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Alien Life on Mars?

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Posted

On a radio programme this week, a scientist, a geologist, talked about life on Mars. She claimed that nothing bigger than microbes could exist there because anything bigger would have been noticed/observed by us.

Has the mind of science shrunk so far that they think they know everything that exists in the universe, that there are no off-the-scale, far out, really weird, invisible-to-the-human-range-of-senses creatures in the universe? In fact, this touches on some quite fundamental concepts of physics, concepts of the we-take-these-truths-to-be-self-evident kind, in this case the idea that the universe is the same throughout and that the little range of substances, forces, energies etc., that are familiar to us on earth are all that is. There is much weirdness in science fiction, but what might be out there may relate more closely to the imagined beings/worlds of the imagination than to mundane extrapolations from our current earthbound knowledge.

Another problem here is the individual’s capacity to see what is there. For example, when Captain Cook first arrived in the Antipodes, some of the natives within view of the shore simply did not see the ships. That is, the ships were so alien to them that their minds just rejected them. So, can we be sure (a) that our minds would not reject sight of some beings that are too alien and that scientists minds are the best prepared to register the existence of the truly alien - as opposed, say, to the minds of science fiction writers, but of course it is scientists who are the front line position, in the field, telling us what does and does not exist?

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Posted

I recommend, from Norman Swatz's book "Beyond Experience: Metaphysical Theories and Philosophical Constraints, Chapter 5: Underterminism (II). In this chapter, he argues that the SETI project is probably forlorn, as we are likely to share little in common with intelligent aliens, including mathematics, long believed the reliable touchstone by which we might share something in common. Not so, he argues, and suggests we might not even recognize alien intelligence, or life, if we found it.

That said, though, with respect to Mars, it's a bit hard to imagine that we could be missing something like life, no matter how different, completely, given that we have no trouble at all recognizing rocks, dirt, sky, whirlpools, gullies, mountains, craters, plateaus, etc. etc., all just like stuff we find on earth. Long before the first Viking mission in 1976, Arthur C. Clarke, in an early draft of the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, had a scene imagining the first Rover landing on Mars. In his scenario, the cameras saw nothing but rocks on the surface, just like our own real cameras do. Only in his version, as the rover moved to examine the first "rock," it got up, and slowly moved away. Alas, nothing like that has happened in reality.

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Posted

I think you are missing the point. All the things you suggest, rocks etc., are composed of matter and energy that we are familiar with. Other stuff of our universe is such as space and time. Now suppose there is stuff, call it doppelgook, which we cannot sense because it is not the matter or energy we are familiar with (dark matter may have relevance here) it is something undetectable to our senses and instruments, maybe has none of the properties like mass that we associate with the substances of our universe (I believe even photons are thought to have some mass nowadays). The alien lifeforms made from doppelgook will be undetectable by us. We may even occupy the same space at the same time unbeknowns to each other. This is all undeniably possible and within the bounds of current science.

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Posted

How is it possible for two beings to exist within the exact same space at the exact same time? :confused:

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Posted

I think you are missing the point. All the things you suggest, rocks etc., are composed of matter and energy that we are familiar with. Other stuff of our universe is such as space and time. Now suppose there is stuff, call it doppelgook, which we cannot sense because it is not the matter or energy we are familiar with (dark matter may have relevance here) it is something undetectable to our senses and instruments, maybe has none of the properties like mass that we associate with the substances of our universe (I believe even photons are thought to have some mass nowadays). The alien lifeforms made from doppelgook will be undetectable by us. We may even occupy the same space at the same time unbeknowns to each other. This is all undeniably possible and within the bounds of current science.

No, I haven't missed the point at all (and photons have always been known to have mass via Einstein's famous equation; they just have no rest mass). Life may even be undetectable or at least difficult to recognize if it is made of the same stuff as us, if it turns out be to be very differently evolved, or using some solvent different than water or makeup different than carbon, which is perhaps possible. The question, though, with respect to Mars in particular, is: What possible reason do we have to suspect that on Mars, which has a bunch of ordinary stuff just like we find on earth, that there is life made of dopplegook? Answer: none whatsoever. Also, if you are postulating that there are alien life forms made of dopplegook and that dopplegook is completely undetectable even in principle, then dopplegook life might as well be supernatural and it will never have any meaning for us because it can never even have any interaction with us.

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Posted (edited)

Put another way: If there is dopplegook life, it could be right here on earth with us and we we would never detect it as you describe so. So why worry about Mars at all? The thesis of dopplegook is good for any location.

