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Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique

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  • Posted February 24, 2012

    Recommended Reading

    In 1992 Frank Drake and Dava Sobel published a book titled Is Anyone Out There: The Scientific Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence in which there appeared the now-famous "Drake Equation": N=R¿f_p¿n_e¿f_l¿f_i¿f_c¿L relating the hypothetical number of advanced civilizations (N) to a string of frequencies of various factors that, presumably, combine to limit N. That equation, along with the many scientific popularizes such as Carl Sagan and the media romance with alien life that continues unabated, became a symbol for the widely-held perception that it was only a matter of time before extraterrestrial life would be detected. Various efforts were made to specific the value of N, but most results were considerably greater than 1. Support for that Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence has fluctuated over the past decades during which it was paralleled by a growing sub-discipline of extra-solar-system planetary discovery. The catalog of such planets is nearing the millennial mark. Yet, no extra-terrestrials. Spurred on by planetary hard data rather than the theoretical speculation involved with the factors of the Drake Equation, the prejudice in favor of alien inevitability is beginning to erode. In Alone in the Universe John Gribben presents a powerful set of arguments - based largely on recent exo-planetary discoveries and our improved understanding of Earth System Science - to support the conclusion that human technologically advanced civilization is, in fact, unique and that there is, simply, no-one else out there, period. Gribben accepts the proposition that simple extraterrestrial life itself is very likely inevitable. However, he provides a set of very convincing arguments that there is a near-zero probability of evolution repeating itself from pro-karyotic cell to Steve Job. Alone systematically dismantles the Drake equation all based on fairly uncontroversial cosmology and geoscience. Admittedly, each of Gribben's conjectures, convincing as they are, are as unprovable as are Drake's. And, of course, the first sign of intelligent extra-terrestrial life that is detected will relegate Alone to the trash heap. All of which might lead one to conclude that either position on extraterrestrial life is a waste of effort. However, assigning N a value of 1 (or even >1) in the Drake equation does provide a framework, comparable to Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis, in which much fruitful science can be made. Gribben does not expound much in this short volume on the implications of his conclusion. If you accept Drake's original hypothesis, then you might 1. support SETI research, or 2. keep very quiet. But can the human race be convinced to act on the implications of Alone? Will humans give up the hope of some deus ex machina bailing us out at the last minute as the Earth stumbles toward environmental oblivion or will humans accept that we are the last and only hope ever for beings aware of where they have been and where they are going? Richard R. Pardi Environmental Science William Paterson University

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2012

    Very readable and thought provoking

    John Gribbin has a reputation for being a very readable of "light science" books. He's succeeded once again. While Alone in the Universe will not satisfy those looking for hard proof of this difficult question, but it does lay out a compelling case that we may never find another intelligent race of creatures in our galaxy. He methodically works down the different levels of abstraction (and forward in time) and points out the different places where our planet's evolution have taken some less probable turns. I finished reading this book a few weeks ago and I still find myself mulling over the implications of what Gribbin has pointed out. A very thought provoking and interesting book. I'd recommend it to anyone who has pondered the question: Are we alone?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2013

    I am an amateur astronomer and have a keen interest in this subj

    I am an amateur astronomer and have a keen interest in this subject.  Are we alone?  If yes, that's very interesting.  If no, that is also very interesting.  Gribbin(and Ward & Brownlee in RARE EARTH) shows that even though the universe has a LOT of planets, having all the conditions necessary to develop "advanced life" in the same location at the same time for sufficient time is VERY rare.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2012

    Recommended Interesting reading

    John covers the subject with a lot of current information. He is very tho
    rough, with a wide list of viewpoints. The book shows how improbable intelligent life is else where. One thing he missed was about the complexity of DNA and cell mechanics. The Universe is huge and we will see if he is correct in the long run. I enjoyed the book a lot but I'm not convinced.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2012

    Its An interesting theory

    A good read.

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    Posted January 4, 2012

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    Posted January 6, 2012

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    Posted July 3, 2013

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