5 Billion Years of Solitude*

MilkyWay_Java_justin Ng

Are we alone in the Universe?
After 5 billion years of solitude,
Are we really alone?
For the first time in human history we are getting the non-religious answer:

Nope. We can’t be.

Here’s the math:

  • 100 billion planets in the Milky Way (conservatively speaking; it is probably four times that)
  • Of that, astronomers estimate 50 billion would be rocky worlds in some way similar to Earth (or four times that)
  • 1/10th of 1% of these = 50 million that might be water worlds (or four times… oh, you get the idea)
  • Too much? Ok, cut it to 1/100 of 1% of 50 billion. That’s still a whopping 5 million

Five million Earths.

Maybe more. Maybe a lot more.

So, no. We’re not alone.

I’m just afraid of one thing: That we’re maybe the galaxy’s cockroaches, and the 5 million of our neighbors are one giant Orkin fleet with really big flyswatters.


I’ve been reading science fiction since I was in the 5th grade, and have been a total space geek.  I read this book a while ago, but since then there have been some radical discoveries with Keppler that have changed things. A lot.

It’s now very plausible, if not highly probable– no, it’s definite–that there are a Kirk-load of planets very much like Earth.

This means there must be others. Like us, or very, very, very different. But others. Bet you (one of you) $5.

But why does that not make me feel good? I do not feel good. And I watched ET and everything.

177076375 Billion Years of Solitude,
By Lee Billings

3 Replies to “5 Billion Years of Solitude*”

  1. I agree with you, Caroline, that AI represents a distinct threat. Even people like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have sounded an alarm about that. I understand the excitement of researchers who are chasing this, but what worries me about advances like this is that there’s not enough thought being given to the ethical aspects that might become the next century’s social crisis in the rush to discover. It’s the same concern I have about advances in gene therapy, nanotechnology and cloning. I just don’t think we fully understand the unintended consequences, and ought to be cautious. But then, it could be a world we can adapt to, and just live with the downsides. When the automobile and internal combustion engine were invented in the early 1900s, these things radically transformed the world. But now we have the effects of burning all of that fossil fuel to face. No one was capable to foreseeing all of the effects, good and bad, that flowed from what was at the time a radical, but pretty simple development. As Steve Jobs said once, you can’t connect the dots looking ahead. You can only connect the dots looking backward, after whatever happens happens.

    The Law of Unintended Consequences is one of the most powerful laws in the universe. 🙂

    And Bernadette, I’m not happy about alien visits because I don’t believe we’re capable of knowing ahead of time whether that’s a good thing or not. Any species that can travel interstellar space (and it is highly unlikely, given the distances and challenges of traveling through space-time) would have to be vastly more advanced technologically than we are. And that doesn’t even touch on how our traditional belief systems, religions, etc., have so poorly prepared us for the utter, primal shock we’d get if ET were to show up. I look at the fundamentalism around the world, particularly in Islam and Christianity, which represent the “thinking” of billions of us, and despair. We’re going backward, and the reaction would probably include lots of blood, war and violence.

    We could be in the position of a stone-age tribe in the Amazon getting a visit by the U.S. Pacific Fleet, or the Space Shuttle. I’d hope they’d be benevolent, but even if they were, the contrasts would mean that we’d be inferior in so many ways that we probably would collapse under the shock.


  2. This is a very interesting post. I am 46 and really think that within my lifetime we will discover life elsewhere in the Universe. There must be other intelligent creatures on all these planets even if they are very different from us. We don’t really know if our planet has been visited by aliens. But I think AI may pose a greater threat to the human race than creatures from other galaxies.


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