There’s a hell of a nice universe next door. Let’s go.”
For the first time in decades, the realistic possibility of going to Mars has been brought forward and placed on the table for discussion and debate. I’ve been carrying on a conversation with a friend over the past few weeks about the immediate and future ramifications of mankind expanding beyond the moon to the planets… and then on. Central to this discussion and all our spacefaring is the question: Is this a universe where Intelligent Life Is Everywhere (ILIE) or are we alone in the cold infinities?
That question came to mind this morning when an email from the friend mentioned above said:
….if, indeed, life and intelligent life is as prevalent as we think it should be, why aren’t we (a) intercepting millions of alien broadcasts in the electromagnetic spectrum, and (b) positively inundated with alien landings?
One reason that is disturbing in a deep way is that we’re all wrong, and we’re all alone… What if, in all those billions of galaxies, we’re it. Gives me the shivers.
….Look at us, mankind. We’ve been given the gift of intelligence, and the ability to expand our ecosystem out into space, where, with some significant but not insurmountable effort, we could spread like a proverbial virus.
All we need do is figure out how to make an Ezekial’s wheel within a wheel to take us away to the middle of the air.
Still I suspect that we are, indeed, alone. Or, if not exactly alone, alone enough that it makes no practical difference.
Many years ago I read a stirring and beautiful book by Guy Murchie called The Seven Mysteries of Life. It is a complicated bit of scientific romanticism and I won’t go into it here in detail. Besides I’m sure if I re-read it now it would seem antiquated, even quaint. But at some point in that book, Murchie began to take on the equation (Googlenumberofstars- XBadforintelligentlife stars=X Stars Supporting IntelligentLife) that forms the foundation for the Just One World of Intelligent Life (JOWOIL) Religion. A similar declension is known as The Fermi paradox. An argument encapsulated in Enrico Fermi’s famous question“Where is everybody?”
This Goldilocks style of argument removes stars from the board of intelligent life for being in too close to the center of galaxies, being multiple, being too big, too small, too young, too old, etcetera, etcetera, and turtles all the way down. This gets you a much smaller number of stars with (we hope) planets galore and then, through the application of other elements in Fermi’s paradox that reduces that number over and over until you arrive at 1 — the single planet on which we have discovered (semi)intelligent life –Earth.
On the other hand, we have the presently-popular religion currently professed by hundreds of millions of secular souls, The universe is vast hence Intelligent Life Is Everywhere (ILIE). Believe!
They are both still religions and we are returned, just when we thought we’d escaped into the one true faith of Intelligent Life Is Everywhere (ILIE), back to a situation of dueling faiths each playing a slightly different tune even if the underlying harmonic blends. But let’s boost the All-Alone track for now and dampen the ILIE part of the mix. Let’s say that we are all alone and that Murchie’s argument is correct. After all, the All-Aloners do have a planet to stand on. The ILIEs need at least two planets showing intelligent life to be persuasive.
If we are alone and we are in the “a fluke of the universe, a glitch” category, then what we do will hardly matter to anything other than ourselves. Hence, we need to take responsibility for our actions as a race. Mars is the next baby step.
If we are all that is we need to keep going — if only from the imperative that life must keep going even if it is to no purpose other than simple reproduction. To achieve that with any certainty we have to create, it seems to me — as it does to, but not because of, Elon Musk — a second planet just as an insurance policy, a safe haven. This is, to my mind, the most cogent argument for Mars. Mars is a backup.
Of course, in technical terms, going to Mars in the near future with the technology on hand will probably be similar to launching balsa log rafts into the Pacific in the Kon Tiki era, but that doesn’t mean we won’t do it. (The only real limits to this are 1) the vehicles cost a lot more than balsa rafts and 2) a foolish contemporary desire on our part to make sure that everyone gets there safe and sound. (We’ll get over that in the manner of the early Portuguese explorers whose motto was, “It is important to travel. It is not important to live”.) It’s important to recall that in the beginning of the Age of Discovery, we were using the cutting edge 15th century technology of navigation, cartography, and maritime technology embodied in the caravel. Implicit in caravel was the lunar lander, it just took centuries to build it. But we got there and to Tranquility Base by and by. Mars is just another further destination, a port of call.
In the Home and Alone theory of intelligent life in the universe, Mars is key. If we can get there and establish ourselves then we will have transformed humanity from Fluke to Seed. This is especially stimulating to the ILIE Religion because it will seem to be something we’ve done all by ourselves without any help from metaphysical realms… that pesky something named God. And keeping God out of the new SETI religion is essential. A continued state of “No God Nowhere” is more essential to ILIE believers than finding intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Keeping God out preserves the ILIE religion as the one true faith of state-worship and any religion’s first imperative is that there can be only one.
I keep returning to the words God and Religion. The injection of these terms into a 21st-century discussion of things scientific always makes people very uncomfortable. Indeed, it makes me uncomfortable but that is just a post-mortem effect of that insidious state propaganda. Today, the ideological atmosphere of intellectual discussion has become so stultifying that one seems to have nothing to do with the other. Even though science originally derived from theologians and was the handmaiden of religion for centuries we did, at some time in the God-forsaken 20th century come to a tacit agreement to keep science and religion in separate spheres where,
Never the twain shall meet
Til Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat.
I am not a man of traditional religion. My church-going activities are sparse, to say the least. I’m what I call A Christian in Crisis Only. Make me fearful or make me terrified or make me hurt deeply on an emotional level, and you’ll find me on my knees praying in a church or even on a back lawn somewhere. Other times I go blithely about my business. But that’s not the state I’m talking about when I bring God into this discussion.
To my small mind, limited as it is, I’ve been noticing a tendency at the extreme reaches of physics and the observable universe to touch the metaphysical. This is the phenomenon that’s called A universe not only stranger than we imagine, but a universe stranger than we *can* imagine. Today the metaphysical heresy is found from string theory to the Webb telescope. The cathedral of physics/ astronomy/ biology/ mathematics has its high priests, and what they are preaching from their visions of the far edges of the microsphere and the macrosphere on a lot of levels boggles the minds of lesser mortals. But we take them on, well, faith. [continue reading…]