Thought for the day

by Matthew Cobb

Maybe it’s a sign of my own advanced age, but I found this thought rather interesting. Life has been around on Earth for a bit over 3 billion years, maybe even 4 billion years. Physicists tell us that the Sun will eventually swell and turn into a red giant (it won’t explode in a supernova as it isn’t massive enough). But before it turns into that fat old sun in the sky and swallows up the Earth, it will have rendered life on Earth impossible by simply making the place too darn hot. That will happen in around 1 billion years. So if you reckon that the window of opportunity for life on Earth is around 4 or 5 billion years, that means life is around 75% or 80% of the way through our alloted span – on this planet at least. So, Life, looking back on things, what do you think the best bits were? What was your greatest achievement? And what do you hope to do in the years that remain? After all, you’re someway along the downhill slope now…

102 Comments

  1. Posted November 20, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I still think dinosaurs were the best thing I ever did. Such a shame about that meteor. Yes, I know we’ve got birds now, but let’s be honest… they’re not exactly awe-inspiring, are they?

    If I could go back and do it all again, I would probably make bacteria bigger. At least the size of tennis balls. As it was, it took ages for anyone even to notice them.

  2. Posted November 20, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    immortality!

  3. Posted November 20, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Looking forward to it. Jerry said he’s bringing the cigars.

  4. S A GOULD
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Science promised I’d have a brand-new stainless steel body by now. They lied.

  5. Nathan
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    …And modern science has only been around for about 400 years.

    Science = 400/4 billion = 1.0 × 10-7

  6. Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I would make positive change and make the world a better place while we live on it…

    • bhoytony
      Posted November 20, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      I’d like to build the world a home
      And furnish it with love
      Grow apple trees and honey bees
      And snow-white turtle doves

      • Dominic
        Posted November 21, 2011 at 4:11 am | Permalink

        …and then send in a peregrine!

  7. agentwhim
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Duh! Kittehs, obviously.

  8. Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Matt – You are an optimist if you think the expanding sun will do us in. Humans are way too smart for that; we will think of much quicker ways.

    • Matthew Cobb
      Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      I’m talking about LIFE not humanity. I don’t think even we can succeed where the end-Permian mass extinction failed…

  9. Steve Smith
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    will have rendered life on Earth impossible by simply making the place too darn hot. That will happen in around 1 billion years

    Less BT a factor of about two. It’s interesting to speculate on how much room is left for evolution of life on earth. Because the sun is in it’s middle age, complex life “only” has a future remaining of the time separating us from the Cambrian:

    The Earth’s increasing surface temperature will accelerate the inorganic CO2 cycle, reducing its concentration to levels lethally low for plants (10 ppm for C4 photosynthesis) in approximately 500 million to 900 million years. The lack of vegetation will result in the loss of oxygen in the atmosphere, so animal life will become extinct within several million more years.

    We know that the sun’s evolution will kill all life relatively soon, but is there any credible speculation on what impact this inevitably hotter, drier earth will have on biological evolution, besides making everything extinct?

    • Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      A brief but extremely happy period for thermophiles.

      • Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        I don’t know how credible this is, but I would speculate that the first thing we’d see would be be range expansion for species that are already adapted to hot, dry conditions.

        The rate of environmental change would probably determine how much adaptive evolution there would be: the faster the rate of change, the more likely that a lineages would die out rather than adapt.

  10. Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Only 1B yrs left!? Wow, we bttr partay harday right now!!!

    • PB
      Posted November 21, 2011 at 5:07 am | Permalink

      Yep. We should care zip for carbon-schmarbouns — a few hundred million years earlier do not means anything. It’s the content that count, and we already have iPhones …. (something that will change the raid in Gethsemane ended very differently, what if Judas et al had iPhones?)

      😀

  11. Sastra
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    The best bits of life — it’s greatest achievement — was, from an objective point of view, one particular group of mollusks that existed 325 million years ago in a small lake in Pangaea. If you look at the odds against this amazing accomplishment it’s obvious that the cosmic constants must have been “fine-tuned” for their appearance. They didn’t just happen.

    After this, it’s all been downhill.

