It is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself

This is the argument that technological civilizations may usually or invariably destroy themselves before or shortly after developing radio or space flight technology. Possible means of annihilation include nuclear war, biological warfare or accidental contamination, climate change, nanotechnological catastrophe, ill-advised physics experiments,[Note 4] a badly programmed super-intelligence, or a Malthusian catastrophe after the deterioration of a planet’s ecosphere. This general theme is explored both in fiction and in mainstream scientific theorizing.[49] Indeed, there are probabilistic arguments which suggest that human extinction may occur sooner rather than later. In 1966 Sagan and Shklovskii suggested that technological civilizations will either tend to destroy themselves within a century of developing interstellar communicative capability or master their self-destructive tendencies and survive for billion-year timescales. Self-annihilation may also be viewed in terms of thermodynamics: insofar as life is an ordered system that can sustain itself against the tendency to disorder, the “external transmission” or interstellar communicative phase may be the point at which the system becomes unstable and self-destructs

From a Darwinian perspective, self-destruction would be an ironic outcome of evolutionary success. The evolutionary psychology that developed during the competition for scarce resources over the course of human evolution has left the species subject to aggressive, instinctual drives. These compel humanity to consume resources, extend longevity, and to reproduce—in part, the very motives that led to the development of technological society. It seems likely that intelligent extraterrestrial life would evolve in a similar fashion and thus face the same possibility of self-destruction. And yet, to provide a good answer to Fermi’s Question, self-destruction by technological species would have to be a near universal occurrence.

This argument does not require the civilization to entirely self-destruct, only to become once again non-technological. In other ways it could persist and even thrive according to evolutionary standards, which postulate producing offspring as the sole goal of life—not “progress”, be it in terms of technology or even intelligence.


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