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Compounds Necessary For Life 'All Over Space'

michael posted more than 13 years ago | from the let-there-be-ultraviolet-light dept.

News 123

Kupek writes: "The Washington Post is carrying a story about how simple chemicals, when in space, form structures that resemble the membranes found in all life on Earth. "This discovery implies that life could be everywhere in the universe," said Louid Allamandola of NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. Instead of the life process happening entirely on a planet capable of supporting life, it is proposed that some of the process takes place in space."

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123 comments

Re:I wonder? (1)

Eccles (932) | more than 13 years ago | (#471047)

But what practical advantage did the proto-giraffe who had a neck 1mm longer than his colleagues have that caused him to be the only one to pass on his genetic material?

Why assume such a tiny difference? Human height variability is much wider, and we're not facing much in the way of evolutionary pressures.

However, the general supposition for this is that one gets punctuated equilibrium. That is, species tend to stay relatively unchanged once they are reasonably well adapted to their current environments. It either takes a significant useful mutation or a change in the environment to get the species to change much; global warming or cooling, changes due to continental drift, a few members stranded on a distant island, etc.

It's even possible that the rate of mutation is itself selected for or against; that is, a species under pressure from changes in the environ might select for higher mutation rates (from DNA transcription errors, etc.) and thus mutate faster than one in a more stable setting. Then, once mutation is not statistically an advantage, species members who mutate less breed more successfully and the mutation rate slows down.

I tend toward saying that the plan is somewhere encoded in nature, but that a plan that detailed had to have been put there intelligently -- that is, God exists.

A reasonable belief for Christians, it seems to me, is that God created us a world to learn about. And creating a multi-billion year history -- even if it existed only in the mind of God -- is one way of giving us information to discover about that world. And yes, an onmipotent God could create one that would be capable of evolving humans through random chance -- when he chose the initial seed value.

Re:God does not play dice with the universe (1)

Eccles (932) | more than 13 years ago | (#471048)

God does not play dice with the universe.
--Albert Einstein

"Albert, stop telling God what to do."
--Niels Bohr

"God not only plays dice with the universe, he
sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen."
--Stephen Hawking

The Bible actualy mentions "Worlds" in plural. (1)

Forge (2456) | more than 13 years ago | (#471049)

I don't recall the actual book or verse but somewhere in the old testiment it mentions that God has created other worlds.

If you are going to buy the argument that a single inteligent power ( God ) created a whole univers then it makes little sence that he would only make one habitable planet or a single inteligent spicie.

In other words sume christians ( including me ) speculate at a Star treck like univers theming with life. Some of it more advanced than us.

Under this theory the "fall of mankind" is probebly an anomaly. I.e. Most of those other races never got into this whole sin thing and are thus way ahead of us technologicaly with utopian cultures.

What did you think something with over a billion belivers would have complete unity on such matters as this ?

Looking at my teenage daughter's bedroom (1)

Epeeist (2682) | more than 13 years ago | (#471050)

"How many of us really think it's a good idea to trash the planet and leave the mess for our grandchildren"

Looking at my teenage daughter's bedroom I would guess that she is quite capable of trashing the planet all by herself.

Making life (1)

tsa (15680) | more than 13 years ago | (#471052)

I have the feeling that, with all the new knowledge about DNA and how life could have begun, within my lifetime people will be able to construct a living organism from scratch.

I thought... (1)

maroberts (15852) | more than 13 years ago | (#471053)

James T Kirk was responsible for putting them (compounds necessary for life in Space) there!!

"Show me this thing you earthlings call love"

Re:Well of course (1)

Smallest (26153) | more than 13 years ago | (#471054)

Hopefully we're now coming to the end of the humanocentric period of our history in which we view life on Earth as something unique

Yeah right. We can't even get past racism, nationalism, regionalism, culturalism and all of the other stupid "us vs. them" isms.

As soon as we find ET's, we're gonna have to kill them in order to preserve our precious Way of Life.

Fucking idiots, all of us.

-c

Re:We are alone. (1)

Smallest (26153) | more than 13 years ago | (#471055)

Yes it does. It is aimed at survival. There are numerous survival strategies, of which physical strength, stealth, speed and intelligence are examples

No, it doesn't. Evolution is not planned, it has no strategy. If you want a plan, go to God. Evolution doesn't care.

Changes occur in critters. Changes that are bad for the species eventually go away or are displaced by the changes that are good for the species. But the changes are entirely random (unless you believe that something is causing specific changes for specific reasons). The fact that the changes seem to follow a plan or path is entirely coincidental - the "path" is a product of human imagination. Evolution doesn't care.

-c

Re:Evolutionary process (1)

Smallest (26153) | more than 13 years ago | (#471056)

Evolution is not a mostly random process;

False.

If it isn't random, there would have to be a plan. But, no plan is required for evolution to work.

Critters are born with a set of attributes (parentAttribs +/- random changes). Some critters die without reproducing. Some die having reproduced a lot. This is evolution. No plan is required. Random changes will suffice.

-c

star seed!!! (1)

nmarshall (33189) | more than 13 years ago | (#471057)

kewl, when will i get to see them? or will it be more like the outlanders?

mmm'k will stop w/ the niven knownspace jokes..


nmarshall

The law is that which it boldly asserted and plausibly maintained..

Re:The Bible actualy mentions "Worlds" in plural. (1)

paRcat (50146) | more than 13 years ago | (#471058)

Mankind was allowed to go on after that first sin for a purpose. It was to prove that some would choose to serve God out of love for him rather than fear. And it also answers the challenge made by the devil, because not everyone will turn away from God to do bad things.

If there really were perfect creation somewhere else in the universe, why would we be used in such a way? Couldn't God simply point to those other worlds and to the way that they serve him? And why, when there are worlds of people that are perfectly serving God, would he send his only begotten son to the planet full of sinners?

As far as the teachings in the Bible go, I don't think there is any room for other intelligent life in the universe. (Aside from angels, of course) If concrete evidence of life on other planets was found, I don't believe the Bible and the information in it would be the center of so many people's lives. But, that evidence does not exist.

OTOH, I think the someone needs to try to find that evidence. If they don't, there will always be an unanswered question.


You CAN'T prove god exists.. (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 13 years ago | (#471060)

..and you can't prove he doesn't.

If you could one way or the other, then faith would be called "fact" or a "falsehood"

Existance claims are a waste of time. (Ironically, I'm spending time replying to one ;-)

--

Evolution _and_ Complexity (1)

voidzero (85458) | more than 13 years ago | (#471064)

MPolo wrote "That is, we would have to posit millions of years of non-working retinas that still managed to naturally select until they got to the point of a working retina. The fossil record doesn't bear this out."

Legion303 replied that "Its precursors were light-sensitive receptors that slowly (remember, it took billions of years) changed into what most mammals have today."

But the fossil record contradicts Legion303's statement. My earlier post [slashdot.org] mentioned complexity theory - complex structures/behaviours can arise spontaneously - they self organise. It did not take billions of years for the retina to develop. Darwin himself confessed to an American friend that "[the] eye to this day gives me a cold shudder."

I do not reject natural selection, just the view that it is the only source of order. An example was given by Kauffman - consider the multitude of shapes of bicycles that were first spawned - this is complexity. Over time the less efficient designs were winnowed out - evolution at work.

