05 March, 2011

The Life Factory

(Natural Selection before Life?)

Perhaps surprisingly, scientists have finally returned to Miller’s famous experiment concerning the Origin of Life on Earth, but with the purpose of going beyond the limited achievements of that effort so many years ago (1952). In an article in New Scientist (2797) by Katherine Sanderson the ideas of Lee Cronin of the University of Glasgow were presented, which put forward a new slant on that experiment. Along with the rest of the NASA-led sheep, he is persuaded that Life did NOT originate in such circumstances as were the basis for Miller’s Experiment, but in much more surprising places, such as the “black smokers” at the bottom of the oceans, or even at one of the many other unlikely places (that could even be found elsewhere in the Solar System, and even more distantly in the Universe, and hence justify the funding that NASA needs “to investigate”)

Now Cronin’s other new point is that there must have been a whole series of developments in the chemistry involved (in our case organic chemistry, but not necessarily there in other parts of the Universe) prior to Life. And in this he is certainly correct!

Of course, the actual mechanism for selection and development, or even “evolution” in these non-living things could not be Darwin’s Natural Selection, for the processes involved in that are predicated upon Life already being in existence, and upon competition between living organisms.
So some very different form of selection and consequent development must have occurred based upon an entirely different mechanism, to take the “organic broth”, to a position in which all the necessary processes, which would later be included into Life itself were made available.
NOTE: BUT both he, and almost all others investigating this field, assumes that Life was the direct result of the presence of such processes, which almost automatically shifted over into this New Form. But this is NOT the only conception of what actually happened. Indeed the main alternative has Life emerging out of a precipitated catastrophe of dissolution of a prior stability.

So taking his conception of pre-Life selection AND his idea of a direct precipitation of Life, he believes that he has a way of investigating such pre-Life developments. AND, significantly, that they could happen anywhere, and NOT just on Earth. [It begins to sound even more conducive to NASA’s conceptions, does it not?]

Cronin et al do indeed recognise an unavoidable pre-Life development period, in which, long before we could call it Life, there were processes “competing” for the same resources, and thus producing a strong selective effect on a sufficiently initially diverse mix of processes to lead to the dominance of certain sequences of systems of processes. Indeed, though his method is to establish such processes as generally available by experiment with his Polyoxometalates, the idea has already been developed theoretically by this author (J. Schofield) in Organic Chemistry in his paper Truly Natural Selection (2009), and published the following year in SHAPE Journal on the Internet. But Cronin’s experiment expects what he calls autonomous developments to occur right there in his apparatus, and considers that the only extras required to take things to significant levels, will be the external adjustments to various available parameters, and this is, I’m afraid, doomed to failure.

This is because he assumes a continuous, incremental series of steps travelling uninterruptedly through to Life itself, and that is never how such things actually develop. Such revolutionary New Levels never appear surreptitiously and automatically, but ONLY via what are generally termed Revolutions, or more technically as Emergences.

Now such Events do indeed happen throughout the history of Reality, and they always the absolute opposite of continuous and incremental changes into the New. On the contrary, they are invariably initiated by a wholesale collapse of the till-then established Stability, as the Second Law of Thermodynamics types of dissociative processes grow at an increasing rate, until they pass a crucial threshold and precipitate a cataclysmic avalanche of dissociations. This catastrophe seems to be sending things careering back towards an inevitable oblivion.
But it doesn’t do that!

Research into such Events has shown that ONLY via such an almost total dismantling of the prior stability can the available processes begin to rapidly form new systems unhindered by the strong forces of stability, which actually allowed the prior Level’s continuing stability. Only when those conservative processes are finally gone, could the actual possibilities of unhindered competition begin to form systems, which could ultimately be resolved into a single dominant system being finally established as the new Level. Life was no automatic transformation, but a successful Revolution, made possible by a prior, and almost total, collapse, of the preceding stability. Only when the old Level is dead could constructive (opposite to the Second Law) developments actually succeed.

Without any idea of the trajectories within an Emergence, NO experiment could ever be conceived of (never mind constructed) to facilitate these necessary Events. Cronin will produce only a confirmation that selection is possible, but the whole dynamic essential for a revolutionary overturn will NOT be present, and as with Miller’s magnificent attempt, it will not lead to real gains on the Origin of Life ON EARTH!

NOTE: This author’s (J. Schofield) design for a new Miller’s Experiment is already available via the SHAPE Journal’s Blog on the Internet.

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