ok everybody, test tubes down
Simulations. Computer models. Calculations. Projections. All these things are great to a certain extent. But is it just me or are we relying on them a little too much lately and making too big of a deal about the results of yet another formula or computer model of something we know very little about? Are we finding target ranges and refining the data we have at hand or are we just shooting ourselves in the foot and perusing dead ends with hundreds of million of dollars worth of equipment modeling what might exist only in our labs?
For example, take a recent simulation of whether bacteria could survive on Mars. Although the article acknowledges a number of problems with how the finding that Martian soil under a few surface centimeters is habitable was made, it glosses over an important fact. We don’t know if an alien life form could survive on Mars. We don’t know what one looks like, on what it feeds or how its internal structure works. We could’ve come across aliens on Mars and Titan already and are totally oblivious to the fact. What this experiment proves is that some Earth bacteria under controlled Mars-like conditions could survive for a short period. It brings us no closer to alien life or answer how we would find it. We already knew to dig underground.
Now don’t get me wrong. We should be running experiments on what forms of chemistry will yield viable life. But when it comes to answering big questions like how we would actually find a living thing on another planet, we can’t rely on a simulation or experiment to give us the right answer or guide us down the right path. We don’t know enough about the aliens or their worlds to figure it out in a few meetings and with some beakers, test tubes and a computer. The only way we can do it is by going there, looking and trying to figure it out ourselves based on what organic chemistry we know might yield something viable.