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Jan 25 2009

I see Martian people… ALL THE TIME.

I don’t think I’ve ever fully elucidated my thoughts on the possible existence of extraterrestrial life, have I?  Well, I’ll put off my Python evolution project a little longer, and write about it now — no time like the present.

Assume first, as I do, that the abiogenesis (or “primordial ooze”) theory is correct.  For those of you not in the know, this theory suggests that life on Earth began when certain organic chemicals organized through known means into amino acids, which in turn self-organized into proteins, which in turn used lipids to form the first cell barriers, and gained the ability to pull the components necessary to catalyze RNA from their surroundings.  These became the first proto-cells, which populated the world (in the RNA-world theory at least), and competed with one another for these organic molecules and in self-replication naturally selected for structures that would be better equipped at obtaining these molecules before their competitors.

Regardless of whether abiogenesis is correct or not, once you get to the stage where there’s a bunch of life already existing on the planet, that’s when evolution kicks in — evolution does not say anything about anything from the Big Bang through until there’s life on a planet, despite what religious crackpots might tell you.

Anyway, as I was saying — assume for the moment that abiogenesis is correct, and that all you need to create life on a planet is a planet rich with organic molecules with the proper environment (whatever that might be) to organize themselves into amino acids, et cetera.  If that is the case, then that means all you need to start life is chemistry.  Not lightning hitting a puddle, and certainly not a magic sky-man to reach down and poke the puddle himself.  And we have ways, through spectrographic imaging, to determine whether organic molecules exist elsewhere in the universe.  And they do, in abundance.

All this means, life could very well be just about everywhere in this universe, at various stages of development.  We might not be the only sentient, scientific creatures in the universe — and we might not even be the only ones in this galaxy, given that there are two hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone.  The anthropic principle suggests that it doesn’t matter what the odds against our being here would have been prior to our arrival — like a person who just won the lottery, the odds no longer matter after the event, because the odds that it had happened become 1:1 rather than 1:however-many-tickets-were-bought.  So, knowing the odds of how likely it is that life exists elsewhere in the universe is only useful to find out what fraction of the innumerable stars in innumerable galaxies actually can support life, and how many have already started this runaway chain reaction where chemistry meets biology.

All that said, people forget two very important sidebars when speculating on the existence of extraterrestrial life and whether or not they have ever visited us.  First, they forget that space is big.  Really, really, really big.  The distance between us and the sun seems huge, when you think about it.  And the distance between the sun and Pluto is even bigger.  But do you have any idea as to the scale of the vast gulfs between the stars we see?  And how long it would take for us to get to even the nearest one, even if we managed to create a vehicle that would take us to as close to light speed as we can manage?  Given that, no matter how prevalent life might be in the universe, it might also be thoroughly impossible for one species from one planet to encounter and make first contact with a species from another, unless somehow someone figures out a way to bend the rules we’re evidently forced to play by with regard to travelling faster than the universal speed limit.  It isn’t a matter of just taking out a cutout relay in your souped-up sports car to be able to drive faster than 160kph — no matter how fast you do manage to get that car going, it’s still just a car, and you still won’t be able to make it to the moon and back within your lifetime or oxygen supply.  The only way you could make it to the moon in a sports car is if, in modifying it, it ceases to be a sports car and becomes a space shuttle.  You have to change the rules in order to meet the demand of the particular application.  And the speed of light seems to be a pretty fixed rule.  Given these two facts — that we seem to be limited to a certain speed, and space is extraordinarily vast — we may never meet extraterrestrial life.

That’s why I have to wonder when complete retards put out press releases like this one, claiming to be able to make out a whole hierarchy of life that somehow we’re overlooking when examining the Martian landscape.  Not only is this guy finding life, but he’s ascribing attributes to these supposed life forms that can’t possibly be derived from scientific means — not that these claims aren’t falsifiable, they sure as shootin’ are, but that he’s claiming that rocks and sand drifts are statues and people without a shred of evidence outside of pareidolia.

To make matters worse, when a British wind farm took some damage during a freak weather event, out come the UFO-humpers to claim that it must be an alien intervention.  Again, not a shred of evidence to back up their hypotheses, but officials say, “Until we have some idea, some plausible explanation that it was not a UFO, I don’t think we should rule it out”.  Uh, perhaps you shouldn’t default to the least plausible explanation first.  I’m a big proponent of Occam’s Razor, wherein you invent the least number of outside entities as possible to come up with your hypotheses.  The hypothesis with the least number of completely-fabricated outside entities is the most likely to be correct.  (This by the way is also a big reason I don’t believe in a god.  Why add in a magical invisible man into the equation unnecessarily, when the naturalistic world view is not only simpler, it’s also way more consistent with the evidence, and it lends itself to way less hand-waving and proselytizing?)

I bring up this topic mostly because I am more than a bit annoyed with the current Youtube buzz… and I almost feel ashamed linking to it, but I’ll do it anyway.  For my own sanity and yours, I won’t embed it.

That’s right — people are claiming to have seen a UFO fly-by caught on camera at Barack Obama’s inauguration.  An object flew between a camera and the Washington Monument (listen to the guy in the video fail to identify one of his own national landmarks and LOL with me), so naturally it has to be an alien.  While UFO stands for unidentified flying object, and it could indeed be classified as unidentified, to have taken as long as it did to cross that park at the size and apparent distance it was, means it was probably going roughly 80kph (thanks, random Youtuber, for crunching those numbers, I hate maths meself), and you aren’t going to get between Earth and some distant star going 80kph in your lifetime or even a thousand generations.

So let’s start by assuming it’s a bird until proven otherwise, rather than going with the looniest explanation by default.  Is that really too much to ask?

… I guess so.

1 comment

  1. 1
    Jason Thibeault

    Definitely a bird, small one, closer to the camera than most people realise.
    I think these people have not spent enough time outside watching birds :|

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