Class Warfare Blog

September 7, 2019

Beware of Throw Away Lines

I am working my way through Daniel Dennett’s book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking and I encountered this:

Live is amazing. When you think of the billions of solar systems that are most certainly lifeless, it is amazing that there is any way of being alive at all. (Chapter 38)

Now, Daniel Dennett is my favorite philosopher, possibly because he eschews the normal jargon rich representations of philosophers for ordinary language, thereby becoming a public intellectual, with all of the negatives that are associated with that position. So, I am not sure why he was saying such a stupid thing.

He seems better educated and more knowledgeable than I, and I am sure he is aware of the basic facts. There are now estimated to be about two trillion galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. This means that there are at least  200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 “solar systems” or thereabouts. Of these, we have explored exactly one and that one only partially. So far,

Solar Systems Explored = 1 (kinda sorta)
Solar Systems Which Contain Life =1

I call that a 100% hit rate. This means “not rare,’ “not uncommon,” “not unusual,” etc. so far anyway.

Will life prove to be rare elsewhere or not, that is whether life can be found in other solar systems, is entirely unknown. Not only that but we don’t have a way of expanding our knowledge much at all. Even were we to develop the technology to explore other solar systems in our neighborhood of our galaxy, we would still have a very parochial sampling. Other galaxies are, well, far, far away.

Q: So, is life rare? A: We do not know.

Q: Will we encounter life on other planets? A: We do not know.

Q: Will billions of solar systems found to be lifeless? A: We do not know.

We suspect that with 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 solar systems a few billion (0.00000000000000001% or so) might be lifeless, certainly, but that does not warrant “When you think of the billions of solar systems that are most certainly lifeless it is amazing that there is any way of being alive at all.” because one could also, based upon probabilities, say “When you think of the billions of solar systems that are most certainly full of life. . . .”

This was a throwaway line, a poor one at that, used to make life sound as if it were unusual (and, as always, us special).

Q: So, is life unusual? A: We do not know, but certainly not on this planet.

 

13 Comments »

  1. I’ve recently come to appreciate Dennett with Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.

    If I had to guess life is relatively common but bipedal intelligent monkeys probably are not.

    Like

    Comment by James Cross — September 7, 2019 @ 11:12 am | Reply

    • Lizards, then? :o)

      On Sat, Sep 7, 2019 at 11:13 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

      >

      Like

      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 7, 2019 @ 11:14 am | Reply

  2. Hmmm… Interesting take on this topic.

    Like

    Comment by Bazinga — September 7, 2019 @ 11:16 am | Reply

  3. Was it not a case of misspeaking? If we substitute solar systems for places 😁
    But then the question is what does he mean by amazing? Life can be and is terrible in many ways, for many people.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by The Pink Agendist — September 7, 2019 @ 11:42 am | Reply

    • Since he went on with a discussion of how tenacious life is on this planet and how many different forms it takes, I don’t think so.

      It is probable that I am overreacting as I have been seeing too many such throw away lines recent, ones in which people who haven’t look into the matter concede that Jesus was an historical figure, for example. Or that President Trump is a stable genius. That might have been a typo, I think he meant a “staple genius” because he can staple pages together brilliantly.

      On Sat, Sep 7, 2019 at 11:42 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

      >

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 7, 2019 @ 11:47 am | Reply

  4. I like that! 1 solar system explored and 100% success. If there is a reason at all for the other solar systems, life would certainly be one of them since it’s so special.

    Like

    Comment by jim- — September 7, 2019 @ 12:17 pm | Reply

  5. “…I am not sure why he was saying such a stupid thing.
    He seems better educated and more knowledgeable than I, and I am sure he is aware of the basic facts.”

    Yes, that is exactly why he was saying “such a stupid thing.” He is more knowledgeable, and better educated than you. Since you’re “not interested in a debate to determine if my ideas are “correct” or not,” I won’t annoy you with the details.

    …there’s no purpose in education anyway.
    Enjoy your meaningless day!

    Like

    Comment by John Branyan — September 7, 2019 @ 1:34 pm | Reply

    • You keep *hinting* that you have ideas… Actual ideas.

      Are you embarrassed about sharing them?

      Like

      Comment by john zande — September 7, 2019 @ 9:11 pm | Reply

  6. I pulled this from a transcript about another book he wrote. Scroll down to transcript, not the video, and the question “will humans meet aliens someday” and see his answer. I don’t believe his focus is on alien life or not, but more consciousness and free will, so I wouldn’t put much thought on this statement you refer to. He thinks it’s more likely than not..

    https://bigthink.com/videos/daniel-dennett-explores-darwinism-and-outer-space

    Like

    Comment by maryplumbago — September 8, 2019 @ 5:31 pm | Reply

  7. From my own personal experiences (nearly 71 years of them) life on this planet sure seems to be one darn tenacious critter. IF, and I admit it is a big if, there is intelligent life “out there”, it will probably be just as tenacious as it is here. If we ever do go “out there”, we’d best be very careful and expect the worst. Reminds me of the old time Boy Scout motto; be prepared.

    Like

    Comment by Walter Kronkat — September 9, 2019 @ 6:21 pm | Reply

    • I think it is best to not have expectations at all, since we have to basis for them. Expect the best, prepare for the worst … who said that?

      On Mon, Sep 9, 2019 at 6:21 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

      >

      Like

      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 10, 2019 @ 9:40 am | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: