Keywords: exobiology, astrobiology, cosmology, life in the Universe, entropy and life, physical constants
As with all the web pages on the Living Cosmos web site, this web page is a fully referenced work, and is only a portion of the factual, empirical support for the ideas presented. However, these references are not included on this web page, but are included in the book, The Vital Vastness. This book is now published with the full scope and references, and is available for purchase. An attempt will be made to address queries, but not all queries can be answered. Excerpts are presented here as indented paragraphs, and those lines appearing with quotes are from some of the cited references.
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There is much more on this topic in The Vital Vastness. In fact, the central theme is that much more is alive in the Universe than we have imagined, and life is essential to the stability and dynamics of the cosmos, and our planet Earth. Moreover, life is a dominant force and is an inevitable outcome of the laws of physics (e.g., the physical constants). Here is only a very small portion of the various discussions in the book.
Entropy and Life
In Tome Two of The Vital Vastness -- Volume One we find this discussion.
"Entropy is the scientific term used to describe the amount of randomness or disorder in processes and systems. In the physical sciences the concept is central to the descriptions of heat-transfer properties, or the thermodynamics of molecules, heat engines, and the Universe as a whole. Also known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, entropy implies that all processes operate at less than 100% efficiency when energy is transferred or utilized. In the classical sense, entropy is a measure of that portion of energy unable to produce useful work (or the unavailable energy).
Another aspect of entropy is an object's or system's tendency to move toward greater disorder, decay or chaos as time passes. For example, a house will eventually fall to pieces if not maintained. Along the "arrow of time" this process is said to be irreversible. That is, the house will not spontaneously reassemble itself.
Statistical thermodynamics states that entropy is a measure of microscopic disorder or the uncertainty associated with the microscopic state. In information theory it is a measure of uncertainty or lack of information. In short, entropy states that no process in Nature involving chemistry or physics will occur spontaneously without some loss of energy and order. However, many facts call these assumptions into question as a universally applicable law, especially with regard to biological systems.
After discussing some of the findings reported in the literature, the discussion continues.
Two recent attempts, dissipative structures and information theory, have also been inadequate. Life as dissipative structures tries to explain the increase in order of life by increasing entropy in the environment. By releasing mass and energy into the environment dissipative structures have the capacity for self-organization. Entropy is locally circumvented for an increase globally.
Meanwhile, dissipative structures can evolve in two directions: least or highest entropy. It does not explain why genetic systems should produce more order, just that it is possible. Much discloses that this dissipative-structure approach is not capable of explaining the order. For one, life and the environment have evolved in a mutually reinforcing way that has brought stability to both (Gaia Hypothesis). Earlier in this chapter we witnessed how life reduces entropy in its surroundings, not the opposite. The presence of life produces more balanced and stable soils, which produces more nutritious and healthy foods. This in turn lessens mental and physical diseases and disorders, including social disorder and antisocial behavior. There is a more balanced environment with life, which was examined in terms of air ions, ecosystems and even the stability of the Earth's magnetic field and electrical environment. The chapters which follow show that life produces even more stability, which can even be observed in human history and the Universe as a whole. Aside from our lack of information on human participation (and the Uncertainty Principle, and EPR Paradox), a scientist comments on our lack of knowledge: "We do not know nearly enough about organisms as chemical systems to be able to tell whether their functioning as dissipative structures has anything to do with the creation or even maintenance of inherited order."
Information theory or communication theory has been applied to explain the order in biological systems, but also fails. Information theory is a branch of probability theory that has been provided to measure the flow of information from an information source to a destination. In the evolution of biological order the gene is said to be the source of information, which through mutation and natural selection produces new species, which is the destination. A scientist comments on its failure: "Communications theory allows us to make qualitative and (in principle) quantitative measurements of biological order, but it cannot explain the origin of the order it measures."
Changes in the environment could more easily produce disorder in the information (genetic heredity), yet we find increasing order. Consider a photocopy being copied, and then the copy being copied, and so on, being continually recopied. Surely its information becomes less and less clear with each copy. A certain sequence of cards that is ordered and shuffled will certainly more likely become disordered than more ordered. Yet, evidence discloses that genes are shuffled and always lead to more order. The reason is clear: "Living beings prevail at a number of levels of organization above the molecular one. The existence and the reproduction of these levels imply a state of improbability, a kind of 'information' which cannot be dealt with by the current theory of information."
Evolutionary history conflicts with the Second Law in a number of ways. The number of species, structural complexity, diversity of species, and acceleration of energy flow have all increased with time. The increase in complexity is measured in informational, structural, energetic, and flow component terms. Diversity or more species (heterogeneity) creates stability. Conversely, simplicity or less species (homogeneity) can be lethal. At the microscopic level many interactions are essential to the stability of complex organic molecules that depend on the more complex (noncovalent) chemical bonds. Cooperative (symmetrical) interaction is essential for coevolution, which is abundantly displayed in the fossil record."
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The Universe is Alive
In Tome Four of The Vital Vastness -- Volume Two, we find this discussion:
"The Universe is fundamentally biological. Even the Urey-Miller experiment that simulated the theorized early pre-life conditions on Earth, and produced amino acids, suggests this. The ammonia used was obtained by a process involving hydrogen of bio-origin, and the methane was also biological in origin. Non-biological catalysts would be poisoned almost instantaneously by sulfur gases under pre-life conditions. What this means is that most of the material in interstellar grains must be organic or life itself would have been impossible. The spectrum for all grains along the line of sight from the galactic center to the Earth is very much like that of dry bacteria. Either the grains are bacteria or are organic grains in proportions like bacteria (amino acids, nucleic acids, lipids and polysaccharides). Therefore, both theoretically and observationally, organic constituents fit the observations.
Organic materials or bacteria would easily align in magnetic fields, and could produce superconducting surfaces that would generate filaments. Organic materials or bacteria could more easily produce the variety of objects in the Universe than inorganic or non-biological materials. As with so much of its constituents, the Universe itself is fundamentally biological. In fact, so much is this the case that life constitutes a physical law; it had to arise, it was an inevitable result of the laws of physics as they exist. The difficulty with accepting such a perspective in scientific circles is described:
"If this were an entirely scientific matter, there is little doubt from the evidence that the case for a fundamentally biological universe would be regarded as substantially proven. The reason why the scientific community passionately resists this conclusion is that biological systems are teleological, which is to say purposeful. And if we admit the Universe to be inhabited by a vast number of purposeful components then the thought cannot be far away that perhaps the Universe itself might be purposive, a conclusion that not only stands astronomy immediately on its head, by making a large fraction of our efforts futile, but which offends the tenets on which modern science presents itself to the public. It is here where the biggest issue ultimately for science may lie."
Bacterial membranes act as one-way systems with respect to electric charges and chemical flow. Some bacteria contain an ordered (ferromagnetic) domain that enables orientation in a external magnetic field (see sections 1.5 and 2.2). Wavelength dependence of polarization produced by alignment with the magnetic field agree "excellently" with the data curve of iron-bacteria. This also evokes the idea of primordial magnetic fields, which in turn suggests the idea that the Universe itself is teleological."
What is often overlooked is that the objects in the Universe, as well as the Universe as a whole, have life-like characteristics, but the mind-set and language used to describe the phenomena prevent that realization.
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The Semantics of the Current Mind-Set
"When it comes to the order we observe it should make us think more philosophically about why. Einstein's equations can just as easily describe emptiness, as well as galaxies and quasars. Mass and energy are evenly distributed, as occurs with the microwave radiation in the Universe, which varies no more than a few parts in 50,000. Why is there anything in the Universe at all? Why should widely separated regions of the Universe be so similar when there are so many ways to be different?
In extragalactic astronomy, part of the problem concerns the fact that it is an observationally dominated science, and therefore, tends to be descriptive rather than quantitative. This "orderliness" of the Universe has been repeatedly commented upon, and the following quotes will serve only as examples which reflect the current mind-set's contrast.
"Contemporary science when interpreting the existing reality does not like to ask the question 'why,' and it has completely dropped the question 'what for' from its vocabulary. The Anthropic Principle in cosmology has again focused our attention on the question 'what for.' I think we should not be ashamed of the return to that old question, which seemed so old fashioned for a long time. What was pure philosophy is now science."
"It is clear that I espouse here that Baconian principle of induction of general laws from a body of facts. It would seem obviously that if a scientist only reasons deductively from known laws then he or she can never do more than recover those laws, and will never discover anything fundamentally new."
"Indeed, if the history of science is any guide, theory and observations have never exactly been in phase."
"Cosmology has always been -- and will by definition always remain -- a borderland between science and philosophy -- some would say a religion."
After more than three centuries of Newtonian gravitational theory, built into even our observational perspectives and relativity theory, our observations will yield only gravitational descriptions of the observed phenomena. The heart of the dilemma of today's theoretical panorama emerges from such a mind-set. The problem is that we see what we have been taught to see, but is it really reality?
The expansion of the Universe's radius occurs at a constant rate known as Hubble's Constant. Evidence also shows that the Earth has expanded at the same constant. When "expand" or "expansion" are used it is merely a philosophical perspective, because grow or growth could explain the observations just as well. In fact, one can find these words are synonyms in any thesaurus.
The formation of very bright (ultraluminous infrared) galaxies involves the interaction or merger -- a symbiosis or consuming -- of two molecular gas-rich spiral galaxies. The funneling of molecular clouds toward a merger nucleus accounts for nuclear starburst and provides fuel -- food -- in the form of gas and stellar remnants. A possible evolutionary connection between these galaxies and quasars is that consuming the dust causes it to evolve into a quasar. Conversely, the dust could be ejected by the quasar as part of the evolution towards forming a galaxy. Furthermore, the dust could very well be organic grains or even bacteria. Again, all of the terms commonly used could be replaced with words that give the Universe a more life-like character.
Observations of quasars and these galaxies suggest that the majority of quasars are formed through galaxies consuming each other, or as usually described, by collisions or coalescence. Again, the use of certain words is a matter of semantics, emerging from a philosophical perspective. Consuming or eating (even cannibalism) are biological terms, and therefore, their use is discouraged. The other possibility is that they are ejected or given birth, if you will, as discussed. Large galaxies are believed to consume smaller galaxies and then grow in size. Likewise, twin or double stars can lead to the larger stars consuming smaller stars. Stellar evolution is the predominant mass loss mechanism for the smaller nuclei, while collisions dominate the larger nuclei. One could describe this as the smaller stars or nuclei growing, while the larger stars or nuclei are reproducing or consuming other stars or galaxies. One could say that the Universe is a continually fruitful, huge buffet.
All quasars begin in the ultraluminous infrared galaxy phase. Blazars and Seyfert I's could also arise as the final product of this evolution. Ontogeny, the development of an individual organism, could also be just as descriptive. Moreover, in the evolution of the biological world the development of an individual organism is said to show its evolutionary stages (ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny).
Double nuclei and multinuclei galaxies confirm that the Universe goes from a dense condition to a rarefied one, and is again like life. Some galaxies (i.e., Markarians, etc.) have similar brightness, and about the same strong emission line nuclei or knots in a common envelope. Approximately one hundred multinuclei galaxies have been noted that are not the result of the interaction or merger of two independent galaxies. Close-by galaxies with a single nucleus may have originated from multinuclei galaxies. One astrophysicist notes their life-like character, because they "are formed from a single maternal body, as a result of its divisions, in analogy to what takes place in the biological cell." It is rare to find a scientist who is willing to use biological terms when describing anything outside of the Earth's biosphere.
The galaxy Arp 220 shines brighter than 100 Milky Ways in the infrared. Two closely spaced sources of intense radiation buried deep within the galaxy's core are present. Astronomers have found that four out of ten known ultraluminous galaxies have what appear to be close pairs of nuclei. Evidence suggests that this arrangement occurs in all ten. Such an observation has suggested to some astronomers that it is in the late stages of a galaxy merger, or in other words, the consuming of one galaxy by another. Other interpretations are that they are ejecting matter or splitting into two galaxies, analogous to a biological cell, giving birth to new galaxies."
There is much more that is life-like, but the current mind-set in science often prevents this understanding from being reached.
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In the Conclusions of The Vital Vastness -- Volume Two: The Living Cosmos we find this discussion:
"The basic features of galaxies, stars, planets and the everyday world are essentially determined by a few physical constants. Several aspects of our Universe, which seem to be requirements for the existence of life, depend rather delicately on what appear to be "coincidences" among the physical constants. But, are they really coincidences?
Interesting relationships exist between the different scales. For example, the dimensions of a planet are the geometric mean of the size of the Universe and the size of an atom. The mass of a human is the geometric mean of the mass of a planet and the mass of a proton. Relationships such as these might be considered coincidences if one did not acknowledge that they can be deduced from known physical laws. The possibility of life as we know it emerging in the Universe depends on the values of a few basic physical constants that are remarkably sensitive to mathematical values.
The same set of laws give rise to simple crystals, as well as permit systems as complex and intricate as living organisms. It is easy to envision a Universe with objects such as stars and planets. However, to extend the laws to include complex structures, such as polymers and DNA, requires an exceptionally fine tuned set of laws.
Moreover, the evidence indicates that the variety and complexity of the real world is even more extraordinary with a hierarchy of living things. Life permeates all of space, it is built into the very substance of the Universe, and has even brought about its own self-consciousness: we humans. Yet, we have done little, in the scientific realm, to ask one question: Why? And the reason is that most scientists are afraid to admit that the Universe is purposeful and fundamentally biological. A scientist comments on the mind-set involved:
"Every advance in fundamental physics seems to uncover yet another facet of order. A professional scientist is so immersed in unraveling the laws of Nature that he forgets how remarkable it is that there are laws in the first place. Because science presupposes rational laws, the scientist rarely stops to think about why these laws exist."
Consider some of these laws and what they mean to life. If electromagnetism did not exist then there would be no atoms, no chemistry, no life, and no heat and light from the Sun. If there were no strong force then nuclei would not have formed, and therefore, nothing would be. Likewise, if the weak force and gravity did not exist, then you would not be reading this, nor would any form of life be here. Yet, these four very different forces (and no others), each vital to all of the complex structures that make up the Universe, are so fine tuned that they all combine to make a single superforce.
The complex structures throughout the Universe are the direct result of the balance or competition of these four forces. Where a tightly interlocking competition occurs, the structure of the system depends delicately on the strengths of these forces (i.e., the fundamental constants). If these constants differed by only a few parts in say a million trillion little, if anything, would survive, particularly life, and especially, human life. The charges of the proton and electron have been measured in experiments, and have been found to be precisely equal and opposite. If this were not so, then the charge imbalance would cause every object in the Universe to explode. The Universe would consist of an ether, something like thin gas, and nothing else.
In order for matter to remain electrically neutral the electron and proton must exactly balance in opposite charges. If the charges between the electron and the proton where to differ by as little as one part in 100 billion, everything on Earth would fly apart. Larger objects like the Earth and the Sun would require an even more precise balance of one part in a billion billion. Yet, Nature has adjusted things even better than that accuracy. If it had not, the cosmos would have been uninhabitable throughout all space and time. The fine-tuned laws of Nature are directly responsible for our, as well as everything's, existence!
The heat of the Sun keeps the Earth from rapidly cooling down to the near zero temperature of space. It is the source of all food (photosynthesis), and nearly all energy on Earth. Yet, the Sun's existence hangs by a thread.
The Sun is possible only because certain physical properties are present. The neutron outweighs the proton by a fraction of a percent. If it did not, the Sun or any other star like it would not shine for more than a mere few hundred years. The strong force is just strong enough to hold the deuteron together. However, if it were only slightly weaker, the deuteron would not be, and stars like the Sun could not generate nuclear energy. Conversely, had the strong force been slightly stronger the generation of energy would be violently unstable.
These precise properties bring about the Sun, and the temperature of the Sun matches the absorptive properties of chlorophyll. If this were not so, then no chemical reaction capable of utilizing the Sun's energy would exist, making life impossible. All of these conditions balance perfectly, and make life possible.
If gravity's force were to differ from what it is by only one part in 1040, stars like our Sun would not form. If it differed by only one part, there would only be giant stars. Such giant stars would very likely not support life.
If a certain energy level in the oxygen nucleus (how fast the nucleus vibrates) were 0.5% higher than it is, life could not exist. That is, all the carbon produced in a star would burn immediately to oxygen. Thereby, no carbon would be left to make living things.
Likewise, water would not be. Moreover, water has properties that are strikingly unusual and not found in any other liquid. These characteristics make it indispensable to every living creature science calls living.
The properties of water are miraculous. Water is extremely adept at dissolving and transporting substances. It is essential to the ultimate source of all food on Earth, photosynthesis, making it the primary source of oxygen in the atmosphere. Water's ability to retain great amounts of heat while only undergoing slight changes in temperature (i.e., high specific heat) keeps the climate at a level comfortable for life. Its peculiar ability to expand upon freezing is what prevents most of it from permanently freezing solid. Water is the best solvent and has the largest dipole moment of any commonly occurring molecule as well, making it ideal for biological reactions. Yet, had the constants not been so fine tuned, water could not exist.
One constant, omega, defies present physical theory. Omega is the ratio of the average density of the Universe to the force that is needed to gravitationally contain the Universe's (Hubble) "expansion" or growth. However, observations show that as objects get larger their density drops. This particular relation and the observed cosmic density discloses an omega of 0.0002, which contradicts the Big Bang theory that says omega should be 1. If the average density drops as size increases, an average density for the whole Universe cannot be defined. In a Universe with that little matter, gravitation will be so weak that the difference between Newtonian gravity and general relativity would be of little account; yet, the difference is real.
