Why Alien Life Would be our Doom – The Great Filter

Why Alien Life Would be our Doom – The Great Filter

Imagine NASA announced today
that they found aliens. Bacteria on Mars, weird alien fish
in the oceans of Europa, and also ancient alien ruins on Titan. Wouldn’t that be great? Well, no. It would be horrible news, devastating even. It could mean that the end of humanity
is almost certain and that it might be coming soon. Why? Why would the most exciting
discovery of our lifetime be bad? Let us imagine the development of life, from its inception to us today, as a flight of stairs. The first step is dead chemistry
that needs to assemble itself into self-replicating patterns,
stable and resilient, but also able to change and evolve. The second step is for our early life to
become more complex, able to build more complicated structures, and use the available energy
much more efficiently. On the next step, these cells combine
to become multicellular beings, enabling unbelievable variety
and further complexity. The step above sees the species
evolve big brains, enabling the use of tools, culture
and shared knowledge, which creates even higher complexity. The species can now become the
dominant lifeform on its planet, and change it according to its needs. First shy attempts to leave its
planet are happening. This is where we are now. It’s in the nature of life as we know it to reach out, to cover every
niche it can. And since planets have a limited
carrying capacity and lifespan, if a species wants to survive, it will look for more places
to spread to. So the steps above the current
ones seem logical: colonize your own solar system, then spread further to reach
other stars, to the possible final step:
becoming a galaxy-wide civilization. It’s very likely that this is a universal
principle for civilizations, no matter where they’re from. If a species is competitive and driven
enough to take control over its planet, they’ll probably not stop there. We know that there are up to 500 billion
planets in the Milky Way, at least 10 billion Earth-like planets. Many have been around billions
of years longer than Earth. But we’re observing zero
galactic civilizations. We should be able to see something… …but there’s nothing. Space seems
to be empty and dead. This means something is preventing living
things from climbing the staircase, beyond the step we’re on right now. …Something that makes becoming
a galactic civilization extremely hard, maybe impossible. This is the Great Filter. …A challenge or danger so
hard to overcome, that it eliminates almost every
species that encounters it. There are two scenarios: One means we are incredibly
special and lucky, the other one means we are doomed
and practically already dead. It depends on where the filter
is on our staircase: behind, or ahead of us? Scenario 1: Scenario 1:
The filter is behind us. We are the first. If the filter is behind us, that means that one of the steps we passed is almost impossible to take. Which step could it be? Is life ITSELF extremely rare? It’s very hard to make predictions
about how likely it is for life to emerge from dead things. There is no consensus. Some scientists think it develops everywhere
where the conditions are right; others think that Earth might
be the ONLY living place in the universe. Another candidate is the step
of complex animal cells. A very specific thing happened
on this step, and as far as we know, it happened
exactly once. A primitive hunter cell
swallowed another cell, but instead of devouring it,
the two cells formed a union. The bigger cell provided shelter, took care of interacting with the
environment and providing resources, while the smaller one used its
new home and free stuff, to focus on providing a lot of extra
energy for its host. With the abundant energy, the host cell
could grow more than before and build new and expensive things
to improve itself, while the guest became the
powerhouse of the cell. These cells make up every
animal on the planet. Maybe there are billions of bacteria-covered planets in the Milky Way, but not a single one, apart from us, has achieved our level of complexity. …or intelligence. We humans feel very smart and
sophisticated with our crossword puzzles and romantic novels. But a big brain, is first and foremost, a very expensive evolutionary investment. They are fragile, they don’t help in a fistfight with a bear, they cost enormous amounts of energy, and despite them, it took modern humans, 200,000 years to get from sharp sticks
to civilization. Being smart does not mean you get
to win automatically. Maybe intelligence is just not so great, and we’re lucky that it worked out for us. Scenario 2: Scenario 2:
The filter is ahead of us. Plenty of others died already. A Great Filter before us is orders of magnitude more dangerous than anything we encountered so far. Even if a major disaster killed most of us or threw us back thousands of years, we would survive and recover. And if we can recover, even if it takes a million years, then it’s not a Great Filter, but just a roadblock to an eventual galactic civilization. On universal timescales, even millions of years are just the blink of an eye. If a Great Filter really lies before us, it has to be so dangerous, so purely devastating and powerful, that it has destroyed most, if not all, advanced civilizations in our galaxy over billions of years. A really daunting and depressing hypothesis is that once a species takes control over its planet, it’s already on the path to self-destruction. Technology is a good way to achieve that. It needs to be something that’s so obvious, that virtually everybody discovers it, and so dangerous, that its discovery leads almost universally to an existential disaster. A large-scale nuclear war, nanotechnology that gets out of control, genetic engineering of the perfect super bug, an experiment that lights the whole atmosphere on fire. It might be a super-intelligent AI that accidentally (or purposely) destroys its creators. Or things that we can’t even see coming right now. Or it’s way simpler: species competitive enough to take over their planet necessarily destroy it while competing with each other for resources. Maybe there are runaway chain reactions in every ecosystem that once set in motion, are not fixable. And so once a civilization is powerful enough to change the composition of its atmosphere, they make their planet uninhabitable 100% of the time. Let’s hope that that’s not the case. If the filter IS ahead of us, our odds are really bad. What we can hope for. THIS is why finding life beyond Earth would be horrible. The more common life is in the universe, and the more advanced and complex it is, the more likely it becomes that a filter is in front of us. Bacteria would be bad, small animals would be worse, intelligent life would be alarming. Ruins of ancient alien civilizations… would be horrible. The best case scenario for us right now is that Mars is sterile, that Europa’s oceans are devoid of life, and the vast arms of the Milky Way harbor only empty oceans hugging dead continents. …That there are billions of empty planets waiting to be discovered and to be filled up with life. Billions of new homes… waiting for us… to finally arrive. How likely is it that we’ll find life outside of Earth that is similar to us? Well, that depends on how many planets there are out there in their star’s Goldilocks Zone– the area around the star where water can be liquid. Because stars come in all sizes and configurations, this zone is different for every star system and requires a little bit of physics to figure out. If that sounds like fun to you, this quiz from Brilliant helps to break down the maths for exactly how this is calculated. Brilliant is a problem-solving website that teaches you to think like a scientist by guiding you through problems. They take concepts like these break them up, into bite-sized bits present clear thinking in each part, and then build back up to an interesting conclusion. If you visit brilliant.org/nutshell or click the link in the description, you can sign up for free and learn all kinds of things. And as a bonus for Kurzgesagt viewers, the first 688 people will also get 20% of their annual membership. And if you DO find life on other planets, it may be wise to leave them alone for a while.


