If the magic of life is dazzling here, it is out there too. Among the stars, the search may be difficult, but what about within the catacombs of our mind? If, ‘seeing is believing’, then thinking and understanding is certainly philosophy. Let’s take a fresher look in all that we know of, polish a little, and start a fresh chain of thought. Why not shed the boundaries of scientific disciplines, start at the very beginning, and think, as we walk the walk of life.

Who says the answers are impossible?

Monday, 9 January 2012

'Déjà vu’ or simply a ‘status quo’.

It was lunch time at Los Alamos National Laboratory in California. The year was 1950. Renowned physicist Enrico Fermi was having a candid conversation with few of his colleagues on topics ranging from UFO sighting to the possibility of the existence life outside the planet earth. As physicists do, soon they were engrossed in discussion on interstellar travel at a speed greater than that of light and the use of such travel technology by advance alien species in reaching earth. Please remember that this was an era of considerable interest in UFO sightings. It may not have all started with the now infamous Roswell UFO incident, rather crass, which has gained tremendous public and media attention just three years back. For reasons quite strange, that decade and two following it, has quite a fistful of strange and unidentified encounters of the alien kind.
One reason behind this strange UFO frenzy of that time could have been mere psychological. The world, just out of the mayhem of Second World War was in a state of paranoia. Fear psychosis was high, you can say for anything, which has the capability of destroying humanity. The very thought of yet another global catastrophe or war, not from within, but from outside this planet was being associated with any strange sighting in the night sky. Early 20th century science fiction writers have already shown the world what to expect from an alien attack, and those pale jumpy lights in the night sky were adding fuel this global fear factor. Human race had always revered Armageddon; UFOs were just another way for many to believe that probably the end of days are near.
  Anyway, coming back to Fermi, he did some calculations over a cup of coffee and said, “If there is intelligent life out there, then they should have visited earth in the past, many times over, but where are they?” He was not ready to take the UFOs for their face value and actually wanted to debate, that if these UFOs are for real, then why won’t they come out and have a direct contact with us? He also asked where are the signs that the aliens visited earth and left their mark here, if they are so numerous in the universe? Unfortunately, there was neither any answer in 1950, nor even today.
Over the past half a century, many theories have come up to counter this famous Fermi Paradox. Some of the theories are quite appealing, some workable and other pure nonsense. Anyway, today I am in no mode to take up those theories and judge them on their merits or demerits, but I am having a different plan altogether. Today, I will take up the Fermi paradox from the perspective of an alien species, which has been charged by the earthlings of sneak peeking into their planet. The reason behind this exercise is straightforward. For long, the primary goal of the proponents of alien visitation theory has been to ask, ‘Why should they visit?’ However, if for a moment, we change our approach and imagine that we have all the recourses to make an intergalactic voyage to a far flung habitable planet, and then logically work our way down to deduce why should we be traveling there in the first hand. Remember such intergalactic travels and not mere walk down the central park or Broadway. They need resources and tremendous logistics; whichever way you may decide to travel. So, unless you have a solid reason to go earth, there is no sponsor for your UFO in your alien society. Just remember this stark fact of life, there would have been no America, or new sea route to India, if there were no Spanish and Portuguese dynasty backing Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci and Vasco da Gama.
Now before we begin, I would like to introduce another appealing factor or constant in the equation of any evolving life form. This constant, as I will explore in the next few paragraphs, will be extremely valuable in understanding why and when should an intelligent species decide to become a spacefaring race.
 The other day, as I was waiting in Penn station, in down town Manhattan, for a train to Long Island, the importance of this constant became extremely obvious to me. At that time, there should have been around a couple of hundred people in the railway platform, all going about their own business. It was an office time commute and the platforms soon swelled with the crowd beyond their capacity. However, something was quite strange in that sea of humanity. There was hardly any socialization going on over there, outside regular and known circles. Every individual was engrossed in their own thoughts, eagerly waiting for their desired trains. It is obviously a common phenomenon and most of has witnessed it sometime or the other. You can always argue that a railway platform, an airport lounge or a crowded bus terminus is hardly a place for candid socialization, as it’s a population made up of complete strangers, and people do like to keep to themselves than reach out in such circumstances, right? And by now, you would have probably started to doubt the intention and the outcome of this article.
