Monday, May 05, 2008


Life on Mars?

We better hope not. Assuming life is easy to create and that the barrier (filter) to intelligent life is not difficult to overcome the vast number of stars in our galaxy suggests that it should be teaming with intelligent life. But we haven't discovered them yet or they haven't made themselves known. That leaves the question of whether there is some great filter which life passes through to produce intelligence and exploration and whether we have passed through it or have yet to meet it.

If we discovered some very simple life-forms on Mars, in its soil or under the ice at the polar caps, it would show that the Great Filter must come somewhere after that period in evolution. This would be disturbing, but we might still hope that the Great Filter was located in our past. If we discovered a more advanced life-form, such as some kind of multicellular organism, that would eliminate a much larger set of evolutionary transitions from consideration as the Great Filter. The effect would be to shift the probability more strongly against the hypothesis that the Great Filter is behind us. And if we discovered the fossils of some very complex life-form, such as a ­vertebrate-­like creature, we would have to conclude that this hypothesis is very improbable indeed. It would be by far the worst news ever printed.

The only other hope for us would be that all the intelligent life is hiding from us while we caught up. A sort of Star Trek model for galactic cooperation which doesn't allow interference in primitive cultures. That sounds better than waiting for the discovery of some super destructive technology that ends all human life.

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