Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Intelligent Life, Advanced Civilizations might just be very Rare in the Galaxy.

Humans have for thousands of years looked upward and into the night sky, for their God's exist up in the Heavens and the very Gods are responsible for the planets, moons, and even Stars that one can see. When Zeus, Jupiter, and Ra were dethroned and cast into the shadows of human history and the monotheistism became common, the mysteries of the world began to fade with the enlightenment of the scientific discoveries and thoughts upon evolution began to occur, astrobiology was born as a discipline.

As discipline, astrobiology considers the aspect that life occurs on planetary systems and even neighboring planets. Yet, even with the plausibility that life may reside on Mars, methogenetic bacteria that contribute methane gas to the atmosphere, we still do not have verifiable proof. No micro-organism or bacteria has been collected, analyzed, or even genome sequenced and compared with terrestrial organisms and bacteria from the Earth. One could argue the aspect of panspermia, or the transfer of biological and bacterial organisms from one habitable planet to another; did life arise on Mars and then transfer to Earth or vise versa? Or that microbial bacteria life exist out in space and via asteroids and comets arrive to the planets and then begin a long evolutionary path of diversification that leads to unique species. Did that occur on Venus, Mars, or even the moon Europa? The Earth is a virtual bacterial garden with life existing in the Polar regions to the Tropical forests and then to the depths of the oceans and even 2 miles below the surface in the gold mines in Africa.

Like it or not, even every human that walks around is covered in bacteria. Even taking a hot shower will not destroy some of the various species of bacteria that live on the skins surface. Bacterial life has existed with humanity for over 125,000 years and even for several million years as our species developed from the hominid ancestors of 3.5 million years ago.

How did life begin on Earth, 4.3 or 3.7 Billion years ago? What was the chemical process that lead to the formation of the peptides that eventually became incorporated into the DNA sequences of life? There are a thousand questions and many of them have been answered, but further questions remain unknown.

Does intelligent life exist out there in the night sky? Can we talk and communicate with a Alien Species? If they happen to exist, do they look like us and should we call them "Vulcan's or Klingons"? Awe, a good old Klingon Opera or a Romulan Opera would suffice with some of that Andorran Blue Brandy as the respected Dr. Hawking plays a hand of poker with Lt. Data and Lt. Worf.

Yet, we should take a look at the infamous Drake Equation and consider that "Humanity" is the only one that has arose to even question the possibility of life else where. In 1962, Frank Drake devised the equation to give meaning upon the possibility of Aliens existing somewhere out in the depth of Space on a habitable planet, thus is the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence life, SETI. One can google "Drake Equation" or even Wikipedia the actual equation. The summation of which is that we only really know of one species; humanity, that exists and has become technologically capable of venturing out into space or even send their broadcasting signals out into the depth of space.

But does Intelligent life exist? Well, that is the ultimate goal of SETI to discover.

However, intelligent life or life that is comparable to 'as we know it' may actually be rare. Humanity may never actually talk or communicate with another species from another star system, sadly the Vulcan's or the Klingon's might not exist at all. Or even Aliens that "want to come to Earth and ravage the planet for mineral extraction and take all of the fresh water", to paraphrase Dr. Hawking. One might be asking the question "Why" or "What is he talking about"?

What is being talked about is human evolution and then broadening that aspect outward to another solar system, so this is a 'thought concept' with broader aspects upon Alien life. There is a discussion in the article: Ancient Viral Invasion Shaped Human Genome that should be considered when thinking about the possibility of life, or intelligent life, existing else where in the galaxy. The article states and quoting Professor Raymond L. White; "In particular, it was discovered that specific types of viruses that inserted themselves in the human genomes millions of years ago have dramatically changed the gene regulatory network in human stem cells" and "the investigators go further and demonstrate that many of the sites are embedded within a class of DNA sequences called "transposable" elements because of their ability to move to new places in the genome." Furthermore, the author, Professor Raymond L. White, adds to the discussion "Indeed, many think that regulatory changes are at the heart of speciation and may have played a large role in the evolution of humans from their predecessors. This is likely to be a landmark paper in the field", speaking specifically about human genome fields.

Basically, what the article is stating that over millions of years the various virus and bacterial infection that occurred lead to unique changes in the genome structure and the DNA expressions. In this aspect, the various polypeptide chains and expression lead to the development of humans and subsequently our mental capacities as an intelligent species. Unfortunately, the same viral exposure with Chimpanzees and the Pongidae groups did not lead to advance intelligence levels. What we use as a marker for intelligence or how it is gaged and our ability to learn and cognitive perceive our environment and the modification that modern humans do to the Earth, are in fact due to our evolutionary stages and exposure to the various virus and bacteria over millions of years.

Dr. Jane Goodall and the primatologist can see that our closest living relative, the Bonobo or the Chimpanzee has the precursors for eventually evolving into a technological species; they use tools, they recognized themselves, they communicate with other members in their troops or group, they protect their young, and they forage in the forest as marginal and primitive hunter/gathers. Even so, the chimpanzee that exist today would need nearly 3.5 million years of evolutionary development to approach what we have, given that Lucy was one of our ancestors and was capable of bipedal locomotion.