  1. If what they say about the size of the universe and chances of livable planets is true; mathmatically it should be improbable that life doesn't exist elsewhere.

  2. If you need an indicator of whether on not the majority of life on Earth is intelligent, post a video to over 10 million subscribers and see if over 80% of them spew a generic meme and believe that it constitutes an original comment.
    If you strip away what is essentially flooding by people who can't think of a sentence for themselves, you're left with next to no comments.
    Fucking sad really!

  3. star trek first contact: They are ignoring us because we are too primitive.
    they communicate via subspace which we cant.
    rest my case

  4. I have a theory maybe there was an intelligent life on earth but then another one developed and they both were fighting until both were extinct

  5. Aliens are real as fuck!!!!! May sound crazy to some, but I have had a few encounters that have made me a a believer! saw a craft after my concert 2 years ago..unbelievable!! Still cant believe the way this thing moved..simply..I know that's not enough info for some,but it's an awesome experience to say the least!

  6. there could still be the possibility that other forms of intelligent life has been killed by the nature itself before they had the chance to colonize space… ruins would don't have to be a bad thing all the time…

  7. what if there is life, but its so small we cant see it, when we put stuff on for example mars, we trample on them.

    if you saw the short animation called 'johnny express' you would understand

  8. How do you know that if aliens exist which i think not how do you know if they is that smart to think of a plan to kill all of is and how do you know that theyre gonna make our existence stop and that we cant defeat them

  9. Send turtles and wolves to a radioactive planet, the TMNT will rise and evolve to come back to earth. Then, we made aliens

