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Life "must" exist elsewhere but why?

Use this forum to discuss the philosophy of science. Philosophy of science deals with the assumptions, foundations, and implications of science.
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Present awareness
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Re: Life "must" exist elsewhere but why?

Post by Present awareness » January 9th, 2017, 10:49 pm

Perhaps a biogenesis didn't occur anywhere, maybe life has always existed, just like the universe itself?
Even though you can see me, I might not be here.

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JamesOfSeattle
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Re: Life "must" exist elsewhere but why?

Post by JamesOfSeattle » January 10th, 2017, 1:32 am

Present awareness wrote:Perhaps a biogenesis didn't occur anywhere, maybe life has always existed, just like the universe itself?
The thing is, I have an understanding how life could have started here, but there is no way life "as we know it" could have made it through the Big Bang.

Platos stepchild
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Re: Life "must" exist elsewhere but why?

Post by Platos stepchild » January 10th, 2017, 8:02 am

Chasw wrote:An interesting topic. The genesis of life on Earth is still unknown. So, we speculate. Here is what we know so far: The oldest fossil evidence of lifeforms dates from early in the planet's history, about 3.5 million years ago. Since I don't subscribe to abiogenesis, my working hypothesis is that the Earth's oceans were seeded with bacterial lifeforms, probably via comets impacting the planet, as soon as the surface cooled sufficiently and the oceans acquired enough dissolved minerals. Among those lifeforms were cyanobacteria which immediately went to work "terraforming" the Earth's atmosphere from primarily carbon dioxide to primarily nitrogen and oxygen. This then opened the door, through evolution, to higher forms of life, including animals.

If comets carried the seeds of life here, as I speculate, then the genesis must have begun elsewhere. One possible speculation is, there once was a fertile planet in another system that was blown apart by a dying star. The planet's teeming oceans were instantly frozen by the cold of space and drifted to the place where our solar system formed out of the remnants. If you don't believe life can survive in the cold of space, consider how bacterial spores entombed in rock salt formations have survived for hundreds of million years.

Valid evidence supporting my hypothesis would be signs of life, such as fossils, on Mars or the moons of Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune. In fact, the primary driver for mankind's current exploration of Mars is the possibility of finding such evidence. - CW
Hello. You say you don't believe in abiogenesis; and yet, you do believe that Earth's oceans were seeded with bacterial lifeforms. It seems to me you're just pushing the mystery of life back another step, back into the cosmic shadows. Your ostensibly fertile planet is no answer; why couldn't the Earth have been such a planet? Now, just to be clear, I don't dismiss Panspermia as a valid hypothesis. Panspermia, however doesn't preclude a self generating fertile Earth.

In any event, let's get back to your disbelief in abiogenesis. The threshold between living and nonliving matter must have been breached somewhere in the cosmos. If not on Earth, then clearly somewhere. It's been speculated that heteropolymer molecules in deep space, formed by the irradiation of simple organic compounds, provided certain bacteria with their sole source of carbon. Do we call this process life? Maybe.

In retrospect, it seems that the threshold between life, and it's precursors is a matter of opinion. Yes, if you're far enough away from the threshold, it's possible to unambiguously say that this is a living thing, and this isn't a living thing. But, the closer we zero in on the threshold, the harder it becomes to be so sure. Is the threshold, itself the beginning of life, or maybe the inanimate end of a world devoid of life?

To me, the question of when cosmic life began is reminiscent of the question of when individual life begins during pregnancy. The difficulty in answering the latter question is fraught with political, social and religious pitfalls. Is the same also true of the former? If so, then a straightforward scientific answer to the question may never be available. The question whence comic life may step on too many toes to ever permit us to know, for sure when, and how life sprang from dead matter.

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Re: Life "must" exist elsewhere but why?

