Fermi and Lotka: The Odds of Survival in a Dangerous Universe

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K. A. Peacock (2018), JBIS, 71, pp.207-211

Refcode: 2018.71.207
Keywords: Fermiís Paradox, Lotkaís Law, extinction, Great Filter

Fermiís Paradox is the contradiction between the fact that it would seem to be highly probable that there are other technologically advanced species beyond the Earth, and the fact that there is no generally accepted evidence for their existence. Hanson and Bostrom have proposed that there may be a Great Filter, a survival challenge so lethal that it prevents virtually all species from evolving to an advanced stage. This paper argues that the Great Filter would be not one single factor, but rather simply the statistics of survival in an always-dangerous universe. The frequency of species that survive multiple existential threats would likely obey a power law such as Lotkaís Law, such that the frequency of survivors would diminish as an inverse power of the number of threats. Since any species that advances to the point at which it is detectable on an interstellar scale likely must survive a large number of existential threats, by Lotkaís Law the number of such survivors would be a very small fraction of the candidate species that evolve on various planets. Some sobering implications of this picture are outlined.

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