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Why Intelligent Alien Life in the Universe Is Beyond Our Reach

Updated on January 19, 2018
Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok has studied fields of science, physics and philosophy, for over 40 years—since his college days with a Master of Science degree.

What stands in the way of finding one another?

Time imposes limitations to any form of communication. Physical distance creates barriers to successful travel missions. Even worse, intelligent lifeforms tend to destroy their ecosystem and don’t survive long enough to make contact with other worlds or to receive a reply while still alive.

When you consider the fact that there are millions of galaxies and each has possibly millions of solar systems, the chance of intelligent life existing elsewhere must be huge. However, that life form may not be what we think it is.

What are we looking for when we say we're searching for intelligent life?

Even on our own planet, just look at how vastly different each species is. Take birds for example. Birds don’t have arms, although their wings are an altercation of that. They have no hands or fingers to handle and manipulate their environment. Nevertheless, they are very adapted to their lifestyle.

There are fish that don’t have eyes. They live so deep under the ocean that they don’t need eyes. It’s pitch dark down there. That’s just another example of how different various forms of life can be.

Let’s not forget bacteria. These living creatures don’t even have brains. Bacteria can’t have brains because they are single-celled organisms and a brain is made up of multiple cells—actually neurons.

Bacteria survive very well, even without a brain. They probably have better survival skills than we do. Is that intelligence? Imagine being visited by an alien from outer space like that!

Okay, I think I made my point. So if the chances are so high that life exists elsewhere in one form or another, why have we not heard from them?

Ever since humans began looking up at the stars, we awed at the vastness of the universe. We felt it's unimaginable that we should be the only ones here.


With the latest technology, scientists have been very busy with the task of searching for intelligent life out in the universe. The task is known as "Active SETI". It works like this:

  • We send radio signals into outer space announcing our presence in hopes that someone will receive those signals and respond.

  • We monitor relentlessly all possible frequencies to find if there is anything being sent our way from someone who is thinking the same thing as we.

The problem is that due to the vastness of the universe, even at the speed of light these signals take too long to reach any possible extraterrestrial life within the same period of time that we humans exists.

It takes more than ten billion years for a signal to reach us from the farthest reaches of the universe.

If there is intelligent life elsewhere, they may be long gone by the time their transmission reaches us. In addition, we may be long gone by the time a response is received for our signals we send out.

I'll discuss several points that may be overlooked.

The Limitations of Time

I think time is the biggest problem with detecting life elsewhere, since our signals and theirs (if any) need to travel a distance of many light-years. The farther away any potential intelligent life may be, the greater the chances are that we both will miss each other's attempt at communication.

It's useless if we both exist at the same time. Think of it this way: If a signal takes ten billion years to reach the Earth, then that other intelligent civilization would have existed ten billion years ago and most likely is no longer around to receive our return communication.

Even if they were, imagine how different their descendants would be with billions of years of evolution. They may not even be interested in the attempts of their ancestors to communicate to find other life forms.

Furthermore, when you consider the fact that we humans only had the technology to communicate via radio signals for about 100 years, you'll understand what a small chance there is of meeting up with a similar species that has (or had) the same technology in the same small fraction of time.

Once all this is realized, one can appreciate how small the chance is of finding intelligent life somewhere else in the universe.

Are UFO's Visiting Our Planet?

The idea that we consider UFOs a reality stems from a limited knowledge of various forms of life. Who's to say that any life form that may try to visit us is anything like us? Why do we limit ourselves to thinking that they need to fly in spacecrafts resembling saucers that only we can imagine?

Intelligent life elsewhere may be so big that they are not even aware of the Universe.
Intelligent life elsewhere may be so big that they are not even aware of the Universe.

Let's just say, for a moment, that there is intelligent life elsewhere and that they are capable of visiting us. That life form may be so much bigger than us that we are just a piece of dust as far as they are concerned.

For this reason, they can't find us. We can't see them either because we are just molecules floating around, possibly in their bloodstream.

On the other hand, maybe we live on an atom that they are inhaling as they breathe.

It could also be possible that intelligent visitors are so small we can't see them. They might be flying around us right now. Like drones, but so small that we are not aware of them.

Maybe every dust particle floating through the air is actually a UFO from outer space with several little people inside, viewing us on their tele-macroscopic screens. (I made that word up.)

Once life evolves to the point of having self-consciousness, they destroy themselves.

Does Evolution Lead to Destruction?

Even if they are long gone, their signals might just be reaching us now since it takes billions of years to reach us at the speed of light.

One might think we should have picked up these signals that include some form of intelligent meaning in the code to compensate for language barriers.

I once read about an idea that whenever any life form evolves to the point where they develop self-consciousness, they end up destroying themselves. President John F. Kennedy might have realized this when he talked about peaceful evolution being impossible.1

Those who make peaceful evolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.