Post by Chasw » January 10th, 2017, 9:41 am

Regarding my rejection of abiogenesis - consider the complexity of the simplest single-celled plant, e.g., a bacterium. The methods the cell uses to thrive and reproduce, particularly DNA replication, is not plausibly something that could originate by means of an accidental combination of ingredients and conditions. Instead, its more plausible IMO to discern the hand of a sentient designer/creator, probably the same sentient being who previously created the inanimate universe of matter, energy and space.

As someone pointed out above, biogenesis by either means could have happened long ago and far away, or right here on Earth, some 3.5B years ago. To settle that particular question, the search for signs of life on Mars, et al, is significant. If our probes on the surface of Mars discover life or fossils of life, that will tend to support my hypothesis that fertile parts of our solar system were seeded by an external source. The larger question of who or what created the first lifeforms will indefinitely remain in the realm of religion, or until someone figures out how to create a recognizable lifeform out of simple matter and energy. - CW
The central question of human existence is not why we are here, but rather why we behave the way we do - http://onhumanaffairs.blogspot.com/

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Present awareness
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Re: Life "must" exist elsewhere but why?

Post by Present awareness » January 10th, 2017, 10:00 am

The problem is, who created this sentient designer? Something, out of nothing, is hard to imagine and introducing a creator does not solve the problem. If one can imagine a creator as always being there, then one can imagine the universe as always being there and eliminate the middle man.

-- Updated January 10th, 2017, 7:32 am to add the following --

The Big Bang may have been a local event in an infinite universe. If the next closest cluster of galaxies is 100 billion light years away, it's going to take some time before we will be able to see it.
Even though you can see me, I might not be here.

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Re: Life "must" exist elsewhere but why?

Post by Platos stepchild » January 10th, 2017, 11:04 am

Chasw wrote:Regarding my rejection of abiogenesis - consider the complexity of the simplest single-celled plant, e.g., a bacterium. The methods the cell uses to thrive and reproduce, particularly DNA replication, is not plausibly something that could originate by means of an accidental combination of ingredients and conditions. Instead, its more plausible IMO to discern the hand of a sentient designer/creator, probably the same sentient being who previously created the inanimate universe of matter, energy and space.

As someone pointed out above, biogenesis by either means could have happened long ago and far away, or right here on Earth, some 3.5B years ago. To settle that particular question, the search for signs of life on Mars, et al, is significant. If our probes on the surface of Mars discover life or fossils of life, that will tend to support my hypothesis that fertile parts of our solar system were seeded by an external source. The larger question of who or what created the first lifeforms will indefinitely remain in the realm of religion, or until someone figures out how to create a recognizable lifeform out of simple matter and energy. - CW
As I see it, the problem with a sentient designer/creator is, ok let's suppose (S)He did create life. How could we ever know this, for sure? Maybe life arose from natural processes; and, the mechanism for how this happened is extremely complicated. So, just how complicated does it have to be, in order for us to throw-up-our-hands, and concede we are, indeed the handiwork of a creator? If we do give up, and concede a creator, we'll never know whether if maybe, just maybe we'd pushed a little harder wed'ave discovered the mechanism whereby life arose, naturally.

Of course, the allure of a designer/creator does provide us with a meaning as to why life arose, in the first place. It's scary to believe that we have no transcendent purpose, other than a full belly and propagating our genes. But, the comfort of having a purpose aside, I believe that humankind will eventually crack the mystery, even though it could mean that we'll live with the ennui of having nothing to worship. Will that prove to be our demise? Hopefully, we'll have begun the conquest of Mars, by then. In that case, the demise of humankind will prove a much harder nut to crack.

But, as I've previously argued, the threshold of abiogenesis won't be a hard boundary between life, and nonlife. As we zero in on the boundary, we'll find it increasingly necessary to adjust and refine our definition of life, until we must finally decide whether the boundary, itself is a living thing. Maybe we'll decide it isn't alive, but rather only the template of life. In my heart-of-hearts, I believe this question cannot be answered, scientifically. It will invoke our deepest religious sentiments. And, perhaps this is how it should be. Maybe we'll avoid the ennui of having no transcendent purpose by worshiping our existence, however that came to be.

