves out to far to be sustainable.

As it is a war, the real fun occurs when to expanding empires collide. They can not retreat as they havr already used those resources, nor realistically can they expand further in thay direction. Thus the only source of new resources is tangental to the collision thus what was a sphere of expansion becomes an irregular rod or fat cylinder like expansion, or one empire consumes the other and expands like a bubble with a large bite taken out of it.

Howrver it quickly gets complicated even with the very simplest of rules as Conway’s “game of life” shows.

As those who have played with even 1D “Cellular Automata”(CA) know things can get quite complex, which is why they were investigated by cryptographas as stream generators at the begining of this century. When you move to 2D-CA’s you start entering the world of “chaotic” behaviours where the progress is very sensitive not just to the initial conditions, but also the precission of the number representation, that in effect becomes the underlying foundations and state that unpredictably effect all changes.

Let’s not get into 3D or higher dimensionality CA’s they are beyond what most can visualise.

Winter December 3, 2022 11:01 AM


Does that matter?

Yes, because communication faster than light is also impossible.

Picking up any kind of alien signal that is not target at being understood by us will not be helpful.

We can already record signals from animals, fungi, and plants, and can sometimes make sense of it. But without any observable (behavioral) correlates, it is just noise.

And the number of stars within a radius of 1000 light-years is limited. The chances of there being some life form that is even capable of interstellar communication is probably not that big. Let alone the probability that they even want to communicate with life that could respond in 2000 years.

Rudolph December 3, 2022 11:32 AM

@ Winter,

Any succesful species will outstrip it’s environment’s carrying capacity and/or attract pathogens, parasites and other entities that will harvest it.

None of these is really a species “destroying itself”. A species that reaches its carrying capacity stops growing in population, but remains extant. One that’s destroyed by pathogens or parasites would not generally be responsible for its own destruction—except maybe humans, because we know how to stop pathogens and many of us simply refuse.

There are, however, plausible theories by which humans have the technical capability to make the planet uninhabitable to humans, global thermonuclear war likely being number one. Climate change, while sometimes placed into this category, could probably not reduce population by more than 99% in even the most pessimistic estimates. Some have spoken similarly about nukes.

@ Clive Robinson,

“Why travel?” Well one is to alow “interactive information exchange’, but when you consider this carefully you can conclude this is only needed when a “threat” or “danger” might be involved

I’m not much of a traveler, but I imagine you could have quite the debate with my family. I said pretty much the same things when invited by them to travel to the other side of the globe. But Mount Everest has annual traffic jams (and deaths) now, people have already signed up to travel to Mars, and I’m sure someone offering a trip to Pluto or Alpha Centauri would get legitimate interest.

Winter December 3, 2022 1:04 PM


None of these is really a species “destroying itself”. A species that reaches its carrying capacity stops growing in population, but remains extant.

Not necessarily.

Population booms and busts are common in nature. The popular folk story of the lemmings is one such cycle. Crowding and excursions to other biotopes, the hallmarks of success, will eventually lead to epidemics, not only in humans. Rabbit and blackbird populations have recently crashed in NW Europe due to the epidemics (and boomed again). And such things happen regularly. The balance of nature is a romantic myth.

Extinction itself is rare (but in the end, inevitable), but humans have once come within a hair of extinction before the out-of-Africa expansion [1]. A large catastrophe will hardly kill all humans. But those few thousand that might survive will have to start from scratch [2]. That is, as hunter gatherers.

And if paleontology has shown anything, it is that the fast, fast, majority of all species that ever lived are extinct.

[1] ‘https://www.npr.org/sections/krulwich/2012/10/22/163397584/how-human-beings-almost-vanished-from-earth-in-70-000-b-c

[2] Native Tasmanian are said to have lost most technologies due to isolation and a small population size.

Steve December 3, 2022 1:23 PM


“And why we do not see aliens? Maybe faster than light travel is simply impossible?”

Bear in mind that I never said “impossible.”

I would say very unlikely since, who knows, someone certainly smarter than me (which honesty requires me to admit that includes a goodly portion of humanity) will come up with a way around Einstein or to sidestep the laws of thermodynamics.

Maybe this will pan out[1] and we’ll be hopping from galaxy to galaxy via Wormhole Express.

Or maybe not.

[1] I definitely want a “toy universe” for my next birthday.

Clive Robinson December 3, 2022 2:23 PM

@ Winter,

“Yes, because communication faster than light is also impossible.”

Again “Does that matter?”

And the answer is not to the argument presented.

However as you have raised,

“Picking up any kind of alien signal that is not target at being understood by us will not be helpful.”

