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RocketSquid's avatar

What if we are really alone in the Universe?

Asked by RocketSquid (3480points) April 13th, 2010

What would it mean for us on a philosophical level if we somehow proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Earth is the only planet in the universe to harbor life?

Would we be vindicated in making whatever changes we wanted to whatever we wanted? Would life become that much more precious? What kind of changes would there be in how we view our place in the universe?

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33 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Since that is the premise that I have been living under lo these many years, nothing would change.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Whether we’re alone or not, whether god exists or not, whether we can go back in time or not have always been nice things to ponder but I hold a firm belief that what matters in the here and now is how people relate to each other and to the environment. I don’t think it matters if there is other life out there – if it hasn’t reached out to us or if we haven’t found it yet, so what? What does it matter? We know the problems we have here on our planet and they are yet to be solved – that is the focus of my life but others may have better answers.

Coloma's avatar

And what difference does this really make?

Most people are already alone in their own universe, namely that 13 lb. appendage attached to their shoulders, called a head! lol

janbb's avatar

There are many, many things that I find more upsetting daily.

earthduzt's avatar

If we truy are alone, it would just give us better understanding that life is precious and one of a kind and that we need to preserve our planet and its ecology. At least if we did find out for a fact we truly are alone (which is almost impossible for us to do) at least then it would give us closure on the subject.

wundayatta's avatar

It means nothing different from our current state of affairs. We are human. We have our own best interests at heart (as we perceive them). We take an anthropocentric view of the world and, by extension, the universe. Everything is ours to do what we can with.

I shouldn’t say “we” since there are many who believe we share the planet with other living creatures who matter as much, if not more than we do. However, I do think the vast majority of humans act as if the world is their play thing, and rightly so. I think you have to be very wealthy to be able to say you will take less than what you have.

Since this is the default state of affairs, I can’t see what would change in either case (proof of existence of other intelligences, or lack of proof of existence of other intelligences). We’ll never be able to prove there are no other intelligences in the universe.

Our lives are no more precious to us than they already are. Life is all we have. Once it’s gone, there is, I would guess (because I’ve seen no evidence to support anything else), nothing.

MrsDufresne's avatar

I was reading Steven Hawking the other day, and in the prologue of his book “On the Shoulders of Giants”, he says, (and I’m paraphrasing here), that the appearance of a structured universe (with the possibility of intelligence in it) gives rise to the Anthropic Principle, which states, that we wouldn’t be inquiring about the universe at all, if intelligence hadn’t occurred at least once.

If it happened once, it can happen again.

In other words, with the mass of it all, the likelihood that intelligence of some sort has occurred in another part of the universe too far away for us to measure is more likely than not.

john65pennington's avatar

Our only hope is that we get to the moon first with a rocket full of garbage.

ucme's avatar

There’s klingon’s on the starboard bow,it’s life Jim but not as we know it.

RocketSquid's avatar

I’d imagine at least a few things would change. Obviously not wide scale panic, but there’d have to be at least some changes to our outlook. Suddenly we’d go from a fairly insignificant collection of organic materials to possibly the most unique and possibly important event in the universe. That in itself I could see making some kind of murmur in people’s minds. Would religion or providence suddenly gain a huge foothold? What would that mean scientifically if life is the only unique event in the universe?

Would our sci-fi suffer?

MissAnthrope's avatar

Given the vastness of the universe, I find it hard to believe there’s not at least one other planet out there that is capable of sustaining life. If you look at it in terms of probabilities, Earth is a 1 in a trillion (or whatever) fluke. I just find it difficult to rule out the possibility of at least one other fluke out there somewhere.

Aside from that, to answer your question, to me it makes no real difference. What we know now is that we are alone in the universe, if it is true that we are truly alone, that there is no other life, no other life-harboring planets, what has changed, really?

majorrich's avatar

I suppose that means when we become extinct, nobody will come to the funeral.

stump's avatar

Then we would have to become all the things we had hoped we would find.

Parrappa's avatar

I would say that that would be the single most depressing thing man kind would ever find out.