Incidentally, while researching, I came across Complexity applied to GNU/Linux development [firstmonday.dk] .

Duh (1)

Neuronix (86458) | more than 13 years ago | (#471065)

Any Biologist knows that lipids with a hydrophobic and hydrophilic end that are exposed to external compounds will spontaneously form a bilayer membrane. It's simply a matter of the system attempting to reach its lowest energy state. A membrane does not make an organism. There's more to it than that.

Nobody knows when, but... (1)

D_Fresh (90926) | more than 13 years ago | (#471066)

No one knows how life began on Earth, whether it was through naked genetic material drifting in a primordial sea or genetic material already encapsulated in membranes. But at some point, the researchers said, membranes became important.

Before that they'd just been kicking around, drinking too much, starting failed oil companies, and buying up baseball teams. Now they think they're all powerful and influential. Damn membranes.

Re:I wonder? (1)

Wiggin (97119) | more than 13 years ago | (#471067)

lets face it, there really isn't such a thing as undeniable proof when it comes to someones religon. lots of people i know could easily deny anything (even the undeniable proof) that didn't fit into their preconcieved notions of god (whether they believe in him or not). Isn't the power of denial amazing?

Re:SETI (1)

Groovy Aardvark (100433) | more than 13 years ago | (#471068)

This shakespearian monkey proposition has been refuted by quite a few mathematicians dealing with random numbers. Sure, the possibility is there, but not on a "Universal" scale. Think of it: mathematically, someone who buys one lottery ticket per week can win the jackpot 100 weeks in a row. It is "possible". The thing is, it won't ever happen. So the sole question is: are we the result of an incredible stroke of luck? It may very well be. (There was an earlier story on /. about this)

Panspermia (1)

Muttonhead (109583) | more than 13 years ago | (#471069)

The idea that life is abundant throughout the universe and that life on Earth may have been seeded from afar is called panspermia.

Further, I believe that consciousness is the fabric of the universe, therefore it is not unusual that this fabric would try and express itself in the form of plant, animals and god knows what else.

This is a frequent topic at lauralee.com where they deal with science and fringe science.

Re:We are alone. (1)

aitala (111068) | more than 13 years ago | (#471070)

That very egocentric of you... Perhaps you also believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth....

Comet that hit russia. (1)

Oztun (111934) | more than 13 years ago | (#471071)

There was a show on comets recently on the Discovery channel. This lady was studying a comet that hit Russia. She claimed the plants around the area where it hit where abnormal. The cells had different properties from cells normally found on earth. I wonder if this story could be related in some way.

Re:Life in space!? (1)

VultureMN (116540) | more than 13 years ago | (#471072)

Nope. He was trying to get a first post that somehow appeared topical.

Re:An enlightened quote.. (1)

VultureMN (116540) | more than 13 years ago | (#471073)

We're not sure how this "conciousness" thing works :).
Sure we do. Since consciousness evaporates in the presence of alcohol, obviously consciousness is caused by LACK of alcohol.
To test, find someone sober. Note that they are conscious, and have little/no alchol in their system. Take them to the pub. Buy them 10 pitchers of Guiness, and have them drink them. Tada, no consciousness. Now, wait and eventually the alcohol will he purged, and they'll regain consciousness. Eureka!

Re:An enlightened quote.. (1)

snarkh (118018) | more than 13 years ago | (#471074)

someday, we'll begin to see life as another property of the carbon atom

What is enlightened about it? Does it shed any light on the underlying mystery?

Rather arrogant and reductionist quote as far as I am concerned.

Properties of a complex system are not necessarily
reducible to the properties of its most elementary consituents. It is hard to imagine
understanding of the process of life coming from understanding chemical reactions
of a carbon atom.

Re:We are alone. (1)

Paul Bristow (118584) | more than 13 years ago | (#471076)

While agreeing with the above post. I would just like to add that for the most part, human beings seem to be intelligent whilst humanity, en masse, does not.

How many of us really think it's a good idea to trash the planet and leave the mess for our grandchildren (teenagers - don't answer)?

While I strongly support space exploration and can't wait for us to establish colonies on other worlds. I would like that we can choose to do this, not that we have to do this, because we destroyed earth beyond repair.

Re:Assumptions (1)

lohen (122373) | more than 13 years ago | (#471077)

Well, it is possible, but outside of our experience. On Earth, the rule has always been 'find water and you'll find life'. There are forms of life which exist quite cheerfully in anaerobic conditions, however, but in every case which I know of they are influenced by the actions of aerobic life upon which their survival depends. The seeds of life can exist for v. long periods of time in anhydrous, anaerobic, and otherwise harsh conditions however in the form of bacterial spores.

Synthesizing Life (follow up reading) (1)

chthonicphage (125011) | more than 13 years ago | (#471078)


First, there's an interesting, relevant and relatively easy-to-read article by Jack Szostak and co-workers titled "Synthesizing Life" in the January 18, 2001 issue of Nature (vol 409, page 387). In this article they talk about the challenge of creating vesicles and effecting their replication, creating a molecular information-storage device capable of self-replication and coupling the vesicles to the information-storage/replication device in order to get a living/evolving system. Many of the questions raised in earlier comments are addressed. Most relevant to making life, or pieces of life, in space might be the issue of very low local concentrations? Article here [nature.com] [non-free login required (mrrr!)]. Alternatively, you could likely get a reprint from the authors directly by contacting them [harvard.edu]

Second, one of the more interesting things I remember Freeman Dyson saying was that he thought we should be looking for extraterrestrial life *outside* of gravity wells. That is, he thought it was more likely that things far-along enough to communicate with us would prolly not be sitting at the bottom of a well.

Re:SETI (1)

pallex (126468) | more than 13 years ago | (#471079)

"Seriously, if you put enough monkeys in a room with enough typewriters, you will get Shakespear's sonnets"

If thats true, how do you explain the content of the internet?

Re:I wonder? (1)

MPolo (129811) | more than 13 years ago | (#471080)

An example of natural selection that is often cited is that of the giraffe who has a long neck, enabling him to get leaves from the highest branches of a tree, thus having a real advantage over a short-necked contemporary. But what practical advantage did the proto-giraffe who had a neck 1mm longer than his colleagues have that caused him to be the only one to pass on his genetic material? The advantage of a neck that's 1m longer is obvious, but when we're talking about small steps over long periods of time, the argument is a bit more tenuous.

And if we're doing random mutations, the descendents of this super-giraffe that had his extra millimeter of neck could well get stuck with shorter necks and die off. Even if we posit 50% positive mutations and 50% negative mutations, the expected value of the Markov chain comes out to 0. The truth of the matter is, it's more like 90% negative mutations and 10% positive, which, of course, will rapidly diverge out to minus infinity (extinction).

The system needs a constant series of "nudges" or a "plan" if it is to reach more advanced forms. Perhaps this is encoded somewhere in DNA that we don't yet understand; if you're a 2001 fan, there are always monoliths to explain this. I tend toward saying that the plan is somewhere encoded in nature, but that a plan that detailed had to have been put there intelligently -- that is, God exists.

Really it's the same argument SETI is using -- if we find order in the midst of the randomness, there must be intelligence involved.