Not necessarily true.

The understandability of any message first and foremost depends on your ability to discern the information content.

It’s why,

1, Compression (remove statistics)
2, Encryption (Randomize message)

Are used to firstly hinder recognising information format and then the information. Further techniques can and are used such as out of order sending and padding but they generally have,detrimental effrcts on the first and second communicating parties as well as any observing third parties.

Which brings us onto,

“We can already record signals from animals, fungi, and plants, and can sometimes make sense of it. But without any observable (behavioral) correlates, it is just noise.”

You are making an assumption that is unwaranted of if you can not correlate it it is noise…

Any and all information content is a communication what you discern from it is two fold,

1, Message statistics
2, Message contents

Prior to the “discovery” during WWII of “Traffic Analysis” –which with 20/20 hindsight is obvious which usuall marks it as a major discovery– the assumption was that just hiding the message contents “robbed an observer of all information”. In actual fact traffic analysis is often more timely and revealing than having the message content.

(your next argument negates your speed of light argument).

But your last point of,

“Let alone the probability that they even want to communicate with life that could respond in 2000 years.”

Is flawed in that all communications no matter how local all suffer from delay by,

1, Latency
2, Bandwidth

So it’s not a question of delay time but if the transfer of information even with the delay achieves a purpose.

Not all “avoidable existential threats” travel at or even close to the speed of light. Thus it is possible to receive information that makes avoidence possible.

We actually do this currently with the Sun. It takes ~8mins for light to get from the Sun to Earth bringing a large amount of information with it. Certain solar weather behaviours such as Coronal Mass Ejections take much much longer to get here. The high energy mass of a CME can devistate power grids, communications networks and much more “IF and only IF”(IFF) protective measures are not activated in time.

Science and technology are now at a point where incomming physical masses such as large rocks moving at very high velocity relative to Earth thus high energy, can be tracked days, weeks, months and even years in advance and we may be able to now do something about it in time.

So “time delay” whilst a problem for somethings such as direct interaction –as I actually mentioned in my post– is not always of importance.

Clive Robinson December 3, 2022 2:44 PM

@ Steve,

What you quote as comming from me, was actually me quoting Winter so it woukd be clear what I was responding to in such a general way.

The simple fact is the maximum speed of light or travel for that is not realy relevant as to why aliens might or might not be out there, or why they might or might not wish to travel here.

However the “cost” of so doing is, which is the major point most tend not to consider sufficiently.

As for traveling faster than the speed of light, from one point in space to another point in space Einstein did not rule it out. His equations are not just about speed/time but complex geometry as well.

The general rule is “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line”… But we are already drilling holes in mountains and knocking down buildings and other structures to take a few feet thus nanoseconds on the time to send a message. It costs millions but due to “fast trading” it can make billions… That is though we are mostly “Two dimensional creatures” we have found “profit” in exploiting a higher dimension. If we find ways to exploit higher geometric dimensions profitably then it’s almost guarenteed we will.

Steve December 3, 2022 2:55 PM


What you quote as comming from me, was actually me quoting Winter so it woukd be clear what I was responding to in such a general way.

Understood. But since I was included in the generalization, I thought I’d specifically reply.

Or something like that.

candid December 3, 2022 3:28 PM

@Bruce “the technologies of attack develop faster the technologies of defending against attack. But suddenly, our inability to be proactive becomes fatal.”

That is all within paradigm of thinking in US high tops. Being reactive rather than proactive.
If I were one those top boneheads I’ll all ask two separate teams of real professionals independently develop offensive and defensive part for the same technology utilizing AI GAN procedure through multiple cycles. But usually it is easier to still China from US (recent hacking), US,UK from Russia (Gordievskiy, Pen’kovskiy,etc.).

Until paradigm of thinking on the top is changed substantially all is going to the same trap: doing something 100 time in the same way and expecting to get different result. Same applied for legal system: precedents v written legislation. That is not seeing forest behind the trees.

JonKnowsNothing December 3, 2022 4:43 PM

@CLive, @Winter, All

re: The understandability of any message first and foremost depends on your ability to discern the information content

This is aspect is in no way a “given”. We can barely understand other humans with spoken languages and we hardly understand “older languages” (Old, Middle) and there are loads of languages that are “lost” for which we haven’t a clue (Pre-Mayan, Pre-Prototype). Lots of guesses at what they mean but those do not necessarily discern the content.

