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Earth’s ‘intelligent life’ – is this as smart as it gets?

By ALAN HIRSCHFELD [Wall Street Journal] – Recent discoveries might seem to boost the likelihood of life elsewhere in the galaxy. We have confirmed the stunning ubiquity of extrasolar planets in other star systems, the latest a possible Earth-analog orbiting right in the habitable sweet spot—not too close, not too far—from its central sun. Biologists have encountered bacteria underneath a mile of Antarctic ice and nestled within rocks in a Yellowstone geyser; it’s only a modest stretch to imagine that the next generation of robotic spacecraft might find simple biota in equally hostile havens on Mars or on one of Jupiter’s moons.

But as John Gribbin points out in his grimly plausible book, “Alone in the Universe,” there is a world of difference between habitable planets and inhabited planets. Mr. Gribbin’s narrative reduces the vision of Disney’s documentary into the counterfactual fever-dream it really is. The author’s conclusion: Earth is the sole abode of intelligent life in the galaxy, the product of a profoundly improbable sequence of cosmic, geologic and climatic events—some thoroughly documented, some inferable from fragmentary evidence—that allowed our planet to become a unique refuge where life could develop to its full potential…

One needn’t sign on to Mr. Gribbin’s conclusions to appreciate his logic. Humans are a miracle of blood, bone, and brain, a volatile mixture of compassion and brutality whose most enduring accomplishment—besides self-propagation—is the acquisition of knowledge about our world. We occupy, according to Mr. Gribbin, a unique position in the cosmic scheme of things. Having crowned humanity as the apex of galactic intelligence, Mr. Gribbin warns that there is no second chance: If we destroy ourselves, we will have done a grave injustice to the universe, removing perhaps the only means it has to ponder itself.

Continued at The Wall Street Journal | More Chronicle & Notices.

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