This Theory Might Explain One of the Mysteries of Our Universe

And it could also mean that Earth is totally boned.


For decades, the human race has been trying to solve one of the most puzzling questions of our time: are we all alone in the Universe? Are we, as a species, the only specimens of intelligent life that exist in the cosmos? And, if we’re not, where the hell is everyone else?


In the 1960s, Frank Drake formulated an equation meant to calculate the probability of ~intelligent~ (which here refers to advanced life that uses technology) extraterrestrial life in the known universe. The equation took into account such factors as the number of stars and star formations in space, the number of potentially habitable planets that surround those stars, and the number of habitable planets that could potentially host intelligent life. Based on the equation’s results, there should probably be around 1000 intelligent alien civilizations in our own galaxy…


So why haven’t we been able to make contact with any of them? The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has yet to yield any results. The messages beamed into space continue to go unanswered. It would appear that, while the probability of there being other intelligent life in the universe suggests that we should have heard something by now, all we get in response is white noise.

And this is one of the great mysteries of the Universe. It’s called the Fermi Paradox: the contradiction between the lack of evidence and high probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations. If there is such a high probability of other intelligent life out there, why can’t we make contact with anyone?

There’s no solution (that we know of) to the Fermi Paradox, but economist Robin Hanson has proposed a theory which suggests that — since it would appear that there is no evidence of lasting, intelligent life anywhere in the cosmos aside from ourselves — the specific conditions needed in order for life to explode out of nothingness are exceptionally rare. The theory refers to what Hanson calls the “Great Filter.”

Somewhere along the path from simple, single-cell existence to the advancement of intelligent life, Hanson argues, there is supposedly a hurdle that any kind of developing species should be unable to pass. If this is the case, then perhaps all of the other lifeforms and inhabited planets with which we should have made contact by now never made it past this impossible leap in the evolutionary process.


So what does this mean in the context of our own civilization? If Hanson is right, and there is some “Great Filter” along the evolutionary path to intelligent life that acts as a barrier preventing the development of civilization, then when and where does it occur? Are we so unique that we have somehow managed to surpass this impossible hurdle? Or is our future as a species unimaginably grim?

On the one hand, optimists contend that humankind has won the proverbial lottery. After all, it took over a billion years for any kind of life to form on Earth. Even then, it remained in the prokaryote or single-cell stage for two billion years before advancing into complex cells with a nucleus. ~Maybe~ the great leap from single-cell organism to complex nucleus-having cell is the Great Filter, and the entire known Universe is absolutely crawling with simple, unevolved single-cells, and we just haven’t found any yet. If Hanson’s Great Filter is in fact behind us, then mankind has surpassed all other attempts at life and is free to harness the power of the Universe.

We don’t know where mankind is headed but, arguably, the end goal for our civilization is probably something along the lines of expanding beyond our solar system and ultimately colonizing the Milky Way galaxy. This would eventually make human kind a Type III ivilization on the Kardashev Scale, which basically means that we have been able to avail ourselves of all the energy in the galaxy for technological and communications advancements. If we are the rarity of the Universe and the Great Filter is behind us, then we are well on our way to becoming a Type III civilization.


On the other hand, we could be totally fucked.


The pessimistic response to the Fermi Paradox is basically, “we’re boned.” If the first possibility isn’t true, and the Great Filter is in fact not behind us, then our future as an intelligent and advancing species is pretty fucking bleak. If the Great Filter is in our future, this would suggest that the explosion of life in space is totally regular and ordinary; it’s some event that comes later that has a one-in-a-billion chance of occurring.

So, all of this ultimately begs the question, “what’s next?” What will be our Great Filter, if indeed we’re not as special as we may think and it’s still yet to come? Are we on the brink of imminent destruction? Is the human race soon to become just another potentially unique planet that never made it past life’s greatest hurdle?

One possibility is that intelligent life simply cannot sustain itself once it reaches a certain level of advancement. Maybe one day we will have harnessed so much of the Earth’s energy that there will be nothing left for us to continue on with, and we will eventually just run out of food, fuel, and resources and simply starve to death like the ~animals~ we are.


