Saturday, April 18, 2015

We're Alone & Special In the Universe

Gary Larson (the brilliant)

Following Ward and Brownlee's Rare Earth theory, I doubt that intelligent life exists anywhere in the universe outside of earth. Harvard astrophysicist Owen Gingerich and astrobiologist Caleb Sharf suspect the same.

Sharf's new book is The Copernican Complex: Our Cosmic Sigificance in a Universe of Planets and Probablities, and is reviewed by Gingerich here ("Solar Complexus: we may be alone after all"). The "Copernican Principle" comes from Copernicus's discovery that our erth is not at the center of our solar system and, by extension, the universe. This discovery led people to believe that:

  1. We occupy an unimportant, mediocre, and unprivileged position in the cosmos; and
  2. The universe is teeming with intelligent extraterrestrial life.

Sharf challenges both of these beliefs.

To those enthusaistic about the possibility of extraterrertrial intelligent life Sharf writes: “[O]ne can easily argue that there has never been any data at all on the presence or absence of other life in the cosmos. I don’t want to make this sound too depressing, but it’s true—which is why we’re lucky we’ve discovered beer and chocolate to console ourselves.”

And, Sharf challenges the belief that we and our erth are not really special. He argues that "we are far from occupying an unimportant, mediocre, and unprivileged position in the cosmos. To take but one example, our well-ordered planetary system with the planets nicely spaced and in the same plane seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Quite possibly the moon was formed in a collision between Earth and a Mars-sized planet, which after an era of chaotic confusion, ultimately had a powerful stabilizing effect on our terrestrial system."

Probably, we are alone in the universe.