— President John F. Kennedy

This would explain the lack of any signals from outer space of intelligent life trying to discover another in the universe, even from billions of years ago.

The Protection of a Life-Supporting Planet

As I said earlier, there are millions of galaxies and that means there are billions or trillions of planets. However, any planet needs to be perfect in many ways to support life.

The Earth is special since it has a metal core. As the Earth rotates, that metal core becomes magnetized. The magnetic force surrounding our Earth diverts the dangerous solar wind plasma radiation towards the poles where no one lives.

Aurora Borealis
Aurora Borealis

If it weren’t for this magnetic field, the radiation of the solar winds would kill any chance of life on Earth.

This radiation, made up of electrons, protons and alpha particles, is what produces the polar lights as it falls in at the magnetic poles (Aurora Borealis in the north and the Aurora Australis in the south).2

We also have enough gravity to hold our atmosphere in place, and our ionosphere protects us from ultraviolet rays.

Water is another thing we need to support life. Water makes up 71% of the Earth’s surface.


Despite all the issues I mentioned that stand in the way, the chances that similar worlds exist elsewhere must be greater than zero due to the many millions of galaxies that exist.

However, the destruction of a species by their own actions, and the limitation of time to communicate, definitely stands in the way of any possibility of finding one another.

© 2015 Glenn Stok


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    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 21 months ago from Long Island, NY

      ValKaras - You asked about my thoughts on "projection to an unlimited distance." If you are referring to the ability to travel between, or communicate with, other forms of life beyond our present means of technology, I can only say that we have no idea what's possible outside of the realms of our knowledge. Your last remark about "what seems impossible to us may not be impossible to them" covers it well. The word "seems" is the keyword.

    • ValKaras profile image

      Vladimir Karas 21 months ago from Canada

      Glenn - Would you allow the possibility of an advanced technology that would involve de-materialization at one location and projection to an unlimited distance? Since the "true" answer is anyway up for grabs, why not think in terms of what seems "impossible" to us but is not impossible to "them"?

    • ValKaras profile image

      Vladimir Karas 21 months ago from Canada

      Glenn - It's great to have a difference in opinions. Yours is more logical, mine is a sort of "strange" and going in many directions, although both of us touched the aspect of microcosm, each in our own ways. I like your way of thinking, and I would probably stick to logic if my mind was not so much in love with intellectual adventurism and frequent excursions into the "weirdness of everything", where our linear thinking has no place.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 21 months ago from Long Island, NY

      ValKaras - You definitely do think outside the box. Nothing wrong with that. I still attribute the problem to the limitation of time that I discussed, reducing the chances that any other intelligent life is present at the same time as us within a distance that is conceivable for communication.

    • ValKaras profile image

      Vladimir Karas 21 months ago from Canada

      Glenn - It's quite a thought provoking hub you wrote. Being an out-of-the-box "thinker", I like turning everything upside down and seeing things from some "impossible" angles. So, what if those ET's are capable of telepathically and clairvoyantly perceiving us, in which case no signal would have to "travel". So much on the quantum level is happening simultaneously; even the orchestration of all innumerable functions in our body can't afford to be time consuming, but instead "happens" almost all at once from millisecond to millisecond, trillions of cells knowing what each one is doing.

      I think "they" are just keeping an eye on us, and intervening from time to time in ways that we wouldn't understand - but they MUST think of us as too primitive to "befriend". Even I, without being an ET most of the time look at our human race in disbelief, and half-jokingly fancy that I must have fallen from some other planet, since so much here is making absolutely no sense.

      Now amplify this impression into an ET's probable "standards of normalcy", and you see why they have no interest to deal with us.

      Except if it's true that they genetically crossed their kind with some ape in the distant past and created homo sapiens. In that case we are their little playground for telepathically inducing a timely evolution of consciousness.

      I thought, why can't they just re-program us? But then I used an analogy with electrical appliances which may "burn" if plugged into too strong current. So, if we are partially still apes (we certainly act very much like them with our animalistic territoriality, greed, need for power, and arrogance) - then it takes time to change that into something more dignifying which would justify the name "homo sapiens".

      I tend to disagree with J.F. Kennedy, being a chronic optimist. I think the mankind is going through phases of "growing pains", but with exploration of quantum reality and especially its connection to our consciousness as an "observer", we are bound to drop many obstacles and illusions that are holding us back.

      And then, maybe even in our life time we may hope to hear something like a cosmic applause instead of cosmic laughter.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Kathleen Cochran - You hit upon the most important aspect of the issue with finding intelligent life elsewhere. We have our own interpretation of intelligence and we may be missing out on recognizing other forms of intelligence. In addition, what you were alluding to is that we are carbon-based animals, and other lifeforms may be based on a completely different chemical structure. Thank you for your very elucidating comment.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      This is a supposition I've never considered, and it gave me much to consider. Interesting subject and point of view. One question I always have is this: intelligent life might be intelligent in ways unlike us. Yes, we need water and oxygen, but other thinking life forms may not. Will we ever know other beings and be able to communicate with them if they don't have our physical traits? Food for thought.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very interesting and deeply thought provoking. You have presented very insightful and reasonable arguments. I agree with your thought process. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      chefsref - What a great analogy! I love it. And as for the rest of your comment I see that you understood very well what I was discussing in this hub. Thanks for your way of explaining it.

    • chefsref profile image

      Lee Raynor 2 years ago from Citra Florida

      Hey Glenn

      Seems to me that we should spend some time trying to preserve intelligent life on Earth. We in the US keep discussing whether climate change is real instead of addressing the issue. Kind of like passing a sign that says bridge out ahead and arguing if it is real or a liberal hoax.

      Full speed ahead! That sign is a liberal hoax trying to slow us down!

      Then, more on point to your Hub, so many things have to arrive at the precisely correct time for us to capture signals from other advanced civilizations that it is pretty unlikely. The other civilization has to be at the correct level of advancement to be broadcasting over radio waves at the right time for us to find them.

      So, we have to assume that someone 1000 light years away was broadcasting radio 1000 years ago, 2000 light years means 2000 years ago.

      And assume that advanced civilizations do not self destruct

      And assume that those civilizations advanced in the same way as ours has, to want radio broadcasts etc.

      And assume that those civilizations did not advance beyond the need for lightspeed communications. Radio is already showing its limits in communicating across our own solar system. If we are to venture farther away we need something better like Einstein's "Spooky action at a distance"

      This all seems like trying to find a specific fish in the Atlantic ocean,

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Jlbowden - Actually, when you think about it, other life forms are not really mind boggling at all Jim. We have all sorts of life right here on Earth, from single cell to higher up. It's only in recent history that we have the technology to view single cell life. Who's to say there isn't a life form even smaller than that? I'm glad I got you thinking about this. Thanks of your views on the subject.

    • Jlbowden profile image

      James Bowden 2 years ago from Long Island, New York


      Excellent read on a topic that is difficult for me to ignore. I like some lean towards the fact that intelligent life must exist elsewhere within the infinite realms of space - but where exactly, is the big question?

      I like your ideas that extraterrestrial visitors have travelled to our galactic neighborhood and have possibly paid us a visit via technology that we may possibly not notice during our travels about the globe.

      As you mentioned in your article, alien beings disguised, or presenting themselves as some form of dust particle possibly. Or as you suggested - "like drones, but so small that we may not even recognize them" Mind boggling when you think about it for awhile.

      Even if scientists find out years down the line that we actually are alone in the universe. When you think about it, we're never going to be completely alone. Given the 7 + billion people across the globe that we have to keep us company.


    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Reynold Jay - That's an interesting point you mentioned. If visitors came from another planet two billion years ago they would definitely have ruled out any possibility of life on earth at that time for sure, never to return! That goes to show - it's all a matter of timing.

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 2 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      You covered all the bases on this. The vast time and space part of this indicates to me that life could be all around and we will never see it. Imagine other beings visiting our planet a 2 billion years ago--they would agree "lifeless planet."

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Jodah - Thanks for your reply John. I thought that might be the case. I have the same problem here in reverse. I live in the Northeast United States but it's still too far south to see the Aurora Borealis.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Glenn, in regard to having seen the Aurora Australis the answer is unfortunately "no". My wife has always had a dream to view the Aurora Borealis but I doubt that will ever happen, so one day in the not too distant future I would like to take a trip south to Victoria or Tasmania to see the Southern Aurora. We live too far north of Antarctica here in Queensland for it to be visible.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Jodah - Thanks for your nice review of my hub, John. Being that you live in Australia, you might have seen the Aurora Australis. I always have fun asking people up here if they know what it's called down under. Few people I speak with around here know it has a different name. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Old Poolman - Your comments are also thought provoking and you added some very interesting concepts to consider. Imagine - we might be a life experiment in a petri dish of a much larger civilization. As you said, we'll never know. Thanks, Mike, for your inspiring thoughts.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      This was a very intelligent synopsis of the possibility of life on other planets, Glenn, but more so on the reasons why we will probably never know. The Universe is just too vast.

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 2 years ago

      Interesting and thought provoking piece of writing. I am one of those who often wonders about other planets that sustain life similar to ours.

      My mind is incapable of grasping the size of our universe and your perspective of time is interesting. By that I mean the time it would take a radio signal to travel across several galaxies. And your also correct that even if we did manage to hear a signal, the sender of that signal has been gone for thousands or more years.

      Perhaps we here on earth are just part of a science experiment to see how long we can exist before we destroy ourselves. And perhaps it was intended that we never meet with beings from other planets or we would likely destroy each other when that happened.

      I doubt we will ever know the answer but it is fun to think about.