Finally, I must speak to your incredulity that the complexity of a bacterium is irreducibly complex. If so, I agree that'd be the unambiguous signature of a designer/creator. But, the only way to know that something is irreducibly complex is to give up trying to explain it, in terms of it's constituent parts. There's absolutely no way to know, however when to give up. Maybe you're just not sufficiently ingenuous, but someone else might come along who is, and can unravel the Gordian knot of how life began. Irreducible complexity isn't an argument that something's impossible, only that no one has, as yet been clever enough to explain how it is possible.

-- Updated January 10th, 2017, 1:34 pm to add the following --

I'm asking, as a courtesy that no one respond to my posts. And I, as a reciprocal courtesy will respond to no one's post.

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Chasw
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Re: Life "must" exist elsewhere but why?

Post by Chasw » January 10th, 2017, 3:05 pm

Present awareness wrote:...snip...The Big Bang may have been a local event in an infinite universe. If the next closest cluster of galaxies is 100 billion light years away, it's going to take some time before we will be able to see it.

Very good, Present. I like that. The next material universe could be so far away (in Euclidean space) the current expansion we observe will not reach it for many billions of years (as measured from our inertial reference plane), if ever. - CW

-- Updated January 10th, 2017, 12:23 pm to add the following --

Thanks, stepchild. Irreducible complexity, of the type observed in sub-atomic particles, is not necessary for one to deduce that a given mechanism is an artificial creation, rather than a random result of natural forces - matter and energy. If a ship carrying sentient beings landed on a barren planet and found a rover vehicle made by Earthings, they would immediately and correctly classify it as an artificial creation. Likewise, the oldest known organisms on Earth, cyano-bacteria in the ocean and thermophilic bacteria found deep in the Earth's crust, demonstrate internal structures and powered processes so complex and full of evolutionary potential, that many people conclude they were probably designed long ago by a sentient being. - CW
The central question of human existence is not why we are here, but rather why we behave the way we do - http://onhumanaffairs.blogspot.com/

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Re: Life "must" exist elsewhere but why?

Post by Platos stepchild » January 10th, 2017, 8:55 pm

Gentlemen (and, possibly ladies):

I apologize for willfully subverting open conversation. Now that I've successfully removed my head from my ass, I invite discussion and dialogue.

-- Updated January 12th, 2017, 5:23 pm to add the following --

Gentlemen (plus or minus ladies): I've been thinking, a lot about abiogenesis. Regardless of whether life is ubiquitous throughout the cosmos, or unique to the Earth, there must have been a threshold between inanimate, and living matter. What, if anything can we say about this threshold? If you'll indulge an analogy, please consider a heap-of-sand. Clearly, if you remove a single grain-of-sand, the heap is still a heap. It's likely you can continue removing grains of sand for quite awhile, and still have a heap.

But, if you continue to mindlessly remove grains of sand from the heap, you'll eventually look at what had been the heap-of-sand, and decide it no longer is. So, what does this have to do with the threshold between inanimate and living matter? Let's imagine that each grain-of-sand corresponds to a single chemical process, or emergent pathway, leading up to a living thing (however that's manifested).

Just as a single grain-of-sand doesn't affect the status of a heap-of-sand, no single chemical process, or emergent pathway changes inanimate matter into something living. There's an inherent fuzziness on each side of the threshold. I believe this fuzziness precludes our ever being able to define the means by which life springs from dead-matter. I know that many scientists are actively seeking the template-of-life. But, the fuzziness is there nevertheless, in the same way it's there for the heap.

I don't draw this conclusion, lightly. Bible-thumping advocates for Intelligent Design talk about irreducible complexity, which basically claims it's impossible to define the means by which life springs from dead-matter. I'm not endorsing Intelligent Design, although I'm open to the possibility. For me, though the Designer isn't any of the canonical deities. My philosophical stance is that we're the knowledge, or perhaps the awareness of a cosmic-mind. Reality is, therefore cosmic mind-stuff. But, let me say this as plainly as possible: the fuzziness isn't a clarion-call to worship the Designer. It's just a fact of reality.

