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April 24, 2002


I got a copy of Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe from the library, and began reading it this weekend. It's a very interesting book so far, though page after page, from the very first is a litany of negatives: "oh sure, you can have bacteria all over the universe, no problem ... but here's why complex life just won't work."

A couple of years ago I used to work with a guy named Jeff. He was a very nice guy, good sense of humor, very sharp. But whenever I worked with him closely on a project, I was clearly reminded that I am not a pessimist, despite my tendency to think of myself that way. He was constantly finding the darkest lining behind every cloud, and had our product failing in the next quarter -- each quarter. Try as I could, I couldn't muster quite as much gloom as he could bring to bear.

So I was reading this book last night, and I had that same feeling. I'm willing to accept that the Drake equation was a bit naive, and probably missing a lot of variables. But in the first pages of this book, they've got a table FULL of obstacles to complex life. It really seems less like they are trying to get an accurate estimate than that they are gleefully stacking the deck against intelligent life.

Still, the authors are not the first to reason against intelligent life 'out there'. Between the Fermi Paradox and John Von Neumann's work on Automata, there is a pretty good argument that if there were aliens, they'd already be here. Of course, maybe they already are .

Posted by dpwakefield at April 24, 2002 08:08 AM