Re:We are alone. (1)

SunlightMoon (142186) | more than 13 years ago | (#471081)

>>On some planets, you won't need much intelligence to survive, but on earth you do. The most intelligent species are eradicating the no-so-intelligent species.

Intelligence is not a requirement for survival on Earth. In fact, one can argue that intelligence is a liability on the survival/reproduction scene. Intellectual capacity evolved as a response to a particular set of conditions experienced by a limited number of species. Clearly, natural selection has improved the odds for many creatures by increasing their capacity to think. However, there is more than one path to world domination. (Insert your favorite "plague of" example here.)

Going on the idea that continued existence is a universal (!) goal, I wonder if the formation of the cell-like structure by certain chemicals upon exposure to certain stimuli (e.g. ultraviolet light) can be described as as a survival tactic?

Re:We are alone. (1)

SunlightMoon (142186) | more than 13 years ago | (#471082)

The ability to understand a complicated concept such as evolution lies in the capability of the comprehender to define the variables involved. If something has an impact and you know it, then you can better explain what happens as a result. It seems to me that the reason for the development of similar visual equipment on divergent species is largely dependent on the fact that we all live under the same sun. I would expect that eyes would not evolve if a species had not developed survival techniques dependent in some way on this electromagetic radiation.

Re:I wonder? (1)

Fire Dragon (146616) | more than 13 years ago | (#471083)

I think that people who do believe in God have to opinions about this:
a) This doesn't prove anything, we are still created by God and it's just some crap flying around space
b) Finally scientist have found proof that God does exist. These compounds are building material of God's "body" witch we haven't been able to see earlier, but who has been watching for us above.

Most of the stuff scientist found are so complicated and quite impossible to actually show to be true. This founding is quite important for creating new theories about possibilities of life in other planets, but won't mean anything for a common man, less if he takes bible seriously.

Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe (1)

guynorton (149974) | more than 13 years ago | (#471084)

Does this support their theory of panspermia ?
( http://www.wickramasinghe.freeserve.co.uk/ ) It doesn't seem so far fetched after reading this article......I think it could be integrated into their research.

GN

ceci n'est pas une sig

Re:We are alone. (1)

Rhinobird (151521) | more than 13 years ago | (#471085)

How do explain it when they split before they developed eyes. Octopuses and Squids, split off from vertabrates before the devolpment of the eye. Yet now, most mammals and octopusses have eyes. Not only that, but thier structure is very similar. Some argue that since the eyes perform very similar functions that they have very similar structures. and they call that process parallel evolution.

Re:We are alone. (1)

Rhinobird (151521) | more than 13 years ago | (#471086)

Actually, I would tend to believe that if this means there is life as we know it elswhere out there, then It would increase the chances of there being intelligent life out there too. It wouldn't nessacarily be intelligence as we know it though.

As you say evolution is a random process, but I would tend to think that intelligent creatures would have a distinct evolutionary advantage, as they do here. The obvious humans versus everything else on this planet not withstanding. Predation that actively seeks food requires at least rudimentary intelligence, see fish, insects, birds, cats versus sea ananomoes (or however they're spelled) or jellyfish.

An ability to think forward versus just react to conditions would be something that would be developed through evolution. And while it might not lead to intelligence as we know it, it just might lead to intelligence.

Re:Go read "Religion and Rocketry" (1)

GutterBunny (153341) | more than 13 years ago | (#471087)

I'm probably going way off topic with this, but I felt compelled to answer.

It's really quite a straw man that gets set up, and I've never understood why people seem to think that the possiblity of ET life sets up some sort of religious crisis.

I think this is primarily because scientists and science in general are critics by nature. Science's role is to always look critically at a topic and look for more answers. Most of what science is just theories until they get debunked by more science, etc.

But Christianity, on the other hand, takes a "X is the truth, we'll adapt all new information to X." So you have two different philosophies competing. One says, question all. The other says question none. (I'm realize I'm being very very general, so don't please jump up and down saying - Christians question things in relationship to their faith and the world. I'm aware of that and I'm not trying to step on toes) So there's a natural tension here.

Take two concrete examples:

1st science: Ether was believed to be the all incorporating substance between people & things as late as the nineteenth century. Science later debunked that as incorrect and now we know that air is the material we live and breathe. Maybe someday that will be debunked when a scientist becomes interested enough. This kind of questioning is accepted and tolerated.

2nd Christianity: The book of Revelations was written by John and foretold of the 2nd coming of Christ. The Romans would be defeated, and life would be grand. Paul and many other Christians believed that this would happen in their lifetimes. When it didn't happen, and when Rome became Christian under Constantine, now what? St. Augustine then reinterpretted the book in his famous City of God to mean "well, its not a literal coming." This view then held til among others Thomas Muenzer & the German peasant wars, and on and on....The point is that the single idea was not questioned, only reinterpretted

When you have two fundamentally different ideologies, you get conflict.

Re:Well of course (1)

AxB_teeth (156656) | more than 13 years ago | (#471089)

> read about the experiments in which amino acids can form spontaneously

spontaneous generation, eh? if anyone has a few links to something documenting this, I'd be all ears (...er... eyes). as far as i'd heard, noone had been completely successful in proving this had happened.

Re:Abundance of life in space (1)

AxB_teeth (156656) | more than 13 years ago | (#471090)

Good point. As with any science, we can make a lot more advances if we shed our paradigms and look at problems from every view possible. Just because life on our planet was formed under one set of laws, that doesn't limit life as a whole by our laws.

It's Life, Jim (1)

CarrotLord (161788) | more than 13 years ago | (#471091)

But not as we know it...

Hey -- isn't space that _lack_ of matter? So if we put compounds into space, it ceaces to be space? hmmm.... :)

rr

woah (1)

krappie (172561) | more than 13 years ago | (#471092)

This is cool, and greatly increases the expectancy of life on a planet, but you need favorable conditions and temperature, and climate. How common is that?

Re:We are alone. (1)

ocelotbob (173602) | more than 13 years ago | (#471093)

Even without some of those characteristics that you mention, intelligent life could still evolve. It's useful to have certain abilities, but IMO not needed. Sure, to use your example, opposable thumbs are useful in the situation humans evolved, as originally arboreal creatures, but who's to say that a species which started out elsewhere could have developed means to use tools that don't require thumbs; they could be saying right now that intelligent life couldn't evolve without tenticles, for example. Life is adaptive, it can exist in the deepest volcanic vents and it can exist in the harshness of space, and I'm sure that intelligence can develop without the same conditions that are favorable to our species becoming intelligent.

Re:Doesn't prove anything except... (1)

LNO (180595) | more than 13 years ago | (#471096)

Drake's Equation.

Re:We are alone. (1)

Happy Monkey (183927) | more than 13 years ago | (#471097)

Yes it does. It is aimed at survival. There are numerous survival strategies, of which physical strength, stealth, speed and intelligence are examples.

On some planets, you won't need much intelligence to survive, but on earth you do.

I wouldn't say that it's necessary on Earth to be intelligent. That has been one very good strategy (for us), and with enough effort, we could probably outcompete (destroy) almost any species. However, our ability to do so is almost directly proportional to how complicated (advanced) that species is. We could take out the apes, no problem. Squirels would be harder. Any particular bacterial species would be well-nigh impossible.

