Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


Life in the Universe
Mike DeLone and Mike Wills


Summary by Tamsyn Churchill

Life in the Universe

Mike deLone’s and Mike Wills’s presentation on the existence of life in the Universe began with the ideas of three men, Christopher Keiser, Robert Jastrow, and Robert Russell. They also introduced us to the disclosure project, which aims to disclose to the public what the government knows about ETs.

Keiser had a lot to say on what were the levels of intelligence we should expect on other planets; it may not be the same; lower levels of intelligence; higher levels; new forms altogether. Keiser also makes the point that it is due to the Moon’s stabilizing influence on the earth that life was able to exist on Earth. This lead to a clarification of what the Moon does for the Earth by Thomas Davis, and Willem deVries; the large moon may play a role in the Earth’s stability by keeping the axis at 23.5 degrees, since the seasons are due to this tilt.

Jastrow felt that if fossils were discovered on Mars that would suggest the existence of life elsewhere in the Universe. He also felt that since human life is relatively a new comer in the Universe then life elsewhere must be far more advanced. Because of this, we should not go looking for life elsewhere for fear of being conquered. He also felt that, if proved, ET’s existence would cause a crisis for the Christian Church.

Russell thought about the possible differences between human and alien thought processes, morals, and ability to hope. Having said this, it should be pointed out that for communication to be possible ETs must be listening, and that is an optimistic attitude, ergo hope. His idea is that ETs will be like humans, “seeking the good, beset by failures and open to grace and forgiveness and new life.” deVries let the group know that he found Russell “to be hooey and nonsense”.

A discussion on intelligence (types and how to judge it) was entered into. DeLone defined intelligence as “the capacity to define and acquire knowledge”. He also made the point that how you judge intelligence is different for different species; that there are different types of intelligences. Among those discussed were kinesthetic, naturalist, emotional, and artistic intelligences.

Davis asked whether language isn’t necessary to test intelligence. To which deVries informed the group that there are non linguistic intelligence tests. At this time it was pointed out that testing of intelligence is limited by our own intelligence.

Kyle questioned if there was anything to backup Keiser’s idea that other life forms may have different forms of intelligence. Mike W. and deVries both point out that on earth there are different dimensions of intelligence, and this variance within humanity makes it more likely that there will be other types elsewhere. The point was raised that “across the universe life could exist in ways we don’t understand. Could we measure intelligence relative to our own?”

Math was put forth as the universal language, the one that would be understood by other intelligent life. Moebius added in the quip, “If you can send or receive radio waves, that [ability] suppose[s] mathematics and intelligence.”

The question was brought up of whether we should contact other life forms with the historical evidence of how we treated life that was different. Could we stop ourselves from doing what we did to races on Earth? Moebius pointed out that due to the cosmic speed limit, space travel would be such that by the time the message was received and a spaceship launched, it would be thousands of years before anyone would reach an ET planet and the original senders (if not the species itself) would be long gone. This point was not allowed to slide as one without contention.

Once contacted, would that life even care about other intelligence? Kyle pointed out, “curiosity is human. It isn’t given that they will be curious in return.” So for us to communicate they’d have to possess curiosity. Ultimately we are searching for a life form with shared capacity to communicate, with some parallels to us. Since the messages would have to travel a long distance, would either side (ET, human) be alive to receive a response?

Sam’s query, “I don’t get how we assume that another intelligence out there is more intelligent,” prompted the Drake equation to be evoked. Mike D. explains it as a way to focus on the factors, which determine how many intelligent, communicating civilizations (N) could be in our galaxy:

N= (N*)(fp)(ne)(f1)(fi)(fe)(fz)

We have the number of stars in the galaxy (N*), and we have recently come to know what fraction of stars have planets around them (fp), (ne), is the fraction of planets per star capable of sustaining life; they must have specific attributes to do this and is currently an unknown number. The last four numbers (fl), (fi), (fc), and (fz), are all unknowns. They are defined as:

(fl) ~ fraction of planets where life evolves
(fi) ~ fraction of (fl) with intelligent life
(fc) ~ fraction of (fi) with capability (desire) to communicate
(fz) ~ (a fraction) life span of (fc) civilizations

Some felt it was ridiculous since we didn’t know the values. deVries explained that the point of it was not to get an answer, but that it clarifies what we need to determine to find N.

Moebius pointed out that it is possible that “we will be able to flesh out the other numbers”. Estimated values were found using and were plugged into the equation giving an answer of 30 billion communicating planets which, given the largeness of the number, must be for the entire universe. Since it is so difficult to know the precise values of the variables, it was pointed out that the problem might only be solvable in reverse; once we know about life elsewhere.