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Final Essay on extraterrestrial life

Page history last edited by Reedcope 15 years, 4 months ago

Final Essay Wiki Mechanics

Final Essay Prompt


Essay Prompt: "Most of the participants in the debate over extraterrestrials (and almost all we have read) are scientists, many of them quite prominent. This might suggest (and indeed is implied strongly in our readings) that the question of extraterrestrials is fundamentally scientific, and can be answered definitively by the methods of science. Why is this suggestion probably not true?"





     The question of plurality has been a popular topic for centuries, and the debate has taken many forms, including fictional works, philosophical debates, "hoaxes," and scientific experiments.  Since Ancient Greece, philosophers, astronomers, mathematicians, physicists and many more have speculated about humanity's uniqueness in the universe.  Actually encountering extraterrestrial life is the only way to settle the debate, but as far as we know, aliens have never visited Earth, and we do not have the capabilities to explore every corner of the universe looking for extraterrestrial life. Instead, scientists and philosophers have often made arguments for or against plurality by analogy, based on their knowledge of Earth. Particularly in the past century, scientific discoveries and new technology have disproved some theories, expanded upon others and created completely new dimensions to consider in the debate. However, despite the centuries of attention to the subject from Earth's best minds and the vast advances made in science and technology, we are not significantly closer to either proving or disproving the existence of extraterrestrial life in the Universe than the ancient astronomers were.


     Despite a lack of evidence supporting the existence of extraterrestrial life, we continue to establish and fund large, expensive programs (e.g. the Viking Landers and S.E.T.I.). Perhaps it is the simple human emotional need to feel that we are not alone, which causes us to continue and expand our search. The Viking landers provided seemingly negative evidence for life on Mars, but nothing was conclusive, so scientists are still searching.  They were able to come up with alternative reasons as to why life could still exist on Mars, despite evidence to the contrary. Many point out our lack of conclusive knowledge on the origin of life and claim that even defining "life" is not something within our scope.  Thus we seem to be locked in an ongoing search that seemingly has no end. Even if evidence of life were found or the origin of all life was figured out, there is still no guarantee that the search would stop there. It appears that the curiosity about extraterrestrials is something inherent in all humans that cannot be let go, no matter its classification as a science, ideology or dream.


     There have been many arguments proposed both for and against plurality over the years and no definitive answer has been found. There have been many different types of arguments over the centuries used to justify the various viewpoints on plurality over the years that ultimately lack evidence to support them. These include the use of deduction by analogy, the principle of plenitudereligionnatural theology, the Copernican principle, astronomy, geology, and many other scientific fields, along with many other diverse theories.  Many of these arguments have been used multiple theories as support for plurality and as evidence against. The variability of the arguments shows that none of them in and of themselves are strong enough to solve the problem alone, but some are stronger when combined with others. Even though science has played an enormous role in the extraterrestrial life debate, there is also some questioning about whether or not the search is actually scientific. The issues of falsifiability and the demarcation of science have as much bearing as the actual arguments about plurality.


(Next Page) Part 1: Plurality From Ancient Times to the 18th Century


Comments (32)

James Wyly said

at 5:02 am on Nov 25, 2008

I think perhaps we should make several links from this page, maybe one page for each of the major sections of the class, so that the discussion is easier to follow and would be more focused on the various areas instead of jumbling everything together...

Jennifer Pautz said

at 9:30 am on Nov 25, 2008

It seems to me like she was just trying to get this started and threw out some ideas to help out. This was just her thoughts for the paper. I believe the point for the rest of us would be to start giving her ideas more coherency and form paper-like paragraphs.

I'm not saying your idea isn't good. I do! It would give the paper the organization that it needs but she was just trying to get us started.

Peter Ramberg said

at 9:49 am on Nov 25, 2008

Making links to separate pages for each section of the course might be a good idea. More than one person can edit at the same time. You can then have an "introduction" page, and a " conclusion" page, or put the introduction and conclusion on this page.

Remember that the class discussion pages from the four sections of the course are already drafted to some degree.

If you all decide to do this, be sure to link each section to the preceding and following sections.

Reedcope said

at 4:21 pm on Dec 1, 2008

I attempted to combine the two existing portions into one introduction. It's surely not finished yet, but we now only have one instead of two, I think that and the basic structure for (many of) the ideas is there, and I think that it's coherent.

Also, as a matter of housekeeping, it seems that if different people copy and paste from Word or other programs, or even just editing the page itself, the fonts, sizes, and formatting gets changed. Thus for the introduction section, I set the font to Arial and 100%, and for the heading "Introduction" I used the Heading 1 Format, Arial Font and 100%. I don't care if we keep these, but I think it will be good to be consistent throughout the paper.

We can obviously still create different pages for introduction and conclusion, and we could use the class discussion pages as the structure for our essay...It makes sense to me anyway. If anyone is opposed, speak up. If not, I (or anyone else) can work on laying out the basic structure next time.