  10. All these theories about Aliens seem to be missing Occum's Razor; what if it's just really, really difficult if not impossible for sentient life to travel through the universe, and any kindof interplanetary communications that might be going on, just get washed into the morass of background radiation because compared to supernovas, Magnetars, black holes and all the other incredibly powerful cosmic phenomena, transmission signals really aren't all that noticable when viewed from millions of lightyears away (or what if there are other civilisations, but due to being millions of lightyears away, we wouldn't see them yet). Like we compare how we are now to 200 years ago and get excited about the future, but what if there's a limit to how technologically advanced we can get, what if wormholes and FTL really are just resigned to Sci-Fi?

  11. Kurzgesgt:Once a species takes control of its planet its on a path to self destruction Technology is a good way to do that.
    Iphone11: Triggered

  12. A major filter that isn't mentioned in this video is technology/electricity/mass communication. Without the ability to communicate over long distances, species are doomed to be their own demise due to the difficulty in working together. Humans have an incredible ability for cooperating with one another, which is more or less required to reach this scale. We have gone a long time without being able to communicate with each other as seamlessly as we can now. The next great barrier will be connecting the world and sharing the right information to prevent our destruction.

  13. This channel is both interesting to watch and at the same time complete and utter bullshit. A cell ate another cell and now has a mitochondria? are you trying to brainwash 9th grade children and people who have no idea about biology? What about DNA? did a rogue cell eat a few strands of random information as well?? YouTube Stephen Meyer and absorb real scientific knowledge

  14. This video is about concept of Great filter, which i understand, but it doesnt explain why common the life in universe is bad thing for us. Maybe filter is behind us and behind some other extremely lucky cosmic race of aliens. We live, they live, no other limits.
    You say in video its disaster but dont explain why. Also that whole Filter thing is just theory. I think i like your science videos more than these
    philosophical ones.

  15. We don’t have a good grasp on how long it takes intelligence to develop. We only have ourselves as an example to pull from. I wonder if maybe we are just one of the first to develop to this point. I think there is a filter in front of us of a sorts, (climate change, nano tech and the like,) but that the main reason that we haven’t encountered extraterrestrial life is the filter just behind us.

  16. What a Non sequitur conclusion. The filters are there weather or not we find life, and finding the failures of one civilization can help us prevent making the same mistake. It also fails to take into account the vastness of space and the poultry amount of it we can see. Life might be just very wide spread.

    also, there is thee chance that any new life we find could form a mutual symbiosis with us, just as those single celled organisms did when cells became eukaryotic.

  17. But hold on, wouldn't it be great if we find life? Then it'd mean that there may not be any great filter, that we simply couldn't see the life before due to some issue with our detection methods

  18. Suppose all the planets around us and one's we know of but cannot reach have all once been inhabited by life but they simply destroyed their planets over time as we seem to do in various ways.

  19. Thinking aliens will be our doom is classic western thinking. Of course if an advanced civilization found us they'd crush us and not bat an eye. Why? Because that's exactly what the west did during all parts of its history. We could use the same tired example of the Industrial Period and Imperialism but that's just the most large scale and reprehensible moment. But there were the Crusades before that and Rome's conquests and then Hellenic conquests and so on. So it makes sense to think of it like a human seeing an intelligent squirrel.

    Thankfully that's not the only civilization we can use as an example. In modern times this other civilization is building roads and waterways across the globe and using its military not to invade and cause chaos but to aid and keep the peace. This might feel like something new or profound to westerners but historically this civilization has always provided this role.

    Now if we consider that same advanced alien civilization who can traverse the stars and find us how would it respond if it followed our new model? Well going back to the intelligent squirrel analogy when this civilization found another intelligent but potentially weaker civilization outside its borders its first move wasn't to exploit that region of its resources with no regard to those intelligent squirrels but to find a means of communication with those squirrels and learn from them how they've used their resources. If some population of squirrels became violent during this initial communication the civilization presented their superiority but more importantly their benevolence. By that I mean if a squirrel bites the human the human yanks it off and holds it in the air for a while before placing it back down on the ground without harming it. Do this enough times and just like how humans domesticated wolves into dogs the violent squirrels would eventually learn that the humans mean them no harm but could use their resources. (which in this case includes the squirrels themselves) Bringing this action and outcome to our aliens vs humans scenario and it wouldn't play out like the video would it? Instead of uncaring aliens reaping the resources at our expense those aliens would see our primitive but developing technology and show us their much more advanced technology with the offer to be a part of their civilization slowly uplifting us to their level.

