Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Seth Shostak: Are We a Biological Miracle?

According to a Roper poll taken in 2002, two-thirds of the American populace believes that intelligent, extraterrestrial life exists. But that means that one-third is skeptical: A generous slice of the citizenry thinks we might be the cleverest creatures in the Milky Way, or even the entire cosmos.

... Two years ago, Andrew Watson, at the University of East Anglia, made a mathematical model of what he thought were the four transformative steps in the evolution of Homo sapiens: the emergence of bacteria, complex cells, specialized cells (permitting multicellular life), and eventually intelligent creatures with language. This concatenation of biological development is reminiscent of the Drake Equation, and Watson used it for estimating the probability of sentient beings.

What he notes is that we've arrived on the planet almost five billion years after the Sun began to shine. Since our star is no longer a spring chicken, Watson argues that evolution almost missed its opportunity to produce us. That's because the gradual warming of the Sun will soon (within a billion years or so) make Earth too toasty for habitation by sophisticated animals. Ergo, Homo sapiens just made it under the wire, and we're lucky to be here; we won the lottery. Watson figures that the probability of a jackpot is roughly one in ten thousand for any Earth-like world. That's pretty low, and he guesses we'll have a hard time finding ET. ...

The answer should be obvious to anyone who's machete'ed their way through a statistics course: We don't know. We have only one example of a world with life. And when you have but a single data point, you don't know whether a phenomenon is commonplace or breathlessly rare. ...

via Seth Shostak: Are We a Biological Miracle?.


Ann said...

If I may be so obnoxious to continue the above:

I guess, what I trying to get to say in the above is that our modern society lacks "compassion." I found the following quote by Thomas Merton, a monk, that sort of encapsulates what I mean by "compassion":

"The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another."

This quote is said to be given by Merton in a presentation in Bangkok just two hours before he died in 1968. This gives the quote a certain dramatic quality, but elsewhere sources say he died accidentally by electrocution just before that conference. So, one may wonder, if he is even the source of the quote. Maybe the quote was from he had written for the conference? The citation to the quote is often given as: Religious Education, Vol. 73 (1978), p. 292. Because I don't have access to that journal, I cannot say what the article is about and who wrote it. If someone does have access and want to pursue this matter, write a comment.

Ann said...

As for extraterrestrial life?

It was widely accepted among many cultures for a long time, but not among Christians. And, we don't need to resort to the outlandish "Chariots of the Gods?" and other books by Erich von Däniken or other similar writers who basically said ET himself was everywhere all the time.

You know, of course, today in the USA we have what is called by some "state capitalism," which is not same thing that Adam Smith talked about.

And, we also have a state religion. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration. But, Christianity did start as a "state religion" when it became the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire. And, it seems to me Christianity has had a difficult time getting off its high pedestal.

With Christianity came the "Great Chain of Beings" sort of view of the universe. God headed everything. Below God were the angels; below them somewhere were people; then came animals, demons, hell, etc., in that order. And, the earth was the center of the universe and everything revolved around the earth, including the sun. A neat cosmology that put everything in its proper Christian place.

But before Christianity life on other planets was sort of widely accepted ... and for a long time.

Ancient Indian Vedic literature indicates that the Hindu cosmology is sun centered and it talks about inhabited planets in the solar system.

"'Early Chinese texts tell of long-lived rulers from the heavens who flew in 'fire-breathing dragons'. In Tibet there is a book called the Kantyua, which means 'the translated word of Buddha'. It tells of flying 'pearls in the sky' and of transparent spheres carrying gods to visit man."

Among the ancient Greeks, Anaxagoras, Democritus, Leucipo, Epicurus, Plutarch and Metrodorus of Chios claimed there should be life on other planets.

Epicurus (341 - 270 BC), who was a follower and an admirer of Democritus, agreed that there are many inhabited worlds. He viewed an evolutionary process that occurred not only among living organisms but also planets - a sort multi-world Gaia Hypothesis.

Giordano Bruno defended heliocentrism and also argued that our solar system was one among many other solar systems. Like the great thinkers before him, he believed that life was the rule in the universe and not the exception.

Of course, during the 1500s when Bruno was alive, Christianity controlled all discussion about the universe. Thus, Bruno was burnt to the stake.

But, still outside strict Christian thought-control, in Japan, for instance, a painting dating to 1803 from Haratonohama, Hitachi, Japan, depicts a UFO. "There was a book written about it, Ume No Chiri, that said a 'foreign ship and crew' was spotted on the shore of Haratonohama, Hitachi, Japan and that the ship was made of metal and glass with strange writings on it."

So, if it was "great thinkers" in the past who thought of life in other planets was a reality, it was only imaginative writers who thought the same way in the more modern Christian era. That is, until astronomer Frank Drake came up with his now famous equation in the 1960s.

So, all the discussion about UFOs shouldn't even be controversial, if were not for the religious institution that made it so.

Xeno said...

What a strange thing it would be if those "aliens" in our past and now are really us from the future going back to make little changes to ourselves and to other life on earth to allow them to exist in the future in the form they desire.

These future Time Lords would exist because they created the life in the past from which they evolved. This sounds impossible, but it isn't if time is like a sheet: There is one strip of the sheet, start to finish, where the future us is not powerful at all.

Connected to this, is a strip where the "end us", randomly, has a little influence on the beginning of the previous strip. This creates a shift upwards into a new plane, another sheet on top, where the end us has slight controlled influence on the past...

And so on... leading to a strip somewhere of beings who can make any change they like to any point on any of the sheets of time, which they have been doing to adjust themselves.

"Row, row, row your boat..."