The Biggest Story of 2022 (Or Any Other Year)
With everyone doing their year-end and best of lists, I thought I’d thrown mine in the ring. And it’s a big one. Maybe the biggest of all time.
Something happened this year for the first time in all of human history and nobody seems to have noticed.
Humanity passed through a Filter.
Let me explain. Among astronomers and associated science nerds, there’s something called the Fermi Paradox.
The Fermi Paradox isn’t so much a paradox, but a question: If life is common in the universe, then where is everyone? Why have we seen no evidence at all of intelligent alien civilizations? If another civ anywhere in the galaxy had even a 5-million-year head start on us it could have spread across the entire galaxy by now.
So, the thinking goes, where the hell is everyone?
That’s where the Great Filter theory comes in to try and answer. The Great Filter posits there are numerous Filter events along the development of intelligent life that weed out almost everyone who tried to climb the ladder.
Many of these proposed Filter events already lay in our past. The development of simple, single-cellular life in the first place might be relatively rare or short lived. Once simple life exists, moving from prokaryotic to eukaryotic cells (cells with a nucleus) may be rare.
Simple single cellular life developing into complex, multicellular life with specialized cells and organs took billions of years on Earth. It might not happen much at all. Moving from complex life to what we consider intelligence may be another filter.
Intelligence turning into technological advancement is another hurdle. Think of dolphins, undeniably intelligent, but without hands to craft or fire to forge, they will never build a radio, much less a rocket.
With each new roadblock, the number of species that get over the hump shrinks enormously. We have overcome all of these filter events to become the only intelligent, technologically advanced civilization we know to exist, anywhere.
But, and it’s a big one, what if the filter that kills most civilizations is still ahead in our development? There could be many. Maybe technological civilizations are inherently self-destructive. Maybe they end up nuking themselves, or genetically engineer weaponized plagues escape their labs, or they exploit their planet’s resources and trigger runaway, irreversible climate change. Or AI. Maybe tech is a death sentence.
But also, there’s the ever-present Filter of global scale natural disaster. 65 million years ago, an asteroid ended the dinosaurs’ bid to achieve intelligence, even as many of them such as pack hunting velociraptors were showing signs of being very clever indeed.
THAT’S the Filter we passed through this year. When NASA’s DART mission successfully smashed into Dimorphos and changed its orbital period by more than half an hour, it wasn’t just fuckin’ metal (but it was also fuckin’ metal), it proved our technological advancement and proficiency have grown to the point that we can not only detect but PREVENT a planetary catastrophe.
Every other Filter we’ve passed through has been thanks to evolution. This is different. For the first time in the history of life on Earth a species has used its minds instead of mutations to anticipate and defeat a Filter.
It took 3.7 billion years to come to fruition, and it happened this year. You were alive to see something than never happened before.
Now the only thing that can kill us, is us. Heading into a New Year, I find that thought as comforting as it is terrifying.