I know this might sound ridiculous, but I honestly think this would affect me and my daily life. It would be incredibly saddening to know that we are all there is. All our hopes of these advanced races, cultures, technologies etc. would seize to exist.

absalom's avatar

I think many of us are already operating on that assumption.

Jeruba's avatar

Then we’ll be alone as we can be among nearly seven billion others, which does not feel so alone to me.

We have no single view now of life and our place in the universe. We are no more likely than ever to come to a common understanding. And probably no less likely, either. As a species we tend to be far more concerned with our own immediate interests and the actions of the guy across the fence than with whatever is out there.

lloydbird's avatar

We would still have we.

And there is so much “we”

earthduzt's avatar

I seriously doubt we are the only living creatures in the entire Universe. As far as we know the Universe is approximately 14 billion years old, well that’s how far we can see back because that’s as far as light has traveled out, now we see the universe is expanding and where we are located it we can only see up to our universal horizon line. We will never be able to see past that because we cannot beat the speed of light. So maybe there’s more planets, stars etc past where we cannot see and if there’s life past our horizon well they wouldn’t be able to see past their horizon and it can just keep going on like that infinitely for all we know. The universe is huge to put it into perspective if the United States were the universe and you took a grain of sand that would represent our solar system and our radio waves from our first broadcast have traveled 100 light years (approximately 6 trillion miles a year is one light year) Place that grain of sand lets say in Manhattan well our radio waves covered about a 6 block radius of that. Chats just our visible universe, there is no way we will ever be able to cover all of the universe. I just don’t buy that we are the only living planet in this unfathomably big system we live in.

In Universal terms life is brand new and we are just in our infancy, maybe we are the first intelligent life to have formed but there are more coming up the ladder, there’s a first for everything. We just cannot be the only living planet. I’m including micro organisms also because once again even intelligent life had to start some where.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I don’t know about “the universe”, but after 4:30 PM I’m usually pretty much alone here at work, and when I get home I can only hope to be alone. Well, except for Willow the dorg.

Which brings me to “the others”: isn’t it pretty arrogant to think that we’re “alone” because only humans (as far as we know) are writing about this “alone” stuff with words on glowing screens like this? I can guarantee that when Willow meets other dorgs (or just plain ol’ dogs), they talk about us a lot.

If you think about how many bacteria exist on your keyboard, and how many mites are crawling over your skin at this very instant… you’ll wish you were alone.

ragingloli's avatar

A giant waste of space. Literally.

Pandora's avatar

You would have to assume that man kind is still around to make such a discovery. If we haven’t blown each other out of the sky or the planet hasn’t evaportated by then, then that will be the biggest news of all time. It could take us millions of years to search the whole universe.
Of course for me it would mean nothing, being I will be long gone by then.

talljasperman's avatar

That would mean that earth is special…and that this is as good as it gets….you never know maybe the universe will turn out to be smaller than Astronomers belive…you know when we thought the world was flat; our perceptions will change again… ironicaly maybe the universe will turn out to be flat and you can fall off.

Rarebear's avatar

I suggest you read a book called Rare Earth to get a good view on this.

Cruiser's avatar

They already found ice on mars which is like finding a pull tab beer can buried at the beach. There was something there a long time ago…we just missed the party!!

Coloma's avatar


Still thinking of bacteria & the dust mites roaming my body, a universe unto itself…nice, I’m taking a shower.

phillis's avatar

Ugh….God. Like we need another excuse to be full of ourselves? Please! I am going to be racked with disappointment, if this turns out to be the truth. I can’t understand how thier could’t be life out there.

The only thing that would change is that there would be renewed interest in colonizing every star we can reach. Or making at least one of the our dump.

thriftymaid's avatar

We could stop talking about aliens.

Kraigmo's avatar

Five million years ago, we were an animal of some sort. Where will we be five million years from tonight? What we represent is not a sideshow, or an epiphenomenon, or an ancillary something-or-other on the edge of nowhere. What we represent is the nexus of concrescent novelty that has been moving itself together, complexifying itself, folding itself in upon itself, for billions and billions of years. There is, so far as we know, nothing more advanced than what is sitting behind your eyes. The human neocortex is the most densely ramified and complexified structure in the known universe. We are the cutting edge of organismic transformation of matter in this cosmos. And this has been going on for awhile. Since the discovery of fire, since the discovery of language, but now, and by now, I mean for the last 10,000 years, we’ve been into something new: not genetic information, not genetic mutation, not natural selection, but epigenetic activity. Writing, theatre, poetry, dance, art, tattooing, body-piercing, and philosophy. And these things have accelerated the ingression into novelty so that we have become an idea-excreting force in nature that builds temples, builds cities, builds machines, social engines, plans, and spreads over the earth, into space; into the microphysical domain; into the macrophysical domain. We, who five million years were animals, can kindle in our deserts and if necessary upon the cities of our enemies, the very energy which lights the stars at night.

Now, something peculiar is going on here. Something is calling us out of nature and sculpting us in its own image. And the confrontation with this something is now not so far away. This is what the impending apparent end of everything actually means. It means that the denouement of human history is about to occur and is about to be revealed as a universal process of concrescing and expressing novelty that is now going to become so intensified that it is going to flow over into another dimension…

…In the body—in the body—there are niagaras of beauty, alien beauty, alien dimensions that are part of the Self, the richest part of life.

—Terence McKenna

mattbrowne's avatar

It would make colonizing the galaxy a lot easier.

nope's avatar

I’m pretty sure there are already signs, in our own solar system, that this is not the case. We are not alone. I mean, as long as you don’t mind hanging out with some sort of frozen plankton, or an amoeba or something. At least, that’s what we know so far. If I were a cartoon, I could probably hang out with a plankton. Kidding aside, however, we also know there are….millions? billions?...of other solar systems out there, and I just don’t see it. Therefore, I’m thinking your question is probably more philosophical. And if we were truly alone, my imagination would probably die.

tatwood106's avatar

If you look at the sheer immensity of stars in the universe; life on other planets, moons or satellites seems more of a certainty than a possibility. To illustrate, scoop a handful of beach sand, that is approximately 1,000,000 grains of sand now do this 200,000 times. that is 200,000,000,000 grains of sand, that’s 200 billion grains of sand. That represents the number of stars in our galaxy. There are approximately 200 billion galaxies in the universe. That’s 40,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars or 40 sextillion stars.
Even if only 1 percent of 1 percent of this number were earth-like stars that would still be 4,000,000,000,000,000,000, 4 quintillion stars. If only 1 percent of 1 percent had earth-like planets that would be 400000000000000 400 trillion possibilities.
As new research indicates that solar system formation is common around stars then the number of planets, moons, and satellites that could harbor life is astronomically high (sorry for the pun).
There is almost nowhere on this planet that life does not exist. Deep below the ocean at Volcanic vents where we thought there could be no life we have found life and it is thriving; so life does not even need what we would call earth-like conditions to exist and thrive.

It is therefore my opinion that life must exist somewhere in all the vastness of the known universe.

tatwood106's avatar

I am sorry in expressing the possibility of life I forgot to answer the questions as stated.
1. I think that it will always be impossible to conclusively prove that there is no other life in the universe simply because of it’s immensity.
2. Regardless of our religious or philosophical views for any period in history there have always been some who have found justification for their conduct, I don’t expect that that would change.
3. The changes in religion or philosophy will depend greatly on how first contact is made. If it is by radio telescope the impact will be initially large but will diminish when the distances between us become understood. If life comes here it will depend on whether it is a close encounters or war of the worlds scenario.
4. To allude to my last post, we are no more than a microscopic spec of dust on one of those 40 sextillion grains of sand. To say that the universe was created for us alone is just a little bit conceited. If you want the religious slant, why limit God’s ability by saying this is the only life he (or she or neither) could create, if God is God then all things are possible.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. – William Shakespeare

mattbrowne's avatar

@tatwood106 – Great answers. But keep in mind there’s a difference between simple and complex life. The latter might be rare.

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