Also, some of the most successful species on Earth are not intelligent. Sharks have remained almost unchanged, and at the top of the food chain, since the time of the dinosaurs. As I said above, we could destroy them if we really wanted to, but we don't directly compete with them, so they don't need intelligence to be successful. Also, pure numbers are a good strategy that requires no intelligence. Examples are bacteria, grass, and locusts.

The most intelligent species are eradicating the no-so-intelligent species. For example: humans are more intelligent than apes. The number of humans is rising, the number of apes is declining. I believe that when apes had an IQ of 180, humans would get a very tough time...

We've got a good head start on them... I think we could take 'em, with pure numbers. :) However, I think this is actually evidence of fewer intelligent species in the universe, since it is likely that two intelligent species on a planet would compete with each other, and possibly result in the destruction of one.

I think it is extremely unlikely that when life exists on other planets, none of these require intelligence for survival but earth.

I'd be surprised if any planets required intelligence for survival.

Also, I think it is unlikely life only exists on just one planet.

No argument there.

Therefore, given the sheer number of stars and planets, many intelligent species must exist in space.

I also agree with this, but I suspect that my 'many' may be less than yours.
___

Re:Abundance of life in space (1)

aTMsA (188604) | more than 13 years ago | (#471098)

Ok sir I was responding to the parent article [slashdot.org] , and the one who would like to find life in space is me.
I don't care if the article didn't say anything about it...

Abundance of life in space (1)

aTMsA (188604) | more than 13 years ago | (#471099)

While i think this discovery is very important in the sense it makes complex space life possible, we still don't know how basic life could evolve in space.
The fact is that membranes, though an essential component of actual lifeforms, didn't appear until the chemical reactions that are the basics of life, and it's catalists we're firmly established. At that point, these catalists and it's substrates started to group themselves inside membranes, because there they could have much more density of substrate and be more efficient, and these we're the first cells.
So, while membranes help a lot en the efficiency of life, they aren't necesary;
To prove life is present in deep space we need to find protein workalikes in space. Membranes are useful, but not primordial.

Beliefs (1)

stubob (204064) | more than 13 years ago | (#471102)

Well, since everyone is getting into this thread, I guess I'll jump in with my 2 cents. I really have been meaning to pose this question to my uncle who has turned down nomination for Bishop of Grand Rapids.
The statement that God is beyond our understanding is the crux of this debate. Every scientific breakthrough can be interpreted by the religious as more evidence that God is beyond us because we haven't found Him yet. But the non-religious use it as evidence against God because, well, He's not "there."
Do I "belive in one God, etc.?" Yes. Do I believe that we are not alone in the universe? Yes. Do I see a contradiction? No, because if God is beyond our thinking, then isn't is possible that He gave us the Bible because that was all we could understand or all that pertains to us?

Anyway, IHBT, IDC (I don't care) Anyone want to continue this over there [kuro5hin.org] ?

I had a feeling you were going to say that.

Interesting, but not quite the case... (1)

interactive_civilian (205158) | more than 13 years ago | (#471104)

There may be life, but it is extremely improbable that any of it is intelligent apart from us. This can be deduced from simple statistics. Evolution is mostly a random process - it does not go in any particular 'direction'. It is a modern conceit that life has to aim towards being intelligent, that is no borne out by the facts. The fact that intelligent life arose here is due to a multitude of accidents.

You bring up an interesting point, but your logic is flawed. Evolution is a very interesting concept in that it is bound by the randomness of the universe (which asserts your idea of evolution being random) however it acts towards a single goal (which counters your idea that it lacks direction).

That goal is of course replication and proliferation, i.e. the continued survival of the species. That is the ultimate aim of all life (from the point of view of a Biologist, at least. BTW, IAAB -> I am a biologist).

Now, from an evolutionary standpoint, being intelligent may not be the ultimate goal of life in order to proliferate itself. The idea of "the strong survive" holds very true. However, evolutionarily speaking, if you are not strong, you can either die or get smart, to put it simply. Granted, this is way oversimplifying things, but the gist of the statement holds true for this example.

So, assuming life does exist out there and has had time to evolve, then it seems to me that the odds of "intelligent" life evolving are actually quite good, because all species have a "desire" to survive and proliferate, and there is *almost always* a weaker species.

Anyway, enough rambling from me. One last thing though, just so we can boost our egos a bit. I would wager that humans are unique in the universe. As has been stated, evolution is random and the odds of another planet evolving along the exact same lines are probably pretty slim. So, in a sense we are "alone" in the universe. We are unique.

So let's shape up a bit so we can make a good impression when we meet the others. :-)

Re:We are alone. (1)

micromoog (206608) | more than 13 years ago | (#471105)

Wait wait wait. So your name is Urban Existentialist, but you go on to talk about manifest destiny.

So which is it, existentialist or determinist? They're pretty mutually exclusive points of view.

That's no problem for a Christian ! (1)

RedLaggedTeut (216304) | more than 13 years ago | (#471106)

For one, the Vatican has said officially that when intelligent life should be found outside of earth, them would be eligible to be christians.
(maybe the wording was even more careful.)

In addition, you can argument around any scientific facts by saying that "God made the universe such that man/intelligent life can exist."

If you think that, if proven that life can emerge without divine intervention, this defats christianity, you already have halfway fallen to the fanatics who want to make you take the bible literally - ( note that there not even exists such a thing as "one bible" ) - and to believe that earth and man was created 5,000 years ago.

That belief simply is a kind of test that you have to pass to be a fundamentalist christian - to be either dumb enough, desperate enough or enough of a liar to believe in that.

And I really like how christianity weeds out the stupid by inviting them to a monastery, and forbidding reproduction. This is most ingenious.

Life in space!? (1)

ImpactSmash (217625) | more than 13 years ago | (#471107)

That would seem to be difficult, at best, however, the main issue would be whether any condition could exist where water could be at least in part, liquid. Unless, of course, you want to argue that you don't need water to have the chemicals reactions required...

Re:Go read "Religion and Rocketry" (1)

dabacon (221175) | more than 13 years ago | (#471108)

Christianity is silent on the possiblity of extraterrestrial, material life. Therefore, our finding or not finding it is irrelevant to the truth and teaching of Christianity.

I wonder what would happen to your faith if humanity encountered a material life which said: "your Christian doctrine is bull-pucky". Would that change the relevance of the truth and teaching of Christianity?

I guess you would then just shift to the "these material beings are God's test of my faith".

Mathematicians have long known that a single contradiction can logically lead you to prove all contradictions. But religion has know this for thousands of years: use faith in your arguement and you are set!

dabacon
(working on cloning Jesus from the shroud)

Nanotechnology (1)

jabber01 (225154) | more than 13 years ago | (#471109)

Well, during atmospheric entry, some of the membranes undergo a chemical change that converts them into little Von Neumann factories, which then assemble the remaining membranes into more biologically friendly forms. They then convert themselves into the fundamental building blocks of nucleii and let time take it's course. The exposure to Oxygen and Solar radiation is analogous to the compilation of instructions.

The whole process is a grand plan put in place by an ancient master race/God to seed the Universe with life. The process of evolution is actually a computer program, the result of which is a species capable of repeating the process - sort of like a program whose output is its own source code. As a failsafe, built into the program is a feature that compells any species to pollute its environment to the point where it eventually must move on to a new place.

