Views Of The Curmudgeons On The Search For Life On Mars

How life started on Earth is one of science's biggest unanswered mysteries. 

The current consensus among scientists is that life forms relatively easily and with a high probability on a planet if you start with a temperate climate, liquid water, carbon dioxide, and possibly ammonia, hydrogen and other basic chemicals, and electrical discharges (lightning) to break up molecules and form free radicals that can react with one another. 

How is it possible for such rubbish to be propagated in the scientific community? 

  • At least part of the explanation seems to be attributable to the fact that “the planet was a dead rock 4.6 billion years ago; a billion years later it was teeming with early forms of life.” 
  • The fact that life originated very early in the Earth's history is one of the pillars of the commonly held belief that life forms readily and with high probability—an argument that I can't find any evidence for. To begin with, we don't know whether life "began" on Earth or was transported from another body to Earth. 

Second, since we don't know how life began, how can we be certain that the relatively early appearance of life on Earth is predictive of anything? 

There is no evidence or logic to indicate that if life originated 3 billion years after the Earth's creation (rather than 1 billion), the chance of life developing would be lower than if life began in 1 billion years. 

Even if this reasoning were true, which it isn't, the difference would be just a factor of three, while the inherent likelihood of life formation must be a very high negative exponential. 

  • If you imagine a million planets orbiting stars in a billion galaxies, all of which have the same basic requirements: temperate climate, liquid water, carbon dioxide, and possibly ammonia, hydrogen and other basic inorganic chemicals, and electrical discharges (lightning), you'll notice that if life emerges on any of them and evolves into thinking beings, the people who live there will be the same as the people on Earth. “I think, therefore I exist,” as Descartes put it. 
  • Assume that the chances of life developing on such a planet are very remote, and that it requires an extraordinarily rare confluence of chemical, electrical, and geological processes to create the required channel for life to emerge from natural molecules. 
  • Assume that out of those 1,000,000 planets, life only developed once on one of them. People that developed on that planet would believe they were prototypical of other worlds and that life exists all throughout the cosmos. Because we are living, we are conscious of life. We have no way of knowing whether life has existed somewhere else. 

Given the complexity of life—even the smallest bacteria needs about 2000 complex organic enzymes to function—the likelihood of life evolving spontaneously from basic inorganic chemicals seems to be very remote. 

  • This chance, according to Hoyle (1983), is very small. Hoyle goes on to say that life began somewhere in the cosmos and was "sown" on Earth by interstellar dust grains. 
  • Many of the ideas in Hoyle's book that support seeding life from alien origins were thoroughly debunked by Korthof (2014). 
  • The majority of these complaints seem to be valid. However, the issue of how life began, whether on Earth or elsewhere, remains unanswered. 

Faced with the problem that the chances of life emerging spontaneously are very low, Hoyle proposed a quasi-religious perspective that the world is under “intelligent control,” with life being generated by higher powers that we cannot comprehend. 

  • Shapiro (1987) presented a hilarious allegory of a seeker of the solution to the beginning of existence who travels to the Himalayas to see a renowned guru. 
  • Every day, the guru presents the seeker with a new far-fetched “scientific” idea, and the seeker remains unsatisfied. 
  • Finally, on the last day, the guru reads the first page of Genesis (“In the beginning,...”), and the seeker decides that this explanation is approximately as good as the “scientific” ones. 
  • Consider the Earth 4 billion years ago, after it had finished its initial creation and cooling process. 

How long did it take for life to show up? 

Is it a day? Is it really a month? Is it really a year? 

What is a millennium? Hundreds of millions of years? 

Did it emerge in a single location or all across the world? 

Why isn't life still developing if it formed that quickly? 

  • If it took a few hundred million years, it was likely due to an extremely unusual series of occurrences. 
  • The issue with all of the theories about how life emerged from inanimate stuff is that none of them can withstand even a cursory examination. 
  • Given 1,000,000 planets in the universe with a climate that might potentially sustain life, it is conceivable that only an extraordinarily unusual and fortunate conflux of circumstances led to the creation of life on one planet (or possibly a few). 
  • We are the one, according to Descartes' reasoning, if life originated on just one planet. 
  • As a result, the hunt for life on Mars seems to be destined to failure—or at the very least, a high chance of failure. 
  • The whole direction of inquiry and study may be shifted depending on how the basic questions are phrased. 

One of the "four big questions" posed by the ESA Cosmic Vision5 is: 

"What are the prerequisites for planetary formation and the development of life?" 

  • This tilts the whole framework toward the widely held belief that, given enough time, a set (or sets) of circumstances (temperature, pressure, atmospheric components, liquid water, energy input, etc.) would deterministically create life from inanimate matter as a matter of chemistry. 
  • This perspective has impacted (and, in my opinion, distorted) the whole Mars Exploration Program into a futile, doomed-to-fail hunt for life on Mars, as well as spawned a slew of fictitious stories about the quest for life. 

We don't even know if life began on Earth or was brought there from somewhere else. As a result, it's unclear if life began on planets. 

  • It's conceivable that the development of life from inanimate stuff is a complex, unlikely, nearly impossible process that necessitates a series of improbable sequential occurrences, such that life only exists once in the universe, and we'll never know where or how. 
  • The widely held notion that life would develop deterministically in many places across the cosmos where there is water and moderate temperatures seems to be unfounded. 
  • Someone appears to declare a major “breakthrough” in understanding how life started from inanimate matter many times a year, and they generally conclude that life forms quickly and with a high likelihood. 
  • Jeremy England, a 31-year-old physicist at MIT, believes he has discovered the fundamental physics driving the genesis and development of life.

What is the purpose of life? 

  • A primordial soup, a flash of lightning, and a massive stroke of luck are all popular theories. 
  • However, if a controversial new hypothesis is true, chance may have a little role. 
  • The genesis and subsequent development of life, according to the physicist who proposed the theory, "should be as unsurprising as pebbles flowing downhill," according to the scientist who proposed the theory. All of these ideas, however, fall short on one crucial aspect. 

Why isn't fresh life sprouting up everywhere around us if life develops readily and deterministically from the "primordial soup"? 

What does it indicate about the inherent likelihood of creating life from the "primordial soup" if it takes millions of years for life to emerge from such a large quantity of it?

Nonetheless, there are still compelling reasons to visit Mars. 

The following are some of them: 

  • However, knowing the circumstances that existed on early Mars will certainly offer significant insights as to how the Mars we see today came to be. 
  • In this regard, Mars may offer crucial information on the nature of the early Earth. 
  • The Noachian is thought to account for up to 40% of the Martian surface, although this era is hardly represented in the Earth's geologic record, since the few exposures that have been found are extensively metamorphosed (i.e., with uncertain preservation of original texture and chemistry). 
  • Because Earth and Mars are Solar System neighbors, they are likely to have shared certain early (pre-3.7 Ga) processes, and research on Mars may help us learn more about our own planet.

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 

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