Where Was Everybody? Olaf Stapledon and the Fermi Paradox

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S. Baxter (2012), JBIS, 65, 7-12

Refcode: 2012.65.7
Keywords: Olaf Stapledon, `Interplanetary Man?', extraterrestrial intelligence, SETI, Fermi Paradox, cosmic evolution, human destiny

In 1948 Olaf Stapledon gave an address to the BIS in which he summarised his vision of mankind's cosmic future: `One can imagine some sort of cosmical community of worlds ...' One might ask, however, since the universe is vastly older than mankind, why races on other worlds have not already built such a community. This is a `Fermi Paradox' question. The Paradox is based on the observation that there has been time for extraterrestrial intelligence to arise and colonise the Galaxy many times over, yet we see no sign of such endeavours.

In this paper Stapledon's novels are retrospectively analysed from the point of view of the Fermi Paradox. In Last and First Men (1930) humanity is forever isolated because life and mind are rare in the Galaxy, and interstellar distances are too large ever to be traversed. These are classic candidate Fermi `solutions'. The `solution' implicit in Star Maker (1937) might be criticised in that it posits that humanity lives at a special epoch, with the cosmically transforming development of interstellar travel occurring a `mere' ten billion years after mankind, in a universe supposedly ~200bn years old.

Stapledon died in 1950, the year the Paradox was formulated, and was probably unaware of the Paradox. However to apply retrospectively Fermi thinking to Stapledon's cosmologies is to gain a new insight into the author's philosophy.

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