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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Finally! Privileged Planet's smoking hypothesis! Or ...

Finally we get to the big hypothesis of Privileged Planet!

Following the discussion of the uniqueness of earth for science discoveries, Jay Richards says, “What if those things that make a planet habitable also make that planet the best place for making scientific discoveries? That is, what if those rare locations in the universe that are compatible with observers like ourselves are also the best places overall for making observations?”

Well, here again we have a falsifiable assertion. Does anyone know of better realistic places for making observations than Earth?

The narrator announces that after three years of research and testing, Richards and Gonzalez published their hypothesis in The Privileged Planet (2004).

(Service note:

The extended review of Privileged Planet will now be posted in a slightly different way. This post is only my account of the latest section of the film that I have re-viewed in detail. Recall that my primary purpose is to try to figure out why the Washington Post thinks Privileged Planet is a religious film.

So if you came here for the latest update, stay right here. If you are new to this extended review, go here first. I will add each day’s post to that document.

When I finish, I will post a single complete document to the archives for your convenience.

IF you are looking for a basic introduction to the uproar over the screening of The Privileged Planet at the Smithsonian, you can start anywhere in the archives from May 25, when I broke the story, on. For best convenience, I suggest you go here and here to start, and then this one will bring you up to date. Note that the blogs on the right-hand panel also update the story at various times, so try them too. - Denyse)

Then the key hypothesis — presumably the theme of Privileged Planet — appears on the screen:
The same narrow circumstances that allow us to exist also provide us with the best overall setting for making scientific discoveries.

Of course, my first reaction was to assume that these guys are on the NASA payroll. I mean who should be the happiest people on the planet, if their hypothesis is true?

Richards then explains that in the book Privileged Planet , he and Gonzalez detail more than a dozen examples of key correlations between life and discovery. (I have not read the book, but will try to post non-tendentious reviews.)

We then cut to a discussion of one of these factors, the atmosphere of the Earth. Interestingly, that thin band that keeps us all alive is currently the subject of one of the other BIG debates, global warming.

Other planets such as Mars and Uranus are shown, and the narrator points out that among the approximately 70 known planets and moons (that are not just a lop-sided rock), Earth is the only one whose atmosphere can sustain complex life and the only one whose atmosphere is transparent.

Now again, here’s a great chance to prove Richards and Gonzalez wrong. Can someone falsify this observation?

Gonzalez explains that, unlike some other planetary atmospheres, Earth’s atmosphere is clear. That is because it is made up of mostly nitrogen and oxygen but very little carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds. The transparent atmosphere is well suited to astronomy.

Of the other bodies in the solar system that have thick, hazy atmospheres, the narrator says, “None of these alien worlds view the stars, or even offers a clear view of the sun.”

I guess doing astronomy without a clear atmosphere would be like trying to figure out how much snow fell last night while staring at the basement wall ...

Jay Richards then asks why it is that the only planet that is habitable is also the best one for science?

Yeah, how is that. And don’t tell me I am an idiot for wondering.

Of course, this is all heresy in the Church of St. Carl (Sagan), because we are supposed to know somehow that it is all a big accident.

So the big hypothesis has been announced, ... and my local letter carrier has come and gone.

Where ARE those hellfire tracts I thought I was going to get, anyway? I can’t start banging on doors up and down the street, bugging my neighbours with my Big Message from God, until I hear something that isn’t just about how great astronomy is and (more subtly) why devout astronomers are not mad.

(The undevout astronomer is mad. - Edward Young)

(to be continued)

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