I spend my life cultivating and exploring questions at all levels from the inane to the putatively profound. Part of my job is asking questions–in fact, if you squint hard enough and look through enough lenses, you will be able to find a question or cluster of them behind every story I write.
As I prep to tackle the next round of The Antithesis Progression and another pair of SF novels later this year, I’m having fun wrestling with some biggies. Long story short, I thought it would be fun to share some of them with you guys, partly for the fun of the conversation, and partly to give you a peek behind the curtain for those of you who are interested in seeing the process that begins with a question and ends with a story or a novel.
So, to kick it off, here’s my nomination for one of the biggest questions anyone has ever asked.
“Where is everybody?”
Biggest question…seems kind of a grand claim, but I’m going to go a step further: I think it might be the single most terrifying, and the single most exciting, question anyone has ever thought to ask.
To illustrate why, I’ll give you a little context. This is the question that a man named Enrico Fermi asked when he turned his radio telescope at the heavens to listen in on television and radio broadcasts from alien civilisations, and found only static.
The universe is a big place. If carbon chemistry is common (as it seems to be), and if life bootstraps really easily, (which is now virtually certain), then in a big universe there should be at least some other folks out there who are building civilizations, and since all civilization is defined by energy use, they should be making some noise.
So…where is everybody?
It only took humans one generation between the invention of the radio (the ability to make cosmic noise) and the nuclear bomb (the ability to silence that noise forever, without reprieve). What if everybody eventually, inevitably, succumbs to self-destruction? Terrifying, isn’t it?
On the other hand, what if we’re the first? What if we are truly alone? This one’s terrifying too, but it sure is exciting–there’s a lot of universe out there that’s not being used, and oh, the places we’ll go!
But there are other answers, and some of them are very intriguing. Certainly, we haven’t figured out all the potential answers yet. I’ve got some ideas that I’m exploring in projects I’m currently working on, I’ve even got a few opinions.
It is a big question, though, maybe one of the biggest. Because whatever the answer is, it will forever define our relationship with the universe around us, and will profoundly affect the way our civilization unfolds as it winds out into the solar system and beyond.
Read more about this question here, then tell me…What do you think about this question?