Thursday, April 29, 2010


While Stephen Hawking warns us not to trust ETs, and NASA gets in a fight with the UK newspaper The Sun over life on Mars, blogger Athena Andreadis suggests that we might not recognize an alien even if we saw one. And I have to agree with her. Humanity severely restricts itself with cultural and narcissistic blinders. We are too locked into the idea of bipeds that are roughly the same size as us, and if, for the sake of flippant argument, there was a lifeform out there that was a kind of intelligent yeast a hundred miles long and a couple of molecules thick, we’d fly our spaceship right through it without a clue it was there. (This does, however, give a chance to post this excellent Geiger.)

"Our probes and landers still look for life "as we know it." But we're already aware that even terrestrial life goes beyond what we once considered possible. We should use that experience, or we may literally step on alien life. Extraterrestrial life is a staple of SF and the focus of astrobiology and SETI. Yet whereas SF has populated countless worlds with varying success, from Tiptree's haunting Flenni to Lucas' annoying Ewoks, real ETs remain stubbornly elusive: nobody has received a transmission demanding more Chuck Berry, and the data from the planetary probes are maddeningly inconclusive. Equally controversial are the shadowy forms on Martian asteroid ALH84001, although the pendulum has swung toward cautious favoring of the biological possibility after scientists discovered nanobacteria on earth and water on Mars. In part, we're hobbled by the limits of our technology, including the problems of sample contamination and method-specific artifacts. But we're also severely limited by having a single life sample. Despite its dizzying variations in form and function, extant terrestrial life arose from one source. We know this because our genetic blueprint and its associated molecular machinery are identical across the three domains (archaea, eubacteria, eukarya). So to be able to determine if something is alive, we need to decide what is universal and what is parochial. We stumble through redefinitions each time our paradigms shift or our techniques achieve higher resolution. Worse yet, our practices lag considerably behind our theories." (Click here for more)

Click here for David

The secret word is Krell

1 comment:

Athena Andreadis said...

Glad you liked the article! And if you can trouble yourself to say so on SiMF, it will be music to my morale.

I also have a series of related articles, Making Aliens, which discusses the other side of the equation -- human speciation as an outcome of planetary missions. Start: