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Why has humanity never been visited by aliens (that we know of)? The question has confounded scientists for decades, but two researchers have come up with a possible — and disturbing — explanation: Advanced civilizations could be doomed to either stagnate or die before they get the chance.

The new hypothesis suggests that, as space-faring civilizations grow in scale and technological development, they eventually reach a crisis point where innovation no longer keeps up with the demand for energy. What comes next is collapse. The only alternative path is to reject a model of “unyielding growth” in favor of maintaining equilibrium, but at the cost of a civilization’s ability to expand across the stars, the researchers said.

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