Why We're Thinking All Wrong About What Alien Life Could Look Like

With over 200 billion stars in our galaxy and at least 10 billion with planets kind of like Earth orbiting them, there's almost certainly alien life out there—so why haven't we found it yet?


If technologically advanced alien species existed, there should be evidence of them littered across our Universe. But, as this lovely video from New Scientist explains, we might just have been thinking about the whole alien thing wrong this whole time: we make assumptions about what alien life could or should look like, and that means we could be missing it as it hides in plain sight. Take a watch. [New Scientist]



Any aliens out there are almost certainly much more advanced than we are. The universe is about 15 billion years old, in round numbers. Human civilization is about 5,000 years old so that makes the universe about 3,000,000 civilizations old. Let's guess that the first million were spent with planets cooling, life evolving and whatnot. That leaves 2,000,000 civilizations worth of time. We can never meet anyone less advanced than us; we're only just barely capable of interstellar communications now. So, there's one chance in 2,000,000 that anyone we meet will be at about our level of development, and 1,999,999 chances in 2,000,000 that they will be more advanced. Odds are they will be a lot more advanced, and might not even recognize us as intelligent.

Imagine you're walking along the beach on a nice sunny day. Out in the water there's a smarter than average jellyfish who's decided to try to communicate with extra-ocean life. He's transmitting a message in the only way he knows how: he's releasing pheromones into the water. As your shadow falls on the jellyfish he can't see you; most jellyfish have no eyes. And even if he does see you he can't begin to conceptualize what you are. Meanwhile you probably don't even notice the jellyfish, and even if you do you don't notice that he's sending out pheromones. And even if you're a marine biologist who knows about jellyfish pheromones you still won't know what they mean. The jellyfish is just too primitive to communicate with. Odds are we'll be like jellyfish to any aliens we find; we'll be so amazingly primitive that they simply won't be interested in us at all. The answer to the question "Where is everybody?" is that we're just that icky, annoying little planet that everybody's trying to avoid.