Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Are Little Green Men Real?

This one is so easy that I can simply say with 100% accuracy that the answer is no. A fair percentage of my readers will look at that statement and shake their heads in positive or negative affirmation; some might even gasp out loud or yell at their monitor. That is understandable but I feel my point is valid. Let’s focus for a moment on the title of this article and think about what is actually stated.

Are Little Green Men Real? First of all, has anyone ever seen one? There are hundreds of thousands of reports of extra-terrestrial sightings documented annually on a world wide basis, yet none of them ever seem to mention little green men. What we really need to do then is to think about where the expression comes from.

The first accepted use of “green men” outside of mythology and fictional literature was in 1955. Referred as the “Kelly-Hopkinsville sighting” a couple of men stated they saw short silver or metallic looking beings that they thought to be from another planet. A newspaper reporter made fun of this claim by stating that the men saw “little green men” and it seems to have taken hold from that point on. This reference might have been due to the use of green in fictional literature as the skin tone for beings allegedly from Mars. Thus the reference to “little green men” is a joke at best and a misnomer at worst.

In all fairness, if beings do exist on other planets, they might be green; the point of my statement about them not existing is in regards to our perception of what it means to be a little green man. Let’s take a journey together and explore this article with a more accurate and thought-provoking title:

Do Extraterrestrial Life-forms Exist?

Now we have opened up a valid topic for discussion. Once again let’s break the title down a little bit so that we will know exactly what we are talking about. What is a Terrestrial? Simply put, if you were born on Earth you are a Terrestrial. Terra is the Latin name for our planet; Earth of course being the English name. Adding the word “extra” is a way of stating that the being in question was not born on Earth. So, technically speaking, once a human baby is born in outer space, that baby will be an extra-terrestrial, or ET for short. Another common name for extraterrestrials is simply to call them aliens. The word alien means a non-resident or outsider. These days we commonly hear the term “illegal alien” in reference to the Mexican immigrants who enter the United States without following the proper legal channels. For the remainder of this article I will refer to these beings (extraterrestrials, not illegal immigrants) as aliens as the long version is simply too long and the short version might provoke thoughts of Elliot, Gerty and “phone home” every time I make reference to it.

I wish I could simply state yes on this topic and have facts to support my stance, but if any facts do exist in support of aliens being real they are currently not available to the public at large. And no, I am not supporting government cover-ups or any conspiracy theories, the facts are simply not available if they do indeed exist. What we need to do then is to sit back and think about what it would mean to be an alien. Does the alien need to be alive and able to think? Does it have to be able to move around? Does it have to look like us – having two arms and two legs and one head?

In order to sincerely think about this topic maybe we should try and answer some of these questions before going any further. What is life? To give a quick and easy answer we could say that if something is able to change through internal chemical reactions it is alive. So if something is able to alter itself (consume matter, change, age, etc.) or reproduce (sexually or asexually) it is a life-form. So what about thinking? How can we possibly account for thought in living things? My stance on this is that we cannot deduce whether something living is able to think or not. Our medical technology is still in such early stages that we do not know what a large percentage of the brain even does. Sure, scientists have been able to map the brain and note what areas appear to react when outside stimuli is introduced, but we still have no idea if a soul is real or why we only use 35% of our brains at the most active stages of thinking. When our technology reaches the point where we can quantify whether a soul is present or not and what the other 65% of our brain is for, then we can look at lower life-forms such as plants and insects and even germs and deduce whether they actually think or not. Until then, we truly do not know, we are only making educated guesses.

Before I go on I feel I need to quantify my statement about how much of our brains we use. The universal idiom is that we only use 10% of our brains. I have not been able to locate the origination of this fallacy. With our current technology scientists have been able to deduce that a normally functioning human brain uses about 15% of its total capacity in situations involving the least amount of thought or stimulation, such as resting or a dreamless slumber. In situations where the person is using several areas of the brain simultaneously (thinking, remembering, seeing, hearing, etc.) brain usage goes up to about 35% of total capacity. That still leaves a whopping 65% for us to eventually find a way to use. Perhaps we were able to use it in the past – that is the theme for a future article as I already have theories on this topic. But let’s get back to aliens:

So how do we measure whether a life-form is able to think, if it is sentient, if we do not have the technology to do so? For the sake of argument I think we would be safe stating that the being is a thinking sentient life-form if it is able to communicate in some manner. This could include something auditory or even a simple movement, as long as the sound or movement conveys some sort of meaning. So what about our last criteria; does it have to look like us? My stance is that no, the being in question should not be required to have two arms, two legs and a head. The scientific community has already established that dolphins are very intelligent sentient beings and they do not even slightly resemble humans.

