We’ll keep on looking for life elsewhere

Keith Hudson

Michael Hanlon, writing in the Daily Telegraph today, reckons that we’re all alone in this vast universe, despite the discovery of Kepler 452b and its possibilities.  He writes of Fermi’s Paradox — “In a universe of such . . . great size and age there ought to be many cvilizations in space.  Why have we not seen any evidence of this?”

It’s because we have only just started looking!  And with relatively puny equipment so far.  Besides, Enrico Fermi (1901-1951), one of the most brilliant physicists of the last century, died long before advanced biology got into its stride.  What has biology got to do with it?  Plenty.

If a biologist comes across a new colony of life-forms, never before discovered, he or she would take the greatest of care, and long before any lab tests or experiments are carried out, to observe it without interfering with it in any way.  Usually, when a biologist extracts a specimen for lab experiments there are plenty more left in their natural environment, so it doesn’t matter.

If there is a very advanced civilization somewhere in space which becomes aware of life on Earth and is able to observe us and every life-form, it would be of far more interest to leave well alone in order to understand how Earth works as a whole before trying to understand all the details. As all biologists know, many species, have natural behaviours that are only revealed when observed as a whole.

The reason may lie in the small print (genetic behaviours at molecular level) but looking a tthe small print alone can’t possibly describe how the whole body behaves, nor collectively as a species, nor as a species embedded in a larger ecosystem. The alien civlization certainly wouldn’t be sending messages to us and interfering with what the Earth is doing as a whole.

And if an alien civilization is actually advanced enough to be looking for a suitable planet to colonise — perhaps because its original sun is going into its final heating up phase — it will certainly have already found one from the teeming millions of possible homes in this galaxy alone and wouldn’t want to invade us. So why upset our natural development by directly telling us of its existence?  Besides, being relatively backward, we would be totally unable to understand anything they could tell us about themselves.

If we disocovered the existence of an advanced alien civilization — inadvertently from their point of view — by detecting its own radio transmissions going around its own planet then, even if they were understandable (unlikely) the civilization would have expired or moved home millions of years ago.  There’d be absolutely no chance of communicating with the aliens — because they’d be somewhere else!

One of the greatest physicists of the last century, Freeman Dyson (born 1923), responsible for many conceptual breakthroughs and still contributing his thoughts on many issues wrote many years ago that “Life will colonise the whole Universe”. That registered with me when I first read it and I rather think he’s right. If there are advanced civilizations in our galaxy or in other galaxies which are colonising planets and perhap even engineering solar system to suit them, perhaps even making use of the Dark Matter that makes up 95% of the mass of the universe, but which we know absolutely nothing about so far then, although they may note the existence of life on Earth they would know that our future existence depends on us and whether we can explore space and colonise in time before our own sun blows up. That’s the existential reason for letting us be

In his article, Michael Hanlon writes thus — “What if [we] don’t find anything? What if , in 10 years, a 100 years, a 1,000 years hence, endless sky searchings, proddings and pokings of Mars and elsewhere, turn up nothing, save rocks, gas, ice and a vacuum?”

But what if we discovered evidence of life elsewhere in our 1,001st year of searching?  Actually, his article, entitled “Let’s face it: we’re all alone in this vast universe” is meaningless. There might be life elsewhere in the universe; there might not be.  It doesn’t make the slightest difference what the truth is because man is intensely curious and will keep on looking.

One thought on “We’ll keep on looking for life elsewhere

  1. I am reminded of how American Indians welcomed the white settlers at the outset. Soon it became clear that the settlers wanted more than new friends, but wanted their land etc, as well!!

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