Life in the Sun?
Stephen Hawking has something to do with a new hundred million dollar effort to find life out there, somewhere. A writer from The Washington Post wrote a banal, and dare I say it, silly (I dared! I dared!) essay about life elsewhere. Well, at least he was trying. He failed, but tried, which is more than I expect from the media's mass manipulators of mendacity, these days. (Coffee makes me alliterative. Sorry. I’ll try to hold back.)
What irritated me for days after reading it, though, was his conflation of “life” with “intelligent life” elsewhere. I see it all the time, but for some reason it stuck in my cranium, this time. He then conflated more – a veritable conflation fest – lumping "life" and "intelligent life" with “intelligent life that might inadvertently send its sit-coms sailing across the galaxy to SETI.” (I paraphrased that last bit.)
He kept referring to “life” elsewhere, followed by various theories for why it hadn’t contacted us (they were afraid we might eat them, etc.)
Has the duck-billed platypus contacted us? The iguana? The baboon?
I won’t even do a little Google research for a free blog – gotta pay me for that – but I think life started around 4 1/2 billion years ago on earth. I might be off by a billion years, but it doesn’t really matter.
The thoughtless conflation of what we are, with “life”, shows the same lack of imagination that makes people doubt how evolution could create us in the first place. We cannot comprehend a billion years. It is a long, long, long, long, time. Our brains simply cannot grasp it.
And then consider, that in all those billions of years, the amount of time in which we have stood even the vaguest chance of comprehending, even slightly, our place in the universe is...take your pick: Fifty years? Five hundred? I’ll give you ten thousand. (But, still, how long have we been beaming I Love Lucy to the infinite void? Not that long.)
Of all the billions of species and subspecies that have existed on the earth for billions of years, there is an almost infinitely small time during which we have begun to comprehend our place in the universe.
And by “we”, I don’t mean to include that guy sitting across from you on the subway car. Probably not him. My friend, an astronomer, found a news-stand owner in Paris who didn’t even know we’d been to the moon.
Intelligent life? Um...
That is, it’s not even all of us who can grasp our place on the planet, much less the universe. Most can’t grasp much beyond football scores and the bra sizes of celebrities. (Please don’t go Googling that, now. I know how it is. But I'll make a deal with you. Two more paragraphs, and I promise you, a link to Bra Sizes of Celebrities. Just hold on two seconds. Please. I swear you’ll have moment of Zen, or something like that, and it will all have been worth it. Two seconds. It’s all I ask. Please.)
There are, on the other hand, octopi ( not literally on the other hand - focus, focus, we’re almost through this) who have advanced nervous systems and brains, perhaps more advanced than that news-stand owner, who can (and do!) change their color and texture to camouflage themselves against vastly different backgrounds. (Maybe they could camouflage themselves against your face, even. Okay. I promise. A video on that, at the bottom. Just please read on. Your appreciation of your place in the universe depends on it.)
To have an amazing brain, however, and do what we have done with it (you and me, not, y'know, that guy on the subway playing...whatever...on his iPhone, or, more the point, that octopus), the evidence shows.... (to repeat)...to have an amazing brain and do what we have done with it (twice is nice) almost never happens.
(My books have editors. Can you see why? I can. I just have caffeine, and a free hour this morning.)
To be what we are, and do what some of us have done, is....highly uncommon.
* * *
It takes no great imagination, just a quick flip through the channels on your cable box, to picture hominids with different ears and strange accents inhabiting our universe with us. You know, those same guys how might have inadvertently sent their sit-coms sailing across the void to SETI.
Stephen Hawking once posited intelligent life living in stars, so different from us that we cannot comprehend it, at least not yet. I’m much more willing to buy that.
But it takes a great deal of imagination to picture the opposite of what it used to take a great deal of imagination to picture, but what the current evidence actually shows: There might be nothing even remotely like us in the entire universe.
Kind of makes you appreciate what you are, doesn’t it?
Bowing to the Weight of the World:
Intelligent Life On Our Planet that Doesn't Send Sitcoms Sailing Across the Galaxy