Alien Intelligence and Plant Intelligence

 As NPR reports, planets are being discovered that might support life.  These new and exciting celestial spheres are more-or-less suitable for the emergence of life: the temperature, gravity, and elemental make-up of such planets can create selection pressures that range the gamut from mild to pretty-much-inhospitable.  One such discovery is especially noteworthy: Kepler 22-B (named after the telescope) is in the ‘goldilocks’ zone.  In this zone, the size of the planet and its proximity to its star create the right sort of conditions to support flowing water.

The BBC (picked up by Slate) go on to make the link between the discovery of such planets and astral systems, and SETI, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence.  With the discovery of more and more of these potentially-hospitable earth-twins, SETI gains a more plausible target to turn its arrays.  With the discovery of more and more of such planets, it is more likely (though I am hesitant to use this term here) that we may discover intelligent life.  Another variable in the Drake Equation starts its climb up in the cardinal numbers.

But wait! What is intelligent life?  The ability to broadcast galactic radio-waves?  Drake, at least, keeps that a separate variable, a tier that only a select group of intelligent critters will ever reach.  But that really seems to operationalize our search for intelligent life.  What if, being impatient, we send a probe (‘Make it so Number One’, etc.) to Kepler 22-B and discover strange, barely congealed bioluminescent areas – would we be right in attributing it with intelligence?  Might our current conceptions of it be too broad? – too exclusive?

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Creating Life?

Artificial Life?Geneticist Craig Venter is at it again.  Not content with shotgun-sequencing the human genome, Venter has recently speculated that designer bacteria might be the first wave in a process of converting other planets into human habitations.  This speculation of course, piggybacks on Venter’s recent fame as the creator of the first synthetic life-formA recent video by the New York Times, however, raises a pertinent question: ‘What exactly is life?’  Did Venter and his team actually create ‘artificial-life’? –or is his bacterial cell more of a Frankenstein’s monster than anything truly living?

This question has a long history in biology and philosophy.  It’s inexorably tied up with questions about the essence of life, and indeed of humanity.  Lucky for us though, we can skip tricky metaphysical questions about souls, élan vitals, and the like, and focus on something far more specific and parochial.  Just what is needed – what are the nuts and bolts required – for life?

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Is the internet changing the emotional landscape?

Internet-based emotions?Have our emotions changed over the century?  A recent and entertaining article discusses five new emotions that have come into existence with the rise of computer use in everyday life.  Though not exactly a rigorous examination, the article raises an important point: one can’t help but accept the fact that computers, and indeed the internet, are an increasing part of our daily lives – and we are going to have corresponding emotional responses to all sorts of computer-related phenomena.  Articulations of affects relating to internet-time-wasting and facebook might not, on this understanding, just be entertaining illustrations of this everyday engagement with computers, but may actually be pointing the creation of new emotional cues and behaviours.

Emotions are historical phenomena. Consider love.  To many, this emotion seems an essential part of the human condition.  Every human, from the most humble caveman to the most noble Queen has the potential (even if not exercised) to recognize and to experience love.  It can come as a shock to this view that our modern understanding of love qua romantic love (viz. the way in which love is not only as an emotional experience, but one with corresponding notions of fidelity, and sacrifice) comes from Trobadours, who expressed this idea of love in their songs and poetry in the Middle Ages.  Indeed, the way in which love has been understood has changed dramatically over the centuries: from the kind of love exemplified by Aphrodite shining her light upon Helen, to the agape-love discussed by Augustine, up to the courtly love of Lancelot and Guinevere, and the romantic love of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

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