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Probability 1 Paperback – January 20, 2000
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In a universe infinitely large, what is the probability of intelligent life on another planet? Sounds like a trick question, but for anyone versed in cosmology and statistics, the answer is 1; that is, there must be life on at least one other planet in the universe. This is Amir Aczel's theorem. But, as physicist Enrico Fermi once asked, if that's true, where is everyone? Aczel tackles that paradox after he goes through the statistical calculations for the probability of intelligent life, considering factors such as how many stars are in a galaxy, how many of those stars might be hospitable, how many might have planets, and how many planets might have environments suitable to support life as we know it (or as we don't). Aczel also provides an overview of the relevant developments in astronomy and biology--laying the groundwork to show that the universe's chemistry must add up to life. Whether life was spread through the universe by chunks of debris like ALH84001--the enigmatic meteorite from Mars that contained tantalizing hints of the possibility of life--or arose independently, Aczel is sure it is out there. After teasing readers with scientific history, Probability 1 delivers on its promise to prove Aczel's conjecture through a clearly explained application of known statistical theory to the chaos of the universe. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
A top science author (e.g., Fermat's Last Theorum, LJ 10/15/96) looks at the evidence for life beyond Earth.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
If you are looking for a definitive work on the science behind Extra Terrestrial Intelligent, this isn't for you. But if you would like to read a thought provoking book that touches on many different areas of terrestrial and extraterrestrial science, you may enjoy this one.
I also found the sheer obviousness of his mathematical proof kind of startling. While it isn't a very sound theorm, it is still very interesting.
Of all the various “slants” currently in print by a host of authors who attempt to prove through the employ of assorted means that life exists on other planets, this is by far one of the most feeble that I have encountered.
But before getting into all of that, on a positive note Aczel has written two of the best chapters on probability and chance that I have had the pleasure of reading. Chapter 9, The Inspection Paradox and Chapter 10, The Birthday Problem address in an understandable manner why probability and chance work out as they do, often contrary to what the observer might have anticipated. In fact, these two chapters offer far better explanations of probability and chance than many entire texts dedicated to the subject, of which – sadly – I have purchased several.
Further, in an attempt to be fair, Aczel’s text predates many more current works in which DNA has been determined – emphatically – not to have evolved (Also read, could not have evolved regardless of the time allowed for such an undertaking, be that – in years – millions, billions, trillions, or insert your own wild guess.) For example, if I were to believe that a computer disc (CD, compact disc, etc.) could evolve, then I would be laughed out of most serious conversations concerning the subject under discussion. If, however, I were to believe that both the CD and the complex information contained on that same CD both evolved, then I would simply be a modern day scientist. As a point of fact, a CD is infinitely less complex than the simplest strand of DNA, and scientists have only begun to scratch the surface of understanding the information contained therein while they boast confidently to the contrary. Even so, Aczel would like us to believe that DNA – the material, and DNA – the information encoded therein – “evolved” not once (here on Earth or close by) but also again somewhere out in the cosmos. To make this “belief system” even far more absurd, neither DNA as material or information would be of any use whatsoever without a decoding system, curiously built into DNA. (page 88, Aczel poses the question of a “supreme being” creating DNA, but he never follows through to address the subject.) The evolution of DNA is a major theme of Aczel’s work.
As theology is my personal field of expertise, Aczel’s use of the term “God” is most puzzling. To the dismay of the reader, Aczel never offers enough information to clarify if he is being sarcastic or if he believes in God – at least on some level. Why is this puzzling? Evolution and Intelligent Design (Creation, Divine act, God did it, etc.) are diametrically opposed beliefs, but at times, it seems that Aczel is attempting to hedge his bet, i.e., assert a belief in evolution while not denying that God was somehow involved.
Aczel’s puzzlement, on the other hand, is best illustrated by the quote on page 57, he writes, “If the big bang theory is correct, the universe began with a gigantic explosion about 14 million years ago.” Aczel’s premise hinges on the biggest word in the English language, “if”.
Therefore, let this brief review not fall into the same category. Don the Baptist unconditionally rejects all views of the government supported religion known as “evolution”. Don the Baptist believes the biblical account of the Supernatural God (who needs no introduction, see Exodus 3:14, “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM…”), who with the mere utterance of a word spoke all of creation into being. Further, it was God’s pleasure to allow this event known to believers as “Special Creation” to last a total of six Earth days, after which, it was God’s pleasure to rest for one Earth day. Further, lest there be any misunderstanding, “day” and “days” are literal twenty four hour periods of time as measured on the literal Earth where this book review was typed.
Personally, I think David phrased it best when he said, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” (Psalms 139:14, English Bible, aka, King James Version, KJV, AV, AV1611, etc.)