  12. Kevin
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Aargh! So many creationists. So little time …

  13. Stonyground
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    If it gets really hot here on Earth, is it possible that some of those outer planets will then become habitable? I suspect that the answer is possible but not likely. With regard to life generally, it adapts as long as the changes don’t happen too suddenly. Even when changes do happen suddenly, metorite, dinosaurs, other lifeforms quickly adapt and take over. When a star moves into another stage in its life, how quickly does this happen relatively?

    I had to laugh when I read the heading ‘Thought for the day’. In the UK this is the name of the daily god slot that intrudes on the BBC Radio Four current affairs program ‘Today’. Various religious luminaries are allowed to pontificate unapposed for three minutes in the middle of a serious news programme. Fortunately these fools are lampooned on a daily basis by the Rev. Dr. Peter Hearty.

    http://www.platitudes.org.uk/platblog/index.php

    • Matthew Cobb
      Posted November 20, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      As to the title – that was deliberate! I have listened to Thought for the Day (and its even more nauseating and earlier partner, Prayer for the Day) for many decades… Now I get my own back.

  14. Thanny
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    If anything like humanity is still around in a million years, much less a billion, it’s a foregone conclusion that nudging Earth into a larger orbit to counteract increasing solar output will be fairly trivial.

    It’s something we could actually do today, if we put the resources into it. One “simple” method is to drag asteroids (using a gravity tug, which is very slow but avoids many complications that rockets would have due to rotation) into carefully calculated trajectories that would steal orbital energy from Jupiter and transfer it to Earth via gravitational interactions.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted November 20, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Or put mirrors into orbit at L1 to deflect some of the incoming radiation. Again, this is something we could do today if we really wanted to.

      The key point is that once life spreads beyond its home planet, the long-term future of the solar system becomes chaotic and inherently unpredictable.

  15. DV
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Human beings are of course Life’s greatest achievement. Before we came along, Life was literally unexamined and not worth living.

    • Posted November 20, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      No other one species could ever have been held accountable for such massive destruction!

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted November 20, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        That may be overstating it. The invention of photosynthesis and the resulting oxygenation of the atmosphere caused worldwide mass extinction of anaerobic lifeforms, and ultimately altered the Earth’s climate far beyond anything we have (so far) achieved.

        • Posted November 20, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

          ah yes, but this is why I was careful to say no one SPECIES! 😉

          • Torbjorn Larsson, OM
            Posted November 20, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

            But the invention was in a population. (Yeah, I know, not a biological species.)

            • Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

              well i don’t think photosynthesis was invented anyway… can’t imagine it was a sudden thing. the massive oxygenation event didn’t even necessarily occur following straight on from the evolution of photosynthesis
              Anyway! I stand by my original statement 🙂

      • DV
        Posted November 20, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

        you’re more right than you think. other life forms may have been responsible for more massive destruction, but they’re unthinking bacteria! you can no more hold them accountable than hold a comet accountable for the extinction of the dinosaurs. And anyway no life was worth living then, so what?

        • Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

          i say damn that meteorite! dinosaurs were doing better than we are! such a shame…
          but i don’t think even a single species of bacteria has managed destruction on this scale anyway to be fair!

    • steve oberski
      Posted November 21, 2011 at 4:18 am | Permalink

      How very modest of us.

  16. Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Surely Decartes’ “cogito ergo sum” must have been the high point.
    It’s been a bit down hill since then.

  17. CJ
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    “So, Life, looking back on things, what do you think the best bits were? What was your greatest achievement? And what do you hope to do in the years that remain?”

    -the sex.
    -sex
    -more sex

  18. Posted November 20, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Trilobites.

    • JBlilie
      Posted November 21, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      I have a 1.2 Bya stromatolite fossil. Looking at that blows away the pyramids (etc.).

    • JBlilie
      Posted November 21, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Yes, an inordinate fondness for trilobites … and ammonites …

  19. P
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Anyone who doesn’t say ‘Trilobites’ is engaged in intense self-deception bordering on delusion.
    Look into your hearts, you know this to be true.
    But I agree witht he guy who said dinosaurs too!

