PhilSci Archive

The future of intelligence in the Universe: a call for humility

Friederich, Simon and Wenmackers, Sylvia (2023) The future of intelligence in the Universe: a call for humility. International Journal of Astrobiology, 22 (4). pp. 414-427.

the-future-of-intelligence-in-the-universe-a-call-for-humility.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (310kB) | Preview


Recent astrophysical findings suggest that the era during which the Universe is habitable has just begun. This raises the question whether the entire Universe may at some point in the future be filled with intelligent life. Hanson et al. (2021, The Astrophysical Journal 922, 182) argued that we can be confident that the Universe will, by cosmic standards, soon be dominated by imperialist civilizations which expand rapidly, persist long and make drastic changes to the volumes they control. The main motivation for this ‘grabby civilizations’ hypothesis is that it supposedly provides a good explanation of why we are so early in cosmic history. In this paper, we criticize this motivation and suggest that it fails, for reasons analogous to why the notorious Doomsday argument fails. In the last part of the paper we broaden our discussion and argue that it may be rational to assign a rather low prior probability to the grabby civilizations hypothesis. For instance, if there are any civilizations that expand rapidly and indefinitely, they may well not make any drastic changes to the volumes they inhabit, potentially for strategic reasons. Hence, we call for epistemic caution and humility regarding the question of the long-term evolution of intelligence in the Universe.

Export/Citation: EndNote | BibTeX | Dublin Core | ASCII/Text Citation (Chicago) | HTML Citation | OpenURL
Social Networking:
Share |

Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Friederich, Simons.m.friederich@rug.nl0000-0003-4372-5995
Wenmackers, Sylviasylvia.wenmackers@kuleuven.be0000-0002-1041-3533
Keywords: anthropic reasoning, astrobiology, cosmology, Fermi paradox
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Physics > Astrophysics
Specific Sciences > Probability/Statistics
Depositing User: Dr. Simon Friederich
Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2023 00:03
Last Modified: 08 Nov 2023 00:03
Item ID: 22734
Journal or Publication Title: International Journal of Astrobiology
Official URL:
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.1017/S1473550423000101
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Physics > Astrophysics
Specific Sciences > Probability/Statistics
Date: 1 June 2023
Page Range: pp. 414-427
Volume: 22
Number: 4

Monthly Views for the past 3 years

Monthly Downloads for the past 3 years

Plum Analytics

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item