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The problem with DavidOddens analysis is gremlins are arbitrary and positing their existence anywhere is therefore also arbitrary. But life is NOT arbitrary and positing its existence elsewhere is therefore NOT arbitrary.

I think David was correct. Replace the gremlins in his example with college professors studying Hegel on earth. That is not evidence that college professors are studying Hegel on Venus.

The existence of life on earth is not evidence for its existence anywhere else.

In the complete absence of any evidence of life anyplace else, the notion that it exists elsewhere is indeed arbitrary. We know it can exist on earth. We do not know anything about the notion that it may exist elsewhere. In the absence of any evidence, no conclusion can be drawn, including the conclusion that it is possible that life exists elsewhere.

This is one of the main points that Peikoff makes concerning arbitrary propositions. A mere assertion that something is possible does not establish a possibility. The fact that something can be imagined does not establish a possibility. The absence of evidence to the contrary does not establish a possibility.

(And yes, I do discount the stories of alien abductions and UFO sightings. People have been trying to develop corroborating evidence for 50 years. So far, I have not seen any.)

One of the most interesting analysis of this issue comes from Michael Crichton. He points out that the famous Drake equation championed by SETI in 1960 is meaningless. The equation is:

N=N*fp ne fl fi fc fL

* Where: N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy;

* fp is the fraction with planets;

* ne is the number of planets per star capable of supporting life;

* fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves;

* fi is the fraction where intelligent life evolves;

* and fc is the fraction that communicates;

* and fL is the fraction of the planet's life during which the communicating civilizations live.

Crichton points out that none of the terms can be known. Most cannot even be estimated. The only thing one can do is make guesses.

As a result, the equation can have any value from "billions and billions" to zero. As Crichton points out, an equation that can mean anything means nothing.

You can read Crichton's excellant speech on this and other matters at this website: http://www.crichton-official.com/speeches/index.html

The equation above is from his Caltech Michelin Lecture.

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I wouldn't say never.  First off, there is the possibility that some civilization that is way older than we are started sending out signals a long time ago.  Secondly, if we could somehow harness wormholes, anything could happen.

Man, I sound like a Trekkie right now.

But who would benefit sufficiently to justify the expesne required to somehow "harness" what so far has seemed more a theoretical construct than anything we've been able tof ind. (We've found evidence that strongly suggests that black holes exists, but I don't know if the same has been said for wormholes.)

Research may be fine for its own sake, but action is another matter. Wormhole manipulation is so expensive that there would have to an enormous reward for completing it to justify the effort. In other words, there has to be something in it for somebody other than the simple thought of "It's there, let's see what it is."

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  • 2 years later...
I've been wondering this for a while. What is the Objectivist stance on the possibility of extra-terrestrial life somewhere else in the Universe?

I'm not a hundred percent sure of the Objectivistic stance, but speaking for myself from a purely realistic perspective, I'm given to the belief that there does exist "...the possibility of extra-terrestrial life somewhere else in the Universe..." and that to conclude otherwise is as irrational and arbitrary as it is presumptuous.

I base my rationale on the scientific fact that our Solar System is but a minuscule part of a much larger spacial construct known as a Galaxy, the Milky Way Galaxy, composed of our Solar System together with at least 200 billion other stars (though more recent estimates have given numbers around 400 billion) and their planets, and thousands of clusters and nebulae...That every point of light that we are able to see in the night sky is representative of either other Suns, or their reflections on neighboring planetary surfaces... Not to mention the scientific fact that, in the early nineties, scientists at NASA pointed the Hubble telescope at but one, minute piece of sky that's about as big as a grain of sand held at arm's length and revealed about 4,000 other Galaxies....

Conversely, on our planet alone we have both marveled at and reveled in the discovery of various forms of life, both "as we know it" and others that have forced us to completely re-evaluate our conventional concepts of both what qualifies as life, as well as the environs conducive to life and it's proliferation.

Based on these demonstrable evinces themselves that we are capable of actually seeing for ourselves, capable of putting hand to object and not merely mind to concept/theory/philosophy, I do contend that it is quite pretentious, albeit even egotistical, to assume that no life beyond that which exists on this planet is to be found in our Galaxy, let alone the Universe itself...quite conceited indeed.

To help those interested in attempting (I say "attempt" because it can be quite an unfathomable concept to get one's mind around) to gain a perspective of the immense vastness of the Universe, and hence the likelihood of life other than our own, try having a look at Google Sky (accessible by clicking on the little icon at the top of the Google Earth program page), which you can download for free at http://earth.google.com/.

Then, for the more so inquisitive amongst the Objectivist community here, try checking out http://www.sky-map.org/ (also viewable for free) for a more so defined/refined look at those spots of the Galaxy/Universe that are of an interest to you.

After you've taken the time to peruse the information found in the links, I'd love to hear back from everyone here to see just what sort of impact this bit of disclosure has had on your perspectives.

Happy surfing....

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I figured it would be considered a violation of Objectivist epistemology to believe in alien life, because there is no sensory evidence for it. So, it seems to me that the de facto Objectivist position is that it should be accepted as false, until there is evidence.

You are correct to this extent: there is no evidence of life on any planet but our own. On the other hand if life originated on this planet as a result of natural processes, then there is no reason to assume the -impossibility of life- in other places in the cosmos. If the laws of physics are uniform and hold everywhere and everywhen, then we would have to conclude that life is possible elsewhere if the physical conditions for it exist. Bottom line: we cannot eliminate the -possibility- of ET life on purely logical or scientific grounds.

Looking for life elsewhere or elsewhen is not like trying to square the circle with straight edge and compass. On the other hand I would not hold my breath until life is found elsewhere. Also, given that the rate of transmission of information or the physical motion of ponderable bodies is limited by the speed of light, we should not expect any Alien Visits anytime soon.

Bob Kolker

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There's an anecdote about a scientist who was asked by a newspaper for a 500 word piece on the likelihood of life on Mars. The scientist wired bak "Nobody knows" two hundred and fifty times.

Based on what we know about the origins of life on Earth, we can speculate there could be life in other planets. Based on what we know about life on Earth, we ca speculate there could be intelligent life in other planets. So the proper view should be: "Plausible but unknown pending evidence."

the problem is obtaining evidence. Unless aliens come here, or we intercept radio signals, we won't know until we can explore the rest of the galaxy and see for ourselves. That could take a few hundreds of thousands of years. In the meantime we can speculate mostly for entertainment purposes.

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If the laws of physics are uniform and hold everywhere and everywhen, then we would have to conclude that life is possible elsewhere if the physical conditions for it exist. Bottom line: we cannot eliminate the -possibility- of ET life on purely logical or scientific grounds.
At the same time, you cannot support the -possibility- of ET life on purely logical or scientific grounds. That is, you cannot describe the physical parameters minimally required for life to be possible (example: we know that life cannot exist at the core of the sun, so life is not possible at the core of the sun), and compare that with what is known about conditions elsewhere. Since we do not know that the physical conditions required for life exist elsewhere, we cannot say that life is possible elsewhere.
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At the same time, you cannot support the -possibility- of ET life on purely logical or scientific grounds. That is, you cannot describe the physical parameters minimally required for life to be possible (example: we know that life cannot exist at the core of the sun, so life is not possible at the core of the sun), and compare that with what is known about conditions elsewhere. Since we do not know that the physical conditions required for life exist elsewhere, we cannot say that life is possible elsewhere.

....and we don't truly know what those conditions are. We know what environment we (earth life in general, not just humans) need to stay alive, and the more stringent requirements for actually thriving, but we don't know what other forms of life--life not "as we know it" would need, because we don't really know what other forms of life are possible.

Another aspect of this is that we have recently (the last couple of decades) discovered forms of life here on earth that broke what we thought were the rules. We once thought all life depended (ultimately) on the sun's energy; we now know this is not true with the life that lives near ocean floor vents and extremophile bacteria that live thousands of feet underground. The only hard requirements here on earth now are a source of energy and water.