Jennifer Pautz said

at 4:27 pm on Dec 1, 2008

I like the idea to structure it using the class discussion pages. The main topics are all encompassed in each one and it would less clutter to use those four (I think it's four) topic areas as pages instead of making 20 pages on each subject.

Peter Ramberg said

at 6:03 pm on Dec 1, 2008

I have given this a quick read, and the introduction is off to a good start. The last sentence in the first paragraph works well as a thesis (remember you can have several different interrelated theses). Be sure to include and/or modify and/or delete the group of theses we came up with in class last week.

Good use of links to previous wiki pages.

Reed's comments on formatting are very useful. Keep the formatting consistent. If you are pasting from Word, try to copy the text unformatted, or remove all formatting from the text before copying.

Nichole Duncan said

at 8:16 pm on Dec 1, 2008

I also think the last sentence seems to work well as a thesis.

Michelle Blaser said

at 9:00 pm on Dec 1, 2008

Do you mean to only use the paper discussion pages as a structural basis or to actually go back and expand on them? I would be in favor of just using them as reference for sections, but I don't think we want to mess with what we did months ago in case we needed to reference back to that.

Jennifer Pautz said

at 10:55 pm on Dec 2, 2008

I went ahead and added the other pages I think we would need. These is how I gathered we'd organize the paper. If I'm wrong, you can fix it. I moved the Fermi Paradox paragraph to the Fermi page and I moved the Principle of plenitude paragraph to the 18th century page because that was area that we talked about it initially. It will need to be worked into the paper, obviously. I also linked some of the key words to previous pages that I thought should be marked.

In the intro, I noticed the quotations used were not cited. I'm not sure how we should go about doing this on the wiki, but they'll need to be cited somehow. Just being in quotations doesn't give the credit that's due. I marked them in bold so they would be easier to find. I think I got all of them, but I might have missed one. If you put them in the paper, please at least tell us the book you got it from and the page number so someone can do the citation.

That's all I got for now.

Jackie Kinealy said

at 9:52 pm on Dec 3, 2008

I added an introduction to the Mars section. I put the sub-thesis for this section in bold. I think it would be a good idea to do that for all the sections to make it more clear how each section supports the main thesis of the paper.

Michelle Blaser said

at 10:43 pm on Dec 3, 2008

Hey guys, I took some stuff out of the introduction that I thought would be better suited to the body of the paper. The intro was getting a little too specific. I think it's great to mention people, but we were getting too involved describing their ideologies in detail. Now we can expand the intro to include more general info that canvas the course. The parts I took out are pasted in the sections I thought they belonged.

Audrey Zimbelman said

at 11:45 pm on Dec 3, 2008

I am unsure if grouping the principle of plentitude/ principle of mediocrity into the 18th century is a good idea. This principle has persisted through every age of the debate, it has come up again and again. With that being said I do not really know where to put it, but limiting it to the 18th century may not be the best? If I'm wrong on that, just say so. Or if it is just easier to stick it somewhere, that's fine too if we think it should at least be spoken of.

Audrey Zimbelman said

at 11:47 pm on Dec 3, 2008

perhaps we can just keep adding to the separate page it's already in and then section different parts off into different time periods? that are relevant? ideas?

Jennifer Pautz said

at 11:56 pm on Dec 3, 2008

I think many of the ideas are relevant to all the sections and can be spread out amongst every page. Maybe talking about the "pop" in relevance to other subjects in that area?

Nichole Duncan said

at 1:12 pm on Dec 4, 2008

So is the section of the principle of plentitude part of the essay then because I don't want to keep writing on it and it not be part of the essay?

Tim Weaks said

at 6:27 pm on Dec 4, 2008

I fixed the quote by adding the source in parentheses after the sentence. If anyone thinks there is a better way to do it than that, feel free to change it. I also added more to the section about Wallace.

Jackie Kinealy said

at 7:40 pm on Dec 4, 2008

I added a little to this about the Enlightenment and elaborated a little bit on evolutionary theory and geology. My brain is not functioning very well and I'm having a hard time thinking of ways evolution and geology really effected the plurality debate.

Also, the section about religion and plurality is def an important part of the debate in the 19th century, but it doesn't really support our thesis about how technology has effected the plurality debate. We might consider taking it out, but what does everyone else think?

Peter Ramberg said

at 10:33 am on Dec 5, 2008

I am getting a sense that the material is a bit overwhelming here. Remember that you do not need to recap everything we mentioned throughout the course. What you need to do is come up with some informed answers to the following questions that draw on the material we've seen through the semester:

1. What are the origins of the principle of plenitude, and how did the emergence of modern cosmology of the scientific Revolution stimulate the speculation about ets?

