Assortments of Thought

Posts Tagged ‘Life

By our own standards at least, communication of a high order remains the hallmark of an intelligent, sentient species. The ability to communicate thoughts, feelings, and abstract ideas sets us apart from all other known animals, and is arguably the basis of sentience itself, for to communicate without, one must first think (“communicate”) within. Yet in spite of its magnificence, should it ever come to meeting with intelligent aliens, communication will likely present a great many barriers to be overcome, beyond even “practical” and environmental ones that may hinder mere attempts at it. For different species may communicate through varying physical means, for instance, or else be physiologically incapable of producing or of even perceiving others’ languages. Further, just as two equally-functional computer processors typically can’t understand the other’s “languages”, so too might alien minds be incapable of comprehending languages that developed independently of them. While the use of multiple sign languages though–each species perceiving all others, while producing just their own–could likely be a workaround for the physical and physiological barriers (in fact, given certain characteristics of light versus sound, spoken languages could probably work in this way as well), no such simple workaround exists for the potential comprehension barrier. Indeed, only the rather extreme and questionable approach of creating a new species could seemingly handle it, for “universal translators” could only be built once someone had comprehension of the languages to be interpreted between. Hence inter-species communication may be far trickier than science fiction at least nearly always suggests, and with it, so too may be any true form of a cosmic community; serving as a reminder, perhaps, of the very special bond that we–like all members of any given species–truly share.

Continue reading “Cosmic Language” …

Formal contact with an extraterrestrial species remains one of the most tantalizing possibilities today. While everyone can’t agree on the desirability of such contact, nearly everyone agrees on how significant it would be, for the grand question of our uniqueness in the universe would be answered. Yet it’s possible and perhaps even likely that contact is about as much as we might achieve with an alien civilization, let alone social relations, because the barriers may be too great. Whether they’re out there isn’t the problem; the size and age of the universe guarantees us that. Rather, the problems of contact hinge on how widespread such civilizations are, and whether they have the technology to find and travel to us. For establishing and maintaining social relationships, however, the potential barriers are far greater. Not only could individuals of an alien species require radically different environmental conditions than we do, their varying biological senses and psychologies could present them with vastly different perceptions and understandings of the world, while mismatches of cognitive and linguistic abilities could present problems as well. Even assuming then that a given civilization was at all like ours, which is to say, not so scientifically advanced that we’d have trouble relating to or even fathoming it, we could still be different in ways that would preclude or at least greatly hinder social relationships. Thus the problem in notions of an eventual inter-species community is probably not whether extraterrestrials exist or whether we’ll eventually make contact, but rather that contact may never lead to meaningful social relationships.

Continue reading “Barriers Beyond Contact” …

It is very difficult to permanently yet precisely define what is meant by biological life, at least in such a way so as to encompass all that we recognize as being alive, yet recognize life not yet discovered or even formed. This partly stems from the sheer diversity of life here on Earth. However, it also stems from the fact that we haven’t even seen all life that exists here, much less any that may exist elsewhere in the universe. Hence, in defining life by considering the fundamental commonalities of all known life, we face the drawback of making an induction from a sample. We can define life so as to include all that we are currently aware of as being alive, but any such definition may fail to account for what we may later discover, or even for something which hasn’t yet evolved. However, I believe that by considering a fundamental, chemistry-inspired difference between life and non-life, we may in fact be able to obtain both a more permanent and yet more precise definition. Rather than relying on an induction, we can instead define two single requirements for something to be considered alive based on chemistry. Namely, that living things contain their own descriptions as genetic material within them, and that they propagate through some form of reproduction and transmission of this material.

Continue reading “Defining Biological Life” …


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