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.

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..."