Last night’s spectacular electric storm put paid to any thought I’d be alone in my bed as bursts and rattles and booms brought the kids to me fairly quickly. Hunkering down in a mass of cuddles through blinding flashes and rumbles of thunder that shook our livers, conversation naturally turned to nature before broadening out toward what may hover beyond the power of a local light show, it being, no matter the magnificence, merely a little blip in the weather over a mere slip of land in just one of Earth’s oceans; Earth itself being a small bit of stuff amongst billions.
Perspective of place and significance isn’t an easy concept for kids, it being a child’s mandate to consider him/herself the center around which all else revolves until the socialization process seeps in and a sense of the importance of contribution shifts the pivot point … hopefully.
Humans, however, are hardwired to see the species as unique to the point of some dedicated idea that, although individually important only to a degree, we are the very definition of intelligent life … a frightening concept with Fox news on the air and all.
The question of whether or not we are alone in the universe is a mind-bender for many, the subject of much science and no little religious opinion.
On the science front, recent discoveries are tending to indicate the possibility of life on other bits of stuff.
Experts examining results from the Kepler telescope have identified more than 1,200 planets in orbit around distant stars, 54 of which are a similar size to Earth and in habitable zones from their suns.
The research follows several recent discoveries which point to the possibility of life on other planets.
There appears to be a rather strong NO on the idea of extraterrestrial life from the Christian side.
The Bible’s ‘big picture’ seems to preclude intelligent life elsewhere in God’s universe. But what about bacteria on other planets for example? It’s possible that God made these, but exceedingly unlikely. What would be their purpose? The entire focus of creation is mankind on this Earth; the living forms on Earth’s beautifully balanced biosphere are part of our created life support system.
No matter the background, it seems takes on the possibility of life elsewhere assume it will look something like us, carbon-based, water-reliant and built of blocks of DNA even though we have already found exceptions to at least some of those long-assumed rules right here on terra firma:
“The idea of alternative biochemistries for life is common in science fiction,” said Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the agency’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “Until now a life form using arsenic as a building block was only theoretical, but now we know such life exists in Mono Lake.”
Is it possible that if we can be so wrong about what constitutes ‘life’ on our planet we are equally mistaken in our ideas of intelligent beings elsewhere?
With neutrinos maybe breaking a bunch of rules that have long parsed understanding of the basic of basics, if it turns out we’ve been wrong about how fast light can move, what else have we missed?
Our grasp of energy is challenged again in today’s news with this report on happenings in the Crab Nebula …
Astronomers have spotted gamma ray emissions coming from the Crab Pulsar at far higher energies than expected.
This challenges notions of how these powerful electromagnetic rays – like light, but far more energetic – are formed, researchers suggest in Science.
They found emissions at more than 100 gigaelectronvolts – 100 billion times more energetic than visible light.
When we speak of the “spark of life” are we not suggesting, even in our limited understanding, that energy may have as much to do with being as being carbon based?
Even the idea of ‘universe’ needs challenging, as what we have long thought the be-all-end-all could in actuality be two a penny …
Our universe might be really, really big — but finite. Or it might be infinitely big.
Both cases, says physicist Brian Greene, are possibilities, but if the latter is true, so is another posit: There are only so many ways matter can arrange itself within that infinite universe. Eventually, matter has to repeat itself and arrange itself in similar ways. So if the universe is infinitely large, it is also home to infinite parallel universes.
And if matter doesn’t matter?
Is it possible that we’re biased toward matter because that’s what we think we are, what we can see and can grasp?
And what about antimatter?
There is considerable speculation as to why the observable universe is apparently composed almost entirely of matter (as opposed to a mixture of matter and antimatter), whether there exist other places that are almost entirely composed of antimatter instead, and what sorts of technology might be possible if antimatter could be harnessed. At this time, the apparent asymmetry of matter and antimatter in the visible universe is one of the greatest unsolved problems in physics.
An unsolved problem, but as real as the nose on your face, as those neutrino chasers at CERN point out:
Antimatter – a mirror image of matter – is an idea so revolutionary that even its discoverer initially feared its consequences. It annihilates with ordinary matter, disappearing in a puff of energy – the ultimate scientific experiment.
This annihilation is a compelling scenario for science fiction. The first example was robots with brains having antimatter pathways.
Now antimatter is used every day in medicine for brain scans.
Transforming all its mass into pure energy, antimatter is the perfect fuel. Star Trek’s faster-than-light science-fiction spaceships use antimatter power, but research projects have also investigated the use of antimatter fuel for real.
What if it’s that “puff of energy” that is the foundation of ‘intelligent life’, rather than the box it comes in?
There was a time not so very long ago that people didn’t believe in bacteria because they couldn’t be seen until instruments came along allowing us to count and classify the buggers. What if we’re as surrounded by energy critters?
What if, in fact, we are energy critters merely shuffling about in temporary structures of cells and atoms?
While watching the lightening and feeling the thunder, the energy firing between synapses in three carbon-based skulls shaped by DNA contemplated the nature of what makes us sentient beings … breathing in and out and reproducing facsimiles, or thought sparks that travel beyond the storm into the unknown … and wonder if shucking the shell, as we all will do someday, might just make the speed of light inconsequential to our travels between universes and time.
Big questions on stormy nights pass the hours quite nicely.