To summarize what would be required for something to be considered an alien here is our checklist:

1)      Not born on Earth
2)      A living thing (life-form)
3)      Able to communicate in some manner
4)      Have any form or structure

Now that we know what we are looking for, let’s take a step back and think about where it could come from. How much real estate are we looking at here that could potentially hold these beings? We will start with what we know about our local condition. To the best of our current knowledge we are the third of eight planets which orbit around a star. In addition to these eight planets are a few dwarf planets (you might recall Pluto which not too long ago was incorrectly referred to as a planet in most school systems) and at least 10 satellites (the closest one we call the Moon). These planetary bodies orbit around a star (the Sun) and form a solar system. I do realize a lot of this is grade school science, but a review never hurt anyone and often times it is best to review known variables when preparing to think about unknowns. So let’s add it all up; our solar system has at least one star and at least 20 potential Earths. Are you ready for me to throw a wrench into the mix? Have you ever heard of planetoids? These are additional orbiting bodies which might be big enough to sustain life but do not qualify as planets, dwarf planets or satellites. Our solar system has about 540,000 of these, which means we have a lot of real estate to search over in our quest to find life. To keep things easy we will ignore those for now and just focus on the biggest entities which number 20 at bare minimum.

Since we know for a fact that Earth has life that matches criteria 2, 3, and 4; that means that there is a 1 out of 20 (or 5%) chance of life in our solar system, of our system having an “Earth-like orbiting body.” That may seem small, but would you be willing to buy a lottery ticket if you knew you had a 1 out of 20 chance at winning? Of course you would, look at how high the sales are when there is only a 1 out of 1,000,000 chance of winning! So let’s take that number and apply it outside of our solar system.

Take a look out at the night sky and spend a few moments counting all the stars. Each star is theoretically the center of a solar system located within our galaxy. I think I would be safe in saying there are at least 100,000 stars in the night sky. Of course my number is probably way low, you might guess a million or even a billion, but I doubt anyone would refute there being at least 100,000 stars out there. I just do not have the time to actually count every single star and I think I should be able to prove my point with even a number as low as I have chosen.

We have already established that our solar system has a 5% chance of having an Earth-like orbiting body in it, which is our planet of course, so let’s apply that to our 100,000 solar systems that we can see in our night sky. Five percent of one hundred thousand equals five thousand. That means at the very least 5,000 solar systems in our night sky may contain Earth-like orbiting bodies!

Are you ready to take it a step further? As you may recall from science class solar systems get bundled together into galaxies, and all of the galaxies bundled together make up the universe. Of course we could go even deeper and discuss clusters or even multi-verses, but we shall keep it simple and just go solar system/galaxy/universe as technically this is still correct. I am going to choose another low number and take a stab at guessing how many galaxies are in our universe which may be similar to ours. For the sake of argument I am going to use the very low guess of 100,000 galaxies. Each one could potentially contain 5,000 solar systems with Earth-like orbiting bodies in them just like our galaxy. That gives us a total number of over 5,000,000,000 planets in our universe that could be just like Earth! Please keep in mind that this is a very low approximation. It seems like there is a very good chance of aliens living out there when you consider that there are potentially five billion planets out there just like ours!

Now I am going to play devil’s advocate and attack that already very low number. As we stated earlier there was only a 5% chance of an Earth-like planet in our solar system which we applied to the universe and came up with at least five billion possible Earth-like planets in our universe. Pretend for a moment that we are in a different solar system and looking at Earth. It appears that Earth is the only planet featuring intelligent life, which using our criteria would mean that the solar system has only a 5% chance of containing alien life-forms. So let’s once again apply the 5% chance to our five million potential Earths. That still leaves us with 25,000,000 planets in the universe which might contain alien life-forms!

After thinking about this for a little bit and realizing there are potentially (as a bare minimum estimate) at least five billion planets in our universe which might support life and at least 25 million of those most likely has intelligent life living on them, I think the question we truly need to ask is what chance is there that aliens do not exist?

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