In the last 3.5 million years, there have been over 20 hominidae species that could have further evolved into an intelligent species, they became extinct over the course of time. Even humans, nearly became extinct 75,000 years ago during the Mt. Toba super volcanic eruption that decimated the human population down to a low number of less than 10,000 individuals, creating a bottleneck within the human genome that still shows a lack of diversity within the genome across the entire 6.7 billion individuals on the Earth. Humanity, or the great minds that have existed in our history, came very close to not having existed at all.

Broaden that out to the aspect of Aliens or an intelligent species existing on another planet, for a moment. They too would exist on a planet where virus and bacteria, over millions of years, would have altered the DNA sequences. However, that does not necessary indicate that intelligent life arose on another planet. There probably are Earth-like analogues, worlds where life exists with oceans, trees and animals that migrate across vast distances. Imagine what the Earth would be like without humans, then image another planet without an intelligent species. A world without cities, without highways, shipping industries and everything that is comparable to the hallmarks of an advance civilization.
SETI, will have to update and recalculate variables in the Drake Equation. There is no definitive proof that life exists even on Mars, until human explorers have gone and actually made discovery of the bacterial forms and possibly discovered more advance multicelluar life or sometype of plant species. As to the existance of intelligent life, out there on some planet within 200 or 2000 light years distance, no known signal has been detected that would indicate the possibility of such. If an Alien species were to exists, what is known about the various microbial species or virus species that occur on that planet? Nothing, exists to indicate that possiblity so far.

As far as humanity knows, with all of the science available and with all the variations of religions and philosophical paths...we still gaze up into the night sky. In wonderment of "whats out there"? But intelligent life, maybe very, very, very rare in the Milky Way Galaxy.

Earth is a garden, worms and all.


Paulie said...

Hmmm... I'm not sure where to start. Panspermia may be the most likely mechanism responsible if we eventually discover life on Mars. With the ability to adapt to nearly every environment on Earth, and since we know it is quite probable that large impacts early in our solar system could have sent bacteria to Mars or other worlds, or vice versa, it's something that will take a thorough search of the solar system to disprove.

As for civilizations, advanced technology may turn out to be rare, but I read this summer that astrobiologists now consider that intelligent life arose independently twice on Earth: humans and dolphins. I don't have any kind of estimate of the total species on Earth, all the way down to single cell organisms, but having two intelligent species doubles the likelihood that wherever life arises in the universe that there could be intelligence. I'm not suggesting that dolphins are about to send exploration spacecraft anytime soon, but it would be interesting to see if they evolve further in the next billion years or so that our planet is habitable.

Frank Drake originally posited his famous equation to frame how the search for intelligent life should be conducted, sort of to set parameters for exactly what we don't know. Some of the variables are getting better defined, through the discovery of exoplanets, and more study in coming decades will further refine values for some of the variables.

As I was telling you out at Adler, Seth Shostak of SETI thinks that with current and expected capabilities, if there are alien radio signals to detect, they should be found within the next quarter century. That's a heck of a wait, but not nearly as long as cubs fans have been waiting for a World Series winner. My bet is that we will find an alien radio signal before the cubbies win the Series.

If I think of anything else, I'll post again later.

All I know is that this is always an interesting debate. No real evidence for or against, and so many plausible scenarios for both camps. Time will ultimately tell, even if we're long gone.

Jerry M. Weikle said...

Excellent contribution to the discussion, Paulie, and that is fascinating that you mentioned the dolphins and their capacity for intelligence. Even thought their environment is confined to the oceans here on Earth, they do provide another example of the possibility of intelligence arising on another world in a similar habitat or oceanic environment. Excellent point!

When I was writing this, I wasn’t considering the dolphins or whales and was thinking of terrestrial species. That is one of the greater benefits of individuals communicating and having a discussion and presenting ideas; everyone gains knowledge or wisdom in the process.

I hope that Seth Shostak is correct, that within the next quarter century that a signal is discovered and detected. It would radically change our perceptions and concepts of life, just being able to “tune into” the frequencies of an alien civilization on another planet. Can you imagine how that would revolutionize fields of anthropology, sociology, and linguistic studies? It might take a century or more before humans could understand the language and vocabulary of an Alien species.

As you mention Dolphin’s earlier, I’m unaware if communication abilities have occurred, but I do remember seeing something about them being used by the Military for discoveries in the oceans.
Who knows, with the advances occurring in nanotechnology and communication, it might be possible in the future for the researchers to invent a means for them to communicate with us, allowing communication to occur between the aquatic intelligent species and us terrestrial species.

Yeah, it will be a long time before the Cubs win a Series. "Dif tor heh smusma".

Paulie said...

Or we could have Jodie Foster listen in for a few minutes, decipher the code in weeks, and have a Machine built in a couple years...

Jerry M. Weikle said...

Live long and prosper.
I was just reading the actual meaning over on Memory Alpha of "Dif tor heh smusma" and how the use of the hand gesture was incorporated by Spock into Star Trek.

Humanity would need a very sophisticated commputer system to analyze not only the signal from an Alien planet, but to decipher the message and analyze gestures, patterns of speech, inflections within the words or vocabulary of the Alien species. That would present a challenge even to SETI. Hope the Universal Translater is up and workin when that day occurs.