Saturday, August 23, 2008

Earth Special After All?

Starting with Copernicus, science has routinely demoted man and his home planet from a position of central grandeur to just a mote of dust floating in an endless universe. Billions upon billions of other similar worlds exist, we've been told, with millions of civilizations flourishing on them at the very moment I am typing this message.

Fermi once asked a question in the lunch line "where are they". He was getting at a simple observation-if the universe is teeming with aliens, how come we haven't been visited? Surely in the last 13 billion years a civilization has arisen in the Milky way Galaxy that would have explored it and been to earth?

First lets state upfront that a lot of people do think we've been-and are continuously-visited. That being said, I have to say I don't buy that. Even so, given the sheer number of stars and galaxies, it seems entirely plausible that there are multiple civilizations in existence right now throughout the cosmos (not meant as a direct quote of Carl Sagan). But are there really? I think there are some good arguments that technical civilizations are very rare, indeed.

For starters, there are lots of ways a civilization can screw itself over. Look at where earth is right now. We have a serious energy crisis, threat of nuclear war, threat of terrorism, religious zealots, gl warming and other problems I am not going to bother mentioning. Maybe the plain truth is that when technical civilizations come about, they simply don't last all that long. Not long enough to "make contact" much less to go visiting in person.

Maybe being technically savvy isn't all that advantageous, evolutionarily speaking. Technology has not eexisted all that long on earth, and most organisms aren't smart. Look at beetles. There are 500,000 species of them and they are all over the damn place. But last time I checked they haven't logged on the internet or had a nuclear exchange. Maybe being a beetle, just from an evolutionary standpoint, is superior to being intelligent. Beetles don't have to worry about global warming or terrorists. If Osama bin Laden blows up Los Angeles with a nuclear weapon, there will still be beetles.

Regardless of how you feel about these issues, some frecent research as cast the notion of millions of intelligent life forms populating the galaxy in further doubt. While Carl Sagan had us believing that the galaxy had an earth around every corner, it appears that the kind of solar system we live in-a stable quiet kind of place grandmother would like to call homee, is actually pprobably pretty rare. Sounds like lots of solar systems are violent places, the kind where the evolution of complex life, much less intelligence, is pmay be extremely unlikely.

Well check out the article. What do you think?

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