Thursday, November 29, 2012

Are We Alone in the Universe?

My 3,200 word, 8 page article“Are We Alone in the Universe?”  is available on the DESIP website.

My article comprises an introduction to and summary of a 1985 article on “Intelligent Life in Space” by Edward Olson, in Astronomy Magazine. Olson’s article radically overturned my earlier views on the likelihood that alien intelligence might exist elsewhere in our universe. Later I also became reconciled to the notion that human travel will never extend beyond our own solar system.  

Four  paragraphs selected from “Are We Alone in the Universe?”  follow.

From “Are We Alone in the Universe?”
by Ronald Bleier

As a high school student, when I learned that our universe was populated by billions of galaxies, many of which are similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy, it seemed logical to suppose that the laws of chance alone would be sufficient to produce perhaps a large number of examples of alien intelligence. In those heady post WWII years, I had little doubt that human destiny incorporated and was given purpose by inter-stellar and perhaps also inter-galactic travel. By no means, I believed, were our frontiers restricted to our own solar system.

The possibility of the existence of extra-terrestrial intelligent life may be of more than academic importance in that it helps to focus attention on critical issues concerning the survivability of our civilization. As we move past the first decade of the 21st century, it's becoming clearer that limits to resources, the deterioration of our environment, and the unpredictable political effects of rising per capita scarcity seriously threaten the long term and even short term existence of our modern technological civilization.

The bulk of Professor Olson’s article is devoted to critically examining the famous Drake equation, a formulation based on the theory that alien intelligence is likely to be a common occurrence. The key point underlying Olson’s article is that we need to take seriously the alternative possibility that we are indeed alone in the universe.  Two critical themes in Professor Olson’s article, summarized below, deserve special emphasis:
1. Intelligent life in the universe is not as prevalent as we might think.
2. Cognitive intelligence is not a necessary or even a desirable survival trait.
Olson  reminds us that if we are indeed alone in the universe, "such an outcome could carry far deeper implications for us than would a galaxy full of other chattering civilizations."  He quotes James Trefil who wrote that "[I]f we succeed in destroying ourselves, it will be a tragedy not only for the human race but for the entire Galaxy, which will have lost the fruit of a 15-billion year experiment in the formation of sentient life."

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