Another possibility, and this seems to be the most likely of theories, is that any and all intelligent life ends up destroying itself through chemical and/or nuclear warfare. The human race is far too vain and far too flawed, so maybe this isn’t too far-fetched. Given the particular outcome of recent political events, perhaps the Great Filter is – terrifyingly – much closer than we could ever have imagined.


Lord help us.



20 Things You Can Do If You’re Not Going Back to School This Fall

1. Sit on the floor and cry


2. Eat an entire thing of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream


3. Aimlessly wander around your old campus pretending you still go there


4. Sit on the floor and stare at your cat


5. Ponder the mysteries of our Universe


6. Try to resist the crushing weight of all of your rejected job applications


7. Research more post-graduate programs and seriously consider going back to school for the rest of your adult life (and realize you can’t afford it)


8. Sit on the floor and hug your cat


9. Wonder if you should move to a new continent


10. Clean your apartment


11. Bake some cookies


12. Bake some cookies again


13. Actually just don’t ever stop baking cookies it’s a great way to shirk your responsibilities


14. Sit on the floor and be ignored by your cat


15. Binge-watch every show on Netflix ever


16. Reread your MRP over and over because it’s the only tangible thing you’ve accomplished in years


17. Question every life decision you’ve ever made


18. Drink an entire bottle box case of wine


19. Remind yourself you’re only in your 20s and maybe everything will actually be okay eventually because you’ve already done some pretty awesome shit in your life and everyone struggles sometimes and that’s just part of being a grown up


20. Ask your parents if you can move home and live with them forever


10 Haiku About Being a Grad Student

Poetry about being a graduate student in five, seven, and five-syllable lines.

I don’t even know…

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Today i am tired.

Tomorrow i will be tired.

I am still so tired.


How do i research?

How do i research this thing?

How do i even….


Coffee is my friend

‘Cause i have been up all night

Writing this garbage.


Oh, you’ve heard of him?

Don’t know who the fuck he is…

Can someone tell me?


I haven’t started.

You’ve started yours already?

‘Scuse me while I cry.


Six thousand words left

Before i can have a life

And sleep all day long.


Five glasses of wine

Makes me think I’m a genius…

So so so so wrong.


Writing essays sucks

But waiting days for your grade

Is totally worse.


My supervisor

Wanted my first chapter done

Like three weeks ago…


I missed the deadline

For summer OSAP funding…

How will I buy wine?


What Is a ‘Blog Post,’ Really, Anyway?

RE: My last blog post

Here are some thoughts that are not written by me and are written probably 10 times better than me. I am copping out of blogging this month mostly because my brain is in essay mode and any creative writing right now comes out looking like this: “relevant discourse surrounding the topic has so far failed to expand on the question of why Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water and, therefore, they all lived happily ever after in areas of further scholarly consideration” etc.

So yeah. I think what Jennifer has to say is exceptionally accurate – on a topic that kind of refuses accuracy altogether. It’s so difficult to categorize any form digital publishing, especially when almost anything can be published digitally nowadays (did I just say “nowadays?”). The realm of digital or online storytelling allows for so many possibilities that it’s hard to narrow down a space in which to slot “blog posts,” so as to differentiate them from other forms of mass media. So why try so hard? As Jennifer says, part of the beauty of blogging is its freedom to fill any space it wants – or needs to.

And with that, here I go to continue not blogging #essayseason

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

One thing I know for sure: Blog posts are not written on this.

Now that I’m teaching Blog Writing, I’ve encountered a sticky problem: I don’t know what a blog post is. I mean, obviously I know the way any thinking person in 2016 knows. I know that this is one I’m writing right now, for instance. But when it comes to defining what a blog post is, and even moreso what a blog post isn’t, I get pretty lost.

So I’m going to try to find a definition. Right here, right now.