When astronomers and other say there isn't any life on Mars except possibly microbes, obviously they are talking about life that we can detect. If indeed there is dopplegook, its very undetectability makes it superfluous and hence meaningless.

The in-between position is the possibility of life that is very different from ours, making it very hard to detect; but not wholly undetectable. If it's wholly undetectable it's the same as not existing at all, from our point of view.

Edited by davidm

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Posted (edited)

davidM:

I would like to quote Shakespeare here: “there is more in heaven and earth than ye wot of, Horatio.” Let us suppose that there is some mechanism whereby the previously undetectable may become detectable. One could posit the existence of some higher order beings here, or there may be a natural process we know nothing of. This may seem airy-fairy, but science is of the nature of a large structure i.e. it is built up block by block, the higher levels being supported by the lower levels. If one blithely makes assumptions about things one knows nothing about, then you are building flaws into the structure. In other words, however absurd or unlikely the possibilities I have suggested may seem in the light of modern science, they cannot be dismissed: the option whether or not to include or allow for these possibilities has far reaching consequences for science.

Scientists have an unfortunate habit of making these sorts of assumptions all the time. In other words, rather than wait till they have developed a better understanding of how to deal with these sorts of situations, they make a decision (sometimes, as with the introduction of Quantum Theory in physics, this is done simply by taking a vote) and batter on regardless of the consequences.

also.......

"What possible reason do we have to suspect that on Mars…. there is life made of dopplegook?"

This is the wrong way round. The point is that one should not be pressing forward beyond one’s knowledge and understanding. In other words, it is perfectly possible that life there is made of doppelgook, we do not know, and in situations where one has to say, “I do not know”, then one should not press on as though one does.

“dopplegook is completely undetectable even in principle, then dopplegook life might as well be supernatural and it will never have any meaning for us because it can never even have any interaction with us.”

You are making an assumption here: you really do not know whether or not it will have any meaning for us. Weaned on modern science, I think this is a hard one to get one’s head round but that lack of knowing is important and has profound consequences – one is more likely to understand this from a background of philosophy.

How is it possible for two beings to exist within the exact same space at the exact same time? :confused:

If I remember my physics correctly, there is a rule called the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which is about classing fundamental particles into two kinds: those which can exist in the same space at the same time and those which cannot. Beyond that one may consider beings made of substances which are so different as to be totally non-interactive so e.g. where one might have properties such as mass, the other is composed of a substance which has, one might say, no substance, in fact, in that it has no mass or any other property one might associate with conventional matter and energy. For example, we might imagine that ghosts are real but composed of some odd substance that allows them to float through walls and people. In other words, they would be able to occupy the same space at the same time as any person.

Edited by dragon

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Posted (edited)

davidM:

If one blithely makes assumptions about things one knows nothing about, then you are building flaws into the structure.

And who is making such assumptions? Certainly not I. I linked you to a paper by a distinguished professor of philosophy on why the search for extraterrestrial intelligence might well be forlorn, because such beings may be so different from us that we might not even be able to communicate with them at all or even recognize them as intelligent. Did you read the paper? Or are you just spoiling for an online fight?

In other words, however absurd or unlikely the possibilities I have suggested may seem in the light of modern science, they cannot be dismissed...

Who is dismissing them?

Scientists have an unfortunate habit of making these sorts of assumptions all the time.

What assumptions are scientists making in the case of looking for signs of life on Mars? Yes, they are assuming that if life on Mars is detectable, then it is not going to be made of dopplegook, which as you describe it is undetectable even in principle. Of course they are looking for life that is somewhat like our own, something that can be detected, measured, quantified. What else are they supposed to do? How can they look for dopplegook life when it can't be detected, according to you? That would be stupid. If it happens in the future that such life DOES become detectable, then they may detect it. In the meantime, it would be stupid to look for something that cannot be found.

In other words, rather than wait till they have developed a better understanding of how to deal with these sorts of situations, they make a decision (sometimes, as with the introduction of Quantum Theory in physics, this is done simply by taking a vote) and batter on regardless of the consequences.

What vote on quantum theory? Are you talking about matrix mechanics vs. wave mechanics? In any case, what better understanding are they supposed to develop about life on Mars? It's only common sense to look for life as we know it. If there resides on Mars life as we don't know it, then still it's detectable or not. Right now, empirically, there is no sign of any kind of life on Mars. If life on Mars is there but it's dopplegook, it's undetectable (at least for now) according to you. So if scientists can't detect it then what would you have them do?

