So where are we with origin of life? We cannot define it but we are pretty sure we know what it is. And many are sure that, like consciousness, it must be a natural event.
At that point theorists divide into two camps: Some say that natural laws come into play, resulting in the origin of life. For example, the late Christian de Duve (1917-2013), a Nobelist (1974), thought that “… life is an obligatory manifestation of matter, bound to arise where conditions are appropriate.”
But no one knows how or why life as such could be an obligatory manifestation of matter, any more than, say, human intelligence is an obligatory manifestation. What obligates either?
Indeed, efforts to invoke laws of any type can lead to surprising conclusions, such as that life is older than Earth. That was what happened when Alexei Sharov and Richard Gordon tried invoking Moore’s Law—on the theory that, as computers increase in complexity on a regular basis, so does life. So as we can extrapolate back to the beginning of computers in the 1960s, we can extrapolate back to the beginning of life. We can. It hums. However,
“Linear regression of genetic complexity (on a log scale) extrapolated back to just one base pair suggests the time of the origin of life = 9.7 ± 2.5 billion years ago,” they say.
And since the Earth is only 4.5 billion years old, that raises a whole series of other questions. Not least of these is how and where did life begin.
Sharov and Gordon dismiss the idea that life’s complexity could increase on an irregular basis because “it is suspiciously similar to arguments that squeeze the origin of life into the timespan outlined in the biblical Book of Genesis.” Instead, they argue for a pre-Earth origin under a forerunner of our sun (pre-sun?).
Although it wasn’t the purpose of their thesis, the researchers claim also have solved the Fermi paradox regarding intelligent aliens: Where is everybody?:
… if life takes 10 billion years to evolve to the level of complexity associated with humans, then we may be among the first, if not the first, intelligent civilisation in our galaxy. And this is the reason why when we gaze into space, we do not yet see signs of other intelligent species.
Add that one to the well-populated Where ARE They? list.
In the latest instalment of Science Fictions, I look at the basic problem around all attempts to derive the origin of life from laws of inanimate nature:
It might be helpful to think of the origin of life in terms of probability. Probability can be represented as a scale from 0 to 1. Events at 0 cannot happen and events at 1 must happen. For an event that has not happened, we face all the gradations of probability in between.
The past is different. Event 0 did not happen but Event 1 did. Life is Event 1. However, the probability of life coming into existence by any of the specific series of sub-events currently envisioned (never mind demonstrated) is at or near Event 0. This is not an easy problem. More.
– O’Leary for News
See also: The Science Fictions series fingertips (origin of life)
The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (cosmology).