The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself? Part 7

Part 7 of my review of the book: “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself,” by Sean M. Carroll. Part 6 is found here.

Origin of Life

In the chapter titled “Light and Life,” Carroll discusses the meaning of what life is and the origin of life itself. He makes a passing comment that at least bacterial life may be found on another planet. He mentions, as a fact, that Europa, which is one of the natural satellites or moons of Jupiter, “… has more liquid water than all the oceans on Earth” (p.238).

But that has only been conjectured if there are liquid oceans underneath Europa’s frozen surface ice. The oceans are thought to begin 20 to 50 kms (12 to 30 miles) below the surface. Thus it may be sometime before the conjecture can be confirmed or denied. If there is anything we can learn from this, it is that Carroll is not phased at presenting as fact something he hopes to be true. To my knowledge, as of writing this, no oceans have been definitely discovered on Europa.

He asks the question, in regards to looking for life in space, will we know it is life when we see it?

“What is life anyway? Nobody knows. There is not a single agreed-upon definition that clearly separates things that are ‘alive’ from those that are not.” (p.238)

He gives NASA’s definition as “a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution.” (p.238) He claims that the ‘correct’ definition of life doesn’t exist. Yet he offers the following.

“Life as we know it moves (internally if not externally), metabolizes, interacts, reproduces, and evolves, all in hierarchical, interconnected ways.” (p.238)

Edwin Schrödinger, who helped formulate quantum mechanics, believed it was one of balance, balance between change and maintenance of structure and integrity. His definition is as follows.

“When is a piece of matter said to be alive? When it goes on ‘doing something,’ exchanging material with its environment, and so forth, and that for a much longer period than we would expect an inanimate piece of matter to ‘keep going’ under similar circumstances.” (p.239)

This focuses on the ‘self-sustaining’ part of NASA’s definition. Continue reading

Life in the Universe is the ultimate miracle

Life in the universe is rare, so rare in fact, I would wager that sentient life is only found on planet Earth. For nearly 50 years the collection of telescopes and scientists under the umbrella name of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) have searched among the wavelengths of a myriad stars in search of a radio signal, any signal, from intelligent life. But have they detected any? Apart from detecting the odd microwave oven in their own establishment,1 no is the answer.

This artist’s concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun. Picture: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle Source: Supplied

Earth 2.0: An artist’s conception depicting of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun. Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

In 2013 Space.com headlines with “Alien Life May Be Rare Across the Universe2 but on July 23, 2015 NASA announced the discovery of Earth 2.0 with a headline on Space.com of “NASA Finds Closest Earth Twin Yet in Haul of 500 Alien Planets.”3

It is all over the news with a host of pictures of Earth 2.0. But wait, they are only artists’ conceptions.” One such drawing is reproduced here.

The report is that NASA found a near twin to Earth named Kepler-452b. It orbits its sun every 385 days, is 60 per cent larger in diameter than Earth, has a mass probably 5 times that of Earth and is located about 1,400 light years away. It’s a big deal! But why? Continue reading

One Serious Scientist Who Doubts Evolution

You get up in the morning and go to work or school. But everywhere around you screams “there is no ultimate reason” to do so.

The universe began in some random explosion, from the quantum fluctuation of nothing, some Big Bang we are told.  Over billions of years stars formed and exploded building the elements (C, N, O etc) that all plants and animals are made from, we are told. We are just reorganized star dust, they say.

It is said that man is just the product of millions, even billions, of years of evolution, the most recent stage in some unguided evolutionary process.  Finally man evolved from some past ape-like ancestors several million years ago, so we are told.

“There is no doubt now; no serious scientist has any doubt that evolution is a fact, in the sense that we are cousins of chimpanzees, monkeys and wombats and cassowaries.”

(Richard Dawkins, Oxford Univ., COSMOS magazine interview 23/5/2012)

Continue reading