Is Life Special Just Because It’s Rare?
For centuries, we human beings have speculated on the possible existence and prevalence of life elsewhere in the universe. For the first time in history, we can begin to answer that profound question. At this point, the results of the Kepler mission can be extrapolated to suggest that something like 10 percent of all stars have a habitable planet in orbit. That fraction is large. With 100 billion stars just in our galaxy alone, and so many other galaxies out there, it is highly probable that there are many, many other solar systems with life. From this perspective, life in the cosmos is common.
However, there’s another, grander perspective from which life in the cosmos is rare. That perspective considers all forms of matter, both animate and inanimate. Even if all “habitable” planets (as determined by Kepler) do indeed harbor life, the fraction of all material in the universe in living form is fantastically small. Assuming that the fraction of planet Earth in living form, called the biosphere, is typical of other life-sustaining planets, I have estimated that the fraction of all matter in the universe in living form is roughly one-billionth of one-billionth. Here’s a way to visualize such a tiny fraction. If the Gobi Desert represents all of the matter flung across the cosmos, living matter is a single grain of sand on that desert. How should we think about this extreme rarity of life?
Find us just one extraterrestrial life form, however simple, just a cell, and this discussion could go somewhere.
Stuck for that, author Lightman then goes on about the evils of vitalism and belief in life after death, and the way to find meaning in a fully natural universe
I realize that there is a certain amount of circularity in the above comments. For meaning is relevant, perhaps, only in the context of minds and intelligence. If the minds don’t exist, then neither does meaning. However, the fact is that we do exist. And we have minds. We have thoughts. The physicists may contemplate billions of self-consistent universes that do not have planets or stars or living material, but we should not neglect our own modest universe and the fact of our own existence. And even though I have argued that our bodies and brains are nothing more than material atoms and molecules, we have created our own cosmos of meaning. We make societies. We create values. We make cities. We make science and art. And we have done so as far back as recorded history. More.
He also thinks space aliens have done so.
Space aliens? We are stuck for a single ET cell. But never for abstruse thoughts about these matters.
Do you ever get the feeling that naturalism is stuck too far down in a rut to be rescued before it goes into orbit from China?
But surely we can’t conjure an entire advanced civilization?
How do we grapple with the idea that ET might not be out there?
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