Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Extraterrestrials in fact and fiction

Is there life on other planets? We used to believe life could only exist on an earth-like, carbon based planet, with liquid water. This means that every star would have a narrow zone around it, a band, that would be able to produce a planet like ours. But as search our own world, and others in our solar system, this notion is being tested.

We have found a flourishing ecosystem at the bottom of ocean vent, where water temperatures exceed 300 degrees on top of the frozen Arctic and Antarctica, and in the boiling sulfur springs in places like Yellowstone National Monument. That life exists and thrives in such diverse zones would point to a rising likelihood of life elsewhere. We now know Mars had water on its surface. There is a good chance there is ice there. Ice has been found on the moon. Oceans exist under the ice of Europa, a moon of Jupiter and Titan a moon of Saturn. Much of the surface of Venus resembles those volcanic vents.

The greatest theme in science fiction is portraying intelligent aliens. Most of those portrayals aren't very good, and are pretty much humans in funny suits. But aside from that, I have always wondered myself how big the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrials. I definitely think there is life, I imagine it's all over our galaxy, probably abundant. But intelligent? I have to say I'm doubtful there are very many.

Why do I think that? I look at us. The dinosaurs were the dominant animal on this planet for 145 million years. They were wiped out 65 million years ago, not through any failure of their own, following their demise, mammals were able to flourish and they became the major species. Eventually homo sapiens evolved. Now some people have the idea that we are the end result of some grand natural plan, but it's not. We're just one experiment in the game of survival. And frankly, I'm no longer sure we're a viable one. We haven't even existed 1 million years, yet we are on the verge of destroying our nest and wiping out a large number of other forms of life on Earth. Does anyone seriously think the human race will survive a thousands years let alone make it 145 million?

In a nutshell we overpopulate, we devise ever new and more destructive weapons of mass destruction and we are so short sighted that even when we know we are going these things and we know what will happen to us if we continue on this path. But rather than concentrate on that, what are we doing? We're arguing violently over which God is the real God. We're stripping our world of all the things that make it alive – out fishing the oceans, destroying viable land that we need to feed us, we put in place an economic system that will fail if it doesn't grow continually, so every year more must be sold/produce/used. We all know this spiral can't go on, yet we make no attempt to fix the problem.

Are we addressing these things? No, we're concentrating on whether a man can marry another man, on whether a woman has the right to abort a fetus (a number of animals actually do this when their bodies know they can't care for it), we worship vapid celebrities and ignore the millions of starving members of our own species because they're not in our front yard.

I've come to the conclusion, that based on what I've seen, intelligence is not a good survival trait. And I think this will be reflected on other worlds. If they did occur, I hazard a guess they wiped themselves out just like we're doing, long before they reached the stage where they visit other worlds.


Sarah J. McNeal said...

Even though it's a popular idea to think there is intelligent life out there, more and more I think not. Most of what happened here on Earth to get humans on the planet, was done by accident. Sad to say, I agree with you, Pat that we probably are alone. Not only are we alone but we're killing ourselves and I imagine one day, we'll be extinct, too. Great blog subject, Pat.

P.A.Brown said...

Thanks, Sarah. Unfortunately I do think that will happen. When is up in the air, but considering we are dealing with two destructive forces -- we have enemies who will do anything to destroy us, apparently even if it will also destroy them, and we are surrounded by religious zealots who are convinced we are in the end of days, that Armegeddon is coming very soon, has already started in fact, and they're in a hurry to see it come in their life time and are not above helping it along, which again I think is happening with the massive rise in religious intolerance and outright hate.

Patg said...

Well, I certainly disagree with you on most of your points, Pat, but what are buddies for.
I believe there are a few million planets in our galaxy with intelligent life. And since there are billions of galaxies, each with a few million planets with IL, there is a lot thinking going on. Unfortunately, that thinking is influenced severely and there is a wide variety of ideas, the majority wrong and destructive. The telling factor for survival is overcoming all that trash.
Personally, I believe all IL planets are meant to be 'eaten' out. It's the only impetus to get us off world. IL does not belong planet bound.