  20. Posted November 20, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Homo sapiens sapiens: “So, Life, looking back on things, what do you think the best bits were”

    The evolution of photosynthesising cyanobacteria 3,000,000,000 years ago of course ~ it opened the door to Great Oxidation Event which I prefer to think of as the great die off. I sure cleaned the slate there making lots of room for something new

    Homo sapiens sapiens: “And what do you hope to do in the years that remain? After all, you’re some way along the downhill slope now…”

    You’re projecting your limitations onto me you Great Ape! Anyway, I’ve got to go ~ I’ve another interview shortly over at one of the moons of Jupiter in 332,000 years. It was nice knowing you. Don’t forget to turn the light out Life

  21. salon_1928
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Life’s best bits so far:

    Emergence – there was non-life and then there was life. I don’t even know what that demarcation looks like but I hope we figure it out.

    Evolution of Multi-cellular life – expanded the possibilities for life into “endless forms most beautiful…”

    Evolution of nervous systems and brains – life perceives its environment.

    Evolution of consciousness

    Development of science – life has a tool for understanding reality.

    For the year’s that remain:

    “Cracking the code” of life – creating “artificial” life, extending life indefinitely.

    • PB
      Posted November 21, 2011 at 5:13 am | Permalink

      Personally, evolution – or emergence – of consciousness is the best performance so far. The NI (natural intelligence) is the best piece of software ever developed, on a very complex hardware of human brain.

      But objectively, maybe the highest hurdle we managed is the evolution of eukaryote and multicellularity. Wonder there are billions of life birth-nests out there that never make it past simple life forms.

      Once we passed cambrian explosion, we basically made it! (the same way when Facebook passed the 100 mil members). Crossed the Occupy crowd! 😀

  22. Sili
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Photosynthesis.

  23. Posted November 20, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Wow, bleak.

    Don’t know about the best, but tempted to point out the worst… But I’ll restrain myself.

    I think the fact that life exists at all is a bloody achievement in itself! Or more like a marvellous accident.

    Actually, maybe that’s the best bit of life – accidents.

  24. bobsully
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, but I have more pressing issues to ponder. 😉

  25. RFW
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Life’s greatest achievement is giving vertebrates five-fingered hands (toed feet; rayed fins – take your pick).

    Think of it: if we didn’t have five fingers on each hand, how much more difficult it would be to count. Most be a divine miracle that we have five fingers to match counting, no?

    • piero
      Posted November 20, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      Wrong! If we had 8, hexadecimal would have been a cinch. Just think about it: we could have had Windows 7 before the pyramids!

      • Occam
        Posted November 20, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        …on clay tablets…

      • MadScientist
        Posted November 20, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        I prefer binary because it’s trivial to break the numbers into groups representing powers of 8 or 16. It also means I can still count to 3 if I lose all but 2 appendages.

        • Posted November 20, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

          Some cultures count the gaps between the digits (instead of the fingers or in addition to)

          Then there’s elbows, knees, noses… as placeholders

      • Circe
        Posted November 21, 2011 at 2:57 am | Permalink

        we could have had Windows 7 before the pyramids

        (emphasis mine)

        And why would giving Microsoft more time in history to run amok be necessarily a good idea? 🙂

    • Circe
      Posted November 20, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      The place value number system, which is taken for granted today, was not such an obvious discovery. An applied mathematician at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, for example, has written a paper on why its development, which was a real multi-national enterprise comprising ancient Sumeria and Babylon, India and China ought to be regarded as one of the (if not the) most important discoveries of all times.

      Here is the link to his blog post on the paper: http://experimentalmath.info/blog/2010/02/the-greatest-mathematical-discovery/

    • Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

      vertebrates (well most of them, some reptiles and amphibians have 4 and i guess I’ll leave out hooves) actually have five digits on each limb because we’ve lost a few along the evolutionary road – there were early tetrapods with 7-8 fingers, from which modern tetrapods are thought to have descended 😉

    • InfiniteImprobabilit
      Posted November 25, 2011 at 12:16 am | Permalink

      “Think of it: if we didn’t have five fingers on each hand, how much more difficult it would be to count. Most be a divine miracle that we have five fingers to match counting, no?”

      Oh, it gets better than that. Just think, our fingers are perfectly adapted to operating a computer keyboard. Just shows the Almighty knew computers were coming, doesn’t it?

