Saturday 2nd of October 2021, 3pm
Places are limited so please register your attendance. LINK
Given that the age of the Milky Way galaxy (13.51 billion years) is much vaster than its size (105,700 light years in diameter), there has already been more than enough time for any self-replicating DNA hatched on one of the millions of exoplanets to evolve into intelligent life, develop space travel technology and transmit its existence to earth. Unless humanity is an extremely improbable exception or the aliens are already among us in the guise of UFOs, this raises what has come to be known as “the Fermi paradox”: Why haven’t we observed any signs of highly probable alien life yet? Where are all the extraterrestrial billionaires visiting us from other worlds? Enter “the Great Filter” as an answer to the Fermi paradox: Something is preventing life from advancing to the point where it can colonize the cosmos. Candidates for the Great Filter range from the hypothesis that alien races are too smart to expose their location to potentially hostile competitors in a kind of cosmic trigger warning, to the unsettling suggestion that every civilization eventually develops the technology that leads to its own extinction (nuclear weapons, lab-made viruses, climate change, Skynet style AI, capitalism, etc).
After surveying the most promising and outlandish candidates alike, this talk will develop a philosophical interpretation of the Great Filter as the projection onto the starry heavens of the Kantian distinction between the phenomenal objects of our possible experience and the noumenal things in themselves beyond the bounds of what we can see and know. The history of modern Western philosophy proffers two primary paths out of the Kantian crossroads: On the one hand, the Hegelian reconceptualization of unidentified noumenal objects as reason’s own self-posited limit concept by which it achieves self-consciousness; on the other hand, the Nietzschean search for alien conditions of life even at the cost of our own self-destruction. In the same way, we shall see that there are two philosophical stances to the Great Filter today. One is the “neorationalist” conception of the great silence as the means by which humanity realizes its precarity and assumes responsibility to enlighten the universe with its unique spark of cosmic narcissism (à la Thomas Moynihan’s writings on x-risk and Reza Negarestani’s essays on unidentified gliding objects). The other that this talk ultimately defends is to recognize the very effort to preserve ourselves by becoming a multi-planetary species and venturing into the void would lead to our extinction as we speciate into a radically alien lifeform. The Great Filter does not mark the startling absence of life but precisely what brings an inhuman intelligence into being as we become the alien we want to see in the skies.
Vincent Le is a catastrophe-drunk philosopher and PhD candidate at Monash University. He has taught philosophy at Monash University, Deakin University and The Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy. He has published in Hypatia, Cosmos and History, Identities, Art + Australia, Šum, Horror Studies, Memo Review and Colloquy, among other journals. His recent work focuses on the reckless propagation of the Passion for Critique.