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.

 

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