While we’ve championed incredible feats, invented exciting technology and set to work on cracking some of the most complicated formulas in a bid to try and explain the mathematical structure of our universe, we’ve still got a while to go before the universe bows down to us.
Humanity has always been obsessed with the idea of alien invasions. You name it; we’ve written about it, progammed it and filmed it. Take Orson Welles, who in 1938 secured his fame by sending the world into meltdown with the radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. Giving the impression that an actual alien invasion was in progress, the sudden possibility of something unconfirmed happening in that moment gave listeners a reason to panic. Seen as a laughable prank by today’s standards - even if we saw genuine evidence we’d claim it to be the work of digital wizardry – our obsession with other worldly beings has never waned.
What’s interesting about our empathy-fuelled tales of alien invasion is how arrogantly we tell them. Like a child stamping its feet to be the centre of attention, we assume these Godly beings of unimaginable knowledge and advancements have not only been watching us for centuries, but also have nothing more important to do than to challenge our universal superiority. The nerve of them.
Aliens probably do exist. The Fermi Paradox asks the very question, “just where is everybody?” In a universe offering 10,000 stars for every grain of sand, it sure would be lonely if no other life existed. But for the purpose of planetary domination, we’ll assume that “all other life” is the Hollywood depiction of tall, metallic beings from an advanced civilisation. Sound crazy? Well, The Drakes Equation is a mathematical formula that allows us to calculate how many of these advanced civilisations are estimated to exist. It’s by carrying out the calculation (N = R * fp * ne * fl * fi * fc * L) that we’re able to figure out that thousands are likely to be present. With Earth estimated to be the 4.5 billion year old (not yet classed as an advanced civilisation) child of the 14 billion year old universe, there’s a chance that out of those thousands of advanced civilisations, a few will be our older siblings.
So if there are thousands of alien colonies, where are they and will they harm us? There are a handful of different answers to this question, but for the sake of this blog post and not droning on, I want to talk about the hypothetical idea of the Matrioshka Brain. Based on a concept called the Dyson Sphere, a structure that would encompass a star and harness its power, the Matrioshka Brain is a series of nested Dyson Spheres that construct a gigantic supercomputer. It might sound preposterous, yet these are the feats that would categorise a civilisation as a type 3 (which we are assuming).
This structure would (if they so chose) allow the colony to live within a shared consciousness - imagine being constantly plugged into the Matrix and subjected to constant happiness! Why, if they could detect us and are lightyears ahead of us, would they want to bother invading us? We really are tiny in the grand scheme of things. It was only 500 years ago that we thought the universe revolved around us and it's not even 40 years since we were pointing apocalyptic weapons at each other over political disagreements.
Despite us as a race being that one friend you don’t want to bring home to mum, we can't forget about the practicalities that work against the idea of an invasion. With other planetary systems constantly receding away from us (as we are to them) due to the ever-expanding nature of the cosmos, the distance between us and our alien brethren will always be increasing. Even if they’ve cracked light speed travel, the reality isn't as exciting. Light speed isn’t as fast as we like to think - it’s quick, 299,792,458 meters per second kind of quick - but it would still take 2 million years to travel to our nearest galactic neighbour.
There is, however, enough room to argue that if these logistical issues didn’t deter the most determined of races to invade Earth, then it wouldn’t be a personal affair. Instead it would be a simple operation to steal our resources regardless of the collateral damage - meaning aliens travelling from another galaxy need to work on their efficiency.
In short, I don’t think we need to worry about being destroyed by aliens anytime soon. Even if you remove the restrictions of physics, would a race so advanced that they could build themselves a consistently happy simulation to live in really waste resources and time to come and poke sticks at us muggles?
You can explore the universe in Ryoichi Kurokawa's unfold, an exhibition exploring the birth of stars which is on show at FACT until 15 June.