Category: humanity

What If It’s Just Us?

What If It’s Just Us?

“Our scientific discoveries have led us to a remarkable point in the quest for knowledge about our Universe. We know how big the Universe is, how many stars and galaxies are in it, and what fraction of stars are Sun-like, possess Earth-sized planets, and have planets in orbits which are potentially habitable. We know the ingredients for life are everywhere, and we know how life evolved, thrived, and gave rise to us here on Earth.

But how did life arise to begin with, and how likely is a planet to develop life from non-life? If life does arise, how likely is it to become complex, differentiated, and intelligent? And if life achieves all of those milestones, how likely is it that it becomes spacefaring or otherwise technologically advanced, and how long does such life survive if it arises? The answers may be out there, but we must remember the most conservative possibility of all. In all the Universe, until we have evidence to the contrary, the only example of life might be us.”

When it comes to the big questions, there’s perhaps none more profound than asking about life in the Universe beyond planet Earth. Are there other intelligent alien species out there, flying through the galaxy, modifying their planets, generating enormous signals, colonizing other worlds, and so on? Or, perhaps, in all the Universe, is life like us, and perhaps life at all, a great cosmic rarity? While most of the stories you’re likely to read on the topic are extraordinarily optimistic about the existence of intelligent aliens, we must let the science, rather than our hopes or emotions, guide us.

In all the Universe, we still might stand out as the only example of intelligent life. Here’s the scientific story of why it may just be us.

What If It’s Just Us?

What If It’s Just Us?

“Our scientific discoveries have led us to a remarkable point in the quest for knowledge about our Universe. We know how big the Universe is, how many stars and galaxies are in it, and what fraction of stars are Sun-like, possess Earth-sized planets, and have planets in orbits which are potentially habitable. We know the ingredients for life are everywhere, and we know how life evolved, thrived, and gave rise to us here on Earth.

But how did life arise to begin with, and how likely is a planet to develop life from non-life? If life does arise, how likely is it to become complex, differentiated, and intelligent? And if life achieves all of those milestones, how likely is it that it becomes spacefaring or otherwise technologically advanced, and how long does such life survive if it arises? The answers may be out there, but we must remember the most conservative possibility of all. In all the Universe, until we have evidence to the contrary, the only example of life might be us.”

When it comes to the big questions, there’s perhaps none more profound than asking about life in the Universe beyond planet Earth. Are there other intelligent alien species out there, flying through the galaxy, modifying their planets, generating enormous signals, colonizing other worlds, and so on? Or, perhaps, in all the Universe, is life like us, and perhaps life at all, a great cosmic rarity? While most of the stories you’re likely to read on the topic are extraordinarily optimistic about the existence of intelligent aliens, we must let the science, rather than our hopes or emotions, guide us.

In all the Universe, we still might stand out as the only example of intelligent life. Here’s the scientific story of why it may just be us.

Humanity’s 3 Hopes For Finding Alien Lif…

Humanity’s 3 Hopes For Finding Alien Life

“Although it’s just conjecture at this point, scientists speculate that life in the Universe is probably common, with the ingredients and opportunities for it to arise appearing practically everywhere. Life that thrives and sustains itself on a world, to the point where it can change its atmospheric and/or surface properties, may need to get lucky, and is likely more uncommon. Evolving to become complex, differentiated, multicellular creatures is likely even rarer. And as far as becoming what we would consider an intelligent, technologically advanced civilization, it could be so exceedingly remarkable that in all the Universe, it might just be us. Yet despite how different these outcomes are, we’re actively searching for all three types of life in very different ways. When the first sign of alien life finally is discovered, which one shall emerge victorious?

No matter which method pays dividends first, it will be among the greatest day in the history of life on Earth.”

There are three very different ways humanity is searching for alien life beyond Earth. We can directly search the various planets and moons in our Solar System for past or present biological signatures simply by sending decontaminated probes, and looking for the evidence in situ. We can indirectly look at distant worlds around other stars, searching for the characteristic changes to the atmosphere and surface that life would bring. And, most optimistically, we can search for intelligent signatures created, perhaps willfully, by a technologically advanced alien species.

These are our three hopes for finding alien life, and we’re actively pursuing all three. Which one, if any, do you think has the best chance of paying off?

Science’s Greatest Lesson For Humanity Is ‘How To Be…

Science’s Greatest Lesson For Humanity Is ‘How To Be Wrong’

“Science is a never-ending story of careful investigation that requires you to continually challenge your assumptions, to revise your understanding in the wake of new and better data, and to improve your methods and ideas over time. It requires you to throw out the frameworks and theories and ideas that didn’t describe reality as well as others did, no matter how elegant or compelling you found them to be. It necessitates not only saying, “I was wrong,” but to seek and find a description of the physical Universe that’s more correct than the wrong ideas you previously held. In short, science teaches you to be humble before the Universe, and the way you do that is by continually looking for superior explanations for everything you can imagine.“

Science isn’t the easiest endeavor you can undertake. Sure, the rewards are tremendous: you can wind up understanding any phenomenon in the Universe as well (or better) than any human has ever understood it before. But on your way there, you’re going to have to do some of the most difficult work you’ve ever done. It isn’t just mathematical and scientific work, either, but internal work on your own psyche. You’ll need to learn how to be wrong. No one comes into a scientific field already knowing all the answers; that’s why we do the science in the first place. When you’re just learning it, you put an incomplete number of puzzle pieces together, and your incomplete picture is usually incorrect. Or at least, less correct than the best picture. This means it’s up to you to challenge your assumptions, revise your internal beliefs, and draw superior conclusions. The reward, if you can make it, is not just a better understanding, but the lesson of how to be wrong, and how to be better in the future.

It’s a lesson that goes far beyond science, and can be applied to all areas of our lives. Imagine what the world could be like if we all did it.

5 Things The World Needs From Star Trek:…

5 Things The World Needs From Star Trek: Discovery

“It’s incredibly difficult to even make the effort to understand those with different experiences, different priorities, or even different values from ourselves. Yet Star Trek is at its best when it gives us the opportunity to confront our worst impulses. Unless we are willing to consider the validity of perspectives other than our own, often including ones far outside our own experience, we may be doomed to dividing, rather than uniting, the world. With political issues like nationalism, sovereignty, autonomy, secession, racism, misogyny, police brutality, immigration and more in the spotlight right now, Star Trek has the unique capacity to confront these issues with the distance of the far future but with the intimacy of humanity. It is with this in mind that I most look forward to Star Trek: Discovery.”

When you think about Star Trek, a whole variety of things might come to mind. It might conjure images of space exploration, feelings of optimism about the future of humanity, the inextricable link between prosperity and technology, or the fear of the unknown. But what has always set Star Trek apart from any other sci-fi or fantasy show has been its ability to hold a mirror up to humanity, and force us to confront our greatest moral and ethical quandries. We inhabit a world today rife with “othering,” where we look at those who we see as different from ourselves, and are quick to condemn them as being inferior to those we see as more like us. This extends not just to physical traits, but ideological ones as well. Yet each of the Star Trek series in the past has embraced this conflict, and with five stunning examples from Star Trek’s past, I’m happy to elucidate my great hopes for what Star Trek: Discovery just might bring to the world.

Starting next week, we’ll once again have a Star Trek series on the air, for the first time in over a decade. What’s in store? Here’s what I’m looking forward to!

Humanity Needs Science To Survive And Thrive “The…

Humanity Needs Science To Survive And Thrive 

“The beauty of it all is, therefore, what makes it so disconcerting to some. You can spend your entire life studying a problem, fascinated with the process of investigation and discovery. You can learn everything we know about a field and extend our knowledge within it. And you might have a beautiful idea, a preferred outcome, or a conclusion you wish were true as respects your studies. You may even put together a new theory that has the potential to revolutionize everything we think we know. But no matter how elegant, beautiful, compelling, or intuitive it is, your conclusions must be consistent with the entirety of the information we have. The most successful ideas in science aren’t successful because we love them the most; they’re successful because the evidence overwhelmingly validates and supports them.”

The enterprise of science is one of the most misunderstood in all of society. Some view it as its own religion; others view it as a political ideology gussied up in smart-sounding clothes; still others view it as open to interpretation. But science is none of those things, and is rather the full suite of knowledge humanity has accumulated along with our process of discovery, investigation, and ongoing hard work. When we look at why humanity is so successful as a species, it’s rooted in our ability to understand the natural world. We’ve learned how a variety of systems work, independently and together, and have figured out how various influence affect it. This has led to advances in everything from agriculture, health, safety, and medicine to Earth science, astronomy, and particle physics.

Without science, stagnation is the absolute best humanity can hope for. But with it, our success is limited only by how quickly we can move forward!