Life, the Universe, and Everything. May 31, 2007Posted by Hegemony in Science.
Life is a funny thing. The complexity of it all can be staggering at times. Some people either cannot or will not look past that complexity to the natural laws underlying it. It must be hard for them to imagine the possibility of life outside of our planet. These are the creationists and intelligent design advocates (though I think they should drop the pretense and admit those are one in the same). Evolution is driven by environmental pressures, it’s not some process that happens magically on its own. It’s not random, though the natural selection that drives it can be random. The concept itself is not that difficult to grasp but many people never hear the facts.
I’m not saying that we as scientists have all the answers to how life began. But we have a fair idea backed by the basic laws of science. We know that enzymatic activity is the basis of life. You, me, every living thing on this planet is protein based. We know that amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and these compounds exist independently of life. Every amino bond finds it’s most stable conformation by sampling different bonding angles millions of times per second. Thus, biomolecules can self-assemble. More possibilities arise with the discovery of ribozymes. A ribozyme is a piece of RNA that has catalytic activity like a protenacious enzyme. Early life was almost certainly RNA based. The increased mutation rate (it’s an order of magnitude larger than DNA) would have caused evolution to take place at a relatively astounding rate.
Bare with me as I wax philosophical. It’s downright arrogant to entertain the idea that this planet was created the way it is with a whole empty universe around it. Understanding evolutionary principals opens up a whole world of uplifting thoughts. What if the universe is teeming with life? What if they would like to meet us? I’d like to think that it is, and they do. Hell, I’m relatively certain on the first count. But maybe ET knows about us and finds us rather distasteful. The small blue planet run by psychotic apes we are.
Recent extra solar spectrographic studies have shown organic molecules exist outside of our solar system. We are constantly finding new extra-solar planets as our detection methods get more sensitive. There are hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with a few hundred-thousand up to (and more commonly) hundreds of billions of stars. There could be an unfathomable amount of life in the universe. It would be nice if we could avoid blowing each other up long enough to meet some of it… even if it doesn’t like us so much.