Steve Benner is a self-described “crackpot synthetic biologist to some extent” (i.e., he thinks outside the box). As an entertainer, he’s got perfect timing. His father was an inventor and engineer and his mother a musician. But Benner’s wit is uniquely his own. For instance, one way he’s raising money for origins research is through the sale of origins jewelry, as FfAME, his non-profit foundation, advertises:
Benner gets support from Benner gets support from Templeton and indirectly from the Simons Foundation (the latter hosts OOL events).
From his interview with Mazur:
Steve Benner: There is a shortage of ideas plus there’s a shortage of funding to pursue the ideas that we do have. It’s an interesting question whether putting more money in will result in more substantial ideas. It’s a cycle you can’t anticipate, you have to try. . .
Suzan Mazur: Luisi says there are no new ideas. Why not widen the discussion circle? Freeman Dyson was on Charlie Rose talking briefly about origin of life. Why not bring Freeman Dyson in again and many others for an in-depth conversation?
Steve Benner: Science, to the public, is at one level the memorization of facts based on an authority — your teacher, who has the cosmic authority of the expert. You’ll see this all over — “four out of five dentists agree.” The appeal to authority and consensus of opinion.
But science is also the opposite. I’m a great fan of Richard Feynman who comments that science begins with a denial of the opinion of experts. Science begins when you say NO. The perceived wisdom is wrong. Feynman’s opinion is exactly the opposite of what many people think science is, the memorization of facts taught to you by an authority.
Suzan Mazur: That was the view of the late science and technology historian David F. Noble, who told me, “A consensus of scientists. Well, when you have a consensus of scientists, that should set off alarms.” More.
This is fascinating. It sounds so different from all the popular science publications fretting that too many people doubt the consensus. But consensus is really just the way we avoid deadlock in order to get something done. It’s not a source of great new ideas and when we need new ideas, it can actually hinder them. Freeman Dyson said something of the kind.
Impress your friends with your understanding of the most recent theories for how life originated on Earth.”—Steve Benner, FfAME (black diamond—-carbon; olive green peridot—-the serpentinizing mineral; pink tourmeline delivering borate; blue apatite delivering phosphate)
Re the sales pitch above, hmmm… (O’Leary fetches the airbush from the closet) How about maybe: My Valentine, this shows I love you way more than I love a whole stack of OOL papers…
Mazur is the author of Origin of Life Circus, an introduction to competing theories of the origin, in the words of the researchers themselves. Thi includes people like the late Carl Woese, Denis Noble, and James Shapiro.
See also: New recipe for early life on Earth is marketed as merely “plausible”? The experiment is interesting but it says a lot about the (lack of) progress in a field when the best that can currently be said of a scenario is that it is plausible. On the other hand, the concept they are testing deserves a lot of respect, in these times, for not just being another what-if, of which we seem to go through dozens around here every year.