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Why are we alone? - a critique of the Great Filter theory

 According to the Great Filter theory , we do not find other advanced civilizations in the universe because the lifespan of intelligent spec...

 According to the Great Filter theory, we do not find other advanced civilizations in the universe because the lifespan of intelligent species is fundamentally limited. According to the Great Filter theory, beyond the inevitable consequences of natural disasters, the lifespan of an intelligent species is generically limited by the adverse consequences of technological-social progress associated with the growth of knowledge, which then threatens the survival of the species.

The Great Filter theory is based on two observations, the Fermi paradox and our own experiences of how human civilization develops. 

Although we do not know of any other intelligent species, the development of human civilization has indeed provided humanity increasingly powerful tools, with which environmental changes can be brought about, dangerous to the survival of the species, and mankind can find itself in conditions that could potentially destroy the entire human race. An obvious example is that we already have enough nuclear weapons to destroy our civilization.

Even if the deliberate self-destruction can be avoided, human activity is already capable of pushing the environment out of balance to such an extent, as we are actually experiencing during the current climate change and mass extinction, to the point where environmental change threatens the very survival of the human species.

Furthermore, humanity is not only threatened by clearly visible, concrete dangers. Humanity operates as an increasingly complex system. As we progress, we can also make complex human society increasingly vulnerable to influences.

Apparently, humanity, and if we are not a specific intelligent species, perhaps any other technological civilization that may exist, during its development, inevitably causes its own destruction.

However, concrete historical experience of humanity also shows that humankind is an extremely adaptable species. Humanity has already survived climate change, environmental change and mass extinctions caused by its own activities on numerous occasions. Although these were typically not global events, and often such changes have resulted in the collapse of cultures and civilizations, the obvious fact is that humanity's progress has continued and is still continuing.

As in the living world in general, the human species with intelligence can also be characterized by evolutionary functioning. The operation of natural evolution has no purpose, evolution only realizes adaptation to the given environment. Human history also demonstrates this evolutionary behavior. Human behavior and the development of the human race are fundamentally and primarily not driven by the achievement of distant goals or the avoidance of non-concrete, even if still foreseeable problems, but rather creating solutions of actually appearing and existing problems drive the adaptive change.

The functioning of humanity, at least fundamentally in relation to its past activities, has been guided not by the pursuit of conscious future goals or the avoidance of foreseeable problems, but mainly by the management of actual problems. However, humanity carries out this evolutionary behavior by its intelligence and with the continuously accumulating knowledge, clearly more and more efficiently, and, even if not in a well-planned way, and mainly motivated by the pursuit of short-term gain, it is nevertheless, increasingly and to an ever-greater extent, turning its activities towards the creation of a future.

Although the growth of the potential ability associated with accumulating knowledge can create an ever-greater effect, it causes more and more global sustainability problems also. This same ability, together with the development of society, is also making humanity increasingly capable of dealing with external or internal environmental changes that could endanger the human species. This characteristic associated with development is well demonstrated by the case of the most recent pandemic. Even if we have been able to create such a problem ourselves, we handled the COVID-19 pandemic much more successfully than we handled the Spanish flu only a century earlier.

Classical wisdom really carries real meaning: what doesn't destroy us makes us stronger, i.e. more resistant, enabling us to overcome ever greater difficulties.

Human history suggests that the survival of humanity is less threatened by self-inflicted problems, because the magnitude of the difficulties they pose is typically comparable to the problem-solving and adaptive capacity of humanity's actual knowledge. This is why we are still present despite the myriad problems we have created for ourselves.

This phenomenon is well demonstrated by the threat of nuclear war. We are increasingly capable of nuclear war, which can be launched by just a few people, and which can destroy the entire human civilization in a few hours, yet, with the development of our society, nuclear weapons have become much more a means of limiting the escalation of wars.

Although the observation regarding the increase of humanity's resistance to harmful changes in the environment is based on the existing reality, it is clearly not a strictly valid rule, but rather a trend, it is nevertheless a convincing fact that human progress is making our civilization more and more resistant to adverse influences on our species. We can state this with less and less faith, more and more as a law based on observation, and even seeing the risks, we can nevertheless state this with increasing confidence. Today we have already successfully experimented with asteroid path modification and we would have a real chance of averting such a potentially catastrophic external threat to the Earth.

Humankind is undoubtedly dangerous and damaging to its environment, but we have increasing knowledge and ability to ensure the survival of the human race. The longer humanity is able to survive, the greater the changes and dangers it is able to overcome, the more resilient it becomes, the more it survives.

And this principle does not imply a specific human trait, but is based on the presence of problem-solving intelligence in general, so it is very likely that this phenomenon can be extended to other intelligent species. If this is the case, what can it mean to experience that we are alone? 