The REAL jabber has the /. user id: 13196

Re:I wonder? (1)

GMontag451 (230904) | more than 13 years ago | (#471111)

First of all, a giraffe would not need to be the only one to pass on his genetic material, just more likely than the general populous. Secondly, as mentioned in another post, the variance of height in the populous would be a lot more than just 1mm.

Secondly, its more like 10% positive, 10% negative, and 80% neutral. How would that "rapidly diverge out to minus infinity"? I think you are grossly overestimating the number of mutations per generation.

Thirdly, how does the system need a plan to reach more advanced forms? And just what do you mean by more advanced anyway? If you mean more complex, then no it doesn't. Chaos theory and cellular automata theory takes care of that. And if you mean intelligence, it doesn't either. Intelligence is the natural solution to the problem of having to adapt to a changing environment. The more intelligent you are, the more you can influence the change to your benefit, and therefore the more you can reproduce.

And finally, SETI has never used that argument, if they did, they would be hailing each and every pulsar as a beacon of a huge galactic civilization. The argument they use is, rather, if we find something that is different from what we are used to seeing, such as a broadcast series of primes, then its is likely to be a sign of intelligence. To apply this argument to evolution, we would have to have a planet sufficiently like Earth to campare ourselves to.

Re:SETI (1)

pcwhalen (230935) | more than 13 years ago | (#471112)

Smarter than ME? Really? OK, then I am wrong. Thanks for the tip.

Define apprpriate conditions? (1)

Elgon (234306) | more than 13 years ago | (#471113)

As has been pointed out the prropriate conditions are pretty wide-ranging.

I am firmly of the belief that wherever there is a hand supply of the right kind of chemical materials and at least fair conditions, you will get life of one kind or another soone or later. The jury is out on whether water is absolutely necessary.

The truth is out there but the lies are all in your head.

Elgon

Re:I wonder? (1)

sanctimonius hypocrt (235536) | more than 13 years ago | (#471114)

I believe in God. I don't "believe" in evolution, but I think it's almost certainly true.

z

E.Telegraph has an earlier article too (1)

Wills (242929) | more than 13 years ago | (#471115)


The Electronic Telegraph (story here) [telegraph.co.uk] has an earlier article than the Washington Post. The ET article also gives several interesting offsite links (see under the "External Links" section on the news story).

Re:I wonder? (1)

Anthony Boyd (242971) | more than 12 years ago | (#471116)

Personally, I think these kinds of discoveries only bolster my belief that God created this universe. Here's why.

The Bible (and perhaps the Torah, which shares some similar (same?) text, but I'm not Jewish, so I'm sure) states that man was created in the likeness of God. People speculate as to what that means -- God is about 6 feet tall, or God experiences love and hate and passion as we do, or whatever. But I think it is mostly our drive to create. God took the ultimate step in creating this universe, but we take similar steps every day -- from programming complex gaming worlds to virtual life to buildings to atriums to everything else. Our ability to create is unparalleled -- for instance, dolphins are likely just as intelligent as we are, but I am hard pressed to point to their many underwater creations.

The ultimate creations, at least the creations I am most satisfied with, are the ones where a foundation is laid down for evolution. Preprogrammed creations are okay -- the characters in Diablo, the simple AI in some scientific experiments, etc. But what is sooooo satisfying is to create a framework, some general parameters for a learning program, and then letting the program loose in the environment. Because it may take advantage of your framework in ways you NEVER imagined, even though you built it!

And to come full circle, back to the point of this thread: I think God may turn out to be the master programmer, the ultimate scientist, who built a framework so astounding, so complex, and so consistent, that we could eventually become "self aware" of our own framework, and master it in ways unimagined. I don't believe that God preprogrammed everything here, and I expect that whatever base God did create is "open" enough to surprise us with other life forms, misconceptions about life and our role in the universe, and just about anything else. To see us discovering the foundation God laid down for us is a little beyond exciting. I wouldn't want to live at any other time in history.

Re:I wonder? (1)

ConsumedByTV (243497) | more than 13 years ago | (#471117)

I didnt even think of b)
I forgot how stupid people are, but only for a second.


Fight censors!

Re:Abundance of life in space (1)

eXtro (258933) | more than 13 years ago | (#471118)

Read the article. It didn't talk about life in space at all. It said that the earliest chemical steps, which may be one of the neccesary footholds for life to take place, are present in space.

The article explains that if these components come into a favourable environment there is a strong possibility that primitive life could spontaneously develop.

The article over-extends what the scientists are saying, but popular articles always do that. The article didn't even say that "there was life in space" though.

Re:We are alone. (1)

BLAMM! (301082) | more than 13 years ago | (#471121)

It's neither a coincidence nor unlikely. Intelligence and the form for using it (e.g. opposable thumbs) evolved together. One did not precede the other, they were dependant on each other. And the fact that they *can* evolve, arguably says that eventually they *must* evolve. Evolution is a giant crap shoot. The losers die, the winners survive to shoot again, and again, and again. Millions of possibilities are tested over millions of years. The combinations that work eventually *will* happen. And not just on Earth. The same thing is happening on millions of other planets everywhere. And everywhere is a big place. It's not luck or chance that creates intelligent life, it's brute force.

To put it in slash-ese, the universe is a beowolf cluster of evolution experiments.

Naeser's Law:

Re:I wonder? (1)

Aunt Mable (301965) | more than 13 years ago | (#471122)

They took the world not being flat, they can take this. I think person creating person is a bigger threat.

Religion's been going down since they tried to make god so fucking friendly and appealing.

-- Eat your greens or I'll hit you!

God does not play dice with the universe (1)

JonKatzIsAnIdiot (303978) | more than 13 years ago | (#471123)

God does not play dice with the universe

- someone a lot smarter than anyone here

Re:SETI (1)

JonKatzIsAnIdiot (303978) | more than 13 years ago | (#471124)

Seriously, if you put enough monkeys in a room with enough typewriters, you will get Shakespear's sonnets.

Sure - but how long until you get a copy of Windows2000?

Still long way to go (1)

Caid Raspa (304283) | more than 13 years ago | (#471125)

before we can answer the big question: Are we alone?

I think there are still several big unsolved problems before we know the answer, such as: How do single-cell organisms evolve to multi-cell ones? and: How common are Earth-like planets? However, this is a very important step toward answering the big question. I think the most important thing is that the question has been asked, and some people are trying to find the answer.

Earth and humanity are still unique.

Hope that there is intelligent life somewhere up in space, because there's bugger all down here on Earth. - Monty Python

What does it all mean? (1)

snuff442 (306300) | more than 13 years ago | (#471126)

What does it mean to be human? What happens when we do make contact, and the species is totaly different from anything we could imagine? We humans have to realize that just because we know mathmatics and such, and have aposable thumbs, that does not make us dominant in the universe.

Re:We are alone. (1)

Urban Existentialist (307726) | more than 13 years ago | (#471128)

Yes, but IMO, for intelligent life to arise depends on a number of chances. It would be all very well if apes had an IQ of 180, but they aren't going to get anywhere without a proper opposeable thumb and speech, are they? (not to mention a number of other things) For intelligence to be useful, a number of other things have to evolve first. It is this coincidence that provides the unlikelihood.

