Max Tegmark is an MIT Physics professor that speaks both the language of scientists and the language of futurists. Those two camps are certainly overlapping but there is a very distinct (Joe Rogan podcast listening public) who is deep in the futurist camp without much grounding in the basic principles of physics, chemistry, biology, or generally the scientific method. So you have to be careful when considering the discussions on the topic of life elsewhere in the universe, lest you drift into wishful, or worse, irrational speculation.
That said, I find Tegmark’s view on intelligent extraterrestrial life interesting, if for no reason than because it goes against the mainstream speculation of the scientific community that there almost certainly does exist intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. The Drake equation is commonly used by scientists, philosophers, and hallucinogenic drug enthusiasts as a way to arrive at this conclusion.
Tegmark argues the contrary view that there very well could be a roadblock that has to be overcome in order for intelligent life to arise. By “roadblock” he means that the set of events, in sum, that lead to the emergence of intelligence could have an exceptionally low probability, so low in fact that our puzzle solving capabilities may be unique in the universe. He grounds this idea in that we have no good understanding of neither how life nor consciousness emerged on Earth. We think we understand some of the fundamental chemical characteristics of both, but don’t have a good grasp on the probability of something coming from nothing.
All this boils down to his view (if he “had to bet money on it”) that:
- We are alone in the universe.
- We are exceptional and thus not insignificant.
Of course, this is all, as I said before, wild speculation. When I hear ideas such as this, I grow suspicious. It sounds to me too much like the ancient belief that the sun revolves around the Earth. We wish desperately to be special, to be important in the seemingly infinite space and time of our universe’s existence. Most religions are built on this very wish. So when a man looks up 1026 meters to the edge of the observable universe, and has the mad guts to say he would bet money on the fact that we are alone, I sit back shaking my head, but am secretly in awe of the possibility that I indeed as unique as my mom always tells me.