Other side of the coin--if we were to observe significant percentages (not just a trace amount) of oxygen in the atmosphere of a planet, we'd be pretty certain there was life there. The oxygen, so far as we know, could only be there as a product of life, in our case plant life.

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I figured it would be considered a violation of Objectivist epistemology to believe in alien life, because there is no sensory evidence for it. So, it seems to me that the de facto Objectivist position is that it should be accepted as false, until there is evidence.

Now that I've humbly offered my own perspective on the matter, along with some supportive rational with links to accommodating resources, I offer my best answer for your initial and current inquiry with a question: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it...does it still make a sound? Another way of stating this concept is to ask: Is 'a' not 'a'?

This line of intuitive reasoning falls right in step with Rand's philosophical discourse outlined in her work, "For The New Intellectual", wherein she delves into a lengthy discourse on the history of philosophy and how her particular brand either corresponds or detracts from the conventional wisdom of others, discussing at length the distinction between "existence" and "consciousness".

When Rand distinguishes 'existence' from 'consciousness', she mainly means by "existence" what other philosophers call "the external world" -- thus, the distinction is between states of one's own mind and external phenomena. According to Objectivism, existence has primacy over consciousness in two senses. First, epistemologically: human knowledge begins with (sensory) awareness of the external world. It does not begin with awareness of one's own ideas. The reason is that ideas or states of consciousness are necessarily ideas about something, and that something is what one is aware of. One could not become aware of one's own consciousness, unless one first had some states of consciousness to be aware of; and one could not have states of consciousness, unless one first had something else that one was conscious of.

Rand's most fundamental premise is epitomized in the words of John Galt (a character from the novel "Atlas Shrugged"), "The axiom that existence exists" . Then a corollary premise is that man is a conscious being who perceives this existing reality. These two, existence and consciousness, are fundamental, inescapable axioms in any action we undertake: "Whether you know the shape of a pebble or the structure of a solar system, the axioms remain the same: that it exists and that you know it" . Implied in these two axioms is the law of identity and the law of non-contradiction. A is A, a stone is a stone and not a flower, a thing is what it is and not something else, you cannot have your cake and eat it too. That is the law of identity. Existence is not wishy-washy but is a firm base for epistemology. The law of non-contradiction then is the epistemological form of the law of identity: you cannot know A to be A and at the same time know A to be not-A. Two mutually exclusive assertions cannot both be known to be true at the same time. "A contradiction does not exist . . . To arrive at a contradiction is to confess an error in one's thinking; to maintain a contradiction is to abdicate one's mind and to evict oneself from the realm of reality"

The basic ethical commitment of Ayn Rand is to be rational. That is, she seeks a life that accords with the fact that A is A, and no contradiction in one's thinking or acting is to be tolerated. Thus in designating her standard of ethics as "rational self-interest," the emphasis must fall on the word "rational."

It begins with the axiom that existence exists, which means that an objective reality exists independent of any perceiver or of the perceiver's emotions, feelings, wishes, hopes or fears. Objectivism holds that reason is man's only means of perceiving reality and his only guide to action. By reason, I mean the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses.

Ergo, I forward the conclusion that alien life does, indeed, "exist" and that it is but for us/mankind to become "conscious" of it.

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If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it...does it still make a sound?
In the case of a sound, it has to be heard. It may create an acoustic waveform, but you need something more for a sound.
When Rand distinguishes 'existence' from 'consciousness', she mainly means by "existence" what other philosophers call "the external world" -- thus, the distinction is between states of one's own mind and external phenomena.
Well, no, actually that is false. Existence refers to all that exists, which includes consciousness. You will find this laid out in Galt's speech. Existence would thus be the internal and external world, and not just the external world. Consciousness is "the internal world", so it's a sub-part of existence.
Ergo, I forward the conclusion that alien life does, indeed, "exist" and that it is but for us/mankind to become "conscious" of it.
Do you mean that it exists as an imaginary state of affairs, because some person imagines it so that imagination exists?
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In the case of a sound, it has to be heard. It may create an acoustic waveform, but you need something more for a sound.
It does indeed make a sound, whether or not a human ear is available to note it, an often loud and engulfing sound in the vast solitude of a forest, but a sound nonetheless.

