Many of us are excited by the planetary discoveries in other star systems that have become so frequent recently, thanks to the hard work of dedicated researchers and some amazing technology. These discoveries have led to an increasing number of possibly habitable planets. Even more exciting- what about the chances of intelligent life existing elsewhere in the universe? We would like to extrapolate the number of possibly habitable planets to support an argument that it increases the chances of intelligent life in the universe.
There are those who would like to throw cold water on this speculation and they often provide very good reasons for skepticism. One of the more interesting arguments recently ties a popular social theory to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Dr. Michael West is the director of the Maria Mitchell Observatory in Massachusetts. He points out, in a recent USA Today column, that the Peter Principle might apply to the chances of extraterrestrial life occurring in the universe. The Peter Principle, as originally put forth by author Laurence Peter, says that humans rise to the level of their incompetence. If this is taken to an evolutionary level, could humans be at the apex of our competence and soon to fall due to our incompetence, in areas such as environment and warfare?
The danger of civilizations collapsing due to technology (or rather, a lack of control of technology) has been suggested for years. Given our dire set of circumstances (global warming and nuclear weaponry) it is quite possible that there is some sort of technology ceiling, that when reached, leads to catastrophic collapse of that civilization, and thus preventing the civilization from becoming more technologically advanced than humans.
This argument comes down to one big question: will humans be able to solve our current technological problems, create new technology to fix our mistakes and continue to move forward, perhaps one day turning into a space-faring civilization.
Human resilience is an amazing thing. Humans overcome all sorts of challenges in life. It’s something we notice individually and resilience can be seen on a larger level. Think how quickly Europe and Japan came back from the devastation of World War Two. Of course, there are many instances of civilizations disappearing, for one reason or another.
Does the Peter Principle imply that humans are headed for catastrophe? I suppose that will be up to future generations to decide.
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