The Universe is Alive

October 28, 2016

In 1976 NASA's two Viking landers successfully touched down on the surface of Mars, becoming the first spacecraft to successfully land and operate on the red planet. While there have been many more landers to the red planet since 1976, this earliest of missions may have already found clear evidence of living microbial life!

Both Viking landers carried an experimental apparatus to test for metabolic activity in the Martian soil. When samples of Martian soil were given drops of nutrient solutions, both lander's returned positive signs of metabolic activity. Initially the Viking scientists were skeptical of the experiment, but by 1997 two of the scientists involved in the mission, i.e. Dr. Gilbert Levin and Dr. Patricia Straat, completed years of additional tests and investigations and concluded that the original 1976 results are actually best explained by the existence of microbial life on Mars!

Dr. Levin and Dr. Straat have now published a new paper in the journal {Astrobiology} presenting further evidence from Curiosity and other Mars missions which supports their argument. (see "The Case for Extant Life on Mars and Its Possible Detection by the Viking Labeled Release Experiment" in {Astrobiology}, October 2016)

The details of the original experiments, plus these subsequent further investigations, and the ongoing debates are now summarized in recent publications.

We will focus, however, on a related more important point: the ideological hostility towards Viking’s results. The obvious response to Viking should have been to include improved experimental tests on later missions (i.e. specific experiments to repeat the original tests, while also testing for homochirality in the results). However, in the half dozen NASA landers after Viking (launched between 1997 and 2012), each equipped with multiple instruments, none included an experiment to follow up the successful 1976 Viking results—despite the fact that such follow up experiments were proposed and quite feasible.

Why not dedicate at least one experiment to answer one of the most interesting questions in the Universe?

One thing is certain, modern academic investigations of life are dominated by the reductionist outlook of Alexander Oparin, rather than the superior approach of Oparin's ideological adversary, Vladimir Vernadsky. To the average modern scientist—even those studying life—the universe is fundamentally abiotic, with life being the result of a miraculous happenstance of chemical reactions. How exactly some accidental chemical arrangement became self-perpetuating, self-evolving, and one of the most complex systems known to man is not explained, but rather left to vague generalizations. What is known is that fossil records of life on Earth indicate coherent organization and rapidity of development (e.g., the Cambrian explosion and early date of the first signs of life on Earth) all of which point to life being the organizing principle intrinsic to the Universe itself—as Vernadsky argued.

In his 1930 "The Study of Life and the New Physics" Vernadsky argued that our basic "scientific picture of the cosmos" must be reshaped to include life as a fundamental principle, as intrinsic to the organization of the Universe as even gravitation. At the time of his writing, general relativity, the equivalence of mass and energy, and the paradoxical nature of the quantum had each freshly uprooted the most fundamental scientific assumptions of the Universe, yet Vernadsky, citing this upheaval, argued that the shift must go farther.

Vernadsky opens this 1930 work stating, "The revolution being carried out in physics in our 20th century places on the agenda in scientific thinking a review of fundamental biological conceptions. It is evident that it is making it possible for the first time to locate life phenomena in the Cosmos in their proper place, in a purely scientific conception of the universe..."

Deeper into the paper he says, "It is necessary to approach this process, whose progress seems inevitable to me, in another way, in relying upon the scientific conceptions of life. It is important to pay attention to the phenomena of life whose introduction in the domain of the scientific construction of the Universe is already beginning to become probable. We are approaching a very rational epoch—and that of a radical change in our conception of the scientific Universe. This change will not be, in its consequences, any less important than it was at the time of the creation of the Cosmos, based upon universal gravitation..."

Unfortunately, to the detriment of modern science, the pursuit of this principle largely died with Vernadsky, while the reductionism of Oparin has become dominant. Whatever the ultimate judgement on the 1976 Viking experiment, it is a tragedy that this highly provocative evidence for extant life on Mars ran up against the ideological brick-wall of modern reductionist dogma. It is long past time that we free science from the obstructive ideological prejudices.

As for the evidence itself, the new paper by Dr. Gilbert Levin and Dr. Patricia Straat, after 20 years of effort, is now published and freely available online, plus a video recording of Dr. Levin's presentation to the 2013 Human to Mars Summit.