Astrobiological phase transition: towards resolution of Fermi's paradox

Orig Life Evol Biosph. 2008 Dec;38(6):535-47. doi: 10.1007/s11084-008-9149-y. Epub 2008 Oct 15.


Can astrophysics explain Fermi's paradox or the "Great Silence" problem? If available, such explanation would be advantageous over most of those suggested in literature which rely on unverifiable cultural and/or sociological assumptions. We suggest, instead, a general astrobiological paradigm which might offer a physical and empirically testable paradox resolution. Based on the idea of James Annis, we develop a model of an astrobiological phase transition of the Milky Way, based on the concept of the global regulation mechanism(s). The dominant regulation mechanisms, arguably, are gamma-ray bursts, whose properties and cosmological evolution are becoming well-understood. Secular evolution of regulation mechanisms leads to the brief epoch of phase transition: from an essentially dead place, with pockets of low-complexity life restricted to planetary surfaces, it will, on a short (Fermi-Hart) timescale, become filled with high-complexity life. An observation selection effect explains why we are not, in spite of the very small prior probability, to be surprised at being located in that brief phase of disequilibrium. In addition, we show that, although the phase-transition model may explain the "Great Silence", it is not supportive of the "contact pessimist" position. To the contrary, the phase-transition model offers a rational motivation for continuation and extension of our present-day Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) endeavours. Some of the unequivocal and testable predictions of our model include the decrease of extinction risk in the history of terrestrial life, the absence of any traces of Galactic societies significantly older than human society, complete lack of any extragalactic intelligent signals or phenomena, and the presence of ubiquitous low-complexity life in the Milky Way.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Exobiology / methods
  • Extraterrestrial Environment*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Origin of Life*
  • Time Factors