Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing" - Helen Keller

Seems like it's been non-stop action these days.  Amanda will be defending her Masters thesis tomorrow!  I've been jumping around like crazy trying to review apps for the Soffen Travel Grant while reading articles in the RNA World hypothesis and preparing for next week's trip to the Mojave Desert.  Feels like regardless of how busy we are, I still feel like I'm not doing enough.  Hopefully I will have that sulfur spring up and running within the coming weeks.  I'd like to have an idea of how the spring will function before I depart to head back to Pennsylvania for xmas time.

On another note, today would be Carl Sagan's 87th birthday!  The Secular Students and Skeptic Society here at CU Boulder have put together an event for this evening in the planetarium for watching an episode of Cosmos on the dome.  I think, regardless of the work I have to do, that I will have to partake in this event!

Monday, November 7, 2011


Just watched this video, a TED talk from Mark Pagel:

I found the discussion to be intriguing.

I don't necessarily agree with everything he said.  Indeed, I wonder if some anthropologists cringe and shudder when he suggests that chipanzees cannot "ape" the actions they see.  I think the fact that many of them can use a stick to get ants out of the ground in the first place is a sign of some level of sharing of ideas between individuals.  Also, it is curious to wonder if the evolution of language is a necessity for intelligent/conscious organisms to create civilizations.

I do like how the speaker links the development of language to our mental capacity for not only "aping" the acts of others, but also of sharing our acts with others.  Language is a technology.  Many people may not see it as such; they may take speaking and language for granted.  But language is a tool we developed within ourselves.

We are now developing languages in new ways.  We're building mathematical languages and computer languages which have allowed us to increase our capacity for computation, modeling, and data structuring.  Looking forward to a future where we may one day come into contact with intelligent extraterrestrial beings, I have to wonder about the role language will play in our exchanges.

Will it be as simple as creating some "galactic rosetta stone" which will allow us to translate our languages together, or will the language barrier be so complex, so different, that we will feel utterly disconnected from whomever else is out there?  We use manipulations of air and our internal organs to create sound.  We can use tools, such as musical instruments and computers, to create other sounds.  This is our language.  We also have gesturing, which can very much be a part of our language.  I wonder how an intelligent extraterrestrial being may perceive our language.  Would it be common that developing biological and mechanical devices for creating vibrations in the local medium is the primary source of language?  What if E.T. phones home with something other than sound?  What if other beings have evolved a biological ability to speak through pulses in electromagnetic radiation (beyond our simple computer screens and written language; I mean a real ability to transmit and receive light signals as a form of language)?  What if other beings have language on the level of producing structure in molecules and then transmitting those molecules?  That would make "shaking hands" a whole new experience.  It is intriguing indeed to wonder what the language barrier will be between ourselves and any other intelligent organisms we may one day meet.

Just more to ponder.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

I just took a survey for a young student who is interested in astrobiology.  One of the questions was about whether or not the surveyed individual believed we were "alone" in the universe or not and why.  Here is the short answer I supplied after clicking the option for "I believe it is highly likely that we are not alone":

I'm sure most people in my profession would answer this with the traditional "waste of space" quote, but I'll try to be a little more from-the-heart with my answer.  From the years I've spent earning degrees in biology, chemistry, and now geology, as well as the time I've spent reading and thinking about myself, about our species, about our place in the universe, I have come to believe (yes, a scientist can have beliefs) that life, life as we know it and maybe even life as we don't yet know it, is extremely likely to exist in our universe outside of Earth.  With the billions upon billions of stars in our known universe, many of which we are slowly but surely learning have their own planetary systems, it is highly likely that there are other places where life may have originated and where biological evolution may have begun.  These places need not be Earth-like.  There may be a multitude of ways in which life can originate and develop.  However, that remains as well-founded speculation.  To be even more forward, there likely are many planets in our known universe which have near-the-same planetary dynamics as our Earth and which may have allowed for the origination and evolution of life as we know it.  I do not believe our Earth is rare.  I do however believe our Earth is special.  It's special because it's our home, our cradle.  One of the drivers in my growth as an astrobiologist has been is my sincere wish to understand our world better, and to maybe help humanity in understanding ourselves as we slowly begin to look out at the cosmos that lie beyond our cradle.