You know exactly what to do-
Your kiss, your fingers on my thigh-

We are alone. (1)

Urban Existentialist (307726) | more than 13 years ago | (#471129)

There may be life, but it is extremely improbable that any of it is intelligent apart from us. This can be deduced from simple statistics. Evolution is mostly a random process - it does not go in any particular 'direction'. It is a modern conceit that life has to aim towards being intelligent, that is no borne out by the facts. The fact that intelligent life arose here is due to a multitude of accidents.

Life may be trivial, but intelligent life is not. Let us be aware that we are truly remarkable as a species, and have a manifest destiny thanks to our special status. We should not mess it up.

You know exactly what to do-
Your kiss, your fingers on my thigh-

Re:We are alone. (1)

ooze (307871) | more than 13 years ago | (#471130)

I'm not sure evolution is entirely random. The fact that something that complicated as a working eye evolved several times independend of each other (insects, molluscs, spinals and even jellyfishes(that have no brain to process visual data)) has braught some idea of a "masterplan" to me. But I don't think we will be able to understand such concepts (call them whatever you like).

Re:What a coincidence! (1)

Dick Richards (307933) | more than 13 years ago | (#471131)

Someone mod this up! This is pure gold!

Back in my day... (1)

Strom Thurmond (R-SC (310866) | more than 13 years ago | (#471132)

We didn't have space. All you's with you's fancy schmancy technology. All of it be hogwash! Hogwash I say! Come here little lady and let papa Strom say howdy... Wooo.
Strom Thurmond; the dean of the US Senate...

Re:I wonder? (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#471135)

What impact will this have on people that believe in god? This can be proof of the ability to have e.t. life. Not proof per se, but that its possible.

Why would it have any impact? Right now, the story is just in the realm of "Isn't that interesting," not "Look, it's undeniable proof that God is dead and evolution is true!!!!"

Frankly, it doesn't benefit anybody to start making grand assumptions about the data until all of the facts are in. The article itself states,

John Hayes, a biogeochemist at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass., who was not on the discovery team, said the work is significant in that it provides a mechanism "in the right place at the right time to deliver a lot of complicated organic material to early planetary surfaces."

But he cautioned that there are "a lot of banana peels" between there and the rise of living things, and that "a lot more study needs to be done" on the nature of these structures.

Re:SETI (2)

MouseR (3264) | more than 13 years ago | (#471137)

if you put enough monkeys in a room with enough typewriters, you will get Shakespear's sonnets. Life is out there kids.

Are you implying that we're the result of monkey work? This would explain a lot of things ...

Karma karma karma karma karmeleon: it comes and goes, it comes and goes.

Re:I wonder? (2)

MouseR (3264) | more than 13 years ago | (#471138)

These compounds are building material of God's "body" witch we haven't been able to see earlier

Or maybe more like dandruff.

Karma karma karma karma karmeleon: it comes and goes, it comes and goes.

The Black Cloud (2)

Tal Cohen (4834) | more than 13 years ago | (#471139)

This reminds me of the old SF book, The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle, in which a black cloud (an "interplanetary" life form) voices his surprise, when reaching Earth, that intelligent life had evolved on a planet's surface.

- Tal Cohen (see my SF reviews [forum2.org] page)

cool (2)

ch-chuck (9622) | more than 13 years ago | (#471140)

now all we need is a starship on a five year mission to accidentally fly into it's stomach and spend the next 3/4 hour making a dramatic last minute escape.

Spock out

Re:Well of course (2)

bughunter (10093) | more than 13 years ago | (#471141)

This particular WashPost article does a disservice by not fully explaining the science behind the discovery and is going to get creationists in an uproar, because the tone of the article and the presentation of facts vaguely imply that there is some sort of "intent" or "will to live" in these chemicals. It's another case of the journalist not understanding the science, because the truth is more interesting.

The behaviour of lipid molecules is no more mysterious than the behaviour of a bimetal strip or the self-organization of crystals. The molecules that this article describes are elongated, and have their charge distributed such that there is a positive, hydrophilic (water-attracting) end and a negative, hydrophobic (water-repelling) end. Common soap has the same property.

When you get a lot of these molecules together, and place them in water, think about what's going to happen. The molecules are going to point their hydrophobic sides are towards each other, and their hydrophilic sides away from each other, organizing into two-dimensional sheets. Lateral attraction becomes surface tension, and voila, it wants to be a sphere instead of a sheet.

So these molecules are still very simple, and nothing anywhere near as complex as an amino acid or DNA. And no, it is not surprising. You make lipids, you put them in water, you get tiny bubbles. The author seems to imply we expected something else.

I recommend interested persons read an introduction to cell membranes [sparknotes.com] .

no artificial life synthesized yet (2)

peter303 (12292) | more than 13 years ago | (#471142)

Despite all this talk about biological chemicals
in space and exponentially increasing databanks
of biochemical compounds, no one has succeeded
in constructing living matter from raw chemicals.
That would be the ultimate understanding of life.

Re:We are alone. (2)

Erik Hensema (12898) | more than 13 years ago | (#471143)

Evolution is mostly a random process - it does not go in any particular 'direction'.

Yes it does. It is aimed at survival. There are numerous survival strategies, of which physical strength, stealth, speed and intelligence are examples.

On some planets, you won't need much intelligence to survive, but on earth you do. The most intelligent species are eradicating the no-so-intelligent species. For example: humans are more intelligent than apes. The number of humans is rising, the number of apes is declining. I believe that when apes had an IQ of 180, humans would get a very tough time...

I think it is extremely unlikely that when life exists on other planets, none of these require intelligence for survival but earth. Also, I think it is unlikely life only exists on just one planet. Therefore, given the sheer number of stars and planets, many intelligent species must exist in space.

However, since a lot of planets were created in roughly the same timeframe, there is a good chance we can't detect them yet.

Related article (2)

calibanDNS (32250) | more than 13 years ago | (#471146)

The BBC [bbc.co.uk] ran this article [bbc.co.uk] yesterday; their version is a little less in depth however.

~caliban

Evolutionary process (2)

rjh (40933) | more than 13 years ago | (#471147)

Evolution is not a mostly random process; if it were, we'd be as likely to see animals shift to a less-fit-to-survive state as to see one shift to a better-fit state. This may or may not be true on an individual level (speciation is a hot topic of debate); it is definitely false on a species level.

Why?

Because all the animals unfit for their environment die off, leaving only those better-fit. The better-fit pass on their advantages to their offspring, resulting in a general promulgation of the better-fit over the lesser-fit.

An enlightened quote.. (2)

xtal (49134) | more than 13 years ago | (#471148)

..that I once read went something like "someday, we'll begin to see life as another property of the carbon atom", or something along those lines. You'd think that organic chemistry itself might provide some clues :)

Re:An enlightened quote.. (2)

xtal (49134) | more than 13 years ago | (#471149)

It is hard to imagine understanding of the process of life coming from understanding chemical reactions of a carbon atom.

Perhaps it is arrogant to think that there is something special about life, too. The context for the quote was that the carbon atom is extremely special in it's ability to self-organize into complicated, long chains and molecules. That's why Organic Chemistry is special - it's a whole field onto itself. The building blocks of life - DNA, RNA, Amino Acids - all appear within the context of the study of the carbon atom and it's reactions.

Intelligent life, now, is a whole different matter. We're not sure how this "conciousness" thing works :).

Re:I wonder? (2)

John_Prophet (78703) | more than 13 years ago | (#471150)

What impact will this have on people that believe in god? This can be proof of the ability to have e.t. life. Not proof per se, but that its possible. Does anyone that reads slashdot even believe in god?

I have some ideas about GOD (a symbol) but i don't have any beliefs on the subject. If GOD is really infinite, there is no way a finite human mind can possibly hope to encapsulate that infinite being in a book, or creed, or any other set of rules. No matter how much we may be able to infer about GOD (still a symbol) we must rest assured that there is INFINITELY MORE TO GOD THAN WHAT WE'VE DISCOVERED!

I'm of the opinion that the reason the major religions seem to contradict each other is because of this reason!

A Parable in Paraphrase:

Four people were blindfolded and led into a room with an elephant. When they came out they were asked to report on what they found.

One said it was like the trunk of a tree, another said it was like an enormous leaf, the third said it was like a solid wall and the last one said it was more like a big snake.

Each was correct, but only in part. They were all relating accurately their experience of the same thing, from different perspectives. None of them had the whole picture, so their facts seemed to disagree with each other. Same with religion.

GOD is that entity/force/energy that makes up our universe. Any attempts by anyone or anything WITHIN that universe to describe that which MAKES UP the universe will be flawed from the start.

That being said.... any universe as large as ours is bound to be full of life.... and that life is just as much a "child of GOD" as humanity is (as are plants, animals, insects, bacteria, etc.)


-The Reverend (I am not a Nazi nor a Troll)

Re:God does not play dice with the universe (2)

swordgeek (112599) | more than 13 years ago | (#471151)

Yeah--someone who, through his research, effectively proved that God DOES play dice with the universe!

Let's not forget that this comment was a refutation of his own conclusions.

Re:We are alone. (2)

lohen (122373) | more than 13 years ago | (#471152)

If you read Richard Dawkins' "Climbing Mount Improbable" you'll find what I think is a very cogent answer to this query. Basically, complicated systems like human intelligence are not specifically aimed at, but instead the steps to get there contain their own advantages. So that something increasing the quality of a creature's responses to stimuli can give it a slight advantage, which will lead to a tendency for it to succeed, and thus drive evolution.

And if TV has taught me anything... (2)

tenzig_112 (213387) | more than 13 years ago | (#471154)

...it is that these molecular components determine that a species capable of speech will sound vaguely human and speak broken English- or in the case of Ricardo Montelban, broken Spanish.

Kaaaahrk! [ridiculopathy.com]

Re:I wonder? (2)

Alioth (221270) | more than 13 years ago | (#471155)

The system needs a constant series of "nudges" or a "plan" if it is to reach more advanced forms. Perhaps this is encoded somewhere in DNA that we don't yet understand; if you're a 2001 fan, there are always monoliths to explain this. I tend toward saying that the plan is somewhere encoded in nature, but that a plan that detailed had to have been put there intelligently -- that is, God exists.

The problem I have with this:

Using God to explain this and sitting back contentedly just pushes up the problem one level. It explains nothing. You've moved searching for the reason the giraffe's neck was long from a scientific search to "God did it". As I said: nothing has been explained, the problem has merely been shoved up a level and forgotten.

But who created God? Surely if it takes an intelligence to give these set of "nudges", then how did God get there in the first place?

If it were proved tomorrow that God exists, I would be no more satisfied that we've found where we come from: I'd want to know where God came from, too.

SETI (2)

pcwhalen (230935) | more than 13 years ago | (#471156)

We believe that there are on the order of 10 to the 21st power stars in our Universe. If you write that number out, it looks like this: 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. This is a lot of stars.

It is quite probible that with all the pre-organic matter floating around that the SETI boys may have a point: It ain't IF there's life out there, it's how far away and do they have radios yet.

Seriously, if you put enough monkeys in a room with enough typewriters, you will get Shakespear's sonnets. Life is out there kids.

Re:I wonder? (2)

BLAMM! (301082) | more than 13 years ago | (#471158)

Personally, I believe that the universe was created by God complete with a set of rules (that we haven't figured out yet) and set in motion to run without interference. Maybe its goofy but the rules we have figured out (physics and math, everything else is just butterfly collecting :), are pretty damn elegant. Let's face it, God was a geek!

Naeser's Law:

DNA and Membranes (2)

ooze (307871) | more than 13 years ago | (#471159)

So they figured out how cell membranes can be created. And it falls on earth(and other objects) all the time. But how the DNA molecules could get control over membrane creation. DNA reproduces itself by chemical reactions, with or without membranes. But at a special state this reproduction of DNA has to trigger the reproduction of membranes, and more improtant, control special attributes of the membranes.
Cathalytic effects?
I'm confused.

Is Evolution the Full Explanation? (3)

voidzero (85458) | more than 13 years ago | (#471160)

A good starting point [home.wxs.nl] for your enquiries.

It seems that a fair few people on sadsloth/dashlots have some acquaintance with Stuart Kauffman's At Home In the Universe - complexity theory and autocatalytic sets:
"It is not necessary that a specific set of 2000 enzymes be assembled... Whenever a collection of chemicals contains enough different kinds of molecules, a metabolism will crystallize from the broth."

Concrete evidence for spontaneous complexity:

Gunter von Kiedrowski, then at U. Freiburg in Germany, several years ago published work on a collectively autocatalytic set of two DNA hexamers that mutually ligated the two pairs of DNA trimers composing the two hexamers. Meanwhile, Reza Ghadiri at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, California has made an autocatalytic peptide, Nature August 2 years ago and nearly collectively autocatalytic sets more recently.

Unexpected evidence comes from Lou Allamandola. "The most amazing thing is that we start with something really simple. And then suddenly we're making this enormous range of complex molecules. When I see this kind of complexity forming under these exceedingly extreme conditions, I begin to really believe that life is a cosmic imperative." and from Biliang Zhang and Tom Cech, who isolated RNAs that could efficiently link specific amino acids together. These pseudo-ribosomes were selected from a random pool of 10^15 synthetic RNAs.

So, there is enough evidence to invalidate the claim that complexity theory is 'fact-free science'. Recently Yao et al described a four-component peptide system that is capable of auto- and cross-catalysis and which supports the suggestion that self-replicating peptides may have played a role in the origin of life.

Re:I wonder? (3)

Legion303 (97901) | more than 13 years ago | (#471161)

Random selection seems highly dubious, given our experience with fruit flies -- almost all the mutations are "bad" and should get selected out.

"Random selection" wouldn't get organisms very far. Fortunately for us, there's no such thing in evolution.

Even if we accept selection in this way, we are left to wonder about structures like the retina, which require a staggering number of precise conditions (proteins, cell types, etc.), and according to the one gene one enzyme principle, couldn't be brought about by a single point mutation. However, if any of these chemicals, cells, etc. are missing, the retina doesn't work. That is, we would have to posit millions of years of non-working retinas that still managed to naturally select until they got to the point of a working retina. The fossil record doesn't bear this out.

