Searching for a shadow biosphere on Earth as a test of the 'cosmic imperative'

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Abstract

Estimates for the number of communicating civilizations in the galaxy, based on the socalled Drake equation, are meaningless without a plausible estimate for the probability that life will emerge on an Earth-like planet. In the absence of a theory of the origin of life, that number can be anywhere from 0 to 1. Distinguished scientists have been known to argue that life on Earth is a freak accident, unique in the observable universe and, conversely, that life is almost bound to arise in the course of time, given Earth-like conditions. De Duve, adopting the latter position, coined the phrase that 'life is a cosmic imperative'. De Duve's position would be immediately verified if we were to discover a second sample of life that we could be sure arose from scratch independently of known life. Given the current absence of evidence for life beyond Earth, the best way to test the hypothesis of the cosmic imperative is to see whether terrestrial life began more than once. If it did, it is possible that descendants of a second genesis might be extant, forming a sort of 'shadow biosphere' existing alongside, or perhaps interpenetrating, the known biosphere. I outline a strategy to detect the existence of such a shadow biosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)624-632
Number of pages9
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Volume369
Issue number1936
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 13 2011

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Keywords

  • Astrobiology
  • Biogenesis
  • SETI
  • Weird life

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mathematics(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Engineering(all)

Cite this

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abstract = "Estimates for the number of communicating civilizations in the galaxy, based on the socalled Drake equation, are meaningless without a plausible estimate for the probability that life will emerge on an Earth-like planet. In the absence of a theory of the origin of life, that number can be anywhere from 0 to 1. Distinguished scientists have been known to argue that life on Earth is a freak accident, unique in the observable universe and, conversely, that life is almost bound to arise in the course of time, given Earth-like conditions. De Duve, adopting the latter position, coined the phrase that 'life is a cosmic imperative'. De Duve's position would be immediately verified if we were to discover a second sample of life that we could be sure arose from scratch independently of known life. Given the current absence of evidence for life beyond Earth, the best way to test the hypothesis of the cosmic imperative is to see whether terrestrial life began more than once. If it did, it is possible that descendants of a second genesis might be extant, forming a sort of 'shadow biosphere' existing alongside, or perhaps interpenetrating, the known biosphere. I outline a strategy to detect the existence of such a shadow biosphere.",
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