for National Geographic News
On any given starry night thousands, perhaps millions, of people crane their necks skyward and allow their minds to swirl around two fundamental questions: Are we alone, and why are we here?
According to a lawyer and science enthusiast in Portland, Oregon, not only is the universe full of life, but some of it may be intelligent beyond our wildest imagination. He also says that collectively as intelligent beings we are entwined in our ultimate destiny: to give birth to another universe.
"Intelligent life is, in essence, the reproductive organ of the cosmos," said James Gardner, the lawyer who moonlights as a scientist. He has pulled together his theorycalled the selfish biocosmfrom the disparate fields of physics, biology, biochemistry, astronomy, and cosmology.
Gardner has published pieces of his theory in several peer-reviewed scientific journals and wraps it together in his recently published book, Biocosm: The New Scientific Theory of Evolution: Intelligent Life Is the Architect of the Universe.
Though Gardner admits the theory is speculative and out-there in the literal and figurative senses, it is grounded enough in serious research to at least tickle the fancy of some of the world's most respected scientists.
Seth Shostak is a senior scientist with the Mountain View, California-based SETI Institute, which is the unofficial hub for researchers on the lookout for extraterrestrial intelligence. He agrees with Gardner's belief that intelligent life is out there.
"It doesn't mean I automatically buy into the entire scenario Gardner is buying into, but I think he is right in suggesting intelligence is not extremely rare," Shostak said. "Of course, I'm in the SETI business, so it's probably not surprising that I believe that."
The selfish biocosm theory begins with the premise that the universe is life friendly. It is not a hostile place full of black holes, uninhabitable planets, and the emptiness that somehow, randomly, allowed intelligent life to evolve on Earth, Gardner says.
Among Gardner's evidence for the life-friendly nature of the universe is that the big bang apparently had just the right amount of force to allow the universe to expand at a pace perfectly suited for the evolution of life. If the big bang had gone off with more force, the cosmos would, by now, be empty: If there had been less force the universe would have collapsed, Gardner said.
Another factor for the life-friendly nature of the universe is the ease with which carbonthe basis for life and the emergence of intelligenceforms. Also, the universe's three-dimensional structure allows life as we know it to exist.
"Collectively this stunning set of circumstances renders the universe eerily fit for life and intelligence," Gardner said last month during a presentation of his selfish-biocosm theory at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.