This is another common misconception of evolution that creationists keep ladling up, even in the face of logic (note that I'm not blaming you for it; it sounds reasonable to many people who read it in books like those of Morris). The retina (an imperfect "design," by the way--why the blind spot where the nerve bundle goes through the retina?) of today is the end result of billions of years of change. Its precursors were light-sensitive receptors that slowly (remember, it took billions of years) changed into what most mammals have today.

-Legion

Re:woah (3)

lohen (122373) | more than 13 years ago | (#471162)

'Favorable' conditions do allow a certain degree of scope. Among the archeabacteria on this planet, for example, are species which exist perfectly happily at extremes of heat (volcanic vents), cold (antarctica), radioactivity (nuclear waste has proved most suitable), pH (acid or alkali, in different cases) and more. 'Archea' means ancient - ie, these have been around as long as anything we know of. Therefore they must have been started up early, and to extrapolate from this it would not be difficult to imagine at least monocellular life evolving on other planets to suit the conditions there. And under other conditions, who knows what happens next?

Well of course (3)

flatpack (212454) | more than 13 years ago | (#471163)

This shouldn't really come as a suprise to anybody who has given serious thought into the problem of time scales in the development of life, or who has read about the experiments in which amino acids can form spontaneously from their components in an electrical field, conditions analogous to those found on primordial Earth.

Hopefully we're now coming to the end of the humanocentric period of our history in which we view life on Earth as something unique, rather than the almost-inevitable consequence of the way the Universe has been ordered. There is nothing special about humanity per se, rather it is Life itself that is the miracle, and findings like this serve to drive home just how amazing it is.

The question of whether or not this means we are alone in the Universe has not really changed, but this discovery makes it more likely life will be found elsewhere in some form. And although I doubt it will happen in my lifetime, I envision a future where humanity discovers life in the most unlikely of places, just as it was meant to be.

I wonder? (3)

ConsumedByTV (243497) | more than 13 years ago | (#471164)

What impact will this have on people that believe in god? This can be proof of the ability to have e.t. life. Not proof per se, but that its possible. Does anyone that reads slashdot even believe in god? And if you do, do you believe in macro evoloution?


Fight censors!

Assumptions (4)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#471165)

Why is it assumed that life always requires the same things (water, air, etc..) to grow and adapt? Isn't it possible that there are other forms of life with entirely different requirements?

Re:Go read "Religion and Rocketry" (4)

Zach Frey (17216) | more than 13 years ago | (#471166)

Yet again, the tired old "conflict" between Christianity and (capitalized) Science(tm). A little reality checking is in order here:

1st science: Ether was believed to be the all incorporating substance between people & things as late as the nineteenth century. Science later debunked that as incorrect and now we know that air is the material we live and breathe. Maybe someday that will be debunked when a scientist becomes interested enough. This kind of questioning is accepted and tolerated.

Air was understood as being a distinct thing from "ether" for a long time before the Michaelson-Morley experiment showed that the ether theory to be untenable.

You really need to look into the history of scientific inquiry a bit more. The idea of ether was a holdover from Aristotle, who held that the Universe needed an absolute frame of reference. For a long, long time, Aristotle's viewpoints were held sacred and unchallengeable. Eventually, along came Thomas Aquinas who said that instead of holding to the tradition of Aristotle's teaching, we ought to simply look at reality and accept that what we observe is the way it is, regardless of whether it contradicts Aristotle or not.

It is not irrelevant to note that Aristotle was a pagan and Aquinas was a Christian

Go read "Religion and Rocketry" (4)

Zach Frey (17216) | more than 13 years ago | (#471167)

C. S. Lewis covered this quite well back in the '50's with his essay "Religion and Rocketry," where he discussed the (non-)implications of extraterrestrial life on Christian belief. (You didn't specify Christian, but I'm hardly qualified to comment on the implications of ET life on other religions.)

A few points to keep in mind about Christian doctrine on the subject:

  • Christianity does insist that humans are a special creation, and the only "souled" or "spiritual" creatures native to this planet.
  • Christianity does, however, also insist on the existance of ET intelligences, and of their presense on this planet and elsewhere. We call them "angels" (or "demons" if they are fallen). We don't know much about these creatures, although two data points are that they are non-material, and they seem to have a different "economy of salvation" than we do.
  • Christianity is silent on the possiblity of extraterrestrial, material life. Therefore, our finding or not finding it is irrelevant to the truth and teaching of Christianity.

The critics of Christianity for decades now (this is documented by Lewis, and it hasn't let up since) have been enjoying the hobby of taking whatever the latest discoveries and theories on ET life and using them as a stick to beat Christianity with. "The Universe is cold and lifeless! Therefore God is dead!" "The Universe is teeming with life! Therefore God is dead!" While this may be fun for the critics, it's not terribly logical and it ignores the actual teachings of Christianity on the subject. Ecclessia delanda est, I suppose.

So, the bottom line should be "no effect, really." It's really quite a straw man that gets set up, and I've never understood why people seem to think that the possiblity of ET life sets up some sort of religious crisis.

Re:Go read "Religion and Rocketry" (4)

Zach Frey (17216) | more than 13 years ago | (#471168)

I wonder what would happen to your faith if humanity encountered a material life which said: "your Christian doctrine is bull-pucky".

No need to run the experiment; it happens all the time. Oh, you meant if an ET said it vs. some Slashdotter saying it?

Would that change the relevance of the truth and teaching of Christianity?

Not really. While contact with ETs would certainly raise some ... interesting issues of practical theology, their very existance wouldn't undermine Christianity in the slightest. As for this hypothetical religious challenge, give me a break. You and I both have no idea what religious situation any ETs would have, because we've never encountered any. For all you know, they're as likely to bolster the Faith as to challenge it. And if I'm capable of believing even though less than 100% of my fellow homo sapiens agree with me, why should it be a problem if a creature from some other world also happens to disagree?

I guess you would then just shift to the "these material beings are God's test of my faith".

You guess wrong.

Doesn't prove anything except... (5)

Masem (1171) | more than 13 years ago | (#471169)

I don't think we are necessarily any closer to proving that life exists elsewhere. All the discovery indicated was the presence of benzene in some other place besides earth.

Benzene is a rather difficult molecule to make, but once made, is extremely stable. A common chemical engineering problem is to try to make benzene from cyclohexane (C6H6 from C6H12); it's not too hard to extract 4 hydrogen atoms to leave cyclohexadiene (C6H8), but that last pair of atoms to convert to C6H8 to C6H6 is impossible to extract under the same conditions used for the first two steps; fortunately, elevating temperature and other factors gets the job done. Similarly, trying to add two hydrogen atoms back to 'saturate' the benzene is very tricky to get going, but once it's no longer benzene, it rapidly converts all the way back to cyclohexane.

In addition, we're talking about the formation of carbon-carbon bonds, nearly the most difficult and most stable bond that you can make. There is research that is trying to take carbon {mono|di}oxides and hydrogen and convert these to pure organics, thus requiring some C-C bond formation, but it is very slow even under intense conditions.

This all boils down to the fact that if the results that the astromers observed is true, then all we are seeing is that there a area in space that was sufficient in carbon content, temperature, and the like, for benzene to be formed, which is a very difficult reaction, but one necessary that would eventually lead to amino acids, and the possibility of life. All I think this would do is help to quality the possibility of life term in that one equation, the name which I forget, but goes something like "Number of stars in the universe, x fraction of stars with planets..." etc.

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