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“Are We Alone?” Your Guide To Humanity’s Place In The Universe

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

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If you’re reading TGNR you’ve likely asked the questions, “Who are we?” “Why are we here? “Are we alone?” These are questions humanity has been asking since we developed the ability to ask questions. The first two will be wrangled with until the end of time, but the third realistically becomes more pressing each day. Let’s face it: if there are alien species, humanity may come to a point where it will have to co-exist with them. If and when that happens, the world as humankind knows it will face numerous changes unlike any before, and we cannot even be sure what those changes will be. For many that possibility spurs the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). This is a general guide to understanding what the big schools of thought are, and what is being done to better understand Earth’s place in the universe.

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“Are we alone?”

Shrugging Shoulders MemePinit Gallery

Probably not. Even the most guarded of minds can rally behind the idea that there are other civilizations in our universe. Given the universe is some 13 billion years old and NASA/all the international astro-science programs combined have/has not even been able to observe the entirety of the universe, it’s hard to accept that humans are an aberration. At face value, it’s almost impossible to accept the idea that in the vastness of time and space that Earth is the only place where an intelligent species evolved. There are two major theories to address this particular dilemma, The Drake Equation and The Fermi Paradox.

The Drake Equation

Frank Drake is a leading American astrophysicist and astronomer. In 1961 he posed a simple equation to help clarify what may be possible, given human knowledge of the universe, of what the possibilities may be for intelligent life developing elsewhere in the Milky Way. Simply stated:

  • Take the average rate of star formation in our galaxy.
  • Calculate the fraction of those stars that have planets in their orbit.
  • Factor the average number of planets that could potentially support earth-like life.
  • Factor the number of potential candidate life supporting planets that could potentially host an intelligent civilization.
  • Factor the number of planets with an intelligent civilization that could produce recognizable signals of their existence.
  • Lastly, factor the amount of time those civilizations could produce those signals.
drake equationDr. Molecule

Will Hunting’s blackboard on a Saturday night.

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While Drake did not create this equation to definitively calculate the number of candidate worlds in the galaxy that do possess intelligent life, it does stimulate positive debate. If you consider that the Milky Way is believed to contain somewhere between 200-400 billion stars, Drake’s equation begins to gain traction. Even the most conservative estimates plugged into the Drake Equation generates an enormous number of candidate worlds that may play host to an intelligent civilization, however this model is not without its problems. If there are so many candidate worlds in the Milky Way alone, why haven’t we detected their existence? Why haven’t they said “hello”?

The Fermi Paradox

Lady Klingons Fermi ParadoxSMBC

Swipe right if your bat’leth skills are tight.

Enrico Fermi was an Italian physicist who left an incredible legacy, spanning from quantum physics to developing the first U.S. atomic bombs. He once mused that if space is so big, and if there are countless candidate planets for intelligent life, where are they? This is a valid question as general consensus dictates humanity has never openly and directly detected or communicated with intelligent alien life.

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Whether you accept the belief regarding human contact with aliens as fact or not, there is no doubt an intelligent alien race has never clearly and openly made contact with humanity, in so far as humanity has been able to recognize it. So, let’s play Where’s Spock?

The Lone Goldfish Theory

Lone Goldfish TheoryMirror

“What are you looking at?”

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Matter matter everywhere, but humanity is the only intelligent drop to drink. According to this theory, humanity is alone a midst the vastness of the cosmos. Despite the infinite complexities of the universe, Earth is the sole player in the intelligent civilization regard. There is no point in looking beyond the boundaries of the atmosphere because Earth and human beings are the only game in town. This theory is upheld by a great many individuals, however it would denote a very cruel joke on the part of creation. This theory if true would redefine the concept of loneliness.

The Insurmountable Distance Theory

Incredible Distance pichost me 1484726picots.me

Pretty much.

This take on the universe posits that intelligent life is plentiful and Earth IS part of a larger community. Yet given the restrictions of the speed of light (Relativity’s universal speed limit), and the incredible distances between these intelligent outposts, humanity can not observe or communicate with intelligent extraterrestrial beings. Even if humanity manages to observe alien life or detect alien communication, it will be from the distant past and those civilizations may no longer exist. Remember, when you look at the stars it is something of a time machine. We do not see stars as they are now, but what they were when the light they emit has reached earth. For example, if a star being observed is 1,000 light years from Earth, we are looking at that star as it was a millennium ago.

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Those scientist who support this theory also consider it the possible final frontier for the field of archeology. As archeology is the study of ancient history by analysis of remaining relics and artifacts, Earth would be receiving evidence of cultures long past.

The Zoo Theory

Earth in a Zoo cageSpace Studies Institute

Suggested donation and free admission Tuesday’s.

