We’ve never seen aliens… Or have we? No, Roswell conspirators, not now. Please sit down. We’re talking in multitudes of higher complexity. Try this on: Maybe aliens are the puppet masters behind the laws of physics. Or maybe aliens literally are physics. Just when we thought we had a grasp on the fundamental constants of the universe, boom, and dark matter rips off the mask and its E.T. Too crazy to be true? Prove it.
British science fiction writer and futurist Arthur C. Clarke famously formulated three adages known as Clarke’s three laws. Of them, number three steals most of the spotlight:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Consider cavemen for a moment. If you hand-delivered an iPhone to an ancient cave-dweller, he’d be dumbfounded at the “magical” device. But give it some time, and Fred Flintstone would probably start tweeting and Snapchatting. Now let’s crank ‘er up a notch. Imagine technology so advanced, it’s not even recognizable as technology, or magic, for that matter. It could be so advanced that calling it magic would be an insult. Sorry, David Blaine.
In 2016, Columbia University director of astrobiology Caleb Scharf posed quite the thought experiment in an article for Nautilus: Just maybe, aliens are so advanced that we can’t tell them apart from the laws of physics.
“After all, if the cosmos holds other life, and if some of that life has evolved beyond our own waypoints of complexity and technology, we should be considering some very extreme possibilities,” Scharf writes.
As far as extreme possibilities go, it doesn’t get much more severe than hypothesizing that, hey, maybe the whole of everything ever that exists anywhere is itself alien intelligence.
But why not, right?! “Presumably life doesn’t have to be made of atoms and molecules, but could be assembled from any set of building blocks with the requisite complexity,” writes Scharf. “If so, a civilization could then transcribe itself and its entire physical realm into new forms. Indeed, perhaps our universe is one of the new forms into which some other civilization transcribed its world.” Is this the wildest possible solution to the Fermi paradox? Well, it sure ain’t the tamest.
This isn’t all some far-out psychedelic rambling. (Even if it was, we’d still be here for it.) As bonkers as it may sound, Scharf argues that his thought experiment could explain the most mysterious cosmic phenomena. Take our dear ol’ elusive friend, dark matter. This unseen stuff makes up 27 percent of the observable universe, but virtually everything else about it is famously unknown.
Based on the assumptions and predictions of cosmologists and astronomers, dark matter could be much more complicated than we’re ready to understand. Inconsistencies between dark matter models and observations only back that up. With all this apparent complexity, Scharf says it wouldn’t be outlandish to think that technologically advanced life is stored there:
“What better way to escape the nasty vagaries of supernova and gamma-ray bursts than to adopt a form that is immune to electromagnetic radiation? Upload your world to the huge amount of real estate on the dark side and be done with it.”
The inconsistencies might just be a result of being artificially tampered with. You can run a similar exercise with the elusive dark energy, which makes up roughly 68 percent of the universe. The universe didn’t start expanding at an accelerated rate until a cool 5 billion years ago, and scientists don’t know why. Well, well, well, how convenient. According to Scharf, an advanced alien civilization could have bumped the speed up so they wouldn’t have to live in such a crowded, hot mess of a universe.
“Any very early life in the universe would have already experienced 8 billion years of evolutionary time by the time expansion began to accelerate,” he writes. “It’s a stretch, but maybe there’s something about life itself that affects the cosmos, or maybe those well-evolved denizens decided to tinker with the expansion.”
Note that the ideas Scharf is putting out there are just that: ideas. None of this is peer-reviewed or even testable (YET). This is just one brave astrobiologist on a mission to brainstorm the boundaries of theoretical possibility and make you paranoid beyond all reason that every inescapable, so-called law of “nature” affecting you is extraterrestrial intelligence. We’re just having fun, kids!
Scharf signs off with a mind-bender:
“Perhaps hyper-advanced life isn’t just external. Perhaps it’s already all around. It is embedded in what we perceive to be physics itself, from the root behavior of particles and fields to the phenomena of complexity and emergence. In other words, life might not just be in the equations. It might be the equations.”