For starters, we know that a blog post is a piece of writing published online. It comes in the form, somewhat, of traditional journalism: a headline, followed by information of some sort. It’s published for the world to see, regardless of how large or small a portion of the world actually bothers to see it.

Now things…

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The Truth About Writer’s Block

Oof. How long has it been since I spewed out some words on here?

-eager chorus of “TOO LONG!”-

No but for real. Probably somewhere around this time last year I was thinking to myself, I’d like to stretch my writing muscles and really insert myself into the online world to try and penetrate a new sphere of digital story telling and thought processing.

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Now, it’s more like “everything I write is shit and why am I doing this and what’s the point and are we really alone in the universe” etc.

TBH, I haven’t been a self-proclaimed writer very long so I shouldn’t even really be complaining. There a lots of ups and downs that I have yet to experience that I’m sure will be much more traumatizing than a little rut here and there, but let me tell you: writer’s block is a fucking real ass thing and I don’t care who you are, but you will face it throughout your entire authorial career.

It can come from a lot of different places and for a lot of different reasons. I asked Google to define it for me, and what I got back was actually fairly accurate: “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.” How painfully true. Though not, I think, a definition that really encompasses all that is the crippling state of being a writer who is blocked.

Here’s my definition: A state in which “the writer” (basically anyone who produces work in a creative “literary” form, whether it’s poetry, fiction/non-fiction, lists, YouTube videos, Facebook rants, etc.) becomes trapped in a vicious spiral of feeling both overwhelmed with creative potential and the crippling fear of being inadequate in and incapable of performing the actual manifestation of this potential. It results in a lack of productivity, passion, and self-worth, and can last anywhere form 5 minutes to 5 months, or longer. No sure-fire cure has yet to be discovered, though scientists (a.k.a the asshole writing this) have noticed that sufferers of writer’s block often turn to reading other writers’ material, binge-watching Netflix, binge-eating nachos, and grasping at any form of inspiration in order to cope.

It looks different for everybody, but it always wears the same disguise. Basically, it’s like your hands are poised over the keyboard/page, ready to write literary gold, and someone has snipped the little blue wire that links your creative, or right brain to your digits, severing the connection between possibility and reality leaving you feel effectively lost.

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For me, writer’s block stems from an over-active left brain or, what a professor I had in my Master’s studies likes to call, my internal self-editor. It’s the guy that hovers over your shoulder smacking his lips and taking sharp intakes of breath every time you approach and idea, saying things like:

“Ooh, are you sure about that sentence? Doesn’t it sound kinda like LITERAL CRAP?”

“I bet you could think of a stronger word for that if you thought long and hard about it. The one you used sucks too much. Why don’t you take five years to think of a better one and then come back and we can re-evaluate the situation.”

“There are so many other people out there who could and would do a better job at this than you and you know it. Why don’t you just stop now and let someone else takeover so that you don’t embarrass yourself.”

That kinda shit. That’s left-brain shit, and it can completely take over your right brain and stifle its creativity. And you know what? Sometimes it wins. And it takes a while to be able to squash it back into submission. The left-brain is always ready to tell you that you’re an imposter, an essayist in poet’s clothing. (Might write another blog about imposter syndrome later cos that’s a sneaky lil bitch too hmmm…) It comes from being submerged in academic writing for the better part of my career as a student, because when writing essays and conference papers there isn’t a lot of room for right-brained silliness. You have to get right down to business, discussing related discourse and what other scholars have had to say about your obscure as shit topic about the performativity of animals in 14th century London, so self-editing just sort of becomes a part of the process.

When writing “for fun” (even if at the back of your mind you can’t help but think of getting it published somewhere), you have to be able to turn off what your left brain is telling you for a while, and then tentatively invite it back to the party later, only when it really comes time to start revising. It’s when this editing brain comes out to play that you run the risk of hitting a massive wall of writer’s block, and it’s hard to avoid when you aren’t aware of it or try to flex your creative muscles before getting stuck.

