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Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Gods Must Be Raving — nearing the end of O'Leary's Review of Privileged Planet

Heresy against the Church of St. Carl (Sagan) continues breathlessly ... how can they be so profane? ...

The narrator now tells us that astronomer Gonzalez began a study of Earth’s specific location within the Milky Way galaxy, in a flattened spiral galaxy that is spherical, with a bulge in the center.

Many have asked, why are we not at the center of the galaxy if we are supposed to be important?

Apparently, the center of the galaxy is a really bad place to be.

(Note: If you are following the Privileged Planet-Smithsonian uproar and are new to this blog, scroll down to the Service note below for options. In this post I am nearing the end of an extended review of the film itself.)
University of Washington astronomer Donald Brownlee comments, apparently speaking for Ward and Gonzalez as well,
At the center of the galaxy the density of the stars is very high, and there are supernovas and things that could harass life right in the dead center regions of our galaxy.

That sounds bad, but it gets worse: "You also have a giant black hole at the center of the galaxy and if it were to encounter a star it would rip it to shreds and form an accretion disk around it," Gonzalez obligingly explains, listing a number of features that would scrub life, planets, and such.

Then Brownlee explains that the farthest reaches of the galaxy are also ill-suited to life because elements such as iron, magnesium, silicon, and oxygen that are needed for life would be less common. Oil, too, I would think ...

Gonzalez follows up, insisting that “there is a happy medium between the dangerous galactic center and the outer edge of the galaxy. ”

Great! And, as it turns out, we’re there. A visual shows the galaxy, with Earth in just the right position.

But Mars, Venus and Jupiter appear, alas, to have scuffed it. (But we know they scuffed it. Why pretend?)

The narrator explains that Brownlee and Ward call the type of region Earth is in the Galactic Habitable Zone.

At the risk of being accused of shilling books, I would like to say again that I found Ward and Brownlee’s Rare Earth a good read, and I highly recommend it for a realistic approach to the chance of finding intelligent alien civilizations. (W and B don’t deny that aliens exist, of course, but they give pragmatic reasons why bacteria are much more likely than Mr. Spock.)

The narrator says that Ward and Brownlee’s theory about the Galactic Habitable Zone was first published in 2001 and has since received growing acceptance.

Astronomer Gonzalez says that a lot more research is needed to find out how wide the habitable zone is, but he cautions that “there are places in the galaxy where you just cannot have civilizations.”

Science fiction writers take note. You have nothing to lose but your credibility. Read Gonzalez and Ward and Brownlee first.

The narrator notes that Gonzalez has also identified large areas within the Galactic Habitable Zone that are less hospitable for complex life than ours.

The habitable zone, he explains, is broken by the spiral arms. That’s where most of the supernovae go off (= big explosion, major bad news).

Brian Nejmati follows up, pointing out that the key thing is not to be too close to a spiral arm. We want to be outside a spiral arm.

The narrator notes “It appears that this is precisely where the Earth is located.”

What? Still more nails in the coffin of St. Carl?

The gods must be raving mad by now.

I would expect Scientific American to weigh in soon, announcing that it is high time to end all this disrespect for the dead (ideas of the twentieth century). It won’t be this blog’s fault if they don’t, either, ...

The film is about to end soon, so I guess the altar call cannot be far away ... stay tuned for the next segment. I may yet get a chance to pester my neighbours about something besides humble local environment issues like encouraging native birds and discouraging rats.

(to be continued)

Blog policy note: Regular readers will note that I am trying to make the Comments section of this blog as much as possible like a combination op-ed/letters section of a newspaper. To assist in this endeavor, the Post-Darwinist will hereafter no longer accept anonymous posts.

Revisiting the wisdom of editors of old, I see that anonymity encourages faceless stupid remarks. - cheers, Denyse
(Service note:
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.

If you are new to this extended review of Privileged Planet, go here first. I will add each day’s post to that document.

If you were following it previously, but haven't visited it recently, the extended review 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.

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

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?.

(Blog Policy Note: If you have watched the Privileged Planet film and wish to comment on it, you are welcome. As a matter of policy rather than lack of time, I will not address any posts about Privileged Planet unless the poster can begin by reassuring me that he or she has seen the film. I simply do not have time to correspond with anyone who will not make such a minimal contribution to a free society. I will, however, finish my own extended review before I address such posts. (If you want to comment on the film without having seen it, there is apparently a huge number of forums available to you, so please go to one of them.)

The Post-Darwinist’s Comments section is now treated as a combination Letters/Op-Ed page. It is surely unnecessary to mention this in polite company, but just for the record, this blog is not a showcase for cussing, dissing, rude remarks, unsubstantiated accusations, URLs posted with little additional information, et cetera. All this stuff gets borfed as soon as I notice it. If you wish to direct readers to other blogs or sites, that's fine but please take a couple of sentences (perhaps 50 to 100 words) to explain what the reader will learn there. There are many worthwhile sites out there. Why is your fave special?)


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