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Paul Davies quotes
Clearly, some creative thinking is badly needed if humans are to have a future beyond Earth. Returning to the Moon may be worthy and attainable, but it fails to capture the public's imagination. What does get people excited is the prospect of a mission to Mars.
So how can we test the idea that the transition from nonlife to life is simple enough to happen repeatedly? The most obvious and straightforward way is to search for a second form of life on Earth. No planet is more Earth-like than Earth itself, so if the path to life is easy, then life should have started up many times over right here.
Cancer cells come pre-programmed to execute a well-defined cascade of changes, seemingly designed to facilitate both their enhanced survival and their dissemination through the bloodstream. There is even an air of conspiracy in the way that tumours use chemical signals to create cancer-friendly niches in remote organs.
The birth of science as we know it arguably began with Isaac Newton's formulation of the laws of gravitation and motion. It is no exaggeration to say that physics was reborn in the early 20th-century with the twin revolutions of quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity.
A permanent base on Mars would have a number of advantages beyond being a bonanza for planetary science and geology. If, as some evidence suggests, exotic micro-organisms have arisen independently of terrestrial life, studying them could revolutionise biology, medicine and biotechnology.
An argument often given for why Earth couldn't host another form of life is that once the life we know became established, it would have eliminated any competition through natural selection. But if another form of life were confined to its own niche, there would be little direct competition with regular life.
Astonishingly, in spite of decades of research, there is no agreed theory of cancer, no explanation for why, inside almost all healthy cells, there lurks a highly efficient cancer subroutine that can be activated by a variety of agents - radiation, chemicals, inflammation and infection.
Astronauts have been stuck in low-Earth orbit, boldly going nowhere. American attempts to kick-start a new phase of lunar exploration have stalled amid the realisation that NASA's budget is too small for the job.
Cosmologists have attempted to account for the day-to-day laws you find in textbooks in terms of fundamental 'superlaws,' but the superlaws themselves must still be accepted as brute facts. So maybe the ultimate laws of nature will always be off-limits to science.
For me, science is already fantastical enough. Unlocking the secrets of nature with fundamental physics or cosmology or astrobiology leads you into a wonderland compared with which beliefs in things like alien abductions pale into insignificance.