Wired with Sugar Water?



Is all life on Earth- known and unknown- “terrestrial”? Is all life not on Earth “extraterrestrial”?

Are we looking for other life or are we looking for other life as we know it?


  1. acilius

     /  November 30, 2008

    That’s an interesting question. Maybe the greatest value of discovering extraterrestrial life to us would be that would give us another sample of evolution. Then biology might become a real science, instead of a case study of a single instanceof evolution. But how do we structure a search for alien life if we have no idea what alien life would look like?

  2. cymast

     /  December 1, 2008

    Why simply “look” for alien life? After all, we have 5 senses, and while we tend to think of sight as the most reliable and verifiable, especially in the field of science, I suspect homo sapiens have much too long relied on sight to the exclusion of other ways of sensing. Most of the human brain is devoted to sight and sight-related functions, but if we at least start to consider all the ways and means non-sight sensing- starting here on Earth- we’ll start thinking more outside the box. I seriously doubt all alien life will look like what we’ve seen in the movies, and I seriously doubt all alien life can be “seen” in the conventional sense.

    I watched an episode of THE UNIVERSE last night.


    According to scientists and researchers, there may be an infinite number of different universes, and each one of those different universes may replicated an infinite number of times. And they all may occupy the same “space.” Take 2 universes and the only difference between them is that on Earth there is one more or less speck of dust. That’s it. Take another universe and maybe, somehow, in it there are an infinite number of Earths. In another, Zaprod from Mooboot has a pet Dorkalot instead of a pet Yakup. Keep coming up with scenarios, and then realize that each scenario can extrapolated to another place, time, event, et cetera, and that each place/time/event/other can be altered an infinite number of ways at an infinite number of points, and that those infinite scenarios can be combined in an infinite number of ways . . and then you start to get lost . . and then you might have a better appreciation of the concept of INFINITY.

  3. cymast

     /  December 1, 2008

    And it also got me thinking- take the set of infinity and add 1 (theoretically, of course). Did you really have infinity in the first place? After all, the 1 you added wasn’t in the set until you added it. Now take the set of infinity and subtract 1. Do you still have the set of infinity? If the set, by definition, is “endless,” how is adding or substracting 1 changing the amount in the set?

  4. acilius

     /  December 1, 2008

    In an email discussion with the strangely bashful LeFalcon and VThunderlad, we recently bumped up against some questions about formal logic. The name Gottlob Frege came up. That reminded me of logic classes I took in college lo those many years ago. Our professor told us that Frege had proven that not all infinite sets had to be equal to one another. So the set of all integers can be smaller than the set that includes all integers and all fractions, and bigger than the set that includes all even integers, while all of those sets are infinite. How that works I didn’t understand then, and it certainly hasn’t gotten any clearer in the years since.

  5. cymast

     /  December 1, 2008

    So not all sets of infinity are the same? And here I was thinking of the set of infinity as a single set. I had grown up thinking the “universe” meant “everything”- all space and matter and energy and time. Similarly, I thought “infinite” was the same concept expressed mathematically. Now there’s talk about multiple universes, infinite numbers of universes, and universes popping into and out of existence. And this business about sets of infinity having different values- one infinity being bigger/smaller than another- it seems comical. Then I remember I have a human brain.

  6. acilius

     /  December 1, 2008

    I don’t know whether any human brain can understand it all, I only know that my own copy of the human brain doesn’t understand any of it. My logic professor evidently understood more about infinity than I did, and he definitely had a human brain. Granted, knowing more than I do is not necessarily the same as grasping the infinite.

    Also, Mrs Acilius and I are like you in that we watched an episode of THE UNIVERSE yesterday. It was the one about gravity.

    What I like about that show is what I like about the best popular science writing. It leaves me feeling, not that I do understand the subject, but that I could understand the subject.

    For example, it seems to me like a contradiction that, on the one hand, the more mass a body has, the stronger its gravitational pull, but on the other hand, all objects that fall to earth do so at the same rate regardless of their mass. If the more massive bodies have a stronger pull on the earth, shouldn’t that pull add itself to the earth’s pull on them and cause them to fall faster? A show like THE UNIVERSE doesn’t explain how that works, but it does offer reassurance that there is an explanation, and that if you just gave it a little more time and a little more effort you could understand that explanation.