      Back to five-ism, seriously, it would have been so much better if we’d had four, six or 8 fingers. 4 or 8 would have been compatible with binary and hex; while 6 or 12 factors nicely with three and four. Five is rare by comparison.

      Still, coulda been worse, we might have had seven fingers….

  26. Marella
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    We have 5 billion years until the sun enters its Red Giant phase not 1, unless they’ve changed that so recently that Wikipedia hasn’t caught up with it. So you can all relax!

    • Posted November 20, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Whew! Time euff to get my car detailed before the fiery end of the world.

    • Matthew Cobb
      Posted November 20, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      Long before it reaches red giant, the temperature gets too hot… It’s only 1 billion years, Marella, and not a day more!

      • Marella
        Posted November 20, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        OMG, I take it all back, PANIC!!!

  27. Janice C
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Trees! I’m not a scientist but I hope trees would be high on Life’s list of greatest achievements.

  28. TheMuse
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    On the downslope?!! Don’t you folks read Ray Kurweil? Its all blue skies from here on out. We will merge with our technology becoming machine human hybrids and become immortal reaching beyond the limits of our humanity and our planet and spread throughout the galaxy. All this will happen in the next 50 to 100 years. No need for eulogies. We have more than enough time.

    • Posted November 20, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      What gets me is that no one seems to explore the potentially reasonable middle ground between biologists’ conspicuous habit of excluding humans, and Kurzweil’s magic land. I know we can’t put ourselves in the story and remain objective, but acting like we never existed also seems to fall short of optimal objectivity.

      A few comments have ventured into the middle ground, but I’ve never seen an entire blog post do so. I think we could do better.

  29. MadScientist
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I remember reading a book many decades ago that stated our sun will turn into a red giant, but I think I’ve seen more recent predictions that it will become a white dwarf instead. At any rate, it is certain that this sun will not be around forever.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted November 20, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      It’s not a question of “instead”. Red giant is just a phase it passes through on its way to white dwarfhood.

    • willbell123
      Posted November 20, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

      Current Sol to Red Giant to Planetary Nebula to Red Dwarf (AFIK) to White Dwarf to Brown Dwarf to Black Dwarf. So no instead.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted November 21, 2011 at 1:17 am | Permalink

        Not quite. Red dwarves are a different class of stars, much less massive than the sun, not a stage in the evolution of sun-like stars. And brown dwarfs are not properly stars at all, just big balls of hot gas not massive enough to ignite fusion.

        • willbell123
          Posted November 29, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

          Oops bin awhile.

  30. dunstar
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    the best bit is knowing that it’s 80% done. lol.

  31. colluvial
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    The greatest achievement, one that may last until the heat death of the universe, was creating self-replicating machines. Having started accidentally, then surreptitiously after a failed experiment, natural selection eventually produced complex, mechanical life forms. Too bad about the biological life forms, though. They didn’t seem relevant.

  32. Marella
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Eyes, eyes are the greatest achievement. My only complaint is that other animals get to see more colours than we do. I want to be able to see ultra violet like birds and insects.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted November 20, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      Seeing ultraviolet wavelengths is no big deal. We have cameras and telescopes that can do that.

      What makes it interesting is that many birds have four or even five different color receptors instead of just three. So it’s not just more colors; it’s more dimensions of color. Our brains aren’t even wired to understand what that means.

      • Marella
        Posted November 21, 2011 at 1:59 am | Permalink

        That is what I meant, being able to see UV via camera is just not good enough. Think of all the colours we’re missing. *Sulks*

    • MadScientist
      Posted November 20, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      No problem – you have the pigments to see UV and your cornea transmits UV. You just need to replace those human eye lenses of yours. Cows on the other hand transmit UV to the retina but have no suitable UV photoreceptors.

      • Marella
        Posted November 21, 2011 at 2:01 am | Permalink

        What about people who’ve had artificial lenses installed due to cataracts?

  33. palefury
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Personally, I would think it would be the cyanobacteria oxygenating the earth’s atmosphere about 2700-2300 million years ago. First the free oxygen was taken up the oxidization of chemicals such as iron in the earths oceans, but eventually there was so much oxygen that it’s concentration reached 20% in the atmosphere, and this allowed a source of energy necessary to permit the evolution of oxygen depended multicellular organisms (e.g. lol cats)

  34. Still learning
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Life has a bucket list?

  35. john
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Beatles, then The Beatles.

