Destiny Or Chance Revisited

Stuart Ross Taylor 2012, 523.2

"Uniqueness, it appears, is the common property of planets."

"... while the possibility of intelligent life resembling Homo sapiens elsewhere was assessed to be zero."

"Has the situation changed? Yes, in the sense that it has gotten worse. ... our familiar solar system itself, with its tidy circular orbits, appears to be a rarity. The very architecture of the solar system, familiar to every schoolchild, appears to have arisen through chance collisions and migrations..."

Combined with David Waltham's recent "Lucky Planet", Ward and Brownlee's "Rare Earth", and the realization that the Earth would be too hot for our existence had we needed 10% more time to evolve, it appears unlikely that other humans, or even "shirtsleeve-compatible" environments, exist elsewhere, close enough to be observed. Which suggests:

A brief divergence from Taylor

Shirtsleeve environments and humanlike beings may be rare, but we have no evidence (pro or con) that other kinds of intelligent life may form in other environments. We have large brains because they were needed for survival, both in a rapidly changing environment, and in the eusocial tribes we evolved into. Other situations might have evolved other kinds of intelligence.

Eusociality is probably the key - isolated individuals could have large brains, but without culture and language, those isolated brains might be crafty, but not really intelligent - they could not pass a Turing test. A collection of organized transistors might pass Turing's test, someday.

Perhaps an ant colony could pass as well. Ant social organization is governed by pheromones and chemical signals; our brains work because neurons move action potentials electrically. Chemical signals are too simple, undirected, and slow to form a colony into anything like a mind. But in a world with different chemistry, conductive filaments might be excreted to move signals around a large colony; perhaps the hyphae of fungus would do, which can connect over tens of kilometers. Humans are composite beings, with perhaps a kilogram of gut bacteria tuned for mutual survival. Other creatures elsewhere, in different conditions, might find different ways of solving the "intelligence problem". And those creatures might develop different ways to be mobile, perhaps enhancing their filaments into wires, transistors, motors, and radio connections. We may be rare, but other forms may not be. We just don't know.


DestinyOrChance (last edited 2015-09-04 00:16:39 by KeithLofstrom)