Returning to Aczel’s text:
Having already complimented Aczel on his grasp of probability and chance, he fails miserably in the application of these two subjects in a real world scenario. Aczel, in an attempt to mathematically prove the existence of an habitable planet based on Drake’s Equation (page 15), writes, “Then, from the fact that out of nine extrasolar planets thus discovered, one is in the habitable zone, and the fact that this is confirmed in our own solar system (Earth being in the habitable zone, the other eight planets possibly not), we will use 1/9 for that parameter. (page 212)”
Thus, Aczel hopes to persuade the reader that since there is one habitable planet orbiting our sun, each sun (star), or at the least each set of nine planets, would likely consist of one planet that is habitable. As a point of fact, the most liberal, left wing, evolution-loving, new-age scientist would never assert such a thing, as it is an ineptly wild and absurd fantasy.
Reckless claims such as these reflect both the weakness and embarrassment of evolution.
Did you ever notice that the silliest comments from anyone in the room always come from the guy who believes – or says he believes – that he came from a monkey? Curious.
Still more? On page 122, Noah’s flood is termed a “legend”, although it has been confirmed by science. On page 128, Aczel attributes the biblical plagues of Egypt on a natural volcanic eruption. On page 130 religion [the term is incorrectly used] is linked to a superstitious and primitive culture.
The most honest quote of the book is found on page 89, “Our most advanced laboratories have not produced DNA from raw materials.” And it should be added that this is done under the most ideal conditions, excluding all implications of “chance”, with the creation of DNA as the specific goal in mind, yet we are asked to believe that it happened by accident – not once… but maybe twice?
• Gross errors in the time necessary for star light to reach the Earth (page 31) were resolved by Sir Isaac Newton over 300 years ago.
• In Drake’s Equation, items (l) planets where life actually formed, (i) planets with intelligent life, and (c) planets with the ability to communicate are admitted by Aczel as being unknown. This is a grave mathematical error, for if any one item is zero then the equation works out to zero. Again, outside of planet Earth, all three are a resounding zero. A third-grader who manages to stay awake in math class will note that any integer multiplied by zero is zero.
• Aczel writes, “When the probability is very small (but not zero), all it means is that a very large number of trials is necessary before a success. (page 205)” This is simply not true. Once odds are less than 1 chance in 1035 (10 followed by 35 zeros) trials, the event will never occur regardless of the amount of time dedicated to the endeavor. The odds of DNA evolving are far less than 1 chance in 1080, which means that if every molecule in the universe were dedicated to the project it still would never happen.
The funniest quote of the book (although proffered seriously by Aczel), “If the reaction conditions are right, DNA will pop out (page 203).”
The saddest quote of the text is found on page 139, “It is true that a monkey can’t type Hamlet except by chance and that a dog can’t play chess.” While I have no idea who first suggested that a group of monkeys given typewriters, paper, and unlimited time would eventually type out a Shakespearean play, I marvel that such quotes are still in print and being foisted on the reading public. Let us then be clear, no monkey or group of monkeys regardless of the time and materials dedicated to the process will ever type out more than a few characters that have any meaning, and to the monkey accomplishing such a random task, those characters will have no meaning whatsoever. This quote is all the more astonishing when it is considered that the illustration is employed by a man who is well versed in mathematics, probability, and chance. Again, the “chance” typing – by a monkey – of a Shakespearean play are far less than 1 in 1035, which means, as stated herein, it will never happen. On the other hand, however, I wish that the “leaders” in their respective fields, who insist on using this illustration, would pool their resources and get those monkeys typing. I am anxious to see the results.
Therefore, sorry Aczel, but DNA does not “pop out” regardless of the time invested in the project.
Nonetheless, we are here, so what happened? “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:1. English Bible.).”
The intent was – and still is – for man to “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it… (Genesis 1:28. English Bible.).”
The Earth is not one of many inhabited planets; it is the first planet to be inhabited.
While most scientists cringe at the above stated facts, the Earth is special as it is inhabited by man who was made in the Image of his Creator God.
It is so special, in fact, that God sent His only begotten Son to die on a cross of wood to redeem man from his fallen sinful condition.
John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
In highly oversimplified terms, a rational analysis of "is there life elsewhere?" starts like this. We know (very roughly) the number N of stars in the universe. Suppose there is some probability p that life evolves around a given star. Then there is a logical dichotomy: if p is large compared to 1/N then life must (very likely) have appeared around many stars, whereas if p is small compared to 1/N then life on Earth was a fluke and (very likely) life has never arisen elsewhere. But we have no idea what p actually is. Aczel simply guesses numbers to plug into a Drake-type equation that works out to make p larger than 1/N. This is no more than wishful thinking.
For more rational analysis and evidence-based discussion, read The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence or If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens ... WHERE IS EVERYBODY?: Seventy-Five Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life (Science and Fiction), and for intriguing speculation read about Robin Hanson's idea of the Great Filter.