- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (September 1, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0151003769
- ISBN-13: 978-0151003761
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 28 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,738,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Probability 1 Hardcover – September 1, 1998
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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
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.
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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.
To the credit of this book he does make an attempt to deal with the problem and not like so many other writers try to brush off the problem. His solution is that we are among the most advanced civilisations. At present this is the best response that I have heard to this question. The other is that more advanced civilizations go somewhere else - where is the question.
Unfortunately his arguments do not appear to be very convincing an example would he puts the question that a pre-Columbian Indian sage would reason that life existed on Earth only in the Americas because if there were other continents other then America - life would have developed intelligence, and one of these civilizations would have built large canoes and come here.
My answer back is that he would not pose this question as not pre-Columbian knew of America as a continent. All they knew was their local area. Around which they would have known were inhabited by unknown tribes. If one assumes that this sage knew all that the US Indians knew, then he would have known that tribes in Alaska had contact with another continent.
Also that the relationship
life-> intelligence -> civilization -> SETI
has hardly been proven.
His final arguements is a rather simple probablity theory that in mathematical terms states if the odds for life is very small on a planets. If you have countless planets, then life must exist on some of them. A point that tells us nothing new.
The best books on this subject, I suggest is
Barrow and Tipler - The Anthropic Cosmological principle
Frank White - The SETI factor