Wed, 24 July 2013
I want you to imagine that we are alone.
That on the biological spaceship we call earth, we drift through the void as a ship would upon quiet seas. On all horizons, there are no shores to be seen. In the deepest night, only the stars shine to share the lonely burden.
In our own sea, the solar system, we have found isles, but no refuge. Some planets seem suitable at a distance, but are toxic underfoot. Others, volcanic and turbulent, devoid of life. Some are even devoid of surface.
So we look outward, out to that currently insurmountable ocean. Centauri beckons. A mere 4.27 light years. An instant to the cosmic scale, or 165,000 years in our most advanced space vehicle. There is a chance of an exoplanet here. A planet that humans could call home. A place where the skies are blue and the soil rich. Where the only major difference is that the familiar night sky gives way to new stars and constellations. Where our own home star is just a glinting mote in a crystalline sky.
But only a chance.
What if we reach this world and still find ourselves as the only intelligent being in the universe? Do we look outward to our galaxy? There are an estimated 10 billion earth like planets in The Milky Way. Are we so lucky that only Earth had the chemical composition to spawn life? That we are 1 in 10 billion? Do we push this further and consider the quintillions of star systems in the known universe?
Is it empty?
Are we alone?
Are we the only instance of the biological epoch? Are we the only sets of atoms that are even aware of atoms?
Our vessel drifts through infinite black, embraced only by the mass of a finite thrashing from the basest elements in our star.
Yet we are one of billions in our own cosmic neighborhood. One of billions of trillions on far off shores in galaxies further than comprehension. Less than a single grain of sand in a great desert, or a piece of spittle falling into an ocean.
Does this make us more important? Or less? Are we simply a temporary anomaly so far beset in the depths of the void that it will never matter, or are we the only matter that matters because we understand ourselves to be matter? Or is our consciousness just the conduit for our delusions of grandeur?
Is it blind arrogance to think that with all that is, only we exist to understand it? That our one rock is somehow the center of all. That we do not share this common cosmos with a single other microbe or form of life, except for what is on our little blue ball. That an entire universe is dead except for us, who are to this planet little more than bacteria.
It cannot yet be said for certain, but smart money disagrees. Life thrives in every nook and cranny on this world, often in places said to be near impossible. If we can go 1 for 8 plus a Plutoid on our own block, then what’s to say that the same vitality doesn’t grip the rest of the universe? Even if the odds are 1 in 100, 1 in 10,000, hell, one in 10 billion for a heavenly body to contain life, that still makes for a staggering amount over the course of an entire universe.
Do I believe we are alone? Not a chance.