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.
Mine is a primitive little mind driven by poetry and romanticism with a veneer of pragmatism to get through the day. I tend to look at the whole of what is now known and know that right now all we can know for certain is just how deeply ignorant we are. We’ve advanced at a great rate, but all this advancement has only gotten us is a vague inkling of what there really is left to know, to discover. And because of this, I think — or rather I believe — that what the human race is about to become, in a way we are too ignorant now to know, is a seed.
If we are home alone then, if we have any purpose whatsoever, we are a means by which the universe can not only know and perceive itself but also a way of whipping up a hot-fudge sundae for itself. (Not so trivial as you may think.) We’re certainly a driven form of matter. You see that around you every day. And we are impatient beasts. We want the stars and we want them now.
We are born knowing how to pounce, but we have to learn patience. We are greedy obsessive animals who don’t understand the gap between desire and gratification, and that creates no end of trouble for us. We think we are doing so many things wrong because as moral beings we can see what is wrong with what we do. Guilty creatures, we seldom think of all the things we are doing right, not the least of which is taking only about a century (an inch of time) to get out of Earth’s gravity well. It’s true that the furthest we have gotten is 13 billion miles, but it’s a start.
I guess I’ll have to take Pascal’s wager and go with God until there is evidence of absence. I’m on the side that believes we are here with some sort of purpose that we are not yet equipped to understand (Please recall that all we really are is a smart monkey.) Even though we don’t know why we do the things we do, but we will be driven outward, in time, until we do understand it. How, I do not know, but the hominid paddling a log across a river didn’t know about the International Space Station, did he?
Everybody needs something worthy of belief. I believe we have a purpose, and probably a purpose given to us by what I would call a God who sets things up and lets them roll. But for the rollout to work out, free will has to be in the mix. Otherwise, this one planet would be hip-deep in slime mold and that would be the end of the story. Since it isn’t, it comforts me to believe that we have greater ends in store for us and that, as a race, we will somehow make it through our current difficulties. Measured against the sweep of time and the universe, our present problems are quite trivial.
Remember that the moon is already part of our story, if only for a golf shot. Mars? That will be added to the story soon. Beyond that, I cant see, but I do like Our Story So Far even if I dislike many of the chapters.
I like stories that don’t let you know the ending. Mars is one of them. I’ll be gone into God’s greater mystery before this chapter ends and the next begins. I like to think at some point well be at the part of the story where somebody like Gully Foyle in Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination stands up in front of a crowd somewhere and rants at them, Blow yourselves to Christ gone or come and find me. I make you men. I make you great. I give you the stars!
Or, in perhaps a less dramatic way, somebody says: We are here. The stars are there. It is only a matter of going.
We’re either alone in the universe or part of a maddening crowd. Either way, man, you gotta go.
If we do not go to Mars we will be like dung beetles on the last bolus of shit in an endless lifeless desert. We’ll cling harder and harder to the Earth, multiplying and strangling it. Resources that could go to expansion, instead go to more weapons to ensure that we have firm control over our little dung ball of nutrients, all the while depleting it and making it more uninhabitable. Unlike the dung beetles, there’s no elephant waiting around to drop us another one in the foreseeable future.
I think we’ve misinterpreted the slogan “Earth First.” Perhaps it really means “Earth’s the First stop of many on the line”.
Are we really alone? Will we, in the vernacular, blow it? I think the answer to the latter question is no. As for the former, well…
One of the many curses of free will is that it can remove, at will, God from the equation of the universe. But removing God does not remove the need to believe. The result is a host of secular faiths of which the assertion of Intelligent Life Is Everywhere (ILIE) is central to their catechisms.
No God means that Mind is God. No Soul means that Self is Soul. That is the religion that slaughtered 300 million souls in the last century and is winding up for round two in this one. The Intelligent Life Is Everywhere (ILIE) religion is a losers’ choice that ends not in the stars but in the killing fields. The choice of God’s way is the choice that leads to Mars and beyond — as a seed.
Me? I’m going for the win but Who really knows?
Wake me if we get a telegram from the Greater Magellanic Cloud.