Thursday, April 29, 2010

"The Unblind Workings of Chance": Only A Trillion

This article first appeared in: the Apr-57 issue of Astounding , according to http://www.asimovonline.com/oldsite/Essays/other_essays.html. According to Asimov, he wrote it in July, 1956. It was published in an anthology in 1957, Only A Trillion.

The opening paragraph:

The question for discussion is exactly how much luck was involved in the development, on Earth, of life from non-living substances, and, as a corollary, what chance there is of finding life on any other Earth-like planet.


Final paragraphs:

But let's see, is there life on Mars?

Despite all the odds against it, despite the poorness of the planet, the answer seems to be: possibly, yes. At least, the green areas on Mars seem to signify some kind of vegetation. The vegetation might be very primitive and undiversified, nothing like the teeming life of Earth, but it would be life.

And if Mars can do it, it is my belief that any Earth-like planet can do it.


Religious folk will say that, statistically speaking, life couldn't have been created because there's just no way atoms would combine, by chance, in enough ways to create life. Asimov points out that it's perfectly possible, because there are only a few ways that atoms do combine, because of there chemical properties. Some combinations are more probable than others.

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