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The Zoo Theory is pretty much the Prime Directive for the Star Trek fans in the audience. For those not up on the wagon train to the stars, the Zoo Theory dictates that there is intelligent alien civilizations who have managed to explore space in a manner that overcomes the obstacles of time and space as humanity understands them. It also suggests that these aliens know of humans, are observing them covertly, and are waiting to make initial contact until humanity meets a certain unknown criteria regarding development.

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This theory suggests that humanity is not yet considered ready to be made clearly aware of their place in a complex chorus of players in the universe. Moreover, for the sake of human natural development (and likely the safety of the alien civilization’s) contact is withheld until such time as the alien’s believe humans are ready to take their membership in the intergalactic country club.

The “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind” Theory

Roger The Grey AlienAmerican Dad. 20th Century Fox Television.

Essentially, Roger.

According to the Close Encounters Of The Third Kind Theory, alien’s are already on Earth, and have covertly been interacting with specifically chosen individuals for centuries. This phenomena has not been isolated to western cultures in just the last 70 years. Despite popular dissenting opinion, alien contact has been alleged and recorded by individuals for centuries in countless cultures everywhere on Earth.

When Stephen Spielberg began developing the story for his 1977 blockbuster Close Encounter’s Of The Third Kind, it was based on research of stories, legends, and supposed encounters that spanned the globe and that dated long before the 20th century. These accounts often included scenarios that included direct telepathic communication, forceful abduction, physiological experimentation, and warnings about pollution as well as nuclear weapons. Additionally most of those who reported their alleged encounter also add that such experiences have occurred periodically throughout their life.

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The close encounter phenomenon eventually caught the attention of a professor at Harvard University, the late psychiatrist John E. Mack. Over the span of a decade Mack interviewed individuals from around the world who had alleged direct alien encounters. For those he believed actually had a genuine traumatic encounter, he described many of those individuals as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress disorder as a direct result of the experience they recalled.

The individuals he interviewed included people of all genders, ethnicity, cultures, and ages on every inhabited continent. With little variation, they described at least in part some of the previously mentioned scenarios. Most interestingly, they tended to describe the supposed alien’s as short, grey, hairless creatures with a bulbous head, dark walnut shaped eyes, and emaciated bodies.

The Close Encounter theory is met with well founded skepticism across all related disciplines, and is generally associated with fascination in the supernatural and pseudoscience. One must draw their own conclusions.

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The Independence Day Scenario

INDEPENDENCE DAY, 1996. TM and Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. Courtesy: Everett CollectionIndependence Day, 1996. 20th Century Fox Film Corp.

Now that’s what I call impeachment.

This scenario dictates that aliens DO exist. However, humanity would be better off not encountering them as the encounter would likely result in the massacre of humanity, irreversible damage to Earth, and consumption of all it’s resources.

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Nearly a decade ago, acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking went on record saying that in all likelihood human contact with aliens would be similar to the historical encounters in European colonization with native peoples. The aliens would greatly outclass humanity technologically, they would strip the planet of the resources they desire, and subjugate humans if not eliminate them entirely.

More often than not in the history of the human race, when two foreign cultures meet for the first time, one side of the equation suffers immeasurably. The Independence Day scenario incorporates this pattern to the intergalactic stage, and considers it the likely outcome from contact.

While dissenting opinions of such people as the late Carl Sagan believe advanced morality may be strongly correlated with advanced civilizations, the Independence Day scenario draws from the experiences of the people of Earth. In short, only a fool doubts his own experience.

Sources: Wikipedia, TedTalks: Space Trek, Space Studies Institute, NASA, Frank Drake Ph.D, Enrico Fermi Ph.D, Stephen Hawking Ph.D, John E. Mack MD PhD, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Pinit Gallery, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Dr. Molecule, Mirror, pichost.me.

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Paul K. DiCostanzo is the Managing Editor for TGNR. He is a noted public speaker, an emerging historian of the Second World War, a vocal advocate for Crohn’s Disease/Ulcerative Colitis, and highly regarded interviewer. Prior to TGNR, Paul has a background in American National Security and American Foreign Policy. He has served as the Managing Editor for TGNR since March 2015.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Fjgiie Gray

    May 21, 2016 at 9:34 AM

    If the nearest intelligent ET is very far away, wouldn’t that be the same thing as being alone?
    Another being that is far away as half a billion light years would be impossible to comunicate with, much less paying a visit. 500,000,000 years between messages and several billion years travel time to visit.

    Can we agree that we are not alone, but we cannot ever meet nor exchange information?

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Neuronomics

“Brain on Fire” By Susannah Cahalan Review | Neuronomics

Cahalan’s harrowing memoir proves a grey matter area, is it primarily a tale of medicine or psychology? This is a Neuronomics view and review of the deeply layered account.

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Brain on Fire Susannah Cahalan cover

In this installation of Neuronomics, Kristen E. Strubberg reviews the 2012 New York Times bestselling autobiography Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, by New York Post writer Susannah Cahalan. In June of 2018, Netflix adapted Brain on Fire to film staring Chloë Grace Moretz. As an eminent student of the human brain, Kristen breaks down this much appraised journey into Cahalan’s rare disease.

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When I went to find a copy of Brain on Fire at what is generously called a book store during these dark digital days, I wove through the aisles to the psychology section. To my sense of order and categorization and based on my knowledge of what the book was about – a memoir of “madness” – psychology seemed appropriate.

I traced the shelves until I came to the crammed corner of testimonials, as I think of them, given far too little space. I run the titles once, twice, it’s not there. Then, on the shelf above I find a copy flaunting a cover that doubles as an advert for the Netflix adaptation. But this is the only copy, out of place, no tell-tale gap in the spines from whence it came.

I contemplate settling for the “tie-in” edition, but I’m curious where the other copies are? It is a highly relevent, relatively new book – where are her sisters? Not on the new release carousal, I already inspected that display.

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Thinking again about the book’s story, I realize there is only one other place it could be. I stride a few rows behind Psychology to medicine and there, neatly in row and occupying space only allotted to new and revenue pumping titles, I find the original edition. But why medicine?

This a memoir of “madness,” is it not? Albeit one with a very neurological component, but what psychological malady doesn’t have some roots in the grey matter between the ears?


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Brain on Fire: Medicine or Psychology? 

As I begun to read, I realized that of the two classifications, medicine is the closer fit for this hybrid retelling of one women’s month from hell.

Brain on Fire is more mystery than traditional memoir. Author Susannah Cahalan keeps the reader engaged as her family and rotating team of specialists struggles to diagnose an elusive ailment that has deranged her mind and convulsed her body.

Throughout the narrative of her harrowing days of illness however, I felt detached from the Susannah whose brain was burning from anti-NDMA receptor autoimmune encephalitis. This is not unlike Susannah the author. Mostly, this is due to to the fact that the author/narrator remembers very little of the actual illness at its apex.

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What is Anti-NDMA Receptor Autoimmune Encephalitis?

The NDMA receptor, the target of her self-attacking immune system, is found throughout the cerebral cortex, home of the brain’s higher functions.

As these important receptors became increasingly destroyed by wayward immune cells, the reader can see Susannah’s cognitive function being stripped away as the disease progresses.

Following Susannah’s symptoms, it’s not surprising to learn that the second highest concentration NMDA receptors is the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for consolidating a person’s experiences into memory.  

With this vital memory-maker also being besieged by this disease, the fact that her recall from her time in the hospital remains inaccessible fits the picture of her illness.

Susannah Cahalan from the Second Hand

All the stories and descriptions are second hand accounts from family and Cahalan’s medical records. While a blessing for the author – who wants to remember the worst demons unleashed – it sets this book apart from other memoirs of mental illness or neurological trauma.

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Brain on Fire in some ways bridges V. S. Ramachandran and Oliver Sacks’ neurological mysteries, and the pathos of a brain reassembling after disease such as Lori Schiller’s The Quiet Room. But the second pillar of the bridge has a hole, admitted by the author in her preface, because the emotional torrent associated with the disease is digested retroactively. Albeit from myriad sources composed contemporaneously.

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Uncertain revelations toward reaching enduring truths

Cahalan tries to venture conclusions about self and deeper self, and provides clear neurological scaffolding for the self, but she admittedly is not certain if she can pull any enduring revelations about herself from the ordeal.

As such, the book boils down to a medical mystery novel that it is superb accomplishment. However as a window into the deeper truths of the mind, or a catharsis from emotion and personal triumph, it is lacking.

Write to Kristen E. Strubberg at kstrubberg@tgnreview.com

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Science

Converting Any Blood Type into Universal Donor Type-O: No Longer Science Fiction

New major research reveals how to convert any blood type into universal donor Type-O – the Holy Grail of medicine and blood transfusion.

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Universal Donor Type-O
Pexels

In the field of medicine, one of the long sought Holy Grail’s is the ability to adapt any blood supply to any patient – making any blood type into a universal donor Type-O. Last week, researchers from the University of British Columbia announced that they may have discovered a way to convert any donor blood type to the much valued universal donor Type-O. Their findings, presented at a national meeting of the American Chemical Society represents the most momentous step towards this dream since the identification of the ABO blood groups over 200 years ago.

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Know Your Type – The Hard Science of Your Blood

If you’ve ever given blood or had a medical procedure, chances are you’ve been asked your blood type. What many don’t know is that when categorizing human blood, there is a whopping thirty-five different grouping systems. However, the ABO blood group, of which most are familiar, is by far the most important.

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As with the thirty-four other blood group systems, the ABO blood grouping types are differentiated and organized by chemical markers on the surface of red blood cells (RBCs).

