Tuesday, March 19, 2013

CH6: Origins and miracles

          The theory of the blind watchmaker rests on replication and cumulative selection. It works through generations to churn out better offsprings. Admitting this fact, one might still wonder what is it at the beginning? What is it before life began? In this chapter, we shall explore the answer to this question. 

How Improbably is Really Improbably?


           Is it one in 1040? Even if this odds is very small, it’s still measurable. There are other odds, say one in 1045 or one in 10450, which is less likely. The question here is how improbable would be equivalent to impossible? In particular, this is the question we’d like to answer:
“how much luck are we allowed to assume in a theory of the origin of life on Earth?”


          For most of us, a miracle is something quite impossible. We can’t imagine a miracle happening to us. But for mathematicians, a miracle is merely something highly improbable.

The Birth of Life

           We know, from traditional wisdom, that a planet is originated from compound gas. So, we would like to know the chance of these compounds to form a self-replicating molecule. From that point, cumulative selection will take over, and the self-replicating molecule will evolve into a life form. 


          Our first intuitive idea is to turn to the chemists. We can ask ‘How likely does a compound turn into a replicator molecule? If we consider all possible combinations of compound. It could be something like one in billion billions. How improbable this is? If you try to covert a compound every second, it will take one billion billion seconds or 31.7 billion years to get a single replicator molecule. 

How Long is One Billion Years?

           A chemist tends to thinks that a period of billions of years is way too long. No chemist would ever live to see  compound-to-replicator conversion. They would tend to say that this is impossible. No chemist known to our world would live to see the entire conversion process. 
          But, mathematically, the probability is non-zero. Even if the chance is very vey slim, it can happen if you wait long enough. And, 31.7 billion years are not very long comparing to the life of universe. 

Creating a Lifeform

Organic Chemistry

          Chemists divide their fields of study into organic Chemistry and non-organic Chemistry. The former deals with carbon, while the latter deals with the rest of the elements. Carbon is related to living things, because it is found in living things and because it has property suitable for living things.

“The essential property of carbon atoms that makes them so suitable for life and for industrial synthetics, is that they join together to form a limitless repertoire of different kinds of very large molecules.”

Can a Chemist Create a Lifeform?

          So far, chemists have failed to recreate life. But, we should be more worried if they succeed doing it in a few centuries, rather than tens of millions of years. Why? Well, if humans can create humans, all sorts of problems will follow. How? I’ll let you figure it out. 

What If Someone Can Create a Lifeform?

          Let’s assume for a sake of argument that a life form can be created within a few centuries. Comparing to the life time of the universe, a few centuries is very very short. Then life form must have existed in a lot of place the universe. And, that life form should have a technology to contact us already. But so far, except for urban legends, we have not seen any extra terrestrial at all, right? 
Book or Audiobooks?

Personally, I prefer audiobooks. It's fun, and I can listen when I'm doing something else. It also makes other activities (e.g., jogging) a lot more fun. For more detail about audiobooks, please read [this post].

There is one more reason that may encourage you to go for the audiobook version. You can get it now for FREE. Audible offers you a free trial for 14 days. Even if you get the book and cancel the subscription right away (so that you don't have to pay), you can keep the book. And, don't worry if you lost the audiobook file. Just log into audible.com. You can keep downloading the over and over again.
About the summary: It takes time to finish up a book. And, when you do, sometimes, you want to review what you learn from the book. If you do not make  notes as you read, you might have to go through the book once again. This can be time-consuming when you are dealing with a book. But you can still flip through the book and locate what you are looking for.

However, when the material is an audiobook, it is extremely hard to locate a specific part of content. Most likely you will have to listen to the entire audiobook once again.

This book summary will help solve the pain of having to go through the book all over again.

I am leaving out the details of the books. Most books have interesting examples and case studies, not included here. Reading the original book would be much more entertaining and enlightening. If you like the summary, you may want to get the original from the source below.

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