"Humans May be the First Generation of Advanced Life in the Milky Way" (Today's Most Popular)
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December 19, 2012

"Humans May be the First Generation of Advanced Life in the Milky Way" (Today's Most Popular)

 

 

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“Columbus forced everyone to rethink, redesign and rebuild their world view.That’s what we’re doing here," says Dimitar Sasselov, professor of astrophysics and director of Harvard University’s Origins of Life Initiative. "To put it in 15th-century terms, we’ve reached the Canary Islands. Getting to where we ultimately want to go is a slow process that involves astronomers, aeronautical engineers, biochemists, anthropologists and businessmen."

“It’s feasible that we’ll meet other sentient life forms and conduct commerce with them,” Sasselov said. “We don’t now have the technology to physically travel outside our solar system for such an exchange to take place, but we are like Columbus centuries ago, learning fast how to get somewhere few think possible.”

Sasselov believes that life is probably common in the universe. He said that he believes life is a natural “planetary phenomenon” that occurs easily on planets with the right conditions. “It takes a long time to do this,” Sasselov said at a 2011 Harvard conference. “It may be that we are the first generation in this galaxy.”

Though it may be hard to think of it this way, at roughly 14 billion years old, the universe is quite young, he said. The heavy elements that make up planets like Earth were not available in the early universe; instead, they are formed by the stars. Enough of these materials were available to begin forming rocky planets like Earth just 7 billion or 8 billion years ago. When one considers that it took nearly 4 billion years for intelligent life to evolve on Earth, it would perhaps not be surprising if intelligence is still rare.

If life did develop elsewhere, adds Andrew Knoll, the Fisher Professor of Natural History  using the lessons of planet Earth to give an idea of what it might take to develop intelligence. "Of the three major groupings of life: bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes," he said, "only the eukaryotes developed complex life. And even among the myriad kinds of eukaryotes, complex life arose in just a few places: animals, plants, fungi, and red and brown algae. Knoll said he believes that the rise of mobility, oxygen levels, and predation, together with its need for sophisticated sensory systems, coordinated activity, and a brain, provided the first steps toward intelligence."

It has only been during the past century that we have had the technological capacity to communicate off Earth, Knoll said. And, though Kepler may advance the search for Earth-like planets, it won’t tell us whether there’s life there, or whether there has been life there in the past.

The Daily Galaxy via www.bloomberg.com/Davos and http://www.harvardscience.harvard.edu/environments/articles/life-universe-almost-certainly-intelligence-maybe-not

Comments

Pretty big maybe considering the amount of possible habitable planets in just this 1 galaxy. I think at last count astronomers calculated around 10 billion planets alone in the so called goldilock zones surrounding a possible 100 billion stars in just the Milky Way. I love how these experts in keep telling us, we are the only ones in the entire galaxy, despite the fact that we have no even been able to confirm that Earth is the only body in our own solar system that has life on it.

Not sure how anyone can call us Advanced Life when we keep killing ourselves, Stealing and watching other people die while doing nothing. We may be life, but don't call us advanced!! LOL

Gutbacteria are considered a 'second brain,' so another possibility is that we are the cultivated product like ants cultivate aphids or other species of ants. I don't think we need to leave home to find other life.
Magnetism seems to be the key to extended life in the universe so perhaps it applys on E as well.

Of course we are an advanced form of life. The very fact that you are able to analyze the human race and compare its existence to a more ideal way of life, is enough t prove the simple fact.

Good post. Thanks for the heads-up.

among the 10 billion planets in goldielocks Earth is a young one. So no, i don`t believe we are one of the most advanced species in the Universe and surely not the first.

whn a smart scientist sees that the milkyway galaxy is full of earths they start to feel small... so saying were maybe the 1st is just a way for that man to feel smarter whn he knows that most likely we dont even rank on the milky way scale of intelligent creatures. dinosaurs evolved 1st so i bet on sveral plants dinosaurs like the velocer rapter evolved to smart animals, i know theres animals that are far beyond are lil cell phones. imagine how many different phones and xboxs have bn made throughout just our galaxy. its a pleasure just knowing how special our lil lives really are and to have a brain capable of imaginein wats really out there

Too far a reach to consider seriously.