What Determines Your Blood Type? What is a Universal Donor Type-O?

The ABO system differentiates genetically specific polysaccharide clusters that adorn the outer cell walls. These most important markers are called the A-antigen type and the B-antigen type and, you guessed it, folks with type-A blood have RBCs that feature the A-antigen. While those with the type-B have RBCs expressing B-antigen.

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Those people who are type-AB have RBCs that display both antigen species. Type-O RBCs, on the other hand, do not express either antigen type. This is what makes Type-O so important in blood transfusion scenarios. 

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It’s these all important antigens that make blood donation a precise science. Any mismatch and the A/B antigens will begin invoking a devastating and potentially lethal immune response in a recipient whose blood type does not match their donor (with the exception of Type-AB). That is why the gold standard for donation is Type-O – no antigens, no fuss, no muss.

Now, science may have finally been able to convert other blood-types to Type-O.

New Trick from the Old Corpse – Creating Universal Donor Type-O

When looking for a new, gentler enzyme to process any type of donor blood to the universal donor Type-O, Dr. Stephen Withers decided to go back to the source: the human body.

Specifically, he ventured into the gut – the microbiome of the moment – where several known microorganisms utilize mucins that line the intestinal track. These mucins, which aid in digestion, are structurally similar to the sugars of blood type antigens.

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Using ecological techniques, Withers and his colleagues isolated a family of enzymes which, through forced evolution in E. coli, are now able to the remove the blood antigen sugars 30 times as fast as any previous enzymatic approach. Hence creating the conduit that converts blood to Type-O.

(Article Continues Below...)

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What’s Next?

For now, Wither is working with the Centre for Blood Research at UBC to demonstrate reproducibility of the universal donor conversion process. So far he has transformed Type-A blood to universal donor Type-O. Type-B and Type-AB have yet to be tested. Moreover, the modified blood will need to be assessed for viability before clinical testing can begin.

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Science

Reseeding and Baby Coral: Sexual Healing for the Great Barrier Reef

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great barrier reef
Image Credit: WikiCommons

Last November, researchers from Southern Cross University announced the first successful transplantation of new coral onto the Great Barrier Reef. The healthy coral polyps represent the first of what conservationists hope to be many of such lifesaving boosts to the reef following less successful attempts to graft healthy coral to the bleached bones of the reef.

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“Reseeding” the Great Barrier Reef

The story of the healthy coral begins during the reef wide spawning in November 2016. Research leader, and discoverer of the “sex on the Reef” phenomenon Professor Peter Harrison led his team to Heron Island and collected large amounts of coral sperm and eggs. Once safely returned to the lab, the gametes were allowed to fertilize and grow to the larval stage in a controlled and closely monitored environment.

After rearing over one million larvae, the “baby coral” were returned to the reef and settled in patches protected by mesh tents. When the scientists returned to Heron Island eight months later, they found 100 juvenile corals flourishing in the reef.

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Why “Reseeding” Works

The technique of re-introducing newly grown corals to previously blighted areas of a reef is a method Prof. Harrison calls “larval reseeding”. Crucially, Harrison’s system transplants coral before they have fixed on hard surface and metamorphosed into a primary polyp, ready to begin asexual reproduction of a new coral colony.

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Resettling coral at this stage in their life cycle is far less traumatic than current approaches which focus on introducing mature coral colonies from other reefs or from colonies grown in a nursery. Specifically, coral gardening can involve dividing colonies in pieces and implanting the portions in region of reef requiring renewal.

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The coral gardening methodology has shown questionable success but Harrison’s “reseeding” is returning positive results. His team first demonstrated reseeding’s potential on areas of reef in the Philippines which had been decimated by dynamite or blast fishing (link). Now, following the success of the November 2016 larval class, Prof. Harrison is already looking at the class of 2017:

“…we returned to Heron Island for the November 2017 coral spawning and used the technique again to collect coral spawn and…I’m excited to announce that we’ve already observed successful settlement of the new coral larvae this year so it’s worked again.” – Prof. Peter Harrison

(Article Continues Below…)

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A New Lifeline for the Great Barrier Reef

Shortly after the announcement of Harrison’s success, University of Queensland researcher’s identified 112 regions of “robust source reef” that work to heal the reef.

To qualify as a “source reef”, the scientist had dynamic criteria such as resistance to bleaching, consistent inter connectivity to other portions of the the reef through reliable ocean currents, and lower vulnerability to crown-of-thorns starfish which have been an additional scourge to the reef over recent years.

Although the source reefs equal only 3% of the system, during the annual spawn, they are positioned so that fertilized eggs can reach almost half of the entire reef. If optimized using Harrison’s reseeding technique, the reef’s “cardiovascular system” as researcher’s have dubbed the new source reefs, may be able to pump new blood into blighted areas that were previously out of reach.

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