Readers will recall that we have been looking at science writer Matt Williams’s analysis of the various reasons offered as to why we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. Last week, we looked at the Brief Window hypothesis (there is only a comparatively short period of time during which a civilization could make such contact).

But there is another, darker possibility: We are ahead of them. And if we are not careful, we could end up suppressing them. That’s the Firstborn hypothesis: The universe has only begun to be hospitable to intelligent life and humans are among the first to benefit from that fact.

The current model of the universe shows it radiating from the Big Bang over 13 billion years ago. Again, according to current thinking, intelligent beings have inhabited Earth only a few hundred thousand years. What if intelligent beings only became possible recently? Williams puts it like this:


"What if we are currently living in a cosmological window where the emergence of life is possible, and in previous epochs, conditions were too harsh for life to exist? Arguments of this nature have been made by many researchers attempting to resolve the Fermi Paradox. In each case, they began with the hypothesis that extraterrestrial life hasn’t had enough time to catch up with us, let alone overtake us."

Matt Williams, “Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” X: What is the Firstborn Hypothesis?” at Univers4e Today (September 27, 2020)

That hypothesis would make humans unique but mainly because we arrived before the others had a chance. Or, as Williams says, “Humanity is therefore alive during a transitional phase in the Universe that will be followed by the emergence of many intelligent species.”

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