The 21st Century Bottleneck


Atomic Fission and Fusion: A built-in mechanism to filter intelligent life?

“Where is everybody?”  Enrico Fermi famously asked in 1950, addressing the paradox of basically indefinite possibilities for intelligent life in our universe and yet so far zero encounters with alien life-forms.

There are countless theories on why this might be the case. (Here a condensed animated break down

We are alone.

There is no technology for interstellar travel yet.

We are too far apart, even with the technology.

Be patient, they are on their way (it just takes some millions of years).

We are the first and therefore most technologically advanced, so we have to make the move.

We are looking at the wrong scale (too small or to big).

We didn’t notice (“they” communicate on different levels).

We are not encounter-worthy.

We are overlooked (think an anthill on the side of a six-lane highway).

“They” don’t want to be revealed, for whatever reason.

There is one theory, however, that has lately caught my mind:

It’s sometimes referred to as the “Bottleneck” or the “Great Filter”.

Basically it says that under the physical laws that govern our universe, life develops in a why that once we speak of intelligent life, technological progress quickly outpaces the development of social capabilities.

Bottom line, all intelligent life will first acquire the technological means for a collective suicide before maturing enough as a species to control this technological edge.

The main hypothesis: All life carries the seeds of its on destruction.

We are currently in a time-period, which some theorists have fittingly called the “21st century bottleneck”.

Somewhen in the 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union, both investing heavily in their respective nuclear programs in an upward spiral known to political scientists as “security dilemma”, acquitted the capacity of  “mutual assured destruction”, cynically known as “MAD”.

Although the Cold War ended and we lived — sometimes more due to luck than brains — through its most precarious episodes, these capacities have since developed.

At the same time, the explosion of earth population has intensified the competition for resources, which, historically, leads to more violent conflict.

Although the there is no infamous “big red button” on the U.S. president’s desk (see Donald Trump vs. Kim Jong Un), we retain the capability to end life on earth in a matter of hours.

Let that sink in.

3.5 billion years of evolutionary history.



Did this happen to other intelligent life forms in our galaxy?


In the universe.


In this case, they didn’t make it through their bottleneck.

There was no time for social maturity to catch up with technological progress.

Now, how is humanity doing in this regard?

Honestly, I don’t know, but it might be interesting and well worth it to take a look at it.

Since the end of World War I, we are trying to build an international system that to some extent contain our destructive capacities.

Actually, since the end of the Thirty-Years War and the Westphalian Treaty…

Actually, when I think of it, we have always been trying to do this in one way or the other.

So is it working?

Are we pulling ourselves together, or have we just been lucky?

I will keep you posted from a historian’s point of view.

Any insight from your field?

Will we make it through the bottleneck?

Or is it more like a tightly screwed cork?




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