In theory, of course, it is not impossible that we are indeed alone. It may be that the myriad of coincidences that created the necessary conditions for the natural emergence of an intelligent species have only occurred in the case of humans. However, this argument is not only against the natural emergence of other intelligent civilizations, but may also be a counter-argument to the emergence of our own species. The fact is, however, that we are here, and if we could have arisen naturally, it cannot be ruled out elsewhere.

If we try to explain the observed solitude by the unique creation of an external will, this argument to explain the singular existence is not easy to sustain either, because if humans are created beings, what rational argument would limit the creator in creating other intelligent species? Although, according to the religious explanation, God's will is inscrutable, this argument is more of a diversionary thinking that assumes ignorance as fact. Rational thinking suggests that the creator's self-limiting behavior is less likely. And if the creator creates multiple intelligent species, why would he prevent them from contacting each other? It would be a particularly interesting experiment for any creator.

The experiential fact of being alone can also be theoretically explained by the assumption that there may be an objective limit to adaptability. The longer the intelligent species exists, the more likely it is to encounter a problem that exceeds its knowledge and threatens its existence. But since the knowledge of an intelligent species, and therefore its adaptive capability is constantly increasing, the logical connection can also be stated that the longer the intelligent species exists, the less likely it is to encounter a problem that exceeds its knowledge and threatens its existence. 

Human society is behaving as a living organism, which is increasingly in the developmental phase of directed evolution. The essence of directed evolution is that adaptation to a changing environment does not take place through random changes typical of natural evolution, but is guided by the natural selection of conscious, planned changes. 

As society evolves through directed evolution, it acquires capabilities with ever greater potential, and while the consequences of their use, even if dangerous, and have an ever-greater impact on society, the consequence of the increase in knowledge also makes adaptation to a changing environment more effective through the problem-solving function of the intelligence that humans possess.

Of course, an external influence beyond the actual ability can destroy the intelligent species, but the increase of knowledge can only be limited by the maximum knowledge objectively available, which in turn provides sufficient protection against all objectively existing dangers also.

Directed evolution may also lead to a dead end, as we can see today in the case of climate change and mass extinction because of technological development, and it may also cause the extinction of intelligent species. However, and it is more likely, and is also visible in our practical endeavors, the intelligent species is able to find new solutions, just like us. We have applicable knowledge to be able to survive the current problems and to become more resilient at the same time, even if we cannot necessarily ensure the same for the entire biosphere existing in our environment. Humanity's surviving development could also lead to an increasingly artificial and therefore controllable environment

The surviving evolution of an intelligent species can also lead to adaptation that realizes unlimited sustainability by complete assimilation into the existing biosphere, which, in turn, necessarily involves the confinement of the intelligent species into the environment, and hence, limits its external observability. An intelligent species choosing this survival path would be difficult to detect by an external observer.

The conclusion of the argument so far is that the potential lifespan of an intelligent species increases proportionally to the actual lifespan of the species. However, it can also be stated that the longer an intelligent species exists, the more knowledge it has, the more complex an organization it forms. There is also a hypothesis that the increase in complexity requires an exponentially increasing use of resources, which results in unsustainable development and leads to inevitable collapse. If there is an objective limit to the complexity of intelligent societies, it may also cause a limit to the lifespan of intelligent species.

Social governance is designed to manage the complexity of human society, and it can have the greatest impact on the survival of humanity. A significant part of humanity has now arrived at a democratic social system, governed by a leadership elected by the majority of society. Democratic systems of social governance result in a more adaptable society than competing authoritarian systems. Yet, any of these two currently operating forms of governance model and their various transitions do indeed seem incapable to handle continuously increasing social complexity, or to manage the natural increase in complexity properly. However, if we were able to, and perhaps once we will be able to achieve direct control of society by the majority, then the effective social guidance by collective social intelligence will become possible, hence we can enable the effective social application of community intelligence, and by effectively combining our individual cognitive abilities, we can create an effective society that is not only able to manage the increase in complexity, but also able to use it to increase adaptability. With the application of community intelligence and shared knowledge, it is potentially possible for an intelligent society to realize its maximum adaptability, and thus the possibility of the potential eternal life for society.

Directed evolution enables intelligent, i.e. problem-solving adaptation to the environment. As the intelligent species continues to survive, society becomes increasingly resistant to environmental change. The longer an intelligent species exists, the more likely it is to extend its lifespan. An intelligent society is potentially eternal, because it can handle increasingly significant environmental changes not to become extinct.

Based on the previous considerations, the theoretically existing Great Filter does not actually come from the limitation of the lifespan of intelligent civilizations, but - taking into account the fact that, despite all logical assumptions, we are apparently alone - it can actually regulate the establishment of contact between civilizations. The more likely meaning of the Great Filter is that we are alone because we have not yet become capable of not being alone, we have not yet become capable of contact.

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