There are animal studies that propose to study animal communication but it’s nearly all filtered through Human Understanding. We can note behaviors because humans are visual but we rarely understand what those behaviors mean and identify only those within the context of human understanding. (1)

Extreme difficulties can be seen in human societies with non-verbal, non-hearing, non-visual persons. Their internal language is different from those who do not have those differences. We all carry a concept of language but our internal definitions of content varies by our personal experience.

We don’t even know what anyone else is really thinking. We can’t even depend that what we “see” is the same thing. We collectively agree to nouns for things but what I see as a “box” someone else might see as a sphere but with the noun “box” attached. (2)

An old book (3) hypothesis was that one group of early people used visual hand and arm signs as language, while another group used vocalizations. The difference in communication is a significant plot device because neither group comprehends that the other is talking.


1) A horseman’s dilemma: Carrots or No Carrots.

Horses DO like carrots. They do recognize that humans can provide carrots. Humans can provide carrots as a reward for a specific behavior. Horses learn that if they do that behavior they may get a carrot. What the horse is really thinking, is unknown.

The problem is: When was the last time, a horse passed a carrot to another horse to get the other horse to perform a behavior?

Horses do not pass carrots around. They certainly communicate. They sort out whatever their problems are, but they do not do it with carrots. They do it with Teeth, Hooves, Kicks, Rears, Bites and Chase. Not a carrot to be seen.

2) Buddhism 4 Noble Truths

3) The Clan of the Cave Bear 1980 Jean M. Auel

Clive Robinson December 3, 2022 6:06 PM

@ JonKnowsNothing,

Re : Across the divide

“Horses do not pass carrots around. They certainly communicate. They sort out whatever their problems are, but they do not do it with carrots. They do it with Teeth, Hooves, Kicks, Rears, Bites and Chase. Not a carrot to be seen.”

It is simillar withm the divide between little humans and big humans.

Big humans have “cookies” little humans do not have cookies.

Like horses and carrots, like little humans and cookies.

Like horses communicating with those little physical brutalities you mention, if you observe like little humans they communicate with shoves, pushes, bites, pinches, punches and kicks, working their way up to screams and other loud vocalisations. You might also have noticed that horse also have some vocalisations.

But big humans in both cases “have the whip hand” of “carbohydrate addiction” in those they are trying to establish communications with. So for horses it’s sweet carrots, in little humans it’s cookies. Either way it makes life easy for the big humans as the horses and little humans quickly realise they have to play the big human game…

I know a woman who both breeds horses and does software training of humans… Like parents she has discovered that using food treats the way you do with horses also works on adults learning software…

Interesting thing to note, for various reasons not least because I think using food as a means of persuasion is a bad thing to do as it does cause eating disorders. Whilst my son got the occassional choclate cookie, or high quality (75% or above) choclate we did not give him sweets at any time, and as an adult he’s no interest in them and also prefers tea or plain water to sweet drinks and carbonated drinks. However we did let our son mostly “feed himself”, by ensuring adiquate carrot sticks houmous pitta bread apple slices dried fruit nuts and the like for him to “graze on” as he played. Even now like horses he has a fondness for raw –or cooked– carrots, and now he’s somewhat larger, he likes them with the odd slab of beef, or half chicken on the side as garnish 😉

But he does have one “food failing” I suspect most of us do…

Cheap fluffy white sliced bread, half tosted (one side golden) with a fried egg sliced sausage and a couple of rashers of salty smoked dry cure bacon, and a squirt of real ketchup or brown sauce[1]… With a large mug of tea.

(I’ve seen even vegetarians sneak a bite or two of such a sarny).

[1] By real I mean the stuff I make the old fashioned way with pounds of fresh tomatoes, cider vinegar, white onions, a few “secret herbs” including lots of oregano and light brown sugar. Failing that “Mr 57 varieties” as it’s mostly “real tomatoes”.

Ismar December 3, 2022 7:56 PM

My 5 cents worth on the paradox in question.
Isn’t it simply a shortcoming of the evolution that species are shaped to take advantage of the environment and the resources it provides , consuming them as fast and efficiently as possible ,which cannot last for long once a species reaches maturity in this regard ?
This pretty much guarantees extinction of higher species like us unless we figure out how to survive outside our current planet before the above mentioned stages happen.

lurker December 3, 2022 10:25 PM


Ah, they’ve invented a subspace channel. Only forty years now for Zephram Cochrane to do his thing with the warp drive, and the Vulcans will be here.

MarkH December 4, 2022 1:49 AM


As I read your comment above, it seemed to say that all successful species destroy themselves, and then to define destroyed species as unsuccessful. Isn’t that a logical cul de sac?

