In 1950, Enrico Fermi, the physicist who built the first nuclear reactor, asked why, with 100 billion planets in our galaxy, we hadn’t yet come across alien life.
He theorised that even using primitive rocket technology, it would only take extraterrestrials about ten million years to colonise the Milky Way.
Given the galaxy is 10,000m years old, we should’ve already detected alien signals, Fermi said, sparking a debate that has fascinated scientists ever since.
Now ‘Stargazing Live’ presenter Brian Cox has weighed in on the discussion, revealing why he thinks the search for celestial life will ultimately prove futile.
According to the Sunday Times, Cox believes that any alien civilisation is destined to wipe itself out shortly after it evolves.
“One solution to the Fermi paradox is that it is not possible to run a world that has the power to destroy itself and that needs global collaborative solutions to prevent that,” Cox said.
The physicist explained that advances in science and technology would rapidly outstrip the development of institutions capable of keeping them under control, leading to the civilisation’s self-destruction:
“It may be that the growth of science and engineering inevitably outstrips the development of political expertise, leading to disaster. We could be approaching that position.”
Cox’s comments came ahead of the publication of his new book, Universal: A Guide to the Cosmos, written with his colleague Manchester University physicist Jeff Forshaw.
The pair suggest that politicians should start thinking like scientists by grounding their views in evidence in order to tackle global challenges like climate change.
“What does a scientist want to be?” asked Cox. “Do we want to be right? Or do we care about understanding nature? If it is the latter, we should be delighted to be proven wrong.”
Forshaw added: “In the same way, politicians should be delighted if their policies work, but just as delighted if someone comes up with something better.”