PRINT May/June 2020

Brian Eno and Peter Saville

Selected by Peter Saville: Artist’s impression of ‘Oumuamua, the first known interstellar object detected in our solar system, 2017. Photo: ESO/M. Kornmesser.

THE LAST TIME I LOOKED, there were about a hundred million trillion stars in the universe. It seems to get a couple of zeros bigger every time I check.

That means there should be hundreds of trillions of habitable planets, and yet we’ve never seen a single sign of intelligent life other than on ours.

Observing this, Enrico Fermi said, “Where is it all?” 

What if there have been millions of other life-forms and civilizations, but we just missed them in the vastness of space and time? What if we missed them because they don’t actually last very long . . . because there is some self-limiting factor by which life-forms reach a certain level of power and hubris that somehow manages to eliminate them?

And what if that’s where we are right now?

(One day the fish, who were by this time very smart, decided to have a revolution, to change everything. Let’s start, they said, by destroying the water.)