/We May Never Know How Vast the Multiverse is

We May Never Know How Vast the Multiverse is

Key idea:  In fact, recent scientific research suggests that life in the universe is rare.

Original author and publication date: Alan Lightman – September 8, 2022

Futurizonte Editor’s Note: So, it seems that life is rare in our Universe. But this is not the only Universe.

From the article:   

Like many people on planet Earth, I have been spellbound by the first pictures from the James Webb Space Telescope: the lacelike windings of galaxies, the apricot filaments of nebulae, the remnants of exploded stars. A less picturesque, but still revolutionary, part of Webb’s mission is the search for signs of life elsewhere in the universe. The telescope goes about this momentous quest by analyzing the starlight passing through the atmospheres of distant planets. Each kind of molecule leaves its own telltale imprints on traversing light, and some molecules, such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, and methane, may indicate life forms on the planet below. Indeed, Webb has already found evidence of carbon dioxide on at least one planet beyond our solar system.

Considering the billions of planets in our galaxy, and the billions of galaxies in the observable universe, few scientists believe that our planet is the only habitat with life.

Nonetheless, finding definite evidence of living things elsewhere in the cosmos would have deep emotional and psychological import, as well as philosophical and theological meaning. Such a finding would force us humans to reconsider some of our fundamental beliefs: How do we define “life”? What are the possible varieties of life? Where did we living things come from? Is there some kind of cosmic community?

In fact, recent scientific research suggests that life in the universe is rare. A few years ago, using results from the Kepler satellite to estimate the fraction of stars with possibly habitable planets, I calculated that, even if all potentially habitable planets do in fact harbor life, the fraction of matter in the universe in living form is exceedingly small: about one-billionth of one-billionth. That’s like a few grains of sand on the Gobi Desert. Evidently, we living things are a very special arrangement of atoms and molecules.

The multiverse hypothesis is not accepted by all scientists. But one thing is almost certain: Life in our universe is extremely rare. I have already explained that life is rare in space—only a small fraction of matter exists in living form. Life is also rare in time, in the long unfolding history of the universe.

At some point in the future, in perhaps a few hundred billion years, after all of the stars have burned out and all sources of energy have been exhausted, life in our universe will end—not just life similar to that on Earth, but life of all kinds. The “era of life” will have passed.

What should we make of this realization? For me, it offers a feeling of kinship with all living things. We living things are the only mechanism by which the universe can observe itself. We living things, a few grains of sand on the desert, are that special arrangement of atoms and molecules that can attempt to fathom and record this dazzling spectacle of existence. In a limited but real sense, we living things help give the universe meaning. Without us, the cosmos would merely be.

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