Extraterrestrial life

Princeton scientists: No reason to assume life on other planets

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5 eyed space creature
He's not just over the next galaxy after all.

In “Are We Alone In the Universe? New Analysis Says Maybe” (LiveScience, 25 July 2011) Natalie Wolchover reports

Scientists engaged in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) work under the assumption that there is, in fact, intelligent life out there to be found. A new analysis may crush their optimism.

Hey, Wolchover, have faith! they’ve been breathing optimism for decades. It’s all they’ve got and it’s all they know.

Their optimism relies on one factor in particular: In the equation, the probability of life arising on suitably habitable planets (ones with water, rocky surfaces and atmospheres) is almost always taken to be 100 percent. As the reasoning goes, the same fundamental laws apply to the entire universe, and because those laws engendered the genesis of life on Earth – and relatively early in its history at that – they must readily spawn life elsewhere, too. As the Russian astrobiologist Andrei Finkelstein put it at a recent SETI press conference, “the genesis of life is as inevitable as the formation of atoms.”

But in a new paper published on arXiv.org, astrophysicist David Spiegel at Princeton University and physicist Edwin Turner at the University of Tokyo argue that this thinking is dead wrong. Using a statistical method called Bayesian reasoning, they argue that the life here on Earth could be common, or it could be extremely rare – there’s no reason to prefer one conclusion over the other. With their new analysis, Spiegel and Turner say they have erased the one Drake factor scientists felt confident about and replaced it with a question mark.

No one in here but us chickens then … ?

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7 Replies to “Princeton scientists: No reason to assume life on other planets

  1. 1
    LivingstoneMorford says:

    Of course, this doesn’t rule out the possibility that some intelligent designer(s) designed some life forms on other planets.

  2. 2

    LivingstoneMorford @1:

    Exactly, which is why finding life elsewhere will tell us precious little one way or another about whether life is designed. It simply isn’t relevant. Very interesting, mind you, but not relevant (unless one has a philosophical position that either (i) we are alone, or (ii) life is ubiquitous in the universe).

  3. 3
    Mung says:

    Life on other planets is logically entailed by Astrobiology.

  4. 4

    Mung @3:

    Say what? Are you saying that the field of astrobiology assumes the existence of life on other planets [fair enough] or that life must be on other planets [not fair enough]?

  5. 5
    Mung says:

    I’m just making fun of people who think ID theory entails a Designer.

  6. 6
    Ilion says:

    ‘Entails’ or ‘assumes”?

  7. 7
    Mung says:

    Well, the argument was that an Intelligent Design was a logical necessity for ID, so I use entails.

    In any event, what they deny is that ID is an inference.

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