Saturday, July 05, 2008

Where Is ET?

Nick Bostrom's article on the undesirability of finding life on Mars got me thinking, as articles of that kind will. These thoughts come, I guess, with being a writer of what passes mostly as 'science-fiction'.

It also reminds me that in my 'space' novels there are no alien intelligences—nor do I have any intentions of introducing any. The reasons for this are two-fold:
  1. I don't need aliens to tell my stories.
  2. I've come to consider seriously the possibility that maybe there is no 'life' as we know it in the galaxy, or maybe anywhere, in this universe.
Regarding (1):

There are two reasons why one should introduce 'aliens' into sci-fi stories. Both of these reasons subsume a great many variations on a theme, but basically that's all they are. Sometimes they overlap, but that's not germane to the argument. The reasons are these:

(a) A desire to speculate about the nature of 'intelligent life' and what it could look like and what results 'contact' between 'them' and 'us' might have for either species or life-form.

(b) Aliens are used to explore and highlight aspects of human behavior, individual and social.

About (a), I think we've now been-there-done-that and pretty much exhausted the use of the speculative in investigating this. It was interesting when it first came our way, but nothing actually new has been added to it for quite a while. Besides, the real point has usually been missed, which is that we actually have no idea what 'alien intelligence' even means or could mean. We'd probably have more of a notion of what would or could go on in the 'mind' of an A.I. we've created, even if it's a 'super'-A.I., than of 'aliens'.

Everything that's ever been written has been conceptually and contextually anthropocentric, and it can never be any different. I think even the idea of the existence of some 'basic' form of communication, such as that conceived by SETI or attempts to send signals into outer space, is presumptuous. It's based on the assumption of the universality of our mathematics and science—all of which, as one needs to reminds oneself, is based on the way our brains work; and there's no guarantee that there could not be a gazillion different ways of 'brains' to conceptualize and systematize the 'scientific', and that these conceptualizations would be completely incomprehensible to another form of intelligence.

Regarding (b), the device has some merit; but I think other humans are sufficiently incomprehensible and puzzling to give us endless material for 'behavior exploration'. Why trouble with the overhead of contriving 'aliens'? It was cool in the early days of SF, and the likes of Jack Vance have had a field day with the technique. But it's time to move on, methinks. The point is also, that we know nothing much more today that'll help us with figuring out what 'aliens' might be like than we knew in the early days of sci-fi.

All of this means that I have no interest in aliens and latter day SF involving 'aliens'—with a few notable exceptions, like Rewind, where the aliens, however, were just a stand-in for deities bearing certain gifts. Besides, aren't humans so very much more interesting?

Regarding (2):

I know that you can use 'statistics' to 'prove' that there just has to be more life than just ours in the galaxy and/or the universe at large. But let's face it, there's lies, damn lies and statistics, as the saying goes; and there are the assumptions that you base your statistics on.

With the hubris typical of scientism, late 20th century sensibilities and a reaction against long-established monotheist dogma—which tends to favor the notion that we're all the life there is and ever will be—assumptions were reworked so that 'statistical analysis', both scientific and 'commonsense' indicated hat there had to be life on other places than humble Earth. The post-Copernican astronomical paradigm—Earth is not at the center of the universe or in any way special—translated into a biological one. Nowadays the conclusion is considered too obvious to dispute, and only religioids are generally considered capable of entertaining other notions.

I think it's pretty much implicit in what I said before that I think science based on unquestioned assumptions driven by social bias and political and social correctness is bad science. As far as E.T. is concerned I cannot see any evidence whatsoever—except that produced by flakey stats based on flakey assumptions—for the existence of any form of 'life' that we would recognize as such; and even less, if that were possible, for the existence of 'intelligence'.

Bottom line: we may actually be all alone. The one and only spark of life the universe has ever brought forth, and maybe the only one it ever will give rise to.

The answer to the question may be that the question is meaningless. And I wonder, if maybe it's all that bad an answer. There is no God and there's no E.T. Nobody to help or hinder us. It's all, again, up to us to make of what we are what we can be.

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