    • Posted November 20, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      I think you mean: “Beetles, then The Beatles”

      • Circe
        Posted November 21, 2011 at 3:59 am | Permalink

        I think at this point a dose of JBS Haldane is in order:

        “God has an inordinate fondness for beetles.”

        Apparently a friend of Haldane, when asked if Haldane actually used those words, added, “J.B.S.H. himself had an inordinate fondness for the statement: he repeated it frequently.”

        • Circe
          Posted November 21, 2011 at 4:03 am | Permalink

          JBS Haldane seems to be a goldmine for quotes. Here is another:
          “My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.”

          • whyevolutionistrue
            Posted November 21, 2011 at 7:47 am | Permalink

            I’d appreciate it if you could give me the source of that quote: it’s too good not to use!

            cheers,
            mgmt.

  36. Posted November 20, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Eukaryotes. Not just because Dawkins thought so, although that does help. Creatures eating each other, but surviving the ordeal, and becoming friends, and breeding successfully in that condition. Nothing else in the history of life, not even the origin, was that wacky.

  37. willbell123
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Gaia does first interview:
    Greatest Achievement, the Cambrian Explosion, I like the Opabinia, Anomalocaris, and Wiwaxia I think if I could go back I think someone else would get the position you mollusks, cats, worms, arthropods, starfish, and rotifers got.
    Unfortunately I haven’t gotten another burst of inspiration like that. I was muddling around with the dinosaurs and they could have gone far if it weren’t for me getting the concussion, froze the lot of them.
    My biggest regret: not giving animals chlorophyll, that didn’t work out especially with all those Humans, ick, biggest regret #2.

    • Marella
      Posted November 21, 2011 at 2:02 am | Permalink

      What about Marella splendens?? That’s my fave.

  38. Torbjorn Larsson, OM
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    – Best bit: abiogenesis.

    – Greatest achievement: photosynthesis – which made so many diverse minerals and life forms possible.

    – Remaining years: seed other planets; extend biosphere lifetime on this one.

    Remaining lifetime is iffy to calculate btw. You can see estimates between 0.2 – 1.5 Ga.

    Even then not all effects are onboard yet. There are papers that point out that the increase productivity of a hot Earth would lead to a better nitrification and bind nitrogen. A less dense atmosphere could in principle give Earth another 0.5 – 1 Ga.

    • Torbjorn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 20, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

      Less dense atmosphere -> less GW.

  39. Neil
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    A billion years! Whew, you had me scared. At first I read a million years.

  40. Srikar
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Best achievement : Sex.

  41. TJR
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 3:11 am | Permalink

    Llamas.

    • Dominic
      Posted November 21, 2011 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      Never alarm a llama farmer.

      • TJR
        Posted November 21, 2011 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        Is it OK with an alpaca farmer?

  42. Jack M.
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    I am only the current iteration of the highest form of complexity arising from matter in the path of energy flow to entropy. I maximize that flow by maintaining myself far from equilibrium for as long as I can at a greater entropy cost than if I didn’t. I expect to be surpassed in my ability to maximize energy flow to entropy by a greater complexity than me – an AI of my own creation. That will be my greatest achievement, and my last.

    • Chris Granger
      Posted November 21, 2011 at 5:18 am | Permalink

      That was poetic. 🙂

      • Jack M.
        Posted November 21, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink

        Thanks Chris.

  43. Luis Rosa
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 5:09 am | Permalink

    my best bits were cognitive agents, with central nervous system, which are interested in achieving truth and knowledge. it’s amazing to see how they try! they thing they know some things – and in certain cases they’re right. but when it comes to probabilities and inductive arguments about the past/future, they frequently, if not always, fall into error. so, i’m letting they thing their organism and environment will just be destroyed by some physical conditions, while I’m gladly assured they are wrong in this case!