Well, frankly speaking, it’s not such a trivial observation, and it does give a strange insight into the working of a living species, its collective evolution oriented consciousness, and is obviously a yard stick in the search for intelligent species in the universe. Let me show you how.
If you remember, in one of my earlier post, I have dealt a great deal on the importance of reaching out for biomolecules or alien biochemistry to initiate panspermia. I have even mentioned that without reaching out phenomenon, acting at full potential, the framework of life would not have been successful in earth or anywhere else in the universe you can imagine of. So, here I would like to pose one question. Does ‘reaching out’ always perpetuate? Is it noteworthy in every strata of any successful evolution? If it is such a dogma, then why there was so limited reaching out, in Penn station, by a crowd of intelligent consciousness?
The answer is quite tricky. Reaching out phenomenon will work in coherence with evolution for a certain entity, but not for time eternity to be frank. If I have to sum up its progression mathematically, I would envisage a sigmoidal curve over a time and evolutionary axis.  First of all, there will be a slow progression of this curve, near to the base line of evolution axis, as the molecules will try to establish themselves in an alien environment. Once the initial phase is over, and the molecules have absolved the possibility of extinction, they will start an exponential phase of the interaction cycle with other native molecules in their environment. Not all of them will be successful or productive, most will face dead ends, but they will try viciously. Over time, if things go well, our pet molecule will fully and functionally dominate its niche, and once it happens, there will be a paradigm shift in their behaviour towards the phenomenon of reaching out. The enthusiasm to reach out and seek new interaction partners will gradually subside. Our mathematical curve will smoothen over time axis, and you can call this phase of a ‘status quo’ has been reached.
 Now don’t mistake me in believing that evolution will stop altogether. What I simply imply is, once a state of the status quo has been achieved, the paradigm of evolution will enter the next available level, where, it will start the process of seeking altogether from scratch.  If all these, which I have mentioned till now, were happening at the level of biomolecules, then the next steps will start at the level of intact cells, constituted of complex molecules in successful interaction mesh work. The process will repeat as long as there is a scope for a higher complex order or level to exist. Biomolecules will give rise to unicellular compact cells, which will proceed into multicellular organisms and finally ‘reaching out phenomenon’ will be knocking the door of a complexity of unprecedented capability called intelligence and consciousness. However, remember that the bottom line is, ‘next step in any evolution can hardly happen until there is some short of the status quo in the preceding level of complexity’. Thus, a ‘status quo’ enjoys the same privilege, as ‘reaching out’, in any evolutionary process.
Now, let’s try to understand what happens within a level of complexity that has already attained a status quo. You will see not much, evolution wise, happening in there. Every component in that level will try to maintain its own position and will try to contain the harmony, which it has established within its interaction net. As biochemist, that is what we regularly map for a protein within cells, to identify its function. This is called system biology, and if you search the scientific literatures, you can find fascinating interaction maps already scaled out for fruit fly Drosophila, beakers yeast and microbes like Escherichia coli. These interaction maps are a treasure trove of information and believe it or not they are quite stable, and took over millions of year of evolution to attain the status quo which defines life on earth. However, when pathogens like viruses try to make us ill, they simply disturb this ‘status quo’ by squeezing into this complicated interaction mesh, through molecular mimicry, for their own benefit. It is as simple as that.
If you are wondering, what has ‘status quo’ to do with my observation in Penn station, then I must tell you here, that it is the very same phenomenon,  but at the level of  human consciousness that leads to such an obliviousness among us towards others, which is  regularly observed in unfamiliar crowded places. This conclusion is not quite difficult to grasp, if you look deeper into the working of our consciousness.
 In any social structure, there need to be always a ‘status quo’ to qualify as a civilized society. We may all have our own individual interaction cycle or comfort zone, but we only venture out when need compels. However, each individual interaction cycle is a working component of the complete human social grid encompassing all the populations, which is in an equilibrium or ‘status quo’. Remember one thing very clearly here; until and unless there has been a serious challenge to this equilibrium in social, environmental or any other parameter, to any species, reaching out technically never happened.
 It holds particularly true for the human race if you study Anthropology.  The classic migration of humans out of Africa into the other continents, as shown in the map below, never happened until there was a serious scarcity of food. So is true for other migrations, associated with different species, in the planet earth. Therefore, we can safely conclude that the quest for migration, resettlement and adaptation to a new world is always a last option for any living entity, wherever they may live, in this universe. 

 
So armed with all this discussion let’s try to understand under what condition, we, the prodigal little green men from Kepler-22b, would like to launch our UFOs for planet earth, and convenience our finance ministers and taxpayers to sponsor our 600 light year journey, which may take over a few generations to complete, may not return with any answer for a few thousand years, which may take over a few generations to complete, may not return with any answer for a few thousand years, not in the life time of your present financers. Well, wait, I heard you. You think you will be using advance transportation like worm hole and gravity drive. Chill out friends, if you do so, then you are even asking for more and more resources. If had you been using such things, why don’t we earthlings see you every day having coffee with us? Probably, it may not be such an easy affair after all using warm holes for mass transit and if you were so advance, then you would have solved your planet’s problem long back, and wouldn’t have to come to my planets like thieves.
So, if UFOs are for real, and they are manned by little green men from other worlds, then one thing is for certain, the status quo in their evolving society may have been challenged somehow, and that’s why they are here. So, what could have upset their status quo? Let’s try point wise and answer them.
1.       Some minerals getting depleted in their environment (gold?) and they are out here looking for it. Definitely, you must be kidding. All planets in a particular planetary system may look different superficially and geologically, but in elemental composition, they will be quite similar. If earthlings want to mine gold or silver thousand years from now to sustain their technology. I think, logically and logistically the best bet would be Mars, Moon or any of the moons of Jupiter or Saturn than Kepler-22b or any planet in Alpha century or Epsilon eridani.

2.       The species have overpopulated their home planet and need a new home. Hmm, that sounds interesting. Still, before I can sanction your budget of gazillion alien dollar space mission, I would ask you to consider populating the neighbouring planets first. If you were an earthling, I would ask you to consider Mars and Moon first. Next, I would show you Titan and Europa.  I will even urge you to make space settlements, which can harness the energy of your Sun, than straightway giving a nod to your funky mission of populating an already populated alien planet. Not only a few light years ride is a tremendous deterrent, but you have also to consider the resistance your species will face from native populations and their pathogens. Is it really worth the risk?

3.       What if the sun of their planet is dying? Yes, then you surely need a new home planet and a new sun. The journey is one way ticket and your species status quo is royally birched. In such a scenario, the story does look promising and possible. You surly will need to move with all your population in colossal spaceships and won’t mind generation wide travels. In such a case earth and its Sun could be to your liking and I have no doubt about it. You could hide your spaceship in the Asteroid belts and keep on sending scout missions to earth as UFOs. That does make sense. However, one problem, should you be not communicating with your UFOs from your mother ship? Why we earthlings don’t listen anything at all? Two possibilities, one you are not there at all. Second, we don’t know what to listen to.Hay, anybody down here on earth listening to me?

4.       You are interested in basic scientific knowledge to lunch UFOs to earth. Nobody is going to sanction your mission. It does not have any profitable outcome. Getting answers will take ages for you. Of course, you won’t be discouraged. You will be asked to use optical and radio telescopic methods to carry out your search. Still, a nod for a manned mission seems improbable, until you prove that earth and earthlings are hospitable.
So, what do we conclude to end this story? Nothing perhaps, Probably Fermi was right in asking ‘where are they?’ Intelligent aliens could be common in the universe, but real intelligent motive for light years spanning space travel are hard to come, at least from an earthling who is writing this blog. I may be wrong. I wish I am! For, however we may write about the ‘status quo’, reaching out will always be there in our blood.
What would do you say??