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?

 

TED Tuesday: Not-so-ordinary photography December 22, 2009

Filed under: photography,TED,unconventional — Radiance @ 10:00 AM

Taryn Simon exhibits her startling take on photography — to reveal worlds and people we would never see otherwise. She shares two projects: one documents otherworldly locations typically kept secret from the public, the other involves haunting portraits of men convicted for crimes they did not commit.

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TED Tuesday: Wireless electricity December 8, 2009

Filed under: technology,TED,unconventional — Radiance @ 10:00 AM

Eric Giler wants to untangle our wired lives with cable-free electric power. Here, he covers what this sci-fi tech offers, and demos MIT’s breakthrough version, WiTricity — a near-to-market invention that may soon recharge your cell phone, car, pacemaker.

 

Here we go again … December 3, 2009

Filed under: biology,chemistry,geology,oceanography,unconventional — Radiance @ 10:00 AM

03_32_ATP_and_ADP_cycleTechnological advances have a peculiar way about them. They always seem to progress in steps of exponential growth followed by a period of lull. This trend is closely followed by our ability to learn new things about the world around us. And so human beings, particularly scientists, go through alternating periods of “discovery frenzy” and complacency that there’s nothing more left to explain. We had hit such a complacent period a few decades ago as regards origin and evolution of life on our planet. But now we’re in the “discovery frenzy” stage for the same and hence getting disillusioned about many theories and principles that we thought were invincible. Many new discoveries using newest and (so far) most accurate techniques are making it more than clear that the question of “how life originated on Earth?” is far from settled.

Nick Lane, the first Provost’s Venture Research Fellow at University College London and author of Life Ascending: The ten great inventions of evolution, has written a detailed article in the New Scientist on 19th October, 2009 about an alternative theory for origin of life. This is only the latest one in the long line of many such that came before it but didn’t survive the scientific scrutiny. It is based on not-so-conventional ideas of Peter Mitchell who was initially dismissed by his contemporaries but won a Nobel in 1978. Geochemist Mike Russell of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California is rethinking the origin of life and finds Mitchell’s ‘Chemiosmosis’ a valid candidate. The following text from Lane’s article explains the idea,

Before Mitchell, everyone assumed that cells got their energy using straightforward chemistry. The universal energy currency of life is a molecule called ATP […] generated from food by a series of standard chemical reactions. Mitchell thought otherwise. Life, he argued, is powered not by the kind of chemistry that goes on in a test tube but by a kind of electricity. The energy from food, […] is used to pump […] protons, through a membrane. As protons accumulate on one side, an electrochemical gradient builds up across the membrane. Given the chance, the protons will flow back across, releasing energy that can be harnessed to assemble ATP molecules. In energy terms, the process is analogous to filling a raised tank with buckets of water, then using the water to drive a waterwheel.

lst cityEven though this seems a counterintuitive and roundabout way to produce energy to power life, there is a growing body of evidence of this process occurring everywhere in nature. Aided with the latest knowledge of fellow biologists and using a logical process of elimination, author Lane reaches a baffling conclusion. The common ancestor of all life on Earth was something with components of a modern cell but no walls or boundaries. Now that’s a stunner! But nature has never failed to provide us evidence for the most unexpected and hence broaden the horizons of our knowledge. So along came the surprise discovery of alkaline hyrdrothermal vents just off the mid-Atlantic ridge in 2000. It turns out that the combination of their peculiar structure and the chemical conditions of atmosphere and ocean the on the early Earth provide a perfect toolkit for the production of DNA, RNA, an ATP prototype, all without the requirement for a wall or boundary. I have only given an outline of what Nick Lane’s article describes in a great detail. So if my summary makes you curious, go read the full article.

I’ll end this post with the apt ending Nick Lane provides to his article,

Many details have yet to be filled in, and it may never be possible to prove beyond any doubt that life evolved by this mechanism. The evidence, however, is growing. This scenario matches the known properties of all life on Earth, is energetically plausible – and returns Mitchell’s great theory to its rightful place at the very centre of biology.

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Universe in your head November 26, 2009

Filed under: future,genetics,human interference,spiritual,unconventional — Radiance @ 10:00 AM

[Image source: MSNBC]

“Everyone creates their own reality.”

“Thoughts become things.”

“Observer collapses the wave-function merely by observing.”

These lines were made famous by the “new age-y” documentaries like What the bleep do we know?! and The secret. May be not all of you have heard of them. But these and many other works by leading scientists and spiritual leaders have lead to a paradigm shift amongst those who are open to such shifts. Research into understanding of mind-body interaction has gone way beyond neuroscience, which is the popular face of this kind of research. I’m sure most of you would have heard / seen the term “New age” in regards to classification of books, music, ideas etc. The term points more towards the rise of a “new age” of sorts in human thinking and doesn’t really mean that human beings are discovering something new. It is a mere rediscovery if one considers the ancient texts of numerous cultures as not mere mythology.

Many (re)discoveries in the cutting edge research in quantum physics, neuroscience, cognitive sciences and biomedicine are now hinting towards the existence of ‘consciousness’ and its significant importance in how we perceive the world, the “reality”. Cosmic Log on MSNBC.com describes itself as “Quantum fluctuations in space, science, exploration and other cosmic fields… served up regularly by MSNBC.com science editor Alan Boyle since 2002.” It showcases the book ‘Biocentrism’ by biomedical researcher Robert Lanza which is generating controversy by arguing that our consciousness plays a central role in creating the cosmos. As one of the reviewers of the book says, this may not be an entirely new idea but it is worth repeating. The physicists who should be declaring this out loud to the general populous aren’t doing so because it would mean a HUGE paradigm shift; may be the one that we’re not yet ready to handle. But if YOU think you are ready, give the book a read. We successfully made the shift from ‘geocentric’ model to ‘heliocentric’ model. May be now it is time to try a bigger leap, to the ‘biocentric’ model.

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TED Tuesday: Aquatic ape theory October 27, 2009

Filed under: evolution,TED,unconventional — Radiance @ 9:00 AM
Elaine Morgan is a tenacious proponent of the aquatic ape hypothesis: the idea that humans evolved from primate ancestors who dwelt in watery habitats. Hear her spirited defense of the idea — and her theory on why mainstream science doesn’t take it seriously.

 

TED Tuesday: What is consciousness? October 20, 2009

Filed under: biology,mystery,spiritual,TED,unconventional — Radiance @ 9:00 AM
Philosopher Dan Dennett makes a compelling argument that not only don’t we understand our own consciousness, but that half the time our brains are actively fooling us.