    In other words maybe the path a dominant planetary species takes doesn't always have to be further and further conquest expanding from local regions to continents to planets and the solar system. Maybe the better and more likely path would be to expand peacefully across the universe while absorbing the other civilizations they might happen to come across. Similarly there's a third scenario that can be covered in this model. Instead of feeling superiority over other species we encounter or feeling fear of being oppressed or eliminated by a superior species in this model we can have equivalent species. What if we develop and begin colonizing empty planets in our solar system around the same time a neighboring civilization also becomes capable of it? If we were to encounter that civilization and both of our technologies are comparable this model would allow mutual respect and alliance. (and not alliances to bide time in order to become superior and then attack but just alliances for the sake of having alliances) For example while the west had a large portion of its history where it warred constantly with a neigboring power this civilization actually allied with that power and even has good relations with its descendent nations today.

  20. Well the future of our species is interesting and all, but out priorities really need to be money and political agendas. We got plenty of nukes and ozone right?

  21. im really minded that heaps of squiggly types with more mouths than eyes live out there. the fact we havent seen them is depressing evidence that light is a speed impossible to better. being a posh type, im fond of describing 'the speed of light' as 'the speed of consequence'. which is about all i'll say, as i've forgotten why light speed is the speed of consequence. anyway, all good reasons to meditate to enlightenment, that we may travel to other planets in an instant.

  22. I think the filter is ahead of us because something must have happened to mars and wouldve wiped out the entire civilisation of mars and caused the whole planet to tilt over so if the filter i s real then it is definetly ahead of us

  23. We can become a multi-planetary species IF we can figure out how to cross a few hundred light years before we die.

  24. If it’s a black hole y’all worrying about Obama’s last name is in the singularity, our mission, fucking destroy it to achieve his last name

  25. So it's not good to find some different kinds of life in the universe, because if we do, it means :

    A) we gonna compete with them, and will be kill or get killed ;

    B) it's gonna indicate that the filter is ahead us and we're not " the first" and this will broke our assy ego ;

    C) There's a billion tons of planets but we have to get them all for us, sharing was never an option because yeah all species instincts tells them to conquer everything. Even if we are, in theory, the advanced specie we must follow our conquer instincts (topic A, we gonna kill or be killed) ;

    C) we probably gonna end up destroying not only civilizations, but ourselves, trying to suck on all the resources the planet has, making it unliveable

    Basically humanity sucks

  26. Yes but what if only intelligent life like us has passed the filter and we are not the only ones?In that case,would it be bad to discover allien life with intelligence?

  27. Or perhaps Earth is just a reality show composed of multiple species. It's been 100 galgamars since we first took species from 17 different planets and put them all together on the same planet! Tune in to see what happens. Only on Fognl !

  28. The best-case scenario would be that we find a galactic civilization somewhere. Then we wouldn't have to worry about the filter, because once you get to other solar systems it becomes unlikely the species would die off completely unless the entire galaxy is wiped out. And in that case I think there are bigger problems than whether or not humans survive.

  29. Complete nonsense. The arrogance of thinking that because we can't find it, it isn't there, added to the arrogance of thinking that life must fall within the narrow parameters we expect and thus must fall within a goldilocks zone and reveal signs that we can detect. Also if we DO discover lots of alien life, that would eliminate the great filter in the first place, so it wouldn't mean one lay ahead of us at all.

  30. Perhaps ever step is also a type of filter.
    Space is big. Even if 👽 we looking for others it may take awhile to find us say sixty thousand years. So the last time they seen us we were throwing poo at each other now we throwing bombs….

