Sunday, November 23, 2008

Life and Intelligence

I enjoy thinking about life and whether we have companions in the universe. The fascinating question - Are we alone? And beyond that, the implications, religious and otherwise. The fundamental equation for estimating the existence of other intelligent civilizations is the Drake Equation.

Essentially we start with the rate of production of stars in our galaxy, then add factors such as the likelyhood of a star having planets, then having ones which can support life, then which of those will develop life, and then those which will develop intelligent life, then those which will create technology which will make themselves visible to us, and finally then length of time which these civilizations last.

Naturally, there are a lot of factors in there which we have no idea about, but you can put in intelligent guesses and see what kind of numbers we are working with. In 1961 Drake Estimated N = 10 × 0.5 × 2 × 1 × 0.01 × 0.01 × 10,000 = 10. More current analysis gives an estimate of 2.31. Meaning that at our best guess, on average there will be around 2 intelligent civilizations in our galaxy. Interesting.

Now, where am I getting with this. Nowhere really. It is just a neat idea. I always like to think of all the crazy things which could have influenced our development of intelligence and technology. For instance, what if the Earth rotated faster? This would have made throwing objects very difficult and that may have severely restricted the development and use of tools. Motions on the earth would be very non-linear, so dynamics and mathematics may have evolved along a different route. Simple linearization in physics and engineering would not have been valid, making the math much more difficult. Or this could have all gone the opposite way. Maybe the challenge of throwing objects in a rotating reference frame would have amplified our intelligence and given us a more non-linear way of thinking. Our math could be entirely different and maybe non-linear equations would be no big deal.

Another thought. What if there was no Moon. Avoiding the geographical and climate changes, the moon was our clear evidence of time. The phases of the moon gave way to calendars, the passing of time evolves to counting and then math. The moon inspires us to look in the night sky. Everything else is a point of light. The moon is dynamic. Eclipses, harvest moons, the phases give clear signs to the orientation of the solar system. Maybe it wouldn't have made a difference, maybe it would have just slowed our progress. Nonetheless, it is interesting to think about.

I am sure you could think of a millions variables like this. All these would need to be accounted for in Drakes Equation to get a really accurate estimate. In the end, it seems like there is a decent chance that we are alone, or only one of a few civilizations in this galaxy. That kind of makes me feel lonely.

No comments: