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New here with a question on Metaphysics

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Albionan
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Hello I am new here. I have been a student of Objectivism for 5 years. I have read Ayn Rand's works and some of Leonard Piekoff's. To say I have read them is not right. They caused me to question all my premises and to validate them. When I first read Atlas shrugged I wanted to throw it in the fire. I read it again and thought about what she was saying and tried to find the contradictions in her ideas. I finally had to admit that I could not find any or at least the ones I found were minor.

What brings me here tonight is a question of Metaphysics. I was responding to a post on another forum. The thread was on a scientific study that claimed that the conditions for life were so rare in the universe that they could not be duplicated and that The Earth was the only planet to harbor life.

Now this is a subject that I have thought a great deal about. I came to the conclusion that there probably is life elsewhere in the Universe and I base that on Ayn Rand's definition of concepts and my observation that by the nature of the Universe there is never only one of any type of thing. For every concept such as planet, cloud or grain of sand there are more than one concrete and that since we can form a concept of "life bearing planet" from our observation of Earth there must be other examples out there. I was told to go read a book called "The Privileged Planet" which argued the same thing as the study and then report back and eat crow. I told the person that I didn't have the time to read the book but since he had could he answer my philosophical argument and he basically told me since I wasn't a scientist I should shut up.

So I am coming here to ask if my philosophical argument has merit or am I just out there? I would appreciate your thoughts.

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Welcome to OO.

Here's a link to an earlier thread on this topic.

Your argument that there is never one of anything doesn't work. It's not even really an argument, more of a speculation.

Your argument that uses the theory concepts is weaker still: concepts are things we come up with, to deal with reality. It would be pretty circular to use a concept (or phrase like "life bearing planet") to assume a reality. We can imagine all sorts of things and come up with names for these imaginary things. That does mean they exist somewhere.

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So I am coming here to ask if my philosophical argument has merit or am I just out there? I would appreciate your thoughts.

You are just out there.

"Life bearing planet" is not a first level concept, therefore it cannot be relied upon as being formed from two or more instances, and so one cannot deduce from the existence of the concept to the existence of another life bearing planet.

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I see what you are saying. It is speculation. But it's speculation based on extrapolation of an Observation of reality and not just my imagination. I guess the idea that the solar system is unique in harboring life among the trillions and trillions of stars seems to be a contradiction of the universality of things. It would be like there only ever being 1 raindrop or one leaf. I guess the proper attitude to have is "we will deal with it when we find it" but I enjoy thinking about such things.

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So I am coming here to ask if my philosophical argument has merit or am I just out there? I would appreciate your thoughts.

Philosophically (epistemologically, more specifically logically, more specifically by relying on basic deduction from the knowledge that there is life on earth) both options are possible. It is possible that life is such a wild accident that it can never happen again, and it's possible that life is common across the Universe.

What is required to decide which is not philosophy, but science (the study of how life formed, to test whether it can be replicated given a set of naturally occurring conditions or not, here on Earth, and the study of whether there was ever life on Mars: in other words, less philosophizing, more empirical evidence). However, the modern scientists you see on the Discovery channel for instance, clamoring to argue that the only logical possibility is that life is common across the Universe are not providing a scientific argument, they are going for a philosophical one, and a flawed one at that. They have no basis for excluding the option that the formation of life is so improbable that it's unique. That is an obvious logical possibility.

As scientists, they should treat their proposition as a mere hypothesis. Don't try to rewrite the scientific method every time you run into an obstacle with it. If other scientists did that, we'd still be in the dark ages.

Edited by Nicky
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1. "[T]here is never only one of any type of thing" is a tautology. You need at least two instances to form a concept. Rand's treatment of concepts in ITOE rests explicitly on this insight.

2. Rand never said there is no life outside of earth. According to the Heller biography, she thought she saw a UFO in the 40s. More the the point, she never denied it in her published writings.

3. This is a scientific, not a metaphysical question. Show me such organisms and we'll go from there.

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I like your point and thought similarly. If life on earth constituted life in the universe, it is a one-shot deal and a miracle. If life is natural and can start on earth, the conditions here must be "normal," otherwise, you can question whether gravity is normal and all of physics. How do we know our laws work on other planets? We have to assume some congruence among natural processes and nature as a whole. As knowledge of what constitutes life's origins becomes known, it will seem less a privilege or miracle. I'm sure intelligent life is smart enough to stay away from our planet. They would have nothing to learn and little to gain being so far ahead of us. Who would sit in a spaceship for decades to come here, when their planet must be awesome and fun?

