(Steemed) If we should ever succeed in discovering life on other worlds, should that discovery trouble us?

I think most people would say the answer to that question is ‘yes’ only if said aliens have tremendous technological capability. If that is the case, they just might come over here and use their technological might to take our gold and steal our women. On the other hand, if those aliens are primitive, there would be no need to be overly concerned. Why should anybody worry if we discover  microbial lifeforms inhabiting Europa, for example?

Actually there is a very good reason: The Great Filter.

The Great Filter is the hypothesis that there is some immensly challenging barrier standing in the way between the emergence of life and the establishment of an intergalactic civilization. Whenever life runs up against this barrier, it is extremely unlikely that it will  overcome it. It either goes extinct or never develops to a point where its mark on the universe can be noticed, which probably amounts to extinction in the long run.

The Great Filter could lie in our future. Perhaps civilizations aquire technological might before they evolve the wisdom to use it wisely, and end up destroying themselves? Perhaps there is some stage in past evolution that is profoundly hard to reach. The development of the eukaryotic cell, for example.

But if we discover primitive life on other worlds, that would make it much more unlikely that the Great Filter does lie in the past. It is not much of a Great Filter if life has overcome it not just once, but twice and maybe many times. 

If we find bacterial or- even worse- multicellular life, that should really worry us, because it makes it much less likely that the Great Filter is something we have successfully overcome.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Interesting premise. As you may know I hold that we are at the mouth of the Great Filter now.
    Quoting from a piece I wrote some years ago:

    “There comes a time in the developmental history of every intelligent evolved species that requires a significant set of choices for the species to survive and thrive. A species comes to this point when its intelligence is great enough that it discovers technology of sufficient power for either transcendence and freedom or ultimate enslavement and conflict leading to annihilation. Humanity is such a species at just such a critical point in its development.

    Any evolved species will have a set of characteristics acquired through its evolution. These characteristics include psychological and social/cultural patterns that enabled evolutionary success. As the species gains more and more sophisticated technology the pace of change and the nature of the challenges and opportunities faced individually and collectively increasingly diverge from what can be successfully handled by the species’ evolution acquired characteristics. In the case of humanity we can refer to the totality of these characteristics as “human nature”.

    When technology reaches a great enough potential the very basis of the evolutionary milieu is open to change. The species acquires the knowledge of its own internal “coding”, its genetics, evolutionary mechanisms, psychology and cognitive structure. It gains increasing deep understanding of and increasing fine grained control of physical matter. With the advent of increasing dense computational resources the species acquires greatly increased effective intelligence and inter-communication among all its members. Increasingly the species has the means to greatly increase its health and the longevity and physical well being of all its members. All of its members potentially have access to most of the collective knowledge of the entire species and both the time and tools to use this bounty to increase the resources, knowledge and well-being of the species exponentially. This is the Good News.

    The not so good news is that the species evolution instilled proclivities were forged in a very different environment and are only effective enough at leading to species survival in a world that is increasingly no longer present. The increasing technological mastery acts as a magnifier greatly extending the reach and impact of the species. Technology acts as a magnifier at all scales down to the single individual. Old balances of power and influence unravel with ever greater speed. Nations and groups and individuals live in growing uncertainty and with growing levels of fear.”

  2. --- says:

    Great Filter… nice one. Besides actual technological possibility to destroy themselves, what might be interesting is an impact of understanding own processes, first and foremost cognitive ones, and actually taking control over them. When “natural” drives – to live, to prosper, to gain knowledge – are no longer considered necessity but an artificial illusion created as a result of mechanistic evolution. Will they die out, and if not, what will be their values, as a foundation for evolutionary survival?

  3. Rayn Drahps says:

    My fear of us discovering aliens on another world first is nuking them from orbit (or at least trying to) without provocation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s