"What possible reason do we have to suspect that on Mars…. there is life made of dopplegook?"

This is the wrong way round. The point is that one should not be pressing forward beyond one’s knowledge and understanding. In other words, it is perfectly possible that life there is made of doppelgook, we do not know, and in situations where one has to say, “I do not know”, then one should not press on as though one does.

What are you talking about? The search for life on Mars is for life that we can detect, obviously. Why in hell would we search for life that is undetectable? That would be stupid.

“dopplegook is completely undetectable even in principle, then dopplegook life might as well be supernatural and it will never have any meaning for us because it can never even have any interaction with us.”

You are making an assumption here: you really do not know whether or not it will have any meaning for us. Weaned on modern science, I think this is a hard one to get one’s head round but that lack of knowing is important and has profound consequences – one is more likely to understand this from a background of philosophy.

What assumption? If it is undetectable even in principle by any means, that of course it can have no meaning or consequences for us. If it had meaning and consequence, it would be detectable!

As to philosophy, I linked you to a great chapter fron a philosophy text on this very subject, mentioned earlier in this very post. Did you read it?

Edited by davidm

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davidm:

Thank you for this detailed comment to my post and also for the reference which I have indeed read. Unfortunately, the esteemed professor of philosophy, in my book, nails his colours to the wrong mast in his very first sentence: “Nature does not offer up its secrets willingly, “ It is my understanding that Nature is open handed and generous to a fault, and all too eager to explain herself to us. Scientists, and academics in general, are like miners hacking away at the coal face determined that Nature is keeping secrets and that they are going to hack them out of her, force her to yield them, while all the time Nature is standing bemused at the mouth of the tunnel with a banquet of goodies spread out and waiting, but is totally unable to get the attention of the thrawn miners. One might say, therefore, that the basic assumption scientists make, and a wrong one at that, is that Nature is secretive. The consequence of this is that they go about finding answers in quite the wrong way.

You asked about the vote I mentioned: this occurred at a physics conference in Copenhagen in, I think, in either 1923 or 1933 – I forget which. Anyway, what was at issue was whether or not classical physics should be superseded by quantum theory, and there was an issue because quantum theory had been developed quite extensively and yet there was no experimental evidence to suggest that quantum theory was necessary or that classical theory was in any way deficient. It was not, in fact, till the late 1980s or it might have been even the 1990s, that an experiment was finally done that could distinguish between classical theory and quantum theory, whose results could not be explained by classical theory and therefore required quantum theory. At the time of the conference, the vote was split, with the likes of Einstein, Neils Bohr and others in favour of quantum theory but with other famous physicists such as de Briogli against the motion.

Similarly, Einstein’s theory of General Relativity reached the textbooks and was being taught in physics departments long before there was any experimental evidence to support it. In addition, there were other gravitational theories around at the time which were thrown out for no good reason and have now been forgotten for no good reason other than that Einstein made friends with the right people – (I believe your esteemed professor of philosophy did cover this general area).

One of the major problems with science is that scientists don’t know how to say “I don’t know.” and to accept that they don’t know and to wait until they do know before pressing on. This is where they make assumptions. If one is determined to press on when one does not know then one must make an assumption of some sort in order to do so.

“The only counsel I would be prepared to make is this: let us proceed with SETI, but let us also take care that it not absorb too many resources, resources which could be better spent on more immediate and pressing needs of humankind.” – the counsel I would give would be to forget about SETI and think more Men in Black: in other words, aliens may already be here among us, but they would be here as private individuals in rather the same way as I travel to foreign countries as a private individual, and for the same reasons as I do not say “Take me to your leader”, and am not interested in their leaders, neither would be the aliens.

In answer to your first question, yes, as I said, I have read the paper, but also, yes, I am spoiling for a fight!

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Thank you for this detailed comment to my post and also for the reference which I have indeed read. Unfortunately, the esteemed professor of philosophy, in my book, nails his colours to the wrong mast in his very first sentence: “Nature does not offer up its secrets willingly, “ It is my understanding that Nature is open handed and generous to a fault, and all too eager to explain herself to us.

What is your evidence to support this claim that nature is generous to a fault and only too eager to explain herself to us? Any at all?

For instance, it took thousands of years for civilization to exist before Galileo came along and apprehended the curious fact that apples fall to the earth for the same reason that the moon circles it. If this was so obvious, if nature were generously telling this to us, why did no one notice it before? Why did it take Newton to discover the three laws of motion? (none of which are correct, by the way, but they’re good enough for day work).