Some vertebrates — animals of very considerable complexity — have persisted for perhaps 100 million years. Horseshoe crabs living today are believed to be nearly identical to ancestors of more than 200 million years ago.

Can we conclude that species are inherently prone to self-destruction?

Many extinctions result from environmental changes, especially those occurring suddenly. Our species stands unique in the ability to induce environmental changes which are broad in geographic scope, large in magnitude, and have steep rates of change.

MarkH December 4, 2022 2:09 AM


Typical species maximize their take-up of resources at usual rates of resource production.

A genetic line persisting through thousands of years must either have inherited strategies for coping with variations in resources, or have evolved strategies by natural selection.

Often (but often not) those resource production rates are based on a relatively steady state, so we might call this sustained (or sustainable) production.

People are very clever at finding ways to greatly increase production, and rapidly consuming resource reserves accumulated over thousands or millions of years. Causing such non-sustainable production and stored resource draw-down, and then depending on it for survival, is a special kind of problem.

Steve December 4, 2022 9:44 AM


Ah, they’ve invented a subspace channel. Only forty years now for Zephram Cochrane to do his thing with the warp drive, and the Vulcans will be here.

Assuming, of course, that the Vogons don’t get here first.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s some guy named Prosser banging on my front door and yelling about a “bypass” or something. . .

Clive Robinson December 4, 2022 11:05 AM

@ Mexaly,

Re : “British”

“I wonder how things go on a planet that never had a British navy?”

There never was “a British navy” it’s actually called the “Royal Navy”.

It was originally set up by the Tudor King Henry VIII, King of England and large areas of France. Over time later monarchs both gained and lost territory such as America, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, etc.

The idea of “Britain” is one of “Empire” foisted on subjecated others like the Welsh and Scots many of whom want nothing to do with their rather unpleasent English “over-lords”.

You might as well claim on your logic that the US Navy is actually part of the “British Navy”… Something tells me you would not be popular for so doing though.

Clive Robinson December 4, 2022 11:16 AM

@ Steve, lurker,

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s some guy named Prosser banging on my front door…”

Don’t fall down the stairs that are not there or ignore the beware of the tiger warning…

But first put on the kettle for a fresh cup of Brownian motion generator, as things are going to get more than finitely improbable, and with time and a little luck you might get to fly around with Fenchurch 😉

Antistone December 4, 2022 1:57 PM

Have you seen the paper “Dissolving the Fermi Paradox” from 2018? https://arxiv.org/abs/1806.02404

They argue that people usually calculate the average number of expected aliens (using the Drake equation or similar methods), but what we really care about is the probability of at least one alien.

To illustrate the difference, suppose we somehow knew that god flipped a coin and then created either a billion aliens or zero. The average number of aliens would be 500 million, but observing zero wouldn’t be surprising; it would just mean the aliens lost the coin toss.

The average is much easier to calculate, because the average of a product is the product of the averages, so you can just use the average estimate of each individual variable. Calculating a full probability distribution is much harder. But they take the same assumptions people usually make to calculate that there should be tons of aliens (on average), run a lot of computer simulations, and get a roughly 1/3 probability of zero aliens–meaning it’s not particularly surprising that we don’t see any.

So it seems like the whole “paradox” is basically a math error.


Obviously, this doesn’t mean there CAN’T be a Great Filter. We might still be doomed.

Steve December 4, 2022 2:25 PM


Don’t fall down the stairs that are not there or ignore the beware of the tiger warning…

“Beware of the Leopard.”

“Have you ever thought of going into advertising?”

Yes, it’s a sickness. I’m thinking of getting into a program.

Clive Robinson December 5, 2022 2:29 AM

@ Steve,

Re : Claws, Fangs, Fur, and far worse.

“Beware of the Leopard.”

Signs of old age creaking through 😉

Mind you I’ve never been good with cats…

From a Girlfriends cat taking a liking to my dirty Rugby Kit as a nesting place to have kittens in (try explaining that to the coach).

Through finding out that lycra cycling cloths have no protective value when a female friends cat jumps on your lap and “pads” with their claws out (still makes my eyes water just thinking back).

Having a “baby puma” jump/climb up my back when visiting at a friends girlfriends parents place to drop off a birthday present and I’ve still got some scars from that well over a third of a century later…

Visiting a friend who’s daughter is now a “Dame” and having her cat run up my back to stand on my shoulders…

And one or two other events of a similar nature… Including when at a lady friends house having her cat jump on my head and shoulders as I was kneeling down by her bedside fixing an electrical socket.

