I don’t think I’ve ever fully elucidated my thoughts on the possible existence of extraterrestrial life, have I? Well, I’ll put off my Python evolution project a little longer, and write about it now — no time like the present.
Assume first, as I do, that the abiogenesis (or “primordial ooze”) theory is correct. For those of you not in the know, this theory suggests that life on Earth began when certain organic chemicals organized through known means into amino acids, which in turn self-organized into proteins, which in turn used lipids to form the first cell barriers, and gained the ability to pull the components necessary to catalyze RNA from their surroundings. These became the first proto-cells, which populated the world (in the RNA-world theory at least), and competed with one another for these organic molecules and in self-replication naturally selected for structures that would be better equipped at obtaining these molecules before their competitors.
But not necessarily “probable”, or “strongly implied”, as my previous headline “HOLY SHIT, LIFE ON MARS?!” indicated, regardless of the fact that my blog entry itself stated it was only a possibility. I write this because, in having titled my post as I did, I’m nowtangentally related to asshats who declare “life on Mars” like it’s absolute canon truth in 72-point font. And I should rightly be chastised for my use of the prophylactic question-mark, a tactic made famous most recently by Fox News. The media has cocked this one up but good, as is the norm when it comes to anything scientific. And the blogosphere, as always, ranges from the near-perfect, in their coverage of this event as with every other event that’s come before it, through to actually managing to get it more wrong than The Sun.
I really do hope it turns out to be life, however I will not, under any circumstances, apply my world view to the hypothesis. A real scientist detachedly observes the results of an experiment and learns the truth from them, rather than shoehorning the results into his or her belief system. Science only works if you’re objective enough to leave your damn belief systems at the door.
Incidentally, it’s why religious folks hate science so much — because they demand that you turn off the credulity for a few minutes, which is obviously a few minutes too long. I will be better than that, at least.
I don’t care that it’s going to be difficult to dig deep enough to verify if this is the case, given Mars’ harsh climate. We NEED to verify or falsify this. We can’t go around for the next twenty years saying “well, there’s MAYBE life on Mars”, we need to know for sure, ASAP, because it changes everything. If life evolved (or was germinated, for those of you who believe in panspermia) right in our backyard, then that’s proof positive it’s gotta be out in the rest of the galaxy, and the rest of the universe as well, because there’s a shitload of stars out there, and chances are a shitload of them can support life. We may well be one amongst thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of sentient life-forms in this galaxy — remember, there are two hundred billion stars in our own galaxy alone, and we’re finding exoplanets daily.
Recent experiments in creating chemicals that self-replicate, compete for resources, and are subject to natural selection, have proven that a critical step in the evolutionary abiogenesis theory (or the “primordial ooze” theory for laymen, and that theory that people mistake for the Theory of Evolution all too often) is quite possible. Proof that pre-biotic life even managed to form on Mars, if verified, would suggest that this universe may well be teeming with instances of life having grown from “nothing” (by which I mean, having grown from chemicals with the potential to become self-replicating if arranged correctly by chance — not really “nothing” as the creationists suggest), and the only thing that makes this planet unique amongst our neighbors is not only that we had the right chemical soup to start the endless chain reaction that is biology, but that we’ve also had long enough for life to fester on this planet to get to the point where we’re sentient and curious about the nature of the universe.
For those who say science strips away all the wonder of the universe, by removing magical sky-men who made us in his evidently flawed image, they’re missing the bigger picture. And that bigger picture is the universe itself, in all its splendour. There’s only one way to find the truth behind this universe — and that’s empirically.
I just watched a video on Evolving Thoughts that perfectly captures what I have struggled to explain to some of my longer-term readers (specifically, those with whom I have regularly sparred even prior to my blogging days). That is, what science is, why it is different from faith, why it is not dogmatic or aimed at proving a particular idea over others, and why I believe in it and believe that it is the only way to gain any understanding of the universe. It also captures perfectly why those who would refute any aspect of science because it contradicts their personal beliefs should either put up (by doing some real research) or shut up. You need to watch it. It will lend you a lot of insight into my thought processes and why I have come to believe the things that I do.
Sometime mid-December I read a blog with a brilliant little piece of genetic programming, wherein a set of pseudo-DNA is used to generate an image out of a set of, at maximum, fifty semitransparent, overlapping polygons, in an effort to “evolve” this pseudo-DNA toward looking as much as possible like the Mona Lisa. The idea is, can something specific evolve through only a series of randomly generated mutations?
As genetic programming goes, this is a great example, however I have to take issue with the approach as being an example of “evolution” — by my understanding, at least, not that I’m a geneticist, biologist, or even a decent programmer. The original program has a population of two, the original and the slightly-mutated “offspring”. The offspring is compared to the target image, and if it is more like the target image than the original, then it replaces the original for the next iteration. After almost a million iterations, as shown on his blog, the image looks significantly like the original.
More on my attempt at this same concept below the fold…
Abby informed me recently that, horror of horrors, she’s a neophyte when it comes to the ways of the Blogosphere, and thus doesn’t know how to use RSS feeds. So, herein, I shall endeavour to show her, and you, and maybe some random Google searchers, how to make use of the RSS readers that you probably already have installed presently. If Firefox and IE are insufficient, then I leave it as an exercise for you to find alternative RSS readers.
Not a day after Jodi shows me videos of mini horses and monkeys being trained as service animals, Bush’s administration (the DOJ specifically) goes and redefines service animal as “dog” for no other reason than out of sheer ignorance of the state of affairs of the real world. I’m sick to death of the Bush Junta doing everything they can to make life harder for the unprivileged, the not-wealthy — you know, the opposite of the rich folks, Bush’s self-proclaimed “base”.
I’ll link to the videos as soon as I can find the specific videos Jodi showed me — they involve monkeys being trained to open jars, get things from the fridge, scratch your facial itches, and put DVDs into a DVD player and press play. It’s seriously impressive what these monkeys can do, and I’m sure they’d be a huge boon for quadriplegics. For Bush to take that away from these people is disgusting.
Update: …oh. Joke’s on me. Jodi found those videos while reading previous entries on Culture Dish, the very blog I linked to above. The consonance of being exposed to the video immediately prior to being shown an example of Bush administration stupidity still stands.