Matthew, keep in mind that we have also not been able to prove there IS life anywhere else in the solar system (or the entire universe for tht matter).

I think that somewhere in this Galaxy,Rodents could have evolved a high level of intelligence.I wonder what a highly advanced Rodent Civilization would look like.

I've long suspected that the rise of spacefaring intelligent life is so unlikely that we will never encounter another within our causal lightcone. In a universe of infinite size (as ours seems to be) the weak anthropic principle has an infinitely powerful ability to explain our existence, no matter how unlikely.

As a great man once said, there are the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns. We know that we don't yet know some basic things, such as how likely habitable planets are (to date we've only found hunks of rock in zones that might conceivably be habitable), how unlikely the eukaryotic mutations were, how unlikely intelligent tool-users are to evolve, how unlikely the development of a scientific Western Civ was (remember, most civs were still Neolithic even a few hundreds years ago), and even how likely free capitalist societies are (what if the Communists or Nazis had won out in this world?). But there are probably even more things we still don't know about the chain of coincidences that led us here.

The Drake equation probably ends up with quite a few more variables than is generally appreciated.

Humans May be the First Generation of Advanced Life in the Milky Way

Is "may be" the new scientific method?
Is it not true that, in an unexplored galaxy, just about anything "may be"?

"Stealing and watching other people die while doing nothing."

Yes, taxing the productive and killing the unborn.

"what if the Communists or Nazis had won out in this world?

The Communists seem to be doing just fine right here.

The only problem with this hypothesis is its gigantic chronological margin. As we've seen from recorded history, all you need are a few thousand years to make the jump between stone tools and gunpowder.

Here's another hypothesis: Most terrestrial planets that can stably support life can and have given rise to sentient beings, except that practically none of them will ever get lucky (read: free and civilized) enough to move into the so-named Industrial and Space Ages.

What if parallel landmarks to the Magna Carta, common law, rule of law or the Bill of Rights aren't typical, let alone inevitable, to development as we assume? Even if they were, and a civilization progresses to a mechanized level of technology, who is likely to win global conflicts? Do you really believe that if totalitarianism won the 20th century, the resulting world would be stable enough to produce the microchip, or to indulge the innocent curiosity behind SETI? Let's ask Pyongyang.

Think 'Out of the Silent Planet' in reverse: ever-warring, or having reached a height before falling back into chaos we know only too well from our own record. It's a little dark, but it would explain the silence — and, hopefully, it doesn't rule out reaching and redeeming those lost, distant places.

"Not sure how anyone can call us Advanced Life when we keep killing ourselves, Stealing and watching other people die while doing nothing"

Maybe those are characteristics of advanced life.

"I wonder what a highly advanced Rodent Civilization would look like"

A Kia commnercial.

"Humans May be the 1st generation of Advanced Life in the Milky Way"
Maybe so, but Joe Biden is evidence of that to the contrary.

You have to get almost a perfect set of conditions to get a planet like ours. Even if you had intelligent life elsewhere, an asteroid could wipe it out in an instant as it could ours. Our largest extinction event, the P-T boundary, was due, it is hypothesized, not to too much CO2 but its disappearance.

I thinks the Dimitar is right. There is life out there but perhaps not as abundant as some imagine.

We have been listening for decades and have heard nada. Besides, since as has been pointed out here that we kill each other, who is to say that is not the order of the universe. In that case I hope the aliens never find us, because they will be a lot more talented at killing than we are. Count on it.

“The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us.”


― Bill Watterson

Michael Ubaldi -- unfortunately it's also true that humans/protohumans used only stone tools for 2.5 million years before making anything else. And for most of that time, the only tool used was a stone axe -- basically, a sharp rock. It couldn't even truly be called tool-using, it was really more of an instinct. I've often wondered how many potential spacefaring species might just get stuck there forever, or get wiped out by disease or comet or solar variability or supervolcano or gamma burst or...

The problem with totalitarianism and spacefaring isn't that totalitarian states aren't stable, it's that generally they do not advance. Remember, most civilizations don't! China was around for millennia but they never had a Renaissance, or an Age of Exploration, or an Industrial Age -- they had no Newton or Leibniz, no Royal Society. The West is an anomaly.

It's sobering to realize that the rest of the world only advanced by adopting Western ways, in imitation of Western success. What if there'd never been a Western world to imitate? Ab initio, how unlikely to arise are these modes of thought and political organization?

"Rodents could have evolved a high level of intelligence"

And they would be called Rodians, and would be silly enough to let Han shoot first.

I'm guessing that we didn't include democrats in our sampling.

The Theory of Mediocrity, that earth and its creatures are just average, universally, seems alive and well. The problem is that Mediocrity is not a scientific conclusion but a presumption that is necessary for ETI searchers to do any work at all.

There are billions and billions of stars in the Goldilocks zone. So? It shows nothing. If there was not even a single, single-celled organism anywhere in the entire universe, there would still be billions and billions of such stars and the universe would still be as large as it is.

It bemuses me to see a scientific-materialist worldview become so fundamentally teleological - that life anywhere, including complex life, is somehow inevitable. Might do well to remember what Harvard biologist Ernst Mayer pointed out, that high intelligence is of no obvious evolutionary value at all since there have been 50 billion species in earth;s history and only one has developed our intelligence - and we might drive ourselves into extinction yet.

What all these postulations assume is that life can just simply pop into existence given certain conditions (that are not observed to exist anywhere else than earth). In fact, no one has the slightest idea how life even began on earth; as Freeman Dyson wrote in 2011 in his essay, "How We Know," "The origin of life is a total mystery."

Even so, there is no scientific reason that earth cannot be number one in developing spacefaring life. In fact, there is no scientific reason that earth can be not merely first but only planet to develop life at all. As paleontologist Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee wrote in Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon In the Universe, complex (meaning multicellular) life is extremely unlikely anywhere else in the universe.

ETI enthusiast, British cosmologist Paul Davies wrote that there are only three options of how life came to be on earth: (1) A fluke, or random chance; (2) unknown laws that make life a cosmic imperative; (3) A miracle.

Davies says that "random chance" is "the ultimate just-so story," that there is no actual science supporting the idea that life is inevitable and that "miracle" implies God, for which science has no room, either.

But the most original answer to Fermi's paradox that I have read is that maybe the galaxy is just teeming with speciues of at least human-equivalent intelligence. So where are they? They've just stayed home to watch TV, play computer games, eat junk food and look at electronic porn (See http://senseofevents.blogspot.com/2012/01/hello-universe-anyone-home-hello.html):

"The result is that we don’t seek reproductive success directly; we seek tasty foods that have tended to promote survival, and luscious mates who have tended to produce bright, healthy babies. The modern result? Fast food and pornography. Technology is fairly good at controlling external reality to promote real biological fitness, but it’s even better at delivering fake fitness—subjective cues of survival and reproduction without the real-world effects. Having real friends is so much more effort than watching Friends. Actually colonizing the galaxy would be so much harder than pretending to have done it when filming Star Wars or Serenity. The business of humanity has become entertainment, and entertainment is the business of feeding fake fitness cues to our brains.

"Maybe the bright aliens did the same. I suspect that a certain period of fitness-faking narcissism is inevitable after any intelligent life evolves."

Yep, could be.

Dave -- you're exactly right. Many inventions are possible, obviously, in authoritarian cultures, but not all scientific revolution points are equal. Self-sustained Information Age in a closed society? Yeah, right. If at any point between now and 600 years ago the West went Brigadoon and vanished, the rest of the world would need a liberal epiphany or else immediately halt and regress.

The silver lining is that, at the logical end to this idea, space-farers would absolutely not be violent or tyrannical conquerors. Just as any significant restraints on freedom and enterprise would prevent reaching that level of technological and logistical advancement in the first place, any significant degeneration -- a dramatic coup, say, or widespread lawlessness -- would remove the capacity for interstellar travel. No evil empire: planets and communities would simply fall silent again.

I'm not sure political or economic systems are critical. Note that the communists got Sputnik up first and Nazi-funded scientists were the backbone of the US space program.

Gerry: correct, but the crux is that science & tech plateaus hard right before information-based achievement. They can get the heavy machinery and early electronics on their own, but not a lot more. That's at least what available evidence shows. The USSR and CCP, the two biggest non-democratic powers, at their most insular, stiffed in the latter half of the last century -- for various reasons, but that's kind of the point.


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