|Putting Some Thoughts In Order
||[Oct. 27th, 2014|12:17 pm]
If you think the universe is so much dead matter you'll consider it an amazing fluke that self-reflective life has emerged on planet Earth.|
If, on the other hand, you think the universe- down to its tiniest constituent parts- is a living thing you'll expect to find life everywhere- and everywhere developing in the direction of self-aware intelligence.
Brian Cox- TV's newest science bod- is a dead universe man. Or seems to be. (I'll allow he may have been misrepresented in the press) He is reported as saying (in a programme I'm not bothering to watch because I can see I won't agree with it) that we could be the only civilisation in the galaxy.
Cox's position represents scientific orthodoxy as it exists in the year 2014. It's based not on scientific evidence but on a philosophical premise or presupposition. Dead universe, living universe: Neither thesis is- scientifically speaking- any more respectable than the other.
At present the evidence simply doesn't exist to prove either case. I have my prejudices and can call up evidence which I know my opponents will dismiss out of hand ( Near Death experiences? just the last ditch convulsions of the dying brain.) so I'm not keen to get into arguments.
But I've very few doubts. Ask me how I can be so sure and I'll say because I'm sure. How annoying of me.
I am not, by the way, arguing for the esistence of God. God- as far as I'm concerned- is a distraction, a mistake- the artefact of minds accustomed to think in hierarchical terms. The universe isn't a concern that needs to be created and then bossed about but an endless unfolding. Think fractals. Think depth not height.
His premise was (and I did watch the programme) that simple life like bacteria is probably fairly common, but advanced multicellular life may depend on a very flukey encounter between two types of cells which I think he called the "fateful encounter" i.e. a primitive cell with what became the mitochondrion. The chances of one type of cell swallowing up another without it being killed and digested does seem small, but such a symbiotic event did occur, and it's the basis of all eukaryotic cells. Also he said that if there were other civilisations on other planets they may actually not last long enough to overlap much. So here we are , again on our own, as Whitesnake so memorably put it.
Yes, well, but who knows what's probable and what's not? We have so very little to go on.
Evolutionary biologist and theoretical xenobiology hobbyist (he likes working out possible alien races for science fiction stories) Dr. Jack Cohen suggests that things which only developed once on Earth are "parochials", unique to here, while things which developed multiple times on Earth are "universals" which are likely to show up other places.
Among his universals are flight, fur, transformation of light into usable energy, and the transfer of genetic information among members of a species. He refers to them as "the four 'F's -- flight, fur, photosynthesis, and mating."
That seems like an absurd premise. Because organisms running into each other and becoming new organisms happens lots and lots of times. You've got RNA combining into other forms, organelles combining into cells, cells combining into multicellular structures -- if a thing happens over and over on Earth, then it's likely to be a thing that life will come up with other places, too. Smaller independent structures combining into complex structures is one of the basic mechanisms of evolution. It can't be that unlikely, given how often it happens.
In other words, by the time that you get to mitochondria, you've already gone through, like, three or four levels of "fateful encounters". They cannot possibly be all that rare if they happen that often.