Monday, 1 August 2011

Life on Earth, Bayesian Analysis... and the Harmonious Distribution of Raw Materials

"The solution to the problems of the world lies in harmony with the distribution of raw materials
- Jack Parnell, my memorable, flamboyant, poetic and possibly prophetic geography teacher, and a lesson I have never forgotten.

After school, I went on to be educated and trained as a scientist and engineer and have huge respect for the achievement of innovative thinkers, inventive scientists and industrious engineers the world over, whose endeavours have lead to vast improvements in both our physical and material wellbeing, achievements, the shear genius of which are unappreciated by most of us. Although, for the last twenty five years of my working life, I have not applied my scientific training in a professional capacity, it remains ingrained in my thinking and, as a result, in solving a problem I will always attempt a logical, scientific or engineering approach to it. 

Regardless of what I am about to espouse, I do retain a fascination with all things, which relate to the cosmos, to the big 'out there', to the universe in all its amazing and mysterious glory. But there are more pressing matters that we need to deal with.

With regard to space exploration, the universe and particularly the prospect of finding extraterrestrial life, I personally believe that, however long we humans exist on planet earth, we will never find life in another part of even our own galaxy, let alone the universe as a whole. However tantalising the prospect of ET life, but sad the thought that we might be on our own, I think we will never find other life or fully understand the universe itself, simply by virtue of our inability to do what is essential in any science, physically to observe what's going on. We cannot do this in the farthest reaches of space. The development of advanced equipment and the progress we have made in Quantum Physics to our understanding of the structure of the universe, is but a drop in the ocean of cosmological complexity.

The laws of probability dictate that there is always an element of uncertainty about the results of any test of scientific thesis or the results of its research; nothing is ever one hundred percent certain. Our continuing quest to search for life out there and our endeavours to solve this riddle of the universe is admirable, but in the final analysis, it is nothing if not escapism... we are running away from the deeply serious challenges that we face on this planet!

Call me a bore, if you like, I don't mind, but I do have a passionate feeling about and fear for life here on this great big beautiful, diverse but troubled world of ours.

I therefore believe that, instead of wasting so much of our time and resource chasing dreams in outer space, we should apply all our resourcefulness, brilliance, invention and innovative ability, as well as courage, to solving the problems we have here on earth: and these problems, it strikes me, are primarily concerned with the distribution of its raw materials in relation to its populations; in other words, feeding ourselves effectively and keeping ourselves warm (or cool). We also need to find some way of resolving a paradox, which is rooted in the enduring ability humans have had throughout our history, for the inequitable distribution of its assets, but none more so than those that are 'unearned'; that have been acquired by less than equitable means, by tyranny, by invasion of physical as well as economic territory, the criminal abuse of power and privilege.

I know my comments may seem to be unhelpful - not to say political - considering the honest, scientific nature of the article that prompted this post, but note: this is not an attack on that article or any other scientific research, in particular. What I am afraid of is that we are losing site of the endeavour, with which the human race needs to engage, with unfettered enthusiasm, courage and great, great urgency, before it becomes too late for us to tackle. 

The big question remains: who has the courage to start this debate and who will initiate action? Someone with the influence and power to do so; someone who will also not allow their power, privilege and influence to affect their motivation in addressing some of the more political issues of the inequitable distribution of the world's assets ... a paradox indeed, but one from which we must not shy for too much longer.


This post was prompted by an article, pointed to by Jack Eason (@Akhen1Khan2 on Twitter) entitled "Astronomy Without a Telescope - The Unlikeliness of Being" recently referenced by the 'Bar None Group Daily'. The article itself can be seen here. This post is an extended version of a comment, multiple comments in fact, that I made on that article. 

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