Well, no, actually that is false. Existence refers to all that exists, which includes consciousness. You will find this laid out in Galt's speech. Existence would thus be the internal and external world, and not just the external world. Consciousness is "the internal world", so it's a sub-part of existence.
First off, I did not say that that was Rand's interpretation of what construes "existence", rather what she interpreted as "...other philosophers" concept of it.

Be that as it may, I submit a possible example of the inherent contradiction in this aspect of your rationale of Rand's philosophy...while a blind person is "conscious", yet devoid of vision...does this mean that color does not "exist" for the rest of us merely because they are unable to view/are "conscious" of it? As such, it appears that you've forwarded a counter-intuitive proposition, one that does not seem likely to be true when assessed using intuition or gut feelings or rationale even, though it does.

Scientifically discovered, objective truths are often called counter-intuitive when intuition, emotions, and other cognitive processes outside of deductive rationality interpret them to be wrong. However, the subjective nature of intuition limits the objectivity of what to call counter-intuitive because what is counter-intuitive for one may be intuitive for another, i.e., the blind man and the actual existence of color...but then, I did cover all of this already in my previous post.

Do you mean that it exists as an imaginary state of affairs, because some person imagines it so that imagination exists?

I meant that I consider it to be an actual state of affairs and that it is merely our task to find it as the evidence for such is overwhelming that it exists.

Edited by -archimedes-
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  • 13 years later...
On 3/2/2005 at 3:55 PM, Bryan said:
the tortured one said:
I read figures that prior to the Roswell incident, there wasn't a single UFO sighting. There was, however, a large number of Angel sightings. After Roswell, UFO sightings swelled, while angel sightings dropped off dramatically.

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe all the people thought that they were seeing angels were really seeing aliens the whole time. :)

Does anyone have evidence that angel sightings decreased after Roswell?

Regarding UFO sightings, this article says there was one at Mt. Rainier shortly before Roswell, which gave rise to the acronym "UFO." And this article suggests that people in Massachusetts witnessed a UFO in 1639, only they lacked the concept back then and considered it a light apparition. 

Given the recent UFO evidence, it seems possible that people mistook UFOs for angels or lights, perhaps even going back to ancient times. Who knows how long these objects have been flying around earth.

Etymologically, "angel" means "messenger." In my KJV Bible's concordance "angel" is described/defined as "heavenly messenger." If we assume that UFOs are AI machines sent from an alien civilization on a distant world, perhaps they have been trying to communicate with humans for some time, but until now we couldn't even identify their machines properly, let alone fully grasp the message being delivered. 

Edited by MisterSwig
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On 3/2/2005 at 1:49 PM, The Wrath said:

I've been wondering this for a while. What is the Objectivist stance on the possibility of extra-terrestrial life somewhere else in the Universe?

I'm not sure this is the Objectivist stance on it, but the stance which is demonstrably correct really depends on what sort of life we're talking about.

 

If I remember correctly it would take a fleet of modern-day rockets roughly one million years to colonize every habitable planet in our entire galaxy. That's not assuming anything like Warp Drives or exotic matter or anything else hypothetical; that's just a shit-ton of really big rockets carrying enough passengers (who are presumably okay in the knowledge that they'll never personally see the promised land) to constitute a viable gene pool. It's something we could actually be doing right now given sufficient materials and willpower. So the fact that Earth hasn't been colonized yet, in and of itself, is pretty solid evidence that mankind is the only instance of any volitional consciousnesses in the Milky Way Galaxy. There may be alien empires way off in other galaxies, but certainly not in this one.

