Friday, 24 October 2014

ET encounters but no ETs in the universe? Resolving the paradox


As stated in previous posts the universe of space, time, energy and matter  that came into existence during the Big Bang is extraordinarily fine tuned in numerous ways to make bacterial and plant life  possible. The building blocks, i.e. organic molecules such as amino acids, are physically and chemically possible although it remains to find mechanisms by which they are formed. In this sense the universe is designed for life.

So far the universe does not seem to be teeming with it. On the other hand bacterial and very elementary plant life can only be reliably found by manned expeditions. There could be lots of it, although even this is not a foregone conclusion since we still do not have the slightest knowledge of what life is. We can talk about building blocks; but that’s like talking about the bricks of a building. It explains nothing about how the bricks were made and, more critically, how they are assembled into functionally complex structures.


The bricks and buildings analogy is of limited value when seeking to understand life because, unlike buildings, living organisms are constantly repaired, replaced and reproduced without any known cause. It would be like a building constantly rebuilding itself as its bricks decayed or were broken by external forces, with its structural integrity maintained throughout the process.

We can use science to observe the very complex molecular processes  involved but have no inkling of what orchestrates them. Human life is even more difficult to comprehend: it is creative in philosophical reflection, meditation, prayer, science, technology, art, music and statecraft. It is aware of being subject to good and evil, love and hate, truth and falsehood. Returning to the bricks and buildings analogy, there could be no bricks and no buildings without human intelligence and manual dexterity.  It is the same with life. How could there be life, culminating in self-conscious, love-seeking, love-giving and truth-seeking morally aware beings without the presence and participation of some higher agency with a purpose?

The essential nature of life is totally unknown. All we can do is look at phenomena which result from an organism being alive. Atoms and molecules are assembled into sophisticated, dynamic, interacting hierarchical systems which we call living organisms. Moreover the systems are in many cases able to reproduce themselves and each organism allows its parts to be repaired and replaced in such a way that the essential identity of the system remains unchanged (e.g. every cell in the human body is replaced every ten years). At some point the whole dynamic stops: stops functioning, stops self-healing and stops replacing its parts – we call it death.


For this life creating and guiding agency (LCGA – an acronym I have coined for lack of something more elegant and reverential) to function certain atoms of the periodic table need to be available – carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron and many others. These are indeed present in many places throughout the cosmos and, as stated above, the laws of physics allow the LCGA to use them in creating life forms. Also, astrobiologists spend a lot of time trying to predict the necessary conditions needed for life to get started and thrive. But if we don’t know what the LCGA is how can we know the conditions needed for it to create and sustain life?


Although we cannot detect bacterial and very primitive plants over astronomical distances we can make a reasonable attempt at detecting civilisations, at least indirectly, by data emanating from them (e.g. messages) or characteristic by-products of civilisations, such as pollution from manufacturing. It appears that for the LCGA to operate to the degree needed for civilisation to develop certain conditions are needed which only apply to this planet, this solar system and this galaxy. This is how it looks at present, all things considered. You can never say never in science.

(Note that LCGA is not the same as emergent complexity, which is a concept invoked to describe, not explain, how ordered systems evolve spontaneously from less ordered systems. The formation of ice crystals from water is an example. Emergent complexity could be associated in some way with LCGA.)

Yet there are repeated reports of extra terrestrials making their presence felt on earth – flying saucers, strange technology, alien abductions and anthropomorphic beings. Most reports are probably unreliable but it is widely agreed among UFO experts that some encounters are genuine and cannot be explained away by natural phenomena or hallucination. Hardened sceptics doubt all reported encounters but a dispassionate examination indicates that something real is happening but that there is no way to prove it scientifically.

So what could be the source of these visitations, given a universe devoid of other civilisations? Our best guess from what we know about the planets, stars and galaxies, and the conditions for civilisation, is that no other civilisations could have evolved on any planet other than the this one. Brian Cox reaches this conclusion in the BBC documentary 'Human Universe: Part 3. Are we alone?' He introduces the concept of the self replicating von Neumann machine, stating that it would take only 10 million years to explore every star system in our Milky Way galaxy, which is over 10,000 million years old - time enough for the machines to have transformed every planet in the Milky Way many times.  There should be colonies and signs of intelligence all around us.  We  do not appear to have been visited in this way and there are no signs of any other civilisations.

Professor Cox did not mention the other and non-speculative  reason for the absence of extra terrestrial civilisations in our galaxy, which is the extraordinarily unique conditions needed not just for life but for civilisation and exclusive to our planet. For example, the presence and availability of iron, gold and silicon in the right places at the right time. Tameable animals like oxes, birds of prey and dogs have also been instrumental in allowing civilisations to develop. See Our precious planet. Also, our galaxy is the one least hostile to life for a number reasons (see ET life should be local) so if civilisation can't start here it is difficult to imagine it starting in any other galaxy.

This is not to say that we should not go on searching. The universe is a strange place and over 95% unknown, so who knows what could turn up? But on the basis of what we know, or any scientific understanding we can envisage, it looks as though this may be the only planet with a civilisation on it.


Over the last century theoretical physicists have increasingly dealt with the concept of extra dimensions beyond the ones we know. We live in 4 dimensions: the 3 space dimensions of length, breadth and thickness together with the temporal dimension along which cause and effect proceed, i.e. time. Mathematical constructions have been invoked by physicists to describe elementary particles and their behaviour in a unified way. This is known as string theory. The mathematics involves assuming extra dimensions. It is not universally accepted but the concept of extra dimensions has become quite a respectable one.

Our universe has originated from outside of space and time, from existential nothingness as far as physicists are concerned. Scientists cannot investigate anything outside our 4 dimensions. However, mathematics shows that the concept of extra dimensions is at least intelligible. Could the LCGA be some entity that is able to travel in and out of different dimensional realms, causing physical forms to materialise and dematerialise. Such an entity would be by definition supernatural. It could have been responsible for the first life on earth, perhaps the first humans.

 Could this be behind the extraterrestrials? In other words, flying saucers and ETs are more likely to be from outside our universe, beyond scientific investigation yet very real to those who encounter them. They often break the physical laws of our 4D cosmos because of their extra-dimensional roots.

As one who believes in a Creator and follows science I see no reason why God could not have created any number of extra dimensions. They could be very useful, not to say essential, for the performance of miracles, listening and responding to millions of simultaneous prayers, and the existence of an angelic realm.


Author 2077.