For something to be so rare as to be impossible is invalid. For something to be so rare as to be impossible "elsewhere" is a corollary that is equally invalid, since a "second" must be "elsewhere." A true secularist seeks natural answers to natural phenomena.

Just a response to this: 1. "[T]here is never only one of any type of thing" is a tautology. You need at least two instances to form a concept. Rand's treatment of concepts in ITOE rests explicitly on this insight.

This would mean you can't have the concept "universe" without two universes. Obviously, we can. To invoke the "two instances" clause against life on another planet would seem to render the present concept, of life's origins on earth, invalid.

The question of life on other planets is really a question of inducing and generalizing life's origin here to elsewhere. I think you can fully justify the conviction that life exists elsewhere (without specifying its form elsewhere) without having discovered it yet, just as you can fully justify that fire will burn your hand in some distant galaxy even though no one will ever be able to test that "for sure."

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"Universe" is a name, not a concept. No problem here.

Addendum to #6: these considerations show that we need to observe more than one living organism to have the concept, not that we need to observe living organisms on more than one planet.

Edited by Reidy
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  • 2 weeks later...
The thread was on a scientific study that claimed that the conditions for life were so rare in the universe that they could not be duplicated and that The Earth was the only planet to harbor life.

Ugh, some people never comprehend any kind of functional epistemology. I've seen this type of discussion before, and I sympathize.

But, yes, if you assume a bunch of junk not backed up by any data, you could come to this "conclusion"--there are, in theory, more "possible" ways for organic molecules to form than there are (in theory, anyway) atoms in the known universe. But then, this assumes that, say, all combinations are equally likely, that events are random instead of causal, that we know ALL the causal factors involved (a claim which is laughable in any field today), etc. etc, etc.

Anyway, if you're going to study Objectivism, concentrate on epistemology. This is where Objectivism differs most from other philosophies and (not surprisingly) the point of greatest importance in understanding and apply Objectivism. You will wind up ass-over-teakettle in the ditch 99% of the time if you try to argue any application of Objectivism without a solid grasp of the epistemology.

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Others in the thread have pretty much pointed out the main flaws with this kind of argument. They aren't logical flaws per se--the argument can be fully internally consistent without in any way, shape, or form describing anything that exists in reality. They are flaws in reasoning.

To reason properly, you have to start with data. What is the data in this case? Well, first off, you start with the notion that life arises on a given planet due to the operation of natural processes whereby amino acids combine to form complex molecules that can perform myriad functions and eventually lead to the development of cells etc. (I'm simplifying a bit here because I don't know all the details and they're not important to the analysis of method.

However, amino acid chains are enormously long and complex molecules. ENORMOUSLY. So much so, that, yes, the number of possible combinations exceeds the number of atoms in the known Universe. The person making the claim that life must therefore be extremely rare is using these assumptions, then:

1. Amino acid chains developing into life is a completely random lottery.

2. There is only ONE combination out of ALL the possible ones that can lead to the existence of life.

3. Therefore, the chances of life developing on a given planet are equal to 1/N, N being all the possible combinations of these amino acids.

4. There just flat out aren't enough planets in the universe for this lottery to conceivably hit twice.

But these are all assumptions. They're not facts. Nobody yet knows precisely the process by which amino acids forming complex molecules creates life. It could be the case that there are billions upon trillions of possible combinations that work. It could be the case that the sequencing is totally not random in any way. It may even be the case that given the right kinds conditions where these molecules can form, the development of life is nearly *assured*. Considering how many researchers have managed to replicate this complex-molecule-forming process in the lab in an amazingly short amount of time, this may indeed be the case.

Assumptions of this kind, which are not tied to any facts or data, have a particular epistemological status: they are arbitrary. They have exactly the same value as any other random thought pulled out of the air, which is to say, none. No meaning can be ascribed to them, and no meaning can be ascribed to any "conclusions" derived from them regardless of the quality of the logic involved. The people talking about this issue are, literally, inventing things out of thin air. There is no need to try and disprove their random maunderings because they have yet to even enter into the universe of proof.

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