|MadSci Network: Astronomy|
"Say we sent a probe to Mars and it found several forms of active life..." Well, as you likely know, we HAVE sent probes to Mars and did not find any obvious life...so let's imagine that we've sent a probe to, say, the oceans of Europa instead. And let's imagine that in front of our TV camera a 500 foot long squid-thing swims by... It sure looks alive, but is it intelligent? About the only way we could form an opinion would be to observe how it behaved. But exactly how to decide is pretty uncertain -- for example, we can easily study dolphins back here on Earth, and discover that they have very large brains and that they communicate using complex sounds underwater, but just how intelligent dolphins are is still somewhat controversial. We can say for certain that they have no hands, and hence can't be tool users like we humans are. Also, we can observe the fact that they are often fooled by human fishing nets, sometimes even being killed, which suggests that they are not smart in the problem-solving way that we are. But are there other kinds of "smart"? If our imaginary squid-thing were to whip out a toolkit and start taking our probe apart, that would probably convince most people that it was intelligent. On the other hand, maybe it just undulates amd does nothing much, sort of like a jellyfish. Then it might be hard to tell if it had any thought processes going on. We might have to study them for a long while to see if there is any evidence that they "understand" their environment, in particular if they can anticipate or control events. But we might never know for sure, amy more than we know for SURE about some speices back here on Earth.
Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Astronomy.