Friday, December 08, 2006

Is There Life in Outer Space? (Part 2)

I mentioned in my last comment to Dedwarmo
Is There Life in Outer Space? (Part 1) that if he found the words, "Steven Loves Priscilla" scrawled in the sand at the beach, he wouldn't scratch his head and wonder if it was brought about by the receding tide. Likewise, one would not wonder if wind and rain created the heads on Mount Rushmore, even if he had never heard the name Gutzon Borglum or seen another carver's work.

What do the letters on the beach and the heads on Mount Rushmore have in common? The answer is information.

That is what SETI scientists are looking for. And information has two components: specificity and complexity.


Something is specified if the arrangement has meaning. The word "the" is specified, but not very complex. If you randomly pulled letters out of a hat and got the word "the," you wouldn't assume the game was rigged, nor if scientists received the word "the" from space would they assume it was caused by intelligence.


Random noise is quite complex, but it doesn't mean anything. One way of defining complexity is that which has a low probability of occurring randomly. For instance, the following 30 letters have an extremely low probability of occurring in any random arrangement of 30 letters: ldjhoirojhksdghhlnjdlbhkcjmnjf. They are complex, but not specified, since they have no meaning.

Now if scientists heard, "Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation..." they would immediately assume the source was intelligent because the data is both specified and complex. That's information and information always comes from intelligence.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Is There Life in Outer Space? (Part 1)

I've always been intrigued by SETI, which stands for "Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence." According to the SETI Institute website, "The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe." To that end, they employ over 100 scientists, educators and support staff.

And just how do they go about searching for intelligent life in other parts of the universe? By examining signals received from space. To examine the data, thousands of volunteers run a software program as a screen saver that processes the data as it comes in.

Now, here's my question: How will they know when they find intelligent life?

Any time I meet someone who is running the SETI program, I ask that question. So far, no one has been able to answer. The looks I get tell me they've never even thought about it before.

Here's how the SETI website answers the question: "SETI...seeks evidence of life in the universe by looking for some signature of its technology." Now, what in the world does that mean?!

It sounds to me like they're looking for intelligent design.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Causes Of Death

In the December 4, 2006 edition, Time Magazine lists the causes of death annually in the U.S. (I've rearranged the list a little.)

1. Heart Disease: 685,089
2. Other Diseases (not in this list): 681,150
3. Cancer: 556,902
4. Stroke: 157,689
5. Accidents: 109,277
6. Chronic lower-respiratory disease: 126,382
7. Diabetes: 74,219
8. Suicide: 31,484
9. Homicide: 17,732

Here's a breakdown of #5, Accidents:

1. Motor vehicle (non-motorcycle): 44,757
2. Drug overdose: 11,212
3. Motorcycle accident: 3,676
4. Fire: 3,369
5. Choking on object: 3,004
6. Falling down stairs: 1,588
7. Choking on food: 875
8. Bicycle accident: 762
9. Falling out of bed: 594
10. Pool drowning: 515
11. Falling off a ladder: 365
12. Bathtub drowning: 332
13. Slipping on ice/snow: 103
14. Bee/wasp sting: 66
15. Lightning strike: 47
16. Dog attack: 32
17. Skydiving: 22
18. Crushing by human stampede: 22
19. Commercial airline accident: 22
20. Playground-equipment accident: 3
21. Snakebite: 2
22. Marine-animal attack: 1

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


> An equal number of people die from human stampedes as from commercial airline accidents.
> Twice as many people die from suicides than homicides.
> More people die from falling out of bed than from falling off a ladder or in commercial airline accidents.
> Only one fatal marine-animal attack per year? So, Bruce was make-believe?

I want to know how many people choke on objects while riding a bicycle down stairs while being chased by bees during a lightning storm?