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Fermi's paradox, Extraterrestrial Life and the Future of Humanity: a Bayesian Analysis

Journal article
Authors Vilhelm Verendel
Olle Häggström
Published in International Journal of Astrobiology
Volume 16
Issue 1
Pages 14-18
ISSN 1473-5504
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Mathematical Sciences
Pages 14-18
Language en
Links https://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1473550...
Subject categories Astronomy, Statistics

Abstract

The Great Filter interpretation of Fermi's great silence asserts that Npq is not a very large number, where N is the number of potentially life-supporting planets in the observable universe, p is the probability that a randomly chosen such planet develops intelligent life to the level of present-day human civilization, and q is the conditional probability that it then goes on to develop a technological supercivilization visible all over the observable universe. Evidence suggests that N is huge, which implies that pq is very small. Hanson (1998) and Bostrom (2008) have argued that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would point towards p not being small and therefore a very small q, which can be seen as bad news for humanity's prospects of colonizing the universe. Here we investigate whether a Bayesian analysis supports their argument, and the answer turns out to depend critically on the choice of prior distribution.

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