The Drake Equation
Sixty years ago, Frank Drake, an astronomer, suggested an equation that could be used to “guestimate” the answer to these questions. The equation is now called the Drake Equation and is made up of seven factors that give the possible number of intelligent life forms in the galaxy.
One of the critical factors in this equation is the average length of time an intelligent life form survives. This is a fundamental question for humans in the present geopolitical situation. Over 200 million people were killed in the last century due to wars and other man-made tragedies. While this century started out with great hope for peace, we are once again grappling not just with medium-term climate change challenges but are face to face with the possibility of nuclear armageddon.
Lifetime of the Human Species
Modern humans evolved between 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. This is a tiny fraction of the 4.55 billion years the Earth has existed. If the age of the Earth is made into one day, then humans have existed for less than two seconds. Further, only in the last hundred years have we developed electromagnetic technologies (such as electricity) that other intelligent forms in the galaxy might detect. Considering that it takes 100,000 light-years to cross the Milky Way, we need to survive for thousands of more years before we might be able to send and receive a message to another intelligent life form.
Reasons for Wars
In the meantime, we humans seem to be doing everything possible to diminish our chances of staying alive. There are many ways to examine why groups of humans go to war.
The first method is a mix of psychological and historical. For example, the ancient Greek historian Thucydides said that humans go to war due to a combination of “honor, fear, and self-interest.”
Donald Kagan, a modern scholar and writer, explains Thucydides reasons:
- Honor: When a nation feels it does not get the deference, esteem, or due respect. Often when once-powerful states decline, they feel honor is no longer given to them.
- Fear: When a country feels it will lose or has lost territory, resources, or wealth
- Self Interest: When states calculate that it is in their self-interest to go to war rather than maintain peace
A second way to explain wars is to understand human evolution. We are not so far away from Chimpanzees. We have only recently evolved. By chance, we have developed technologies far in advance compared to how we organize our societies. In this analysis, we have discovered fire but have no understanding of how to use it for peaceful and positive results.
The Wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi
At times like this, we seek out the few enlightened humans who have obtained a high level of wisdom. Mahatma Gandhi gave us the following advice:
“Peace will not come out of a clash of arms but out of justice lived and done by unarmed nations in the face of odds.”
If more humans can grasp Gandhiji’s deep wisdom, we may, as a species, live long enough to communicate with other intelligent lives in the universe. How wonderful that would be. The alternative is a tragedy we must all hope never occurs.
© Kaikhushru Taraporevala