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Scientific Controversies No. 8: Are We Alone?

For billions of years, life on this planet waffled in oceans in the simplest single-celled incarnation. Today, all complex life forms, no matter how disparate they seem, share common features. Trees, humans, squid, and lettuce are related. It is not known how the simple single-celled organisms finally transitioned to a multi-celled organism that seems to be the singular, original source of all complex life on Earth. So how rare is the emergence of life on any planet, let alone complex life forms? We now estimate that there are tens of billions of planetary systems in our own galaxy and there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe, each presumably stocked with the chemical blocks necessary for life. In the competition between such large numbers and such small numbers, which wins? Are we alone? In this recording astrophysicist Janna Levin invites biochemist Nick Lane, author of The Vital Question, and astrobiologist Caleb Scharf, author of The Copernicus Complex, to discuss the origin of life on this planet, on other planets, and even in other universes.


Scientific Controversies


What Is Quantum Reality? Does Time Exist? Will Dying Black Holes Explode in Firewalls? Major scientific discoveries can disrupt the traditional order, leaving scientists adrift in concepts that resist familiar intuitions and beliefs. Of the new ideas that emerge, some will be wrong and some will be right. Honest and open scientific controversy helps disentangle one from the other. Eventually, one side of a debate grows in strength and finds confirmation in experiments, while the other atrophies. But both sides of a controversy contribute to the breakthrough of actual discovery – when the utterly abstract barges into the realm of the concrete. This series celebrates that passionate spirit of scientific debate. For the Pioneer Works series Scientific Controversies, we take a look at profound topics at the frontier of physics that have inspired unresolved debates.

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