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If there is one trope I am sick of it is the one I like to call the Empty Universe.

This is when humanity has spread out to the stars and finds...well, nothing. Spending centuries exploring the galaxy, hundreds of billions of worlds cataloged and observed and we found no intelligent space shipbuilders, no tribal rock bangers, not even animal life or bacteria, and the most baffling part of all, after centuries of pondering what else could be out there, the fact that it’s only us running around doesn’t even warrant a comment.

Now personally I do not believe that we live in an empty universe. There are simply too many stars, too many worlds, too many opportunities and too many resources out there for nothing to take advantage of them and in the words of Michael Crichton, “life finds a way.”

But let’s give this unlikely scenario a fair hearing and ask what would happen.

Imagine for a moment, you have lived your entire life inside a house and watched the lights at your neighbors house. Some of your siblings say there is no one over there, but your crazy uncle said he met some of them and they are, “odd-looking ducks.”

One day you leave the house, you knock on the door, but no one answers. You knock again, the door opens and you call out, “Hello? Is anyone there? I’m a friend.” But no one answers, you search the house and while you find food in the fridge and plants on the window sill, there is no one there.

So you go to the next house, the same story. The table is set, the lights are on, but there is no one home. So you try the next one, only it’s empty too. It’s at this point our natural paranoia begins to set in. All these homes but no sign of anyone in them? Did something horrible happen? Is someone traveling home to home killing people and leaving no trace? Should you be worried that you are next?

So a little more frantically now, you keeping searching until you find the whole neighborhood empty of anyone that didn’t come from your house. So you check the next neighborhood, and the next and the next, until you find a city, only to find every office building and every apartment empty too. There will be massive psychological ramifications if we find out our pale blue dot is the only place life came to be.

So the million credit question: What would be different psychological reactions to finding the universe completely empty of life?

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    $\begingroup$ Humanity presently counts about 7 billions people. You are asking for an equivalent amount of answers. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Feb 26 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ Most religious people would probably say "I told you so" and be very happy about it. It confirms that humans are made in God's image and Earth contains the Garden of Eden and is the centre of creation. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Feb 26 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ If it's a trope, why not use one of those many works' approach as a basis? Or if you disagree with how they handle it, model yours as a foil $\endgroup$ – Punintended Feb 26 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ @supports Monica, admittedly “uninhabited” might be technically correct but empty wasn’t just a buzz word. It also implies the secondary meaning of “something that should be full, yet isn’t.” But if it becomes a problem I may edit it later. $\endgroup$ – Jacob Badger Feb 26 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ be happy, all those houses are yours now - that's worth celebrating. As life in general - our galaxy is just a small part of the universe - we are just lucky to live in an empty one and now it is ours! muhahaha ... $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Feb 27 at 5:10
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God wills it

Religion is going to get a major boost in this scenario. Why else would there be an entire Universe for just us humans if not for "Deus vult?" Why all the empty space?

We become the aliens

After a few centuries or millennia of expanding across the Universe and establishing colonies, humans will naturally begin to evolve and mutate to their environments through natural selection and genetic drift. This results in new intelligent species which all become very alien to each other.

In the deep future nobody remembers

After millions of years, evolution and natural mutation, the rise and fall of civilizations, we forget that we all came from a small blue world around an unassuming yellow dwarf in an unassuming location in a relatively common galaxy. The new scientific dogma becomes that each of these worlds with intelligent life all evolved independently. Any evidence to the otherwise is ignored as unscientific, borderline religious mythology.

Occam's razor tells us that the simplest explanation that fits the data must be true, and it makes far more sense for all of the worlds to evolve independently than to come from some single uber ancestor civilization that lived perhaps billions of years ago that nobody remembers and can't find evidence for.

"But the evidence of the human civilization and the world of Earth has all been lost to time over billions of years!"

The counter-argument goes, but the rebuttal remains:

"That may be true, but without evidence, it is merely speculation. Without proof, your theory must be taken on faith, and faith is not science."

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    $\begingroup$ The trope of forgetting where we came from is often overused in my opinion. Its not super probable for space-faring civilizations to lose fundamental knowledge about their origin and that of their neighbors. If they reside on a planet long enough to witness and document evolution occurring, surely they could deduce the same process happened to themselves and their stellar neighbors, especially with the massive genetic similarities they would share. $\endgroup$ – abestrange Feb 26 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ Entropy conquers all. No space faring civilization can be expected to survive billions of years. Our own history has shown that we can't always preserve all knowledge. After the collapse of Roman civilization we had to practically relearn everything the ancient Greeks knew. We were only able to do so well because other civilizations partially preserved that knowledge and had contact with Western civilization. Now add the difficulty of reestablishing contact across light years with species that have diverged so much their thought processes might not be the same. $\endgroup$ – stix Feb 26 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ Digital information is a lot easier to copy, and therefore a lot harder to completely lose, than information in scrolls which must be copied by hand by trained scribes. If the number of backup copies of a given set of historical information is continually increasing every time intelligence moves to a new star system (not to mention every time they convert X tons of raw materials into new computational systems using self-replicating machines), the probability that every copy of a given piece of information from their common past will get completely lost will be ever-decreasing. $\endgroup$ – Hypnosifl Feb 26 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ For more on this point about an ever-decreasing probability of losing all copies of some item of information in an ever-expanding interstellar society, see the last part of my comment here. $\endgroup$ – Hypnosifl Feb 26 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ @stix - The 2nd law doesn't necc. forbid intelligent beings from running computations forever bc the entropy of the universe can be ever-increasing without ever hitting a final upper bound, and intelligence might be able to squeeze out computations at an ever-decreasing rate from remaining entropy differentials, see this paper by physicist Freeman Dyson. Anyway I don't think the OP's q. is about an infinitely-long lived society, just a very old one that's spread through most of the observable universe in an era before stars have all burnt out. $\endgroup$ – Hypnosifl Feb 26 at 19:16
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Absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. We currently do not have definitive proof that Life exists apart from our biosphere, but we're still looking.

There are multitudes of attitudes about that search, whether its worth investing in, whether or not we're investing enough.

I don't think we'll give up the search entirely, even if prospects look bleak.

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  • $\begingroup$ OP's post specifically asks how we would handle the knowledge of an empty universe, and specifically points out the understanding that it is unlikely. The OP is thus presuming somehow that humanity has been able to show that there is no other life in the universe, and thus has "evidence of absence." $\endgroup$ – stix Feb 26 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ As long as there are yet unexplored worlds and unexplored galaxies, do you not think many will retain hope for life to still be found? There might be some despair at the odds seeming bleak, but again, there already is. $\endgroup$ – abestrange Feb 26 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ Again, the supposition of the original post is that there is evidence of absence, so however many "unexplored worlds or galaxies" exist is irrelevant. The OP is saying we know and asking how we deal with that knowledge. Your answer is simply invalidating his question without giving an answer. $\endgroup$ – stix Feb 26 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ It already says that they searched every world and galaxy and couldn't find life. $\endgroup$ – the questioner Mar 4 at 17:39

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