Yup a common thread emerges “female friends” and their cats…

Winter December 5, 2022 5:11 AM


As I read your comment above, it seemed to say that all successful species destroy themselves, and then to define destroyed species as unsuccessful. Isn’t that a logical cul de sac?

A late response.

The problem is how you define “success”. If success is defines as longevity as a species, that defeats the purpose as the result is trivial.

If “success” is defined as a species dominating the food-web in terms of biomass or biomass processed, the problem can be quantified.

Any species dominating it’s ecosystem’s food-web, eg., lemmings, rabbits, etc or their top predators, would be prone to boom-bust cycles as increases in one species would reduce the amount of their food, and increase the mount of their predators and pathogens. Boom bust cycles have non-zero probability of going through zero, aka, extinction.

The more stable ecosystems have high diversity in their food-webs with no species dominating the biomass at any level in the food web. Then species have variety in food sources and ways to avoid predators and pathogens, eg, dispersion and migration. That is, in a stable ecosystem, no species is particularly “successful”, they are all middle class.

We see something like this currently with the bird flue raging through chickens and ducks, swine fever periodically raging through pigs, and Tropical Race 4 exterminating Cavendish bananas. Chicken, pigs and bananas are wildly successful species. And it costs a lot of effort and money to prevent their numbers to collapse due to disease.

The bird flue and the Tropical Race are currently largely uncontrollable. These are not just happening in human agriculture, they happen in “the wild” too.

vas pup December 8, 2022 4:20 PM

@ALL and @Bruce in particular who is very interested in this subject

How to teach children about risk

“When you’re in charge of a small child, even the most idyllic setting can turn into a danger zone.

In the first years, there is the risk of being hit by a car, falling into a pool or pond, or being bitten by a dog (most commonly, the family’s own). The potential perils change with the
child’s age: alcohol, drugs, violence and untreated mental health issues can endanger the wellbeing of teens and young adults. Road traffic injuries remain a major risk, too. And then there are the invisible dangers, such as air pollution, which are often especially hard to detect and address.

Eventually, we all need to be able to appraise risk ourselves, so that we can navigate the world safely without the guidance of our parents or guardian. Without those skills, we are far more likely to make rash decisions that can result in poor health, financial distress – and even a criminal record.

==>Simply recognizing a danger is often not enough to keep a child safe, however, since their developing brains may not be quick enough to react to the problem at hand. Research shows that
we don’t learn to fully integrate our senses – such as sight and hearing – until we are around 10 years old. That makes it hard to recognize the speed at which a car, for example, is approaching. Young children’s developing brains also tend to be more easily distracted, meaning that they may simply forget about the potential danger.

Guiding teens through adolescence presents its own difficulties. The teen brain is known to undergo large structural changes, which seems to increase the sensitivity of their dopamine
signaling – a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. This was once thought to make teens much more impulsive than younger children, as they actively seek out risky situations that could give them a bigger dopamine hit.

… teens aren’t necessarily hardwired to rebel. It’s often simply a matter of the situations that they find themselves in. As they gain independence away from the watchful eyes of their
parents, there are many more opportunities to act rashly – whether that’s attempting to shoplift, trying an illegal drug, joining a gang, having unprotected sex, or racing their friends on the motorway. “Access to risk-conducive situations increases dramatically during adolescence and during emerging adulthood,” Defoe explains – and sometimes, it is hard to resist the temptations that brings.

…this may result from generally poor reasoning skills. To investigate this possibility, psychologists have also developed a ==>more comprehensive “decision-making competence” (DMC) test. This includes questions that test someone’s abilities to follow basic logical rules when weighing up the pros and cons of different options, as well as measures of common cognitive
biases that might skew someone’s understanding of risk.

!!!When the decision-making competence test is rolled out in teens, for example, the low scorers tended to have higher drug use, and showed more delinquent behaviors such as regular rule-breaking at school. When tested in adults, meanwhile, it seems to predict everything from missing a flight to catching a sexually transmitted disease or filing for bankruptcy.

NB -Importantly, this is largely independent of their IQ. Decision-making competence is not just a measure of raw brainpower, but specifically how well someone is able to appraise situations.

!!!!Rather than simply imposing strict rules that eliminate the child’s exposure to risk, it could be for more useful – in the long-run – to help them hone their decision-making and thinking skills.

Perhaps most important is the encouragement of self-control and emotional regulation – since so many dangers are the result of =>impulsivity. Practices such as mindfulness may be helpful,
as can metacognitive practices – such as teaching children to imagine the consequences of their actions.

!!!Along the way, parents can encourage the use of critical thinking – strategies such as looking for evidence that contradicts their assumptions.”

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