September 14, 2006

The Universe we Live in

15th of September 2006

As spoken in the voice of an Alien from a more advanced planet in a galaxy far far away:

At one time you thought that of your world as stationary and at the center of the universe. The stars were thought of as lights for the night sky. We now know that stars are similar to your sun and appear small only because of their great distance from your planet and not because of their size. Stars vary in size. Some may be a thousand times smaller than your own, whereas others may be a thousand times larger. Stars vary in color too, because they are not all equally hot. They may be red, orange, yellow, white or blue depending upon how hot they are. Some stars are younger and have come into being much more recently than your own sun. Others are older and some have even come to the end of their lifecycles. Novas and Supernovas are dying stars that have come to their end in a final grand explosion.

Different portions of the celestial sphere i.e. the sky surrounding your planet are called constellations. The stars of different constellations form different patterns in the night sky. As the earth rotates and orbits around the sun, different constellations become visible. Besides stars some of the objects visible in the sky are planets, whereas some are distant clusters of stars in another galaxy. Galaxies are collections of stars in space made up of millions of stars and intervening matter- gas, dust, planets etc. Stars in our universe tend to cluster together to form little island universes known as galaxies. Galaxies come in different shapes. The Andromeda galaxy that is 2.4 million light years away from us appears to have the shape of a disc when viewed through a telescope. A light year is the distance light can travel in a year and we know that nothing can travel faster than that, therefore one can imagine the vast distances that are involved here. Our own galaxy, called the Milky Way, is shaped like a spiral and your sun is about two thirds of the way out from the center on one of the arms of the galaxies.

There are millions and millions of galaxies in our universe and each has millions and millions of stars, and orbiting these stars are billions and billions of planets, just as the planets of your own solar system do. For most practical purposes we may regard our universe as infinite. Until recently it was thought by some on your planet that the only star in the universe that could have an orbiting planet around it is your sun. This is because planets around stars had not been seen. Planets around other stars are too small to be seen even with telescopes, but how incredibly narrow minded such a view must have been – a view that only that which can be seen can exist. Further, in such a large universe it would be incredibly na├»ve or narrow minded to think that yours is the only planet that can sustain life. Even if one in a thousand planets or even one in a million has the capacity to sustain life, there must be million upon millions of such planets in our vast universe. Yours and mine are only two of these.  As we shall see later life is not such a rare phenomenon in the universe. The very mechanisms that bring it about ensure that it is rather widespread. Why is that we do not have physical evidence of life on other planets? The physical evidence is minimal or lacking simply because of the great distances involved. Until a few centuries ago, you in the old world had little evidence of life in the Americas or on far flung Pacific Islands. But this did not mean that life did no exist in such places. The knowledge of it was lacking simply because of the distances involved and the intervening ocean barriers. Similarly, if actual knowledge of life in other parts of the universe is scant, it does not imply that such life cannot or does not exist. Here the distances involved are far greater than distances between continents, and the intervening barrier of space far more formidable. If some seemingly intelligent and rational humans vehemently resist the idea of life in other parts of the universe, it is not because of the logical impossibility of the same but perhaps because of a misplaced and too literal a belief in the interpretations of religious texts they have come to believe in.

It is natural for an enquiring and intelligent mind to wonder how our universe came about and more specifically how life came to inhabit this universe. We will attempt to address the second question in the light of recent discoveries even on your planet that have shed new light on the topic. A religious person is satisfied with the explanation that all this is Gods doing. However a rational mind is not satisfied merely with such an explanation. It would like to know more precisely what the possible mechanisms for creation of life might be. There are already many profound theories on your planet about this fundamental question. It is the opinion of this author that none is a full picture. Whereas, many existing theories appear to have elements of truth, none gives the full picture. As more and more new scientific information becomes available at the microbiological level as well as in the understanding of your universe, it is possible to improve upon existing hypothesis. For a hypothesis to be a scientifically valid one, it must be such that it is feasible as per the existing scientific principles and information. Anything else would fall in the category of mere speculation, perhaps even fiction. An attempt will be made to adhere to this principle in the presently described hypothesis of the origin of life and species not just on your planet but in the universe as a whole. However, in presenting the hypothesis care will be taken that complexity, scientific jargon, scholarly referencing and notes are avoided to the extent possible. The idea being that, then the ideas proposed herein will be understood by a wide cross-section of the public. After all, the fundamentals of life interest all.


