Stars above Mines: Folly of the anthropocentric bias

The single greatest weakness of humanity in dealing with the vast reality of space is our own vanity. In the mind’s eye, humanity, the Earth, our star, and our solar system itself hold some sort of magic that sets this realm apart from any other. From the roots of existence, our species has always assigned something special to our own residence. It began as a belief in the superiority of one’s region, but eventually expanded to encompass the whole globe.

Anthropocentric bias was evident in the debate between the scientifically backed heliocentrism and the much more troglodytic geocentrism; Earth had to be special and therefore the other planets must go around our home. Though we now know it is locally correct, the secret is heliocentrism is very wrong in a cosmic perspective.

The bias also exists in the search for other planets. Several decades ago it would have been ludicrous to think that any but a few star systems had planets; a vast number of planets had to be unique to the Solar system. Almost every week now, new planets are being discovered around every notable star in the sky.

More than extra-solar planets, the bias has been tested within our own planetary neighborhood. Poll knowledgeable civilians on what separates Earth from the rest of the planets and the presence of water is bound to be brought up. It is certain that to have life like our own, there needs to be a vast amount of water apparently lacking on other bodies. Still even that bias is wrong, as less than a month ago, the Curiosity rover on Mars uncovered river sediments that could not have existed unless there had been plentiful volumes of flowing water. While the water is not around today, at one point our neighbor may have been just as wet as our own home.

There is a beauty to the bias though, Earth is a splendid planet and life here is more than diverse; the flora and fauna act in a beautiful chemical harmony. Our distant evolutionary cousins, the plants and algae, fill the air with their waste, toxic oxygen, which for us is a necessity of living. There are few spots on the whole planet where life cannot and does not thrive.

The reality though, as painful as it is, is that there are likely a great many worlds with systems that exist beyond our own collective dreams. While there are definite limits to reality imposed by the laws of physics and thermodynamics, these rules still allow for diversity beyond the wildest of imaginations.
May the starts shine brightly in your skies.

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