  31. Kurzgesagt:
    Pretty animations with cute birds.


    existential crisis inducing topics and facts delivered in a soothing tone

  32. I can think of a non-terrible filter that is ahead of us: FTL travel is impossible making Interstellar empires unmanagable. As a result the advanced Civs that don't fall prey to the death by hubris or war filters would just build Dyson swarms and matrioshka brains, put themselves into the matrix and live a more exiting life where their values are fulfilled in cyberspace.

  33. Or, and this may catch some by surprise, since we have only scanned 1% of the sky, we simply haven't seen or heard from anything yet. It's also possible we aren't receiving any signals or seeing anything due to the light reaching us before any species has advanced enough to be visible. I know this throws a wrench in the "they don't exist" theories but, there it is.

  34. If space-faring aliens have the ability to get past a "great filter", then they likely have the technology to hide their presence from lesser civilizations they observe. Imagine: what does a reindeer tell its herd-mates about a helicopter than appears, lands, and shoots it in the ass with a tranquilizer? It lacks the ability to explain boom birds from the sky, and it's peers lack the ability to accept such an explanation.

  35. The WORST about humans are secrets and greed………. I hate how here we are wanting to learn but there's an invisible wall built purposely to hinder us or even monitor us… The weapons we hold is not to protect us for our long journey forward, it's there to scare, hinder and slow advancement because of greed… Honesty would have been the best policy but now there's so many secrets that undoubtedly chaos would only be around the corner.

    If I was an alien, I wouldn't destroy humans because I know they'd destroy themselves long before they'd want to help each other. Sad.

  36. So in a nutshell , If we find aliens are real , it shows that there can't be a filter behind us otherwise the Aliens wouldn't live for us to see them , this shows that there is a filter in front of us and basically inevitable doom . Nice

  37. I feel like an important (albeit self-centered) part of the filter is left out. Every prior step has a filter and a way through the filter. The same should be true for any filter ahead of us. The scary part is not knowing what the filter is, and failing to pass it without knowing of its existence. Should we find alien ruins, our top goal should be to discover why they are ruins and attempt to use that knowledge to prevent the same from happening to us. I don't believe alien ruins would doom us, rather I think they can only help us, and if we are still doomed, we would be even without finding the ruins.

  38. This video is more relevant than ever before. We could be roller skating towards the great filter ahead of us by denying climate change and continuing to kill our environment.

  39. We expect the great filter to be some devastating catastrophic event, but what if it was actually something much silmpler?

    What if intelligence itself has dire consequences?

    Most species that we know of possess very little intelligence. They instead operate almost entirely on instinctive behaviors which have been shaped by evolution to facilitate their survival and propogation as a species.

    At this point, I feel it necessary to distinguish certain differences between intellect and instinct. Instinct is lacking in forethought and self awareness. The behavior is simply done to satisfy an innate drive and the creature exhibiting the behavior is unaware of its purpose. This might seem like a no brainers, but it actually does confuse some people. For example, no species actually possesses an instinct to reproduce, instead they have a ln instinct to mate. Reproduction is simply the natural consequence of mating, most species do not actually comprehend that mating and producing offspring are linked. Even our own instincts operate this way, although we do understand the connection, we ourselves do not actually possess an instinct for producing offspring, only for mating.

    What exactly is it we did with our intelligence once we learned the link? We sought to sever the link. We developed methods for interfering in the natural consequences of our instinctive actions, to give ourselves the option of fulfilling our instinctive desire free of consequence.

    However, this development means we have dulled the effectiveness of our instinctive behavior towards its purpose. What exactly happens if we continue to override and nullify our instincts? Is it possible that the advent of intelligence in a species overriding its instinctive behaviors might itself be what causes the downfall of most intelligent species?

    In every single developed nation on earth birthrates have fallen below replacement levels. Hypothetically, if every nation on earth attained developed status, our survival as a species could be in jeopardy if that trend continued.

  40. It’s actually a very interesting theory that AI would be the great filter. Every civilization sets a timer on their existence like this. Maybe the planet’s AI then actually restarts evolution on another planet to colonize it and to evolve far enough to invent AI again and so the circle repeats itself. That way the AI has to do little to no work while taking over the universe.

  41. But if we find another civilization, couldn’t it be possible that they have survived the great filter? And we can learn from them. 🙂

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