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You: a trillion tiny random machines

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In “How You Consist of Trillions of Tiny Machines,” a review of two books, Australian palaeontologist Tim Flannery encapsulates the problem facing origin of life studies.

Assessing Paul Falkowski’s Life’s Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable, he notes,

Today, driven by ongoing technological innovations, the exploration of the “nanoverse,” as the realm of the minuscule is often termed, continues to gather pace. One of the field’s greatest pioneers is Paul Falkowski, a biological oceanographer who has spent much of his scientific career working at the intersection of physics, chemistry, and biology. His book Life’s Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable focuses on one of the most astonishing discoveries of the twentieth century—that our cells are comprised of a series of highly sophisticated “little engines” or nanomachines that carry out life’s vital functions. It is a work full of surprises, arguing for example that all of life’s most important innovations were in existence by around 3.5 billion years ago—less than a billion years after Earth formed, and a period at which our planet was largely hostile to living things. How such mind-bending complexity…

Then article then tails off into subscription land.

I’d like to recommend paying but, having read the whole thing, I discovered that the second book reviewed, A New History of Life: The Radical New Discoveries About the Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth by Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink,  suddenly plops onto Darwin. Like a toad tumbling down a rain sodden embankment:

The Nobel laureate Christian de Duve believed that at this point life would have emerged from nonlife very quickly, perhaps in minutes. Safe behind its lipid cell walls, the RNA could enter the ocean, finding the rich trove of nutrients that exists around the black smokers. From then on, Darwinian evolution would have ensured the survival of those that operated most efficiently in a hot environment. This story is, of course, almost entirely unsupported by evidence. It is a scenario—a vision of how things might have been—rather than a fleshed-out scientific theory. It is nonetheless useful because it provides a target for future researchers.

Wow. Two Darwinian “would haves,” a Darwinian “might have been,” and an “almost entirely unsupported by evidence”—and this is supposed to be a target for future researchers?

As noted before, if we wanted to guarantee no progress, we’d say to all such researchers: Go full bore Darwin, and you’ll still be at it a century hence.

Actually, we aren’t that mean. They do it to themselves. And they’re happy with it.

See also: Where we have (haven’t) got with origin of life, and why

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9 Replies to “You: a trillion tiny random machines

  1. 1
    Popperian says:

    Note how the term “random” isn’t actually anywhere in the quoted material.

    If you can’t meet them on their own ground, misrepresent them? Sure. That’s an ethical strategy.

  2. 2
    Barry Arrington says:

    Popperian, if you think the OOL search was guided, you will get no argument from us. Good for you.

  3. 3
    Robert Byers says:

    The dude has wasted his career if he was at a intersection of biology and physics etc. Biology and other subjects are different highways. No intersections going on.
    biology is special and the most complicated thing in the universe because Gods spirit went over the earth and brought life. not mere machines or laws of interaction.

  4. 4
    daveS says:

    Robert,

    The dude has wasted his career if he was at a intersection of biology and physics etc. Biology and other subjects are different highways. No intersections going on.

    Obviously Cornelius Hunter disagrees.

  5. 5
    Mung says:

    …all of life’s most important innovations were in existence by around 3.5 billion years ago…

    LoL. Only a scientist could say this.

  6. 6
    Box says:

    You: a trillion tiny random machines

    … and materialism has no clue as to what prevents you from falling apart.

    (…) the question, rather, is why things don’t fall completely apart — as they do, in fact, at the moment of death. What power holds off that moment — precisely for a lifetime, and not a moment longer?

    [Stephen Talbott, The Unbearable Wholeness of Beings]

  7. 7
    Axel says:

    Rather ironical, Box, to put it mildly, but it make materialism even more farcically presumptuous. Life is a closed book to all of us, but especially to materialists.

    Sententious cliches, such as wishing ‘to know the mind of God’ seem to be much favoured by ‘naive realists’ such as Hawking, but you really would have to know the mind of God to understand the nature or, rather, supernature, of ‘life’.

    King David, of whom God paid the extraordinary compliment of saying that he was a man after his own heart, saw that, to understand God, we would have to be eternal, like Him (apart, evidently, from any other considerations).

  8. 8
    leodp says:

    Sententious. Thanks, Axel, I’ve added another word to my vocabulary. 🙂
    Could it be that we are no more ‘alive’ than a car motor? When the ignition system or some other component vital to function fails, the motor, ‘dies’? (Not sure, but that may be more of a rhetorical question.)
    Computational intelligence is always artificial intelligence. Wouldn’t computational consciousness also always be artificial? How about computational ‘life’?
    Seems like a compilation of ‘trillions of tiny machines’ would still simply leave us with artificial; apparent but not actual. If that’s what we are, then we are only one big simulation. And whence human dignity, worth and rights? Even morality is a simulation. But I digress…as I’m sure you’d expect from this unwashed commoner…

  9. 9
    Popperian says:

    That’s a false dichotomy, Barry.

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