Particle physicists suggest that dark matter must be present in order to reach a satisfying explanation that would create an omega of 1. Heavy neutrinos, axions, and WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) could provide the mass needed. Again, the problem is that there is no real evidence that these particles actually exist. They are simply derived from imagination and mathematical formulas. For the Universe to exist under the tenets of the Big Bang as it is normally envisioned, then omega had to be 1 and dark matter is required.
Such fine tuning is hard to imagine within the context of the early universe. Science generally refers to this enigma as "the problem of prearrangement." How could these limits have "known" to adjust themselves so precisely that when everything settled the cosmological constant would turn out to be virtually zero? This is a question science is now asking, but with hesitation and hypothetical theorems. The answer may be what are called wormholes, which are connections between two large and otherwise smooth regions of space-time. The Unified Field is a wormhole, but unlike present assumptions they are not only microscopic (the mathematics even indicate that large visible wormholes could form). The small value of the cosmological constant is telling us that a remarkably precise and totally unexpected relationship exists, and also unknown physics.
Life requires chemical elements heavier than hydrogen and helium -- biochemistry requires such heavier elements. Likewise, hydrogen and helium are not capable of forming solids and liquids at physiological temperatures. Stars synthesize these heavier, crucial elements.
For a long time it was known that there is a barrier in the way of these reactions, and no one knew how Nature found its way around that barrier. Finally, it was discovered that these reactions occur because there are two separate resonances between nuclei in red giant stars. Were it not for this double correspondence, the cosmos would consist solely of hydrogen and helium making life impossible. Likewise, resonances between helium, beryllium and carbon were discovered because we knew we were here and so they had to match, though the original data did not reveal the resonance.
The Earth can be thought of as a niche in the Solar System, a niche in the Milky Way -- like a flower finding the right place to sprout its seeds. But, how did life find out that this planet was a proper niche? If this time is right, how did life's organization arise "now"? How did the seeds of life get here, and what are the "seeds" of life?
Energy and matter, the seeds of life, are everywhere. That is how the seeds of life got here. They have been here all along. Contemplating this fantastic Earth one might consider it an immense seed that has bore fruit. These fine tuned constants made it all possible.
The Earth abides in a region of space where the stars are not packed too densely so that there is the danger of stars colliding. Many safe regions such as this can be found throughout space. Why do such niches exist at all? If stars were more densely packed everywhere throughout the Universe, life would not exist.
The characteristic size of galaxies allows for such roominess, had the stars been greater in number the Universe would be uninhabitable. A guiding mechanism, such as a system of fields, and fine tuned constants are essential. Furthermore, the dimensions of the cosmos are very large, had it been smaller the galaxies would overlap and again the Universe would be uninhabitable. Indeed, it is a symbiotic Universe -- a Universe of, by and for life. One scientist expresses this:
"A major revolution in thought is in the offing. Whatever the explanation turns out to be for that massive series of coincidences whereby life arose in the Universe, it is not going to be simple. Each and every one of them flows from the laws of Nature, and it is to these principles themselves that our thinking must turn. Life obeys the laws of physics -- this much is a truism. What is new and incomprehensible here is that in some extraordinary way the reverse seems also to be true -- that the laws of physics conform themselves to life."
Some of us would not even marvel at the idea that these naturally occurring constants exist, and that without them the Universe would not allow for life's existence. Some are even trying to explain them away as coincidences. This mind-set shows how much of a religion science can be for some people.
Furthermore, more objects are alive in the Universe than what we have already accepted as living. The planets, Solar System, galaxies and the Universe also display characteristics that can be considered living, as well as harbor the life forms we accept as living. And then, here we are literally the self-consciousness of the Universe, and able to marvel at our own existence. We have not, however, completely accepted the purposefulness or teleological nature of the Universe. Life itself is the highest physical law!"
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Internet Resources on Astrobiology and Exobiology
This web site offers an overview of a joint NASA and ASU effort to search for life beyond Earth. Included are a definition of astrobiology, our current knowledge, and links to participating universities, and the NASA Astrobiology Institute.
The Astrobiolgy Web site offers a search query to find various subjects relating to extraterrestrial life. Other subject categories include Astrobiology, Special Stuff, Exploration, Cosmology, Space Life Science (and instrumentation), Directories, The Ultimate Astrobiology Web Search Page, Life Here and Elsewhere, and Awards and Reviews. Another web connection can found by clicking here . Be patient as these sites will not connect at times.
This NASