Onward and Upward?

Paul Davies. Are We Alone: Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life. Penguin. 1995.

This is an excellent example of the 'escalator theory', discussed by Mary Midgly. and referred to in my article 'Blood, Vision and Brimstone'. Three themes emerge: evolution is the same as 'progress', with white, male Anglo-Saxon mathematicians and physicists in the vanguard; said mathematicians and physicists are on the verge of revealing the divine truth of the universe, which makes them very special indeed; and they are so special that some natural force is propelling many other places in the galaxy towards them - the galaxy might be teeming with beings just like them - only better!

There are a number of straw men set up to be knocked down. No biochemists would argue that life arose through 'chance combinations' of molecules, rather they would argue that evolutionary forces were already acting on a pre-biotic molecule. The argument is presented that 'what an extraordinary thing it is that latent in the human brain lay a mathematical ability to decode nature ... to do abstract advanced mathematics... for tens of thousands of years' (p.82). Eh, well, yes. so has presumably the ability to drive motorcars or play computer games. All of these abilities are socialisations of general symbolic consciousncss which can adapt itself to almost any circumstances.

The real problem with SETI claim ants is that they seem to assume that contemporary Western culture is somehow inevitable and will be widespread in the galaxy. This seems extraordinarily unlikely. It is much more probable that every biosphere will be unique and that heavy industry, leading to spaceships, radio telescopes, etc. will be very rare indeed. In an appendix Davies discusses the notion of an infinite universe in which everything that can possibly happen - no matter how remote the possibility - will happen. an infinite number of times. In such an universe totally, categorically, impossible events will occur an indefinite number of times. There's a nice explanation for all the Fortean's wonders for you! -- Peter Rogerson. from Magonia 53, August 1995.

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