P.A.Brown said...

You might agree with the notion that we need to get off the planet and I share it wholeheartedly, but I also know that if you poll 100,000 people from all over the world a large percentage of them would tell you that all this space stuff is a waste of money. I've heard it all -- we flew to the moon and all we got were a few rocks -- we need to take care of the mess on our planet before we go off it -- we need to put all those billions of dollars into feeding all the poor people.

If we're going to get off the planet in a permanent way, it's going to have to happen in the next couple of decades or it won't happen. In two or three decades we are going to be waging constant war on several fronts pretty well against everybody. Food shortages are going to get worse, not better, water is already in short supply. We all know oil is running out, but we still scream when gas goes up to 3.50 a gallon and demand the government step in and fix the problem instead of demanding the government spend real money and effort into finding other power sources. But any government that did that, would find themselves on the street after the next election because most of the people who seem to vote these days don't trust science or smart people or long term thinking. They want the life they have now, or the one they think they had twenty years ago and they refuse to believe it will never happen. Those days are gone.

And on the gas prices? In Canada they're at around $6.50 a gallon right now and going nowhere but up.

Joylene Butler said...

You have a fascinating mind. I think that's one of the reasons you're such a great writer. If we wipe ourselves out, I blame our big egos.

Very interesting post, Pat.

Fiona McGier said...

I've been a Sci-fi nerd since Star Trek with the Shat-man caught my fancy, though I always thought Roddenberry was too optimistic. In his future, we had done away with money and the lust for power. I fear it will be more like the Babylon 5 version of the future, where we will settle other planets, but those folks will keep demanding more rights the Terrans won't want to give. And the space stations will have a "below-deck", where drug addicts and thieves will hang out.
I'd like to think humans will survive this...we've surprised ourselves before. But we still act like we just climbed out of the primordial goo, (in the time-frame of the planet we are still babies), and we are still fighting about, "MY invisible big daddy in the sky is bigger and better than YOUR invisible big daddy in the sky, and I'll kill you if you don't agree. But if you kill me, he'll give me goodies in my eternal after-life."
I'll keep an eye out for the flashes of brilliance and insight we humans have been known to occasionally come up with...but I'm not counting on it.

Patg said...

It's shocking that a good 90% of humans need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future. And when they get there, they always claim it was there own idea.
What humans need in a good alien encounter. We all know what loneliness does to an individual, image what is happening to a species. That, hopefully will shock a drop of sense into us. Earth, however, is not on one of the main spirals, but a spur, or link between two of the main spirals. One would have to wonder if we get any real trafffic.

Anonymous said...

As far as intelligent life Out There goes, I think we have proved that there isn't enough of it here - but I don't think we are the only sentient beings in the universe. Coincidence, accident, probability and (for want of a better word), design make the notion that Earth is the only place for "intelligent life" seem unlikely.
I only hope they are taking more care of their worlds than we are.

Even if we come up with a way to find (and get everyone to) a new home, I'm sure there are many who would refuse to leave (at least until they realised that the reasons for leaving were valid ... and then it would be too late).

Michael said...

Wonderful post, Pat.

I'm only somewhat interested in whats out there in space. I never been much of a sci fi person but it does peak my interest to know if there are other "lives" in space.

P.A.Brown said...

A friend just sent me this link. If we, as humans, could do more things like this, maybe we will pull through, although then again, these aren't going to stop some sub intelligent jerk with a nuclear bomb from starting a nuclear exchange.


Ah, well, we can but hope. I've always thought nanotechnology could save us and our world.

P.A.Brown said...

"Even if we come up with a way to find (and get everyone to) a new home, I'm sure there are many who would refuse to leave (at least until they realised that the reasons for leaving were valid ... and then it would be too late)"

Haven't you heard? That's Darwin's solution. Dying in a disaster you knew was coming is stupid.

Fiona McGier said...

I certainly hope we are smarter than yeast! You make beer by letting the yeast grow until they literally drown in their own waste products! (BTW I really like beer!)

Tina Donahue said...

As always, Pat, a very intriguing blog.