2. How did the debate change in the nineteenth century? (This could easily be combined with the first question)

3. What does studying the specific example of Mars tell us about detecting etl?

4. How does study of the origin of life affect the debate?

5. What are the best ways of resolving the Fermi paradox?

An answer to each of these questions, using a few specific examples from the reading constitutes a thesis. Remember that you can and should put in varying opinions here. Once those opinions are stated, you can come to a broader conclusion.

Alicia Roth said

at 12:23 pm on Dec 5, 2008

I added another thesis that might allow us to tie together some of the varying topics and ideas currently in the paper.

Alicia Roth said

at 12:50 pm on Dec 6, 2008

I started a conclusion but it is really rough and really short so please add to it and tear it apart

Peter Ramberg said

at 3:02 pm on Dec 6, 2008

Move the links to between the introduction and the conclusion. Also, It might be useful to name them Part 1, Part 2, etc.

Reedcope said

at 3:06 pm on Dec 6, 2008

So, I'm thinking that instead of linking to each of the pages from the front page, we could have this page be just our "Introduction page, and then go from one page to the next (we could aim to keep chronological order as well as possible), and then end with a "Conclusion page". For example, Introduction -> Plurality from Ancient Times to 18th Century -> 19th Century -> Mars -> Origin of Life -> SETI, Fermi and the A.P. -> Conclusion. That way, like Dr. Ramberg said, we can have a "next page" and "previos page" link on each page, and it is more in essay format. I'm going to go ahead and try that, and if anyone doesn't like it, I can undo it.

Reedcope said

at 3:39 pm on Dec 6, 2008

I have put all of the previous and next links, with the order I said above, except that Principle of Plenitude was added between "SETI, Fermi and the A.P." and "Conclusion." With these links in place, I think it would be okay to take out the "Links to other parts of the essay" portion at the end of this page. I'm going to go ahead and do it, and if anybody thinks it's better with that part at the end of the page, I'll put it back in.

Reedcope said

at 3:39 pm on Dec 6, 2008

I have put all of the previous and next links, with the order I said above, except that Principle of Plenitude was added between "SETI, Fermi and the A.P." and "Conclusion." With these links in place, I think it would be okay to take out the "Links to other parts of the essay" portion at the end of this page. I'm going to go ahead and do it, and if anybody thinks it's better with that part at the end of the page, I'll put it back in.

Reedcope said

at 5:39 pm on Dec 6, 2008

Sorry about the double post. To make the essay more easy to navigate, I included links to each page on the sidebar. I think the layout of the essay is very good, and the formatting is starting to look better. A few pages need quite a bit of content added, and a few just need some grammar/formatting edits.

esc753@... said

at 8:15 pm on Dec 6, 2008

I added a new part to our paper titled "The Goldilocks Enigma." One of the themes throughout the year was how unique our place in the universe is and how unlikely it is that life could originate on other planets. The Goldilocks Enigma addresses the ideas and I thought that it would be best to place the astronomical, geological, and scientific agruments for Earths uniqness into one specific place. I have an into up and intend to work on it all night but feel free to help out.

Let me know if you think that this is a bad idea or anything so that we can tweek it to make it better. I just think that this was a very convincing argument that kept coming up and that it should have it's own brief section.

Peter Ramberg said

at 10:29 am on Dec 7, 2008

The organization is starting to take shape, and looks good. The links make it easier to navigate.

The material after the third paragraph on this page, seems to me not to be introductory material, that it should fit better on one of the other pages or be deleted. Remember the introduction primarily needs to tell the reader where the rest of the essay is going.

Jackie Kinealy said

at 4:55 pm on Dec 7, 2008

We need to decide whether we want to spell out numbers (nineteenth century) or use numeral (19th century). We use both throughout the essay and it needs to be consistent.

Also, since this doesn't have spell check, we should copy the text into Word when we're done to find spelling errors.

Michelle Blaser said

at 5:38 pm on Dec 7, 2008

We already talked about how copy and pasting with Word will mess up the formatting. With so many people working on this I hope that we can find any spelling or grammar errors by just reading it.

esc753@... said

at 6:23 pm on Dec 7, 2008

we can copy and paste from the wiki to word in order to find misspellings and then correct them in the wiki. it takes a while but if everyone does a paragraph or two per page it shouldn't be bad. I did the Part 7 around 4 pm

Jennifer Pautz said

at 6:45 pm on Dec 7, 2008

If it's going to take a lot of time, we might as well just edit and check everything while we're reading it and editing. Plus spell check doesn't catch everything, so it would benefit us more anyway just to read it. We shouldn't be reliant on spell check. It will also help us catch awkward sentences that don't make sense when read.

Audrey Zimbelman said

at 12:17 am on Dec 8, 2008

The wiki is not letting me edit a thing on any page. I do not think it is because some one else is editing the page, usually it tells you that some one is currently editing...but the pages just come up blank when I go to edit them. Has anyone else had this issue??

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