In his famous lecture on Life in the Universe, Stephen Hawking asks: “What are the chances that we will encounter some alien form of life, as we explore the galaxy?”
If the argument about the time scale for the appearance of life on Earth is correct, Hawking says “there ought to be many other stars, whose planets have life on them. Some of these stellar systems could have formed 5 billion years before the Earth. So why is the galaxy not crawling with self-designing mechanical or biological life forms?”
Why hasn’t the Earth been visited, and even colonized? Hawking asks. “I discount suggestions that UFO’s contain beings from outer space. I think any visits by aliens, would be much more obvious, and probably also, much more unpleasant.”
Hawking continues: “What is the explanation of why we have not been visited? \One possibility is that the argument, about the appearance of life on Earth, is wrong. Maybe the probability of life spontaneously appearing is so low, that Earth is the only planet in the galaxy, or in the observable universe, in which it happened. Another possibility is that there was a reasonable probability of forming self reproducing systems, like cells, but that most of these forms of life did not evolve intelligence.”
We are used to thinking of intelligent life, as an inevitable consequence of evolution, Hawking emphasized, but it is more likely that evolution is a random process, with intelligence as only one of a large number of possible outcomes.
Intelligence, Hawking believes contrary to our human-centric existece, may not have any long-term survival value. In comparison the microbial world, will live on, even if all other life on Earth is wiped out by our actions. Hawking’s main insight is that intelligence was an unlikely development for life on Earth, from the chronology of evolution: “It took a very long time, two and a half billion years, to go from single cells to multi-cell beings, which are a necessary precursor to intelligence. This is a good fraction of the total time available, before the Sun blows up. So it would be consistent with the hypothesis, that the probability for life to develop intelligence, is low. In this case, we might expect to find many other life forms in the galaxy, but we are unlikely to find intelligent life.”
Dr. Hawking isn’t popular with the UFO crowd, no doubt about that.
And he doesn’t even entertain the possibility that whatever advanced intelligence might supercede our type, it might not be even in our dimension nor physical at all.
But he is considered the premier scientist of our time, so he gets most of the attention.
It just goes to show the old maxime that, “Science advances not from new discoveries being accepted, but from the death of the previous generation who hold to the old paradigm…”
Biology is one area of science I know very little about. I never blog, comment, use it in my fiction or reference it only in very limited terms, with the possible exception of when I talk about my chronic maladies in passing. Which is probably very ignorant on my part because it would behoove me to be at least somewhat educated on how biology works, especially my own.
Even the type of science fiction I read is influenced by my lack of knowledge in the discipline. My book-shelves are full of space opera, Singularity science, social science and even psychological sci-fi. I do know a little about nano-tech though, but biological nano, not so much.
This is just physical and mental laziness on my part, and according to Peggy of Biology In Science Fiction in a post referencing an interview with writer Peter Watts, it would be a mistake for me to continue to do so:
In April, Åka at Physicality of Words interviewed Peter Watts about the science in science fiction. Asked about a recent Con where the science panel was made up of astronomers and physicists, and whether he “get[s] the feeling that biology and biological ideas get less attention in science fiction than physics and astronomy?” , Watts opined:
Biology is the headline science of the twenty-first century so far, and I think that’s being reflected in the more recent sf to come down the pike (mine, for example). If con panels still emphasise physics and astronomy, perhaps that reflects the “graying of fandom” we keep hearing about; perhaps panels are disproportionately populated by the TwenCen old guard who haven’t caught up with the times yet.
I’ve read Watts’ Blind Sight recently. It is very good and engrossing, I couldn’t put it down until I got too tired to read. And yes, it had a lot of biological science in it. What I liked was that he made the biology parts understandable and credible. But he was good with the tech stuff too I thought. Or maybe I just perceived it that way because I’m a techie anyways.
Okay I’ll admit it, I’m a senile “TwenCen” old fart…er…guard type who’s behind the times too.
So sue me.
It’s no secret that biotech is a fast growing industry, from the genetically modified food corporations to the genetics of stem cell research and now more recently, “gengineering” plants that sequester carbon dioxide, this science is going to be a huge money making machine.
Not so much for the “little people” I’m afraid.
As usual, they (us) get stuck paying the research bills while working our Wally-Mart, Rotten Ronnie jobs and living in our luxurious Tent City condos!