On the other hand it doesn't seem like biological life, itself, should be that uncommon a phenomenon. It has a specific set of requirements, sure, but Earth is far from the only place in the universe which meets those requirements. Personally speaking (and this is just a hunch) I suspect there may well be some sort of aliens living under the ice of Europa, practically in our own backyard - they're just not going to be intelligent aliens.

And if you look back at the entire history of life on this planet you can find plenty of examples of life; tough and weird kinds of life that survived all manner of apocalyptic events (just look up the Oxygenation Event or the Great Dying) - but only a handful of intelligent ones (if we're generously counting the neanderthals etc) from one very specific evolutionary branch, which would likely have never been born if all the non-bird dinosaurs hadn't been exterminated first.

 

I have more examples, but the inductive argument I'm making from them is that life doesn't seem to be that rare or difficult while consciousness actually is.

 

And if the argument I'm alluding to is correct then we should see alien life forms all over the place, as our exploration efforts continue ratcheting up - alien microbes, plants and fungi, most likely, with the occasional dumb animal peppered in here and there.

 

What's the saying, though - "Either we are alone in this universe or we are not, and both possibilities are terrifying"?

Well, far from being the disappointment that I know many would see this scenario as, I actually think it gives us good reason to be hopeful and excited for the future. Sure, it means that there are no little gray men to show up and just hand us the cure for cancer (although I do believe in little gray squids and bugs with the tiniest of brain-analogues) bit it also means that our entire galaxy is free real estate, just waiting for a conscious hand to give it a purpose and a meaning.

As the First Born of our galaxy those hands will rightfully be our own.

The way Howard Roark feels when looking at trees (to be cut into timbers) or iron ore (to be melted into girders) or the world around him (waiting for my hands to give it a shape and a meaning); that's how every single one of us can feel about all the useless, mindless materials we find around this little blue speck. There are no prior claimants. It's all just sitting there, waiting for us. And I believe the music video I linked to above expressed that quite precisely.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
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On 3/2/2005 at 2:21 PM, Hal said:

While I dont personally believe extra-terrestrial life has visited earth, I'm not entirely happy with writing off the experiences of thousands of people as being 'deluded'/'misled'/'made up'/'incorrectly interpreted' with a wave of the hand - its almost the very definition of dogmatism.

I am.

I was raised as a fundamentalist Mormon.  I heard plenty of "eyewitness testimony" about all kinds of impossible things by the time I was ten.  I don't think those who offered it were all crazy or lying - but if you're willing to let your emotions run roughshod over your rational faculty, in certain situations, then you'll end up spouting all kinds of crazy nonsense in precisely those situations.

The fact that unidentifiably blurry photos of something and eyewitness testimony are all the evidence we have for UFO's places it in precisely the same epistemic bucket as human parthenogenesis, vampires, werewolves or the angel Moroni.  It's not a bucket which anyone really needs.

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On 3/2/2005 at 5:36 PM, the tortured one said:

As for crop circles, I am still skeptical. A civilization advanced enough to master Faster than Light travel, and yet the best method of communication they can come up with is to draw patterns in the crops? Any Alien civilization we come across is either going to be extremely primitive, or advanced beyond our comprehension. It would be like cavemen trying to figure out how a computer works.

Exactly.

If an intelligent alien species had the technology to come all the way over here, and for some reason wished to do so, there is no reason for them to bother hiding anything.  At that point a single science vessel of theirs would be more than a match for all the combined armies we could possibly raise, they'd probably be able to recreate our species (Jurassic Park style) from any random corpse and if they truly needed our cooperation they could just say "hey, anyone who helps us with this project we're doing; we'll make them immortal and, from your point of view, pretty much godlike".  If any such species had the means and the motive to do anything at all on Earth they would simply rock up and start doing it without much regard for what any of us thought about it.

There may be alien life forms (probably not intelligent ones) somewhere out there.  It does seem likely.  But we can be certain there aren't any secret UFO's running around in our skies and trying to hide themselves from us.

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