  44. Posted November 21, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Another argument for resolving the Fermi “Paradox”, perhaps… If the mean lifetime for a life-hospitable planet is somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-6 billion years, and it the mean time for intelligent life to evolve is similar… well, you’ve just cut the number of potential intelligent civilizations in half. And those numbers are just made up; the mean time for intelligent life to evolve could be 12 billion years, and we just got lucky!

    Personally, I think the main answer to the Fermi “Paradox” is simply the distances involved, combined with the fact that, if our technological progress is any kind of benchmark, perhaps technological civilizations are only radio-bright for a century or so, between the time they develop analog radio communications and when they develop efficient (and much lower energy) digital methods of transmission.

    I do, however, dream that there may be a galactic community of sorts near the galaxy’s core, where stars are far closer together. Even if the universe is rife with intelligent life, way out here in the boonies we are unlikely to encounter it. Near the galaxy’s center, however… if life is common enough, then there could be neighbors every few light years. Not close enough for a booming interstellar trade to develop, obviously, but close enough to make radio contact and perhaps even to send ambassadors. That would be something…

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted November 21, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      Yes, stars are much closer together near the core, but by the same token, there’s a lot more violent activity going on there such as star formation, supernova explosions, close encounters that disrupt planetary systems, and so on. So the core may not be hospitable to the evolution of intelligent life. Your best bet for finding stable ancient civilizations is out in the boonies.

      • anchor
        Posted November 22, 2011 at 5:09 am | Permalink

        Ah, but if a sufficiently advanced technological (interstellar space-faring) civilizations emerge anywhere in a galaxy, the go-to place for them would be the galactic core region, where plenty of raw materials and energy resources are available for them to play with and where they could consequently exercise their ‘community’ and hobnob with each other. And they could do so without bothering the fragile life-bearing worlds that spring up in the ‘natural wilderness preserves’ of the galaxy (like us). We shouldn’t think that (intelligent) life must necessarily be permanently confined to its planet of origin, nor that evolution beyond ‘natural’ selection isn’t possible that cannot lead to extraordinarily robust ways of making a living in an interstellar environment, no matter how forbidding fragile organic organisms such as we are may consider it to be.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted November 22, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

          OK, but in that scenario what you’d have is basically a single civilization spread throughout the core and descended from the first expansive species to get there. You would not have the heterogeneous community of neighboring civilizations James Sweet described.

          • anchor
            Posted November 29, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

            “You would not have the heterogeneous community of neighboring civilizations James Sweet described.”

            It would also be a mistake to think that intelligence can’t abide diversity. In fact, there isn’t any reason to suppose that any conceivable dearth of energy or material resources at the galactic core would drive the kind of competition to exclusivity we are stuck with. There are no limits of the kind imposed on planetary inhabitants. It’s a different playing field.

  45. Adam M.
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    This is great.

  46. JBlilie
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Self replication! All else followed.

  47. anchor
    Posted November 22, 2011 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    Another way of looking at it is to consider that the history of life on Earth spent 2 and possibly 3 of those 3-4 billion years as microbes. While eukaryotic cells evolved around 1.8 billion years ago, the advent of multicellularity and the macroscopic complexity and diversity they ultimately allowed didn’t kick in until about 600 million years ago. So the most interesting action has only transpired within the last 5th or 6th of the entire (otherwise relatively boring) history of life on Earth. Therefore, given another potential billion years of continued habitability (hopefully by organisms at least as complex as those that currently grace the planet) we might say that the planet is only about 40% of the way through the really interesting stuff. Compared to a nominal 80-year human lifetime, it’s like being a “middle-aged” 32. (One can think of the earlier 2.4 to 3.4 billion years of microbial life like having spent 120 to 170 years as a fertilized egg before cell-division and development commences just before getting born, when the “life” is reckoned to start on its ‘birthday’). But considering what only a few hundreds of millions of years had wrought (the emergence of pretty able sensory apparatus and info-processing nerves organized into brains, if not intelligence, for example) who can say what life might accomplish given another billion years before its enforced retirement…but only on this particular birth-world.

  48. pkevans
    Posted November 28, 2011 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    Colour and form … so much beauty has evolved so far! I guess the question is whether there is only one species that appreciates such things … I think not!
    http://www.origin09.org
    http://www.origin011.wordpress.com


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