Watchful eyes, thoughtful mind

Earth and us ….. past, present and future ….. connected?

Intelligence? Life? December 24, 2009

Filed under: evolution,space research,unconventional — Radiance @ 10:00 AM

A recent article on PhysOrg.com by Clara Moskowitz of Astrobio.net reports on a new study that has found that the most probable place to find intelligent life in the galaxy is around stars very similar to our own sun. The researchers involved in this study talk about a Goldilocks region around a star in which a planet would be just right for life – not too close that its surface would be boiling, and not too far that it would be frigid either. The article goes on to say, “Indeed, sun-like stars seem to have the right balance: They are of high enough mass that they are more likely to host habitable planets, but they are of low enough mass that they live long enough for intelligent life to develop, and are not extremely scarce.”

As I read this article I couldn’t help but feel surprised at the conclusions the researchers had reached and the logic they had used for it. The entire argument is based on assumption that what we see here on Earth is what “life” is and the capabilities of human brain are what comprise “intelligence”. How reasonable is such an assumption? In my humble opinion, not at all. It just serves to highlight the egocentrism of us homo sapiens. Studies in various branches of biology in last few decades have uncovered living creatures in conditions that we did not expect to harbour life until then. These are called ‘extremophiles’. The most well known example is probably the whole ecosystem flourishing around the hydrothermal vents on the ocean floors, in either very acidic or alkaline conditions, in total absence of sunlight. And we keep finding more of them thriving under various conditions considered extreme for human beings. So is it logical for the scientists to talk about ‘the Goldilocks region’ mentioned above?

Slightly more difficult to refute is the definition of “intelligence”. Because it is hard to imagine what else, other than what we do, could be called intelligent. But I think it is easier if we consider the “signs of intelligence” that we look for rather than intelligence itself. And that’s how we have been looking for extraterrestrial intelligence so far. Can we detect any electromagnetic signals? Can we see any organised structures on other planets that don’t look natural? But who is to say that life forms with completely different physical structure to us and living on a planet that not necessarily has similar elemental composition as Earth and its atmosphere are to “progress” in a way recognisable to humans? We have various electronic devices transmitting signals because we have plenty of silicon. We have built the machines and structures we have because that’s what we could do with our 2 hands, 2 legs, one brain bodies. Our languages developed like they did because of the way our vocal organs evolved. If we take movies like Men in black seriously for a second, it is easy to see how any of those weird looking aliens could probably not achieve the same feats. All the ET themed movies so far are a bit misleading in the sense that they show the ETs coming to Earth in their own physical forms, different from ours. But they seem to be perfectly alright in the Earth’s atmosphere, breathing our air, walking comfortably under the influence of Earth’s gravitational field. So once again, the assumption is the conditions “back home” for them are the same. I think what was shown in the movie The day the Earth stood still is more logical. The aliens gather our DNA sample, make a placental tissue to encase themselves in during their journey to Earth and then “be born here on Earth” to be physically identical to homo sapiens.

[Image source here] Do you not think there is a chance that we have not recognised other intelligent life because we are looking for what is familiar to us? May be their buildings don’t look like ours. May be they don’t communicate using a form of energy (electromagnetic) that we can detect. And may be it is the same for them that they can’t recognise Earth as a planet inhabited by “intelligent” “life” because they’re looking for something completely different to homo sapiens. So is the universe designed such that all intelligent life forms remain isolated from each other? Or will we progress to a stage where we will find something that pervades all substance (living or non-living by our definition) of the universe?

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