DARWIN AND PANSPERMIA

The most widely discussed theory of evolution on earth is the theory of the origin of species due to Darwin a British Naturalist. He set forth his theory in 1859 in his book entitled, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. His study was based upon a study of species. He concluded that various life forms emerged through a gradual evolution beginning from a single simple original life form. He surmised that evolutionary change was gradual lasting millions of years and the primary mechanism for evolution was a process of natural selection that favored the fittest out of a variation that took place randomly. Whereas many have found Darwin’s theory reasonable and logical many others have opposed it. Opponents fall in two categories. First are those who oppose it on religious grounds because Darwin’s idea of the origins of life does not agree with what has is written in scriptures. The second category of opponents is those who oppose Darwinism based on scientific logic and anomalies that have been discovered at the microbiological level. Not all who oppose Darwin are irreligious. Some scientifically inclined religious persons regard the will of God as expressed in the fundamental scientific laws that hold our universe together and make evolution possible. Such persons regard much that happens in the universe as the doings of God and for them Darwin’s theory is a fair and logical attempt to explain how God went about bringing forth life. The knowledge of genes and Genetics had not emerged at the time of Darwin. Since then modern Genetic Theory has emerged that attempts to explain evolution on the basis of Genes. Neo-Darwinism is the modern version of Darwin’s evolutionary theory that synthesizes Darwin’s ideas with modern genetic science.

A scientific opposition of Darwin’s theory comes from a calculation of the probability of the simplest ingredients of life emerging from a primordial broth of the elements as well as the probability of it developing into more complicated forms of life as next to impossible. An alternative theory called Panspermia has attracted much attention in recent years on earth. It is due to Hoyle and Wickramasinghe. They argue that the origins of life on earth are due to the arrival of microbes from space in the form of cosmic dust, particles and comets. The problem is that although this latter theory may explain life on earth it does not explain sufficiently how life emerged elsewhere in the cosmos. A second difficulty is the extreme unlikelihood of microbes surviving through space travel in cosmic dust although such a survival is possible in the cooler interiors of comets and asteroids. Further, Panspermia does not explain much as to how life develops into plants, animals and humans beginning from microbes. It is also suggested that viruses may be instrumental in bringing about change but we know that viruses are not good survivors outside their hosts, and their survival through a galactic journey is a near impossibility. Frozen bacteria however may survive indefinitely. The  genetic code of bacteria is not vastly different from that of higher life forms.  Most human and other animal genes have been found in bacteria . Here we will elaborate a variation of the Panspermia theory and term it as Pansmeria in honour of one of the leading and early human civilisation on earth - sumeria or smeria. We shall conclude this discussion by throwing some new light on the Sumerian civilisation.

It appears that various theories of evolution on earth have elements of truth but are as yet far from complete. Even the staunchest opponent of Darwin’s theory would have to admit that some genetic evolution at least within a species can and does take place. One can observe this even within one’s own lifetime. What the contribution of this evolution to overall development of life on earth and on any other planet that can sustain life is something that cannot be said with similar surety. Further, if there is life on earth it may be argued on the basis of probability alone that it must be there elsewhere in the universe too and therefore one cannot rule out the possibility that life on earth has a cosmic origin. What needs to be explored in greater detail is the mechanisms that make it possible


AN EVOLUTIONARY MECHANISM


One serious limitation of Darwin’s hypothesis regarding the low probability of life emerging by chance can be overcome if an indefinitely long period of time can be provided for it to occur in an infinitely large universe i.e. on a cosmic scale rather than a planetary scale. This is like saying that although it is very difficult to hit the jackpot in the lotto; it becomes easy if one buys all the lotto tickets.

Based on the progress of available evolutionary models as well as recent scientific progress one may propose a new mechanism for evolution known as Cosmic Darwinism that prevails on my planet. It involves the following steps to the evolution of species on a cosmic scale. Some scientific terms have been employed in stating these steps; these shall be explained in greater detail later if opportunity permits. For the moment it may be mentioned that Eukaryotic cells are the type of living cells possessed by bacteria, whereas Prokaryotic cells are the type common to higher organisms. An essential difference between the two types of cells is that the latter carry their genetic information in a membrane-protected nucleus inside a cell. This latter genetic information cannot be altered with the same ease as the genetic information carried by bacteria that do not have this protective nucleus. Bacterial cells are life forms because they reproduce and multiply. Viruses on the other hand are not fully life because they cannot multiply on their own. However Viruses too carry genetic information in protective protein cells. Plasmids may be regarded as still simpler versions of viruses that do not have this protective cell. Thus using this minimum terminology from microbiology it may be stated that

Life begins in the cosmos from a chance combination of elements leading to a simple single celled bacterial life form

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Further evolution and diversification begins by random mutations and natural selection. The evolutionary information of any one planet is stored in bacterial life forms and shared across the cosmos by natural cosmic interactions.

