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Asymptotic burnout and homeostatic awakening: a possible solution to the Fermi paradox?

Wong, Michael L. and Bartlett, Stuart (2022) Asymptotic burnout and homeostatic awakening: a possible solution to the Fermi paradox? Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 19 (190). Art. No. 20220029. ISSN 1742-5662. PMCID PMC9065981. doi:10.1098/rsif.2022.0029.

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Previous studies show that city metrics having to do with growth, productivity and overall energy consumption scale superlinearly, attributing this to the social nature of cities. Superlinear scaling results in crises called ‘singularities’, where population and energy demand tend to infinity in a finite amount of time, which must be avoided by ever more frequent ‘resets’ or innovations that postpone the system's collapse. Here, we place the emergence of cities and planetary civilizations in the context of major evolutionary transitions. With this perspective, we hypothesize that once a planetary civilization transitions into a state that can be described as one virtually connected global city, it will face an ‘asymptotic burnout’, an ultimate crisis where the singularity-interval time scale becomes smaller than the time scale of innovation. If a civilization develops the capability to understand its own trajectory, it will have a window of time to affect a fundamental change to prioritize long-term homeostasis and well-being over unyielding growth—a consciously induced trajectory change or ‘homeostatic awakening’. We propose a new resolution to the Fermi paradox: civilizations either collapse from burnout or redirect themselves to prioritizing homeostasis, a state where cosmic expansion is no longer a goal, making them difficult to detect remotely.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription CentralArticle
Wong, Michael L.0000-0001-8212-3036
Bartlett, Stuart0000-0001-5680-476X
Additional Information:© 2022 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited. Manuscript received 13/01/2022. Manuscript accepted 30/03/2022. Published online 04/05/2022. We are greatly indebted to Caleb Scharf and Robert M. Hazen for constructive feedback on early drafts of this manuscript. M.L.W. gratefully acknowledges conversations with Desun Oka and thanks Nadia Drake, Nathalie Cabrol, Ann Marie Cody and Jill Tarter for insightful discussions at the SETI Institute/Georgetown University's virtual event ‘Earth at the Crossroads: Can the Study of Other Worlds Help Us Save This One?’ Finally, we thank Marcus Hamilton and our anonymous peer reviewer for their constructive comments that strengthened our ideas and provided valuable additional context. We received no funding for this study. Data accessibility: This article has no additional data. Authors' contributions: M.L.W.: conceptualization, investigation, visualization, writing—original draft and writing—review and editing; S.J.B.: investigation, validation, writing—original draft and writing—review and editing. All authors gave final approval for publication and agreed to be held accountable for the work performed therein. We declare we have no competing interests.
Subject Keywords:Fermi paradox, homeostasis, major transitions, dataome, sustainability, extraterrestrial intelligence
Issue or Number:190
PubMed Central ID:PMC9065981
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20220520-512482000
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Official Citation:Wong, Michael L, and Stuart Bartlett. “Asymptotic burnout and homeostatic awakening: a possible solution to the Fermi paradox?.” Journal of the Royal Society, Interface vol. 19,190 (2022): 20220029. doi:10.1098/rsif.2022.0029
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:114822
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:20 May 2022 18:10
Last Modified:20 May 2022 18:10

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