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Re: Life "must" exist elsewhere but why?

Post by Dolphin42 » January 13th, 2017, 11:47 am

Platos stepchild:
Regardless of whether life is ubiquitous throughout the cosmos, or unique to the Earth, there must have been a threshold between inanimate, and living matter.
I think that like most thresholds, this one doesn't exist objectively. It is created by us and its position is chosen so as to help us define our words. In this case the word is "life". I think many of the most intractable moral problems, such as the abortion issue, arise because we try to pretend that there are objectively existing dividing lines between things.

If you look at life on Earth, it's possible to trace a quasi-continuous path from things that are evidently non-living chemical reactions to things that are clearly alive, with no sudden point where one becomes the other.

-- Updated January 13th, 2017, 4:53 pm to add the following --

Present awareness:
Something, out of nothing, is hard to imagine
It is indeed hard to imagine, but is that a reason to think it can't have happened? One of the most basic principles of nature that us humans have found to be useful for getting through the day and which we've therefore decided to regard as universal, is the idea of, for want of a better term, conservation of stuff. Stuff can be converted to other forms (we observe) but cannot be created or destroyed. But like all the principles and laws of nature, it is just an inductive generalisation from numerous specific examples. Why should we trust it to be universal any more than we trust any other inductive law?

-- Updated January 13th, 2017, 4:59 pm to add the following --

Spiral Out:
Why would life, even so-called "intelligent" life, be required to conform to our own particular paradigm of what we conceive of as intelligent, or even life, for that matter?
Because if it didn't then, by definition, it wouldn't be intelligent and/or it wouldn't be life.

It's a bit like saying why should a table have the properties that are part of the definition of the word "table"? Answer: because it's a table!

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Re: Life "must" exist elsewhere but why?

Post by Platos stepchild » January 13th, 2017, 6:26 pm

Dolphin42 wrote:Plato's stepchild:
Regardless of whether life is ubiquitous throughout the cosmos, or unique to the Earth, there must have been a threshold between inanimate, and living matter.
I think that like most thresholds, this one doesn't exist objectively. It is created by us and its position is chosen so as to help us define our words. In this case the word is "life". I think many of the most intractable moral problems, such as the abortion issue, arise because we try to pretend that there are objectively existing dividing lines between things.

If you look at life on Earth, it's possible to trace a quasi-continuous path from things that are evidently non-living chemical reactions to things that are clearly alive, with no sudden point where one becomes the other.
The extent to which the difference between life, and dead-matter is meaningful is the extent to which the threshold, or boundary between them is meaningful. If we're willing to go far enough back in time, there was a time when the Earth was barren of life. And, clearly now life flourishes and fills virtually every ecological corner of the Earth.

In principle, every chemical process and structure governing life is straightforward (albeit complex). And, in principle every chemical process and structure governing the inanimate world is also straightforward. But, this straightforward paradigm breaks down when we get too close to the threshold between living, and dead-matter.

There is, therefore an irreducible complexity between organic, and inorganic chemistry. Now, examples of irreducible complexity, touted by certain Christian intellectuals, such as the cascade of blood-clotting in vertebrates, and the flagellum of certain single-cell animals are not what I mean. What I mean is, we're precluded from identifying the simplest possible life form, as well as the most complex precursor of life, due to the complexity between them.

The root problem, of course is that the definition of life is far too unwieldy. We have no word supple enough to describe life at the edges. And, that's exactly where the threshold is: at the edges. Now, does this root problem lie in nature, or in our description of it? It seems, to me the answer depends on whether our definition of life describes, or explains life.

Certain inanimate things, such as fire, and crystals can mimic what it means to be alive, and yet clearly neither are. Explaining life, however carries it's own hazards. Doing so comes perilously close to asking whether life has a purpose. Science has divested itself of such concerns. Determining why something is, is a lot slippier than determining what something is.

