Life but not as we know it:
Are we the only living things in the universe?
Whole religions are dedicated to the idea that the universe was created for us.
According to them, humans are created in god’s image, in charge of this planet. Everything in the universe is for our sole use.
Why is this so?
Because only humans know how the universe around us works. We alone know the rules, expressed as laws.
There are several different interpretations of how the universe works. Each of them have their proponents:
Moral lawgivers and makers
Such lawgivers include religions, religious leaders, cults, and minority religious beliefs. Most of them declare the superiority of mankind over other species. They set dietary, sexual, and moral prohibitions on their followers and make spiritual claims.
Social Science lawgivers and makers
Social Scientists, which include psychologists, declare that they can improve other people’s quality of life using pseudo scientific principles which have some logic behind them. Cures are usually backed by many claims to success. They may or may not include surgery and chemical mind alterations in the form of drugs.
Scientific lawgivers and makers
Scientists use paradigmatic and empiric methods to predict and control the behaviour of physical and biological elements in the universe around them. These laws are successful in explaining the behaviour and appearance of energy and matter. They have often, although not always, been applied to better the lives of humans. They provide successful explanations for many phenomena and can be used to control the physical universe, though rarely without unforeseen long term side effects.
Each of these have their promulgators and believers, but science wins. It has the largest following. It has the most sincere believers – at least sane ones.
Life and Science:
Scientists spend a lot of time explaining things, telling us why they are the way they are.
One of the big questions we seek a scientific answer for is life.
Currently we are at the stage of deciding what is alive and what is not. We cut things up and discover which bits are essential to life and why.
But scientists and explorers of the universe also spend time looking for life. Are we really the only god-like creatures in the entire universe? It doesn’t seem possible, and yet we have trouble even finding planets identical to ours.
however, a quick look around the universe shows it to be full of every kind of possible configuration of matter.
Nevertheless, we keep searching for biological, oxygen breathing, carbon based life forms, bipedal with five fingered hands and soft vulnerable skin. These creatures need to inhabit almost identical Terran planets, and be carbon and water based creatures.
That is absurd!
I am reminded of the monkeys typing Shakespeare analogy.
It’s possible of course, in an infinite universe, that we will find creatures identical to ourselves. But it’s not terribly likely. After all, we have create such a narrow set of search parameters.
Given that we have defined life within such a tiny spectrum of possibilities, we may indeed be the only ones of our kind.
If we add the caveat that these alien creatures also need to share something very close to our DNA, then we may be the only ones of our kind in the universe.
Perhaps we should go back to basics and try to define living things. Let us phrase the question slightly differently.
Are we the only life forms around on this planet?
Are we the Only Life Forms on this planet?
We should start with the generally accepted definition of living things:
- Nutrition. Living things take in materials from their surroundings that they use for growth or to provide energy
I think this definition is a little bit too specific. Still, according to this definition there are millions of different life forms on this planet alone, even if we limit our definitions to self reproducing biological life.
Complex Computing Software
But let us think a little bit out of the box. What if we apply the same definition to complex computing software (with minimal artificial intelligence)?
- Nutrition: Complex software absorbs and manipulates data
- Respiration: Complex software uses cycles of energy pulses in a fetch execute cycle. This can be considered analogous to a heartbeat or something close to respiration
- Movement: data is moved from internal storage to file or server to server
- Excretion: error data is excreted to error files
- Growth: complex systems are growing exponentially and taking on increasing amounts of functionality as they adapt
- Reproduction: of course they are reproducing, only with human assistance
- Sensitivity: these systems are highly adaptive and take on new functionality. They may create new hitherto unknown functions and create a need in their target populations for said functions
Superiority of Human Life Forms:
Given the competition from so many different life forms immediately around us we need to formulate a definition of life which supports our superiority to everything else. For this reason we require a definition of life which supports the idea of human superiority to all other life forms.
We add the use of language, spoken language, superior intelligence.
Use of Language:
Scientists often claim that language, our preferred method of communication, makes us superior to animals and any other life forms. This is interesting because language is so inefficient that we cannot express our feelings at all well, and it is easy to lie using language, even to ourselves. We have to listen carefully to understand each other too, or terrible misunderstandings arise in the cognitive trade-off conundrum.
Superior Intelligence and Understanding
Another feature which makes us a superior life form is intelligence. This is also quite an interesting claim because computers outperform humans in almost every task possible. it is becoming a less and likely claim as we approach the Artificial intelligence singularity.
Additional Features of Intelligence:
Language and intelligence are constantly redefined in order to allow us to cling on to the idea of our superiority to other life forms. In fact, intelligence has been so narrowly defined that really, we have to conclude that very few humans can be considered alive. Some recent examples suggest that as well as being able to perform mathematics, speak well, recite poetry and use good grammar, people have to do the following to be recognised as alive and equal to a superior human being:
- recognise art and culture
- negotiate really quite complex mazes
- recognise things they have never seen before
- tell jokes (and laugh at some really odd jokes too)
- tell lies in such a way that they can be accepted as true
- Ability to successfully exploit and manipulate the environment.
Life – But not as we know it:
We are losing the battle for superior top dog on this planet to software. It is already manipulating us into needing it. Software is proliferating everywhere and in all sections of our lives.
And as we venture further into the virtual, where universes can be utterly different to our own, we are forced to rethink everything that we believed about life.
A proper understanding of the virtual is essential if we are to colonise the virtual properly and safely.
What if the entire universe is alive? What if life was something which abounds in our universe and makes our world solid? That would make everything around us alive. in that case, every single thing defines itself and holds together by being alive. Some things live so slowly and so long that we do not even notice their existence, like mountain ranges. Some things live such short lives that we do not notice their passing, like the winds that pass over our planet. Some things are so small that we do not see them, like bacteria and viruses, or even nano particles. Some thins are so huge that we do not even see them as alive, like this planet and the entire solar system.
Why are we searching for the missing matter in this universe? It is surely life itself, unseen and omnipresent.