As to quantum mechanics, it was not even possible to discover the quantum world at all and its mysterious properties until we were able to verify the existence of atoms, or at least stuff we call atoms according to our models, and that did not take place until a little more than a hundred years ago. So, what are you saying? That all this stuff should have been easy to discover, or that all this stuff is wrong and what’s really going on is that Men in Black are prowling all around us, waiting to whisper secrets in our ears if only we would listen? Or what?

You asked about the vote I mentioned: this occurred at a physics conference in Copenhagen in, I think, in either 1923 or 1933 – I forget which. Anyway, what was at issue was whether or not classical physics should be superseded by quantum theory, and there was an issue because quantum theory had been developed quite extensively and yet there was no experimental evidence to suggest that quantum theory was necessary or that classical theory was in any way deficient.

Total bullshit. The quantum theory was developed precisely because the classical theory failed. In fact, classical physics was coming apart at the seams at the turn of the 20th century, which is precisely what led to relativity theory and quantum theory. As to the latter, Google “ultraviolet catastrophe” and “hydrogen disaster” just for starters!

It was not, in fact, till the late 1980s or it might have been even the 1990s, that an experiment was finally done that could distinguish between classical theory and quantum theory, whose results could not be explained by classical theory and therefore required quantum theory. At the time of the conference, the vote was split, with the likes of Einstein, Neils Bohr and others in favour of quantum theory but with other famous physicists such as de Briogli against the motion.

Again, total bullshit. You are 100 percent wrong. Classical theory had long been discarded by then, because it did not work. What you are referring to is an experiment, conducted in conjunction with a mathematical tool called Bell’s Theorem, testing Einstein’s claim that QM was an incomplete theory. Einstein lost, QM won. Oh, by the way, if you’re trying to suggest QM is wrong and classical physics is right, don’t bother watching your TV or using your computer, since neither actually work if QM is false.

Similarly, Einstein’s theory of General Relativity reached the textbooks and was being taught in physics departments long before there was any experimental evidence to support it.

More bullshit. The first confirmation of General Relativity came three years after Einstein mooted it.

In addition, there were other gravitational theories around at the time which were thrown out for no good reason and have now been forgotten for no good reason other than that Einstein made friends with the right people – (I believe your esteemed professor of philosophy did cover this general area).

What are those theories, and what did they say? It’s true there a problem of theories in science being undetermined by evidence alone, but the above seems to be a crude (and inaccurate) caricature of this problem. And, “Einstein made friends with the right people “ – that’s a good one! Any evidence to support that absurdity? You’re saying General Relativity, which has passed every test ever made with flying colors, is only accepted because Einstein was good at schmoozing the right people? Laugh out loud.

One of the major problems with science is that scientists don’t know how to say “I don’t know.” and to accept that they don’t know and to wait until they do know before pressing on. This is where they make assumptions. If one is determined to press on when one does not know then one must make an assumption of some sort in order to do so.

Completely ridiculous, of course, a total caricature of what scientists actually do.

“The only counsel I would be prepared to make is this: let us proceed with SETI, but let us also take care that it not absorb too many resources, resources which could be better spent on more immediate and pressing needs of humankind.” – the counsel I would give would be to forget about SETI and think more Men in Black: in other words, aliens may already be here among us, but they would be here as private individuals in rather the same way as I travel to foreign countries as a private individual, and for the same reasons as I do not say “Take me to your leader”, and am not interested in their leaders, neither would be the aliens.

Laugh. Out Loud. And this is an example of – what? Your dopplegook? But according to you, dopplegook life is undetectable! So how do you expect scientists to detect the undetectable? I already asked you that, and I noticed you have not answered!

Oh, wait, they’re NOT undetectable – they are Men in Black? And where are these Men in Black? I know! On The Simpsons program! They appeared in an episode once. I remember watching it.

I think your dopplegook more nearly resembles gobbledygook. Just like your latest post.

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For those who want to understand the transition from classical physics to the quantum, and the need for it, and the utter falsity (and absuridity) of the claim that "there was no experimental evidence to suggest that quantum theory was necessary or that classical theory was in any way deficient," here is a highly reader-friendly essay by Max Tegmark and John Wheeler.

Even before the quantum revolution, classical mechanics was already destroyed by the failure of the Michelson-Morley experiment to measure the variability of the speed of light and thus detect the supposed ether, and by the willful failure of the orbit of Mercury to obey Newton. So to say that classical mechanics was intact and fully good all the way to the 1920s is just to betray appalling ignorance or to be lying.

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