You raise an interesting point: how do we know where to draw the dividing lines between things? We believe it's meaningful to distinguish living, from dead-matter. In every instance of deciding where to draw-the-line, we're deciding whether we're describing, or explaining the world. I'm convinced that, in most instances we lose track of which is which. This is doubly true when deciding where the line runs between that-which-is-alive, and that-which-isn't.

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Re: Life "must" exist elsewhere but why?

Post by Eluhorem » January 15th, 2017, 1:23 pm

Re. abiogenesis, this fascinating scientific article may be of help: "A review on the spontaneous formation of the building blocks of life and the generation of a set of hypotheses governing universal abiogenesis"

(I can't post a link to it, but you can search for it online, and PM me for a google drive link if you're interested).

It describes the origins of the molecules that make up life, why water is so extremely abundant throughout the Universe, and how complex carbon-based (organic molecules) and amino acids form even in interstellar space, due to thermodynamics. If you want to be well informed about the science behind abiogenesis before forming an opinion on it, this is a great starting point.

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Re: Life "must" exist elsewhere but why?

Post by Greta » January 15th, 2017, 7:48 pm

Re: Eluhorem's post above:

researchgate.net/publication/258789190_ ... biogenesis
Abstract

There have been a number of hypotheses regarding abiogenesis, the `Metabolism First' model and the `RNA World Hypothesis' are two such examples. All theories on abiogenesis make a set of unstated assumptions with regard to the elemental make up of life or only apply the theory to a primitive earth model.

This paper reviews current knowledge from the myriad of observations from a variety of scientific disciplines and applies generally understood thermodynamic reasoning to explain the formation of molecules known to be used by life. These arguments are used in this paper to construct a set of new hypotheses which govern universal abiogenesis.

The intention of this paper is to show by the application of our known laws of science that life is the end sequence of events of the fundamental forces which affect the entire universe. From these events a new hypotheses on abiogenesis can be formulated. The hypotheses proposed by this paper are incorporated in many of the current theories of abiogenesis, either assumed or accepted but very rarely stated or explained. The proposed set of five hypotheses are:

(1) any celestial mass that has a body of liquid water and therefore has access to energy will form at least the building blocks of life, if not life itself.

(2) The major component of any life form anywhere in the universe will be H2O.

(3) Any organism, anywhere in the universe, will be carbon-based.

(4) All life in the universe will be composed of nucleic acid based molecules as its code for life.

(5) The cell is the universal unit of life.

Throughout this paper the background to the formulation of these hypotheses is discussed, as is the explanation of why these hypotheses are universal and not limited to an application of a primitive earth model. This set of hypotheses is also testable as any investigation of a celestial body which contains liquid water (e.g. Europa) will quickly provide evidence to prove or refute the proposed theory.

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Re: Life "must" exist elsewhere but why?

Post by Platos stepchild » January 15th, 2017, 8:02 pm

Eluhorem wrote:Re. abiogenesis, this fascinating scientific article may be of help: "A review on the spontaneous formation of the building blocks of life and the generation of a set of hypotheses governing universal abiogenesis"

(I can't post a link to it, but you can search for it online, and PM me for a google drive link if you're interested).

It describes the origins of the molecules that make up life, why water is so extremely abundant throughout the Universe, and how complex carbon-based (organic molecules) and amino acids form even in interstellar space, due to thermodynamics. If you want to be well informed about the science behind abiogenesis before forming an opinion on it, this is a great starting point.
It's quite curious that you've waited better than a two-and-a-half years before making your seminal post. Why was that?

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Eluhorem
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Re: Life "must" exist elsewhere but why?

Post by Eluhorem » January 15th, 2017, 10:07 pm

It's been a busy two and a half years, haha.

Platos stepchild
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Re: Life "must" exist elsewhere but why?

Post by Platos stepchild » January 16th, 2017, 9:37 pm

Eluhorem wrote:It's been a busy two and a half years, haha.
And, you stopped being busy just in time to respond to my post. What are the odds?

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