  7. cymast

     /  December 1, 2008

    So perhaps this is where “faith” comes into play, and this is the point where a deist will call an atheist a hypocrite. But not all atheists cite lack of faith as the reason for their atheism. But I digress. .

    Mr. Cymast and I are big fans of THE UNIVERSE. Speaking of gravity, on the multiverse episode, a scientist explained that if gravitons “disappear” inside a supercollider, that will be proof of other “unseen dimensions.”


  8. acilius

     /  December 1, 2008

    I often ruminate on the idea of an infinite number of universes, some differing from ours in only the position of one elementary particle, others differing radically. I’ve heard physicists say that if current versions of quantum theory are true, then every physically possible event will have occurred in an infinite number of universes. So there are an infinite number of universes where that homeless guy who came into the art gallery where you were working to tell you that he was running for president won the election.

    I don’t understand any of the science behind this idea, so I relate to it solely as a myth. As a myth, I think it has a great deal of power. Someone treats me badly and I want revenge. But then I remind myself, “I did that same thing to him- not here, but in other universes- not once, but an infinite number of times.” With that thought, revenge doesn’t seem quite so urgent.

    Also, in studying history (I bring it up since I named myself after Gaius Acilius, one of Rome’s first historians) I often notice a tendency to assume that whatever happened must have been likely to happen beforehand. So if tens of millions of people wrote some homeless guy’s name in as their choice for president, that must have been likely all along. What fools we were for failing to predict it! But remember that every physically possible event will occur an infinite number of times in the various universes around us, and of course improbable events will occur.

  9. cymast

     /  December 2, 2008

    Who knows, maybe in our universe that homeless guy will instantaneously, and without explanation, become president. Or turn into Wonder Woman. Or prove the existence of multiverses.

    So if “you” exist in an infinite number of universes in an infinite number of scenarios, having an infinite number of reactions . . are all those “yous” really “you”? In an infinite number of universes you are activating the Doomday Device because you think it will be fun. Is that really “you”?

  10. acilius

     /  December 2, 2008

    Sure, in the sense that they would have memories identical to mine and be externally recognizable as me. Of course, in this universe there are also a great many people who differ from me only in respects that an unbiased observer (an observer who wasn’t responsible for me and didn’t expect anything from me) would consider unimportant. Surely quite a few of those people are engaged in vile deeds of iniquity at this very moment.

  11. cymast

     /  December 2, 2008

    This is where the logic breaks down for me. Take 2 universes, 1 has you with with brown hair, 1 has you with red hair. They’re both you. OK. How about 1 has you as a man, 1 has you as a woman. OK. But where do you draw the line? 1 universe has you as the complete physical opposite of you in another universe. And how about 2 universes- 1 has you as benelovent, 1 has you as malicious. In all these scenarios, you say “they would have memories identical to mine and be externally recognizable as me.” Is this a question of the existence of unique souls?

  12. acilius

     /  December 2, 2008

    Well, now, there are many kinds of identity. In one sense, I am not identical even with myself of an instant ago or an instant from now, inasmuch as the atoms and molecules that compose my body are continually shifting position within me, and some leave my body every time I exhale.

    But what seems relevant to the moral question is the idea that everything I am physically capable of doing is in fact being done by someone who is indistinguishable from me. So if I want to say, “How awful that person is! A person like me would never do what that person is doing!” this idea of infinite universes makes a liar out of me. A person exactly like me is doing just that thing, in fact an infinity of such persons are doing it.

  13. cymast

     /  December 2, 2008

    Well, it seems to me that “activating the Doomsday Desice for fun” and “not activating the Doomsday Device for fun” are definitive to the core essense of a unique person.

  14. acilius

     /  December 2, 2008

    That’s the key thing about the idea that every physically possible event is taking place in some infinite subset of a larger infinite set of coexisting universes. “The core essence of a unique person” isn’t there any more as a limiting factor on what can happen. I suppose you could still have probability- the set of universes in which a guy like me doesn’t activate the Doomsday for fun might be larger than the set of universes in which a guy like me does, even if both sets are infinite. So it could still be reasonable to trust me with control of the Doomsday Machine- you could still live and plan without having to worry about wildly improbable occurrences. But the fact that those occurrences, however improbable, do take place somewhere in the multiverse, should stop me feeling profoundly superior to people who have a larger set of parallel universe counterparts who activate the Doomsday Machine for fun, even if that larger set translates into a higher probability of them doing it here.

  15. cymast

     /  December 2, 2008

    I guess my ultimate question regarding multiple “yous”- acting quite differently from one another- is,

    What would compel “you” to:

    a. think activing the Doomsday Thingie would be fun, and

    b. actually activate the Doomsday Thingie?

    See, I think of “you,” and I think of someone who would never activate the Thingie for any reason, aside from having a personality-altering brain injury and the like. But I’m not including those things in my scenarios. If “you” activate It an infinite number of times in an infinite number of universes, who’s to say “you” won’t activate it in the here and now? So the scenario is “you” activating It in this universe, this reality. If someone were to say, “Acilius activated the Thingie,” I would say, “No, that wasn’t Acilius.”

    I guess this is just one of those things I will never understand. And I’m actually glad of it. The ramifications are too soul-stripping.

  16. acilius

     /  December 2, 2008

    I think I would be extremely unlikely to activate the Doomsday Machine. But it doesn’t have to be likely to happen in an infinite number of parallel universes- just consistent with the laws of physics. So if it were physically possible for someone exactly like me to do that, then there would be an infinite number of universes in which someone exactly like me had done it. It would be kind of like an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typrewriters producing the works of Shakespeare, or an infinite number of Sarah Palins producing a complete sentence.

  17. cymast

     /  December 2, 2008

    A-ha! The monkeys-on-typewriters thing!

    See, I never bought that one, not even a little bit. You can’t convince me any monkey would ever write the complete works of Shakespeare. Now replace the monkeys with word processors that randomly type . . and I’ll say I very reluctantly agree.

  18. acilius

     /  December 2, 2008

    Well, if the monkeys’ behavior were truly random, the keystrokes producing a copy of Shakespeare’s works would be no less likely than any other sequence of keystrokes of equal length. Since the number of possible sequences of keystrokes at any given length is finite, an infinite number of monkeys, typing entirely at random, would be certain to produce Shakespeare’s works. Of course, the behavior of monkeys is not random. There’s a limit to how much typing any given monkey will do, which keys the monkey will prefer, etc. Still, among them I suppose they would have to do it- one monkey might come up with the first page of TWELFTH NIGHT, a billion septillion spaces down the line another one would have the second half of the page, etc.

  19. cymast

     /  December 2, 2008

    The (theoretical?) knowledge that an infinite number of word processors have already written the complete works of Shakespeare *all at once on the first try with no mistakes* is depressing enough. And here I can’t even catch my own typos half the time. Now the fact that the monkeys’ behavior- as we know monkeys- is not random, is precisely why I don’t believe any monkey would ever write a page of Shakespeare, let alone the entire works all at once on the first try with no mistakes. But what about the infinite number of monkeys in an infinite number of other universes that do not behave like monkeys as we know them? Would they ever write Shakespeare? And that takes me back to my original question. Are they really monkeys?

    But then I remember *every possibility* really means *every possibility* and indeed, an infinite number of monkeys *as we know them* instantaneously and without explanation just now wrote the entire works of Shakespeare an infinite number of times back-to-back while simultaneously playing ukuleles and bouncing on pogo sticks while cartoon marshmallows brandishing non-cartoon squirt guns filled with kitten fur hopped out of their mouths.

  20. cymast

     /  December 3, 2008

    Now of course I’m taking about the infinite number of universes where this scenario could happen, according to their peculiar laws of physics and whatnot . .

  21. acilius

     /  December 3, 2008

    Why, of course!

%d bloggers like this: