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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Space Review: The Park hypothesis - by Michael Huang

Bob Park will be remembered as a persistent human spaceflight critic, a leader of the anti-human-spaceflight movement. But he could also help solve one of the great space mysteries of all time: Do intelligent aliens exist, and if so, where are they?
 
First, some background information. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is challenged by an idea called the Fermi Paradox. Enrico Fermi thought that if intelligent alien civilizations existed, they would inevitably colonize the galaxy. Travelling slower than the speed of light, they would still colonize the galaxy in a relatively short time. And if our galaxy was colonized, we would know all about it. Fermi concluded that intelligent aliens do not exist.
 
The Fermi Paradox drew a wide range of speculative hypotheses. Maybe intelligent aliens did exist, but they became extinct before they reached us. Maybe they have isolated us for observation and study (the zoo hypothesis). Maybe they are waiting until our civilization reaches a certain developmental stage (the sentinel hypothesis). Or could there be another explanation?
The Park hypothesis states that intelligent alien civilizations do exist, but they have not colonized the galaxy because they don’t want to. 
 
Since the only intelligent civilization that we know of is our own, our experiences may provide insights into how intelligent aliens behave. We regularly have a debate over what to send to space. It is known as the humans versus robots debate, or the manned versus unmanned debate, or with a more accurate description it could be called the both-humans-and-robots versus robots-only debate. Now, if an intelligent civilization such as ours is having this debate, then it is possible that intelligent alien civilizations are doing the same thing. Of course, they wouldn’t call it a humans versus robots debate. From their perspective it would be an our-species versus robots debate, and from our perspective it would be an aliens versus robots debate. And like our intellectuals, their intellectuals may conclude that alien spaceflight is obsolete, and a robots-only space policy would be sensible, logical, and right. They would dismiss colonization as a hopeless fantasy.
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