The single celled eukaryotic bacterial forms develop into plant cells and prokaryotic (human-like) amoeba life forms through symbiosis and from there on to multicelled prokaryotic life forms through a further symbiosis. The genetic information so generated is broken up into smaller units and stored on a continuous basis in bacterial life forms through the action of viruses and plasmids. It is shared across the cosmos from time to time through the transfer of matter across heavenly bodies.

On any given planet where life can be sustained, evolution is an ongoing process, taking place through Darwinian evolution, intelligent design and cosmic interactions with the largest contribution coming from cosmic interactions. Genetic information brought to a planet from the cosmos is transferred to existing species from bacteria, by viruses and plasmids in small gradual steps from time to time. The information so transferred is suitably modified and adjusted by bacteria to the precise conditions of any given planet before the transfer takes place. Bacteria do much more than simply store and carry genetic information across the cosmos. They also correct the stored information to suit planetary conditions as well as prepare and maintain the planet and evolved life forms for sustenance of life. We shall elaborate and discuss the five steps to evolution stated here in the light of available scientific evidence at a later stage.

WHAT ABOUT GOD?

Science may explain how physical aspects of life are created yet there is another aspect of life that goes beyond the physical. Desire and aversion is one; and we know that life has consciousness and intelligence feelings and emotions; ego and free will; joy and sorrow etc. These latter features appear to fall outside the physical realm. It is because of these that some have been lead to the conclusion that life forms must be imbibed with something more than physical i.e. they have a spiritual component called the spirit or soul and that this latter is the essential force that sustains life. Certainly without sexual attraction between opposite sexes there would be no procreation and without the sacrifice and love with which even birds and animals nurture their young, higher forms of life would be difficult if not impossible to perpetuate. Further, just as individual life forms have a spirit, intelligence and consciousness that sustains life, the universe too must have a consciousness and intelligence i.e. God who makes the creation of life possible with utmost ease, against seemingly impossible odds.

Seeking for and exploring the physical mechanisms for the creation of life forms therefore does not negate God or make Him redundant. It may be regarded as merely explaining how God went about doing it. We know that if God created life bacteria must have been created first because without that there would be no oxygen to breathe and that plants and animals must have come before humans because without it there would be no food. There would be no water too. Gases such as methane, hydrogen and carbon dioxide are more basic to the universe than water and oxygen. The oxygen is produced by cyno-bacteria and when this oxygen combines with hydrogen water is produced.

Some persons who believe firmly in God are disturbed when purely material arguments are advanced for a matter as fundamental as the creation of life. However, scientific mechanisms for creation of life depend upon the fundamental structure and governing fundamental laws of the universe. Therefore they do not imply that God does not exist. Certainly problems occur if existing religious scriptures are interpreted too literally. It is the belief of this author that the scriptures contain truths in a symbolic language. How else could ancient seers write it for a public that had no understanding of Genetic language? Thus when a day is mentioned with reference to God it cannot be equal to a human day but more realistically specifies a day in a cosmic cycle that can span billions of years. In fact such a definition of a day does exist for God in a well-known ancient eastern scripture on earth (The Bhagavad-Gita). Further when it is described that Eve was created from a portion of Adam that makes eminent genetic sense. A female may be created from a male and not vice versa because the male genome carries the codes for both males and females whereas the female only carries the genetic code for females. The apple of the Garden of Eden is sexual desire and the tower of Babel the human ego that divides and creates differences in human communities.

Some believe that even the simplest of creatures i.e. the single celled bacterium, necessary to initiate the creation of life, is far too complex too have emerged by chance from a broth of elements. Indeed if one were to scientifically calculate the probability of such an event happening, then, the odds of that would be next to impossible. Therefore, it does seem that the first creation of life, the bacterium is a creation of God and that its further development into multifarious life forms is also closely supervised by divine will. However, the precise role and interaction, the spiritual component has in directing evolution cannot be a matter of enquiry here in an evolutionary model that deals with the material or physical side of life.

Keep clicking the link for newer posts on bottom left to read the full story of  creation of life

4 comments:

keiko amano said...

Ashok,

“Planets around other stars are too small to be seen even with telescopes, but how incredibly narrow minded such a view must have been – a view that only that which can be seen can exist.”

It’s so obvious, yet so true at so many levels, not only about the truths to so-called “the discovery of Americas” but also tiny discoveries in our daily life.

ashok said...

Very well said Keiko.

Martin Olson said...

Nice writing, Dr, Ashok!

Ashok said...

Thanks Martin. Did you have the patience to read through it all ?