I wish I could say that there was an easy fix for writer’s block, but there’s not. And like I said, it’s different for everybody so I don’t actually know, maybe what works for me might not work for someone else and vice versa. But there are lots of ways to kind of shake off a bit of that insecurity or stasis and get some creative juices flowing, even if it’s just getting to completing a full sentence or paragraph that doesn’t make you want to throw your computer into a wood chipper.

A trick that I actually find very useful is looking to what other people have written, particular people whose writing a find particularly earth-shattering and beautiful. I’ll flip through a favourite book or glance at a few favourite poems and find a scene or a phrase that really speaks to me, copy it out on paper or on screen, and then basically plagiarize. Not in the illegal way, but insofar as I pretty much rewrite what they’ve written in my own voice, or in a character’s voice that I’m especially having trouble with lately. It doesn’t usually produce groundbreaking content or lead to producing a full piece of literature, but it’s something that I can save for later if I need a filler or inspiration to get the gears turning. Some people find writing prompts to be very helpful, and there are a lot of websites that can generate random plots, titles, first sentences, or character profiles for you to play with. I personally find these to actually be more limiting, because then you end up trying to fit yourself and your writing into specific parameters and it can lead to stunted thought more than anything else, but to each his own.

Granted, you probably won’t be able to leap out of the rut you’re in and write that entire prize-winning novel you’ve been mulling over for five years, but it’s a step in the write direction. Writer’s block can be as simple as not being able to finish something you’ve started, or as inhibiting as not being able to start something at all. But the point isn’t to be able to produce a lot of work all at once, the point is to be able to quiet your left brain long enough to be able to actually find your way through the creative maze of your right brain and put words on a page.

And most of the time, what tends to work the best in producing real work is saying fuck it and scribbling nonsense, because at least it’s something. Even taking two minutes and writing a list of all the words you can think of that start with the letter “t” is better than getting stuck trying to figure out how you can get your character form point A to point B without boring the reader to death. A professor told me recently that writing a little bit is better than not at all. Even if it’s just 250 words a day, you can have a novel written in one year! So the key take-away from all of this, if I’ve instilled no other wisdom aside from it, is: baby steps.

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Some Mildly Irritating Things That Annoy The Absolute F*&% Out of Me

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  1. Walking into a room and immediately forgetting what you were going to do.
  2. When there’s that one stray hair that’s tickling you but you can’t find it.
  3. Being interrupted.
  4. Being interrupted and then being told not to interrupt.
  5. People who smack their gum.
  6. People who don’t rinse their dishes.
  7. Doors that won’t close all the way.
  8. Wanting to use a pencil but only having pens.
  9. Monkeys dressed as people.
  10. When your eyeliner is too short to sharpen, but long enough still that it would be wasteful to throw it away.
  11. “Exchange or Store Credit Only” return policies.
  12. When Netflix goes all pixel-y.
  13. When people don’t close drawers or cupboards all the way.
  14. Wobbly chairs/tables.
  15. People who stand on the down escalator.
  16. When someone uses the possessive incorrectly.
  17. People who walk too slow.
  18. People who try to skip the line.
  19. When you’ve done the dishes and you find a dirty cup in another room.
  20. Ads in iPhone games.
  21. The person on the streetcar who won’t move over to open up the empty seat.

Doing Research as an Undergrad Versus Doing Research as a Grad Student

Undergrad: When someone says “You’ll have to conduct extensive research on a topic of your choice.”

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Graduate: When someone says “You’ll have to conduct extensive research on a topic of your choice.”

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Undergrad: Brainstorming ideas in an attempt to formulate a sound thesis argument.

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Graduate: Brainstorming ideas in an attempt to formulate a sound thesis argument.

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Undergrad: Unearthing stellar and invigorating research in the discourse of your topic.

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Graduate: Unearthing stellar and invigorating research in the discourse of your topic.

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Undergrad: Finally arriving at a justifiable conclusion grounded in academic and scholarly support.

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Graduate: Finally arriving at a justifiable conclusion grounded in academic and scholarly support.

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# K I L L I N I T