Are we alone in the universe?
Some big questions arise after reading an article in the Financial Times: Is Earth the only living planet? “Lisa Kaltenegger is among the scientists hoping to find evidence of life on worlds that orbit stars beyond our sun.” – they say. Tough if anybody cannot access the article – and I’m not going to breach copyright to be ‘helpful’. I’m not even reporting what the article said. I don’t know Lisa Kaltenegger. I couldn’t give a monkeys who she is.
The questions that arose in my mind were:
1. Are we alone in this universe?
2. How do we define ‘life’?
Lots of people confuse ‘life’ with ‘sentient life’. Hence question 1 is a very different issue.
People can jump on the ‘net’ and find loads of definitions of ‘life’ to quote from. Hence question 2 above.
Life varies from some forms of RNA to the most sentient of life (aka the human race). In that wide spread there is bound to be ‘life’ out there in one or more corners of this universe.
Question 2 (sentient life) is far more difficult to project on. I’ve thought about this long and hard and have seen most or all of the mathematical calculations of probabilities. All of them make one very big mistake. What’s that? They fail to – because the mathematics is limited – calculate for the numerous permutations that will have happened to allow for sentient life evolving on Earth. I’m sorry – I can’t deal with creationist ideas at the same time.
The mathematical calculations will be blind to what they can’t see – for lack of evidence – simply because it will have been lost in the evolutionary process. The probabilities that allowed for sentient life evolving here, were built on a ‘scaffold’ of other probabilities that no longer exist – and which we will never know about. Hence mathematical calculations are lost.
What some mathematicians have done is to say that none of the particular permutations are relevant, and they adopt a broad brush probabilistic approach. This is fundamentally flawed. How? Life has emerged from a chaotic non-linear interplay of nature’s forces. Sentient life emerged from a chaotic competitive interplay of forces and depended much on how competitions among lower life forms panned out. We cannot know about ‘all’ of that.
Then I add Saturn to the ‘equation'(not written anywhere). But for Saturn in the particular configuration of this solar system, life nor sentient life would have evolved here on earth. Like it or lump it. If you who reads this don’t know about it, Google could be your friend. The point? The point is that the chaotic non-linear dynamics has to be expanded beyond what happened just here on earth. I’m not paid to lecture on this, so you ain’t gonna get hard facts spoon fed to you who reads this. I could add to the ‘equation’ the particular size of our sun, and the nature of our orbiting moon (which was originally part of the Earth) for even greater complexity. What if it was a bit bigger or smaller or at a different orbital distance? The moon – the result of an accident in itself – is a major determinant of life and sentient life emerging down here. ‘Everybody’ wants simple answers. Well there are none to something so complex – end off.
Some may have noticed that I said ‘this universe’. Yeah – I can’t know for sure whether there are other universes, where our 4 (of 10) common dimensions just may not exist, where a totally different set of laws operate. So – maybe in some other universe that we’ll never have access to – something akin to life and sentient life exists. But my name is not Jules Verne!
Naysayers argue that it’s possible for sentient life to emerge (in this universe) in other forms and based on Boron or Silicon or other elements. It’s fanciful. But anybody who really knows about the chemistry of non-carbon elements will know how difficult it is to build on those and enable into self-replicating complex systems. In depth knowledge of physical chemistry is required. Sure – as a hypothesis it is possible – as anything is, in the human mind – for a particular other unique set of very long term conditions to scaffold into existence life based on other elements. Let’s not turn hypothesis and possibilities in minds, into facts. I can bet somebody is gonna ask me ‘What do you mean by scaffold?‘ – to which I will say, “Google is your friend, not me!”
Overall when I consider the whole thing, I come to a view that the emergence of carbon-based sentient life here on earth is a unique accident. The conditions involving all the similar permutations over 5 billion years – involving the complex chemistry, physics and scaffolding ecosystems are not replicable.
What does it all mean? It means that we had better understand how precious and unique we all are! We all need to show far greater respect for the Earth, which we were forged from. We shall not afford evil and stupidity opportunity to cause our self-destruction. I say we should limit our search for life out there and focus far more on preserving our home – this planet – and improving our kind.