Many distinguished scientists proclaim that the universe is teeming with life, at least some of it intelligent. Biologist Christian de Duve went so far as to call life “a cosmic imperative.” Yet the science has hardly changed. We are almost as much in the dark today about the pathway from nonlife to life as Charles Darwin was when he wrote, “It is mere rubbish thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter.”
There is no doubt that SETI—the search for extraterrestrial intelligence—has received a huge fillip from the recent discovery of hundreds of extrasolar planets. Astronomers think there could be billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone. Clearly, there is no lack of habitable real estate out there. Yet because we do not know the process that transformed a mishmash of chemicals into a living cell, with all its staggering complexity, it is impossible to calculate the probability that life has actually arisen on these planets. More.
Yes, that’s the trouble. And where would one look? It’s hard to know where to look when one knows next to nothing about what to look for or where.
Davies offers an interesting suggestion: If the “easy extra-terrestrial OOL” people are correct, we should find “alien” life here on Earth too.
For that matter, why shouldn’t we find “half” life?
Note: for these purposes, devolution (viruses as former independent life) doesn’t count. Anything that is on the way out, as opposed to on the way in, doesn’t count.
Anyway, maybe there is a certain grandeur in all that loneliness.
See also: Does Moore’s Law apply to origin of life? Of course, Moore’s Law is fuelled by intelligent design. If people can live with that fact, we might be on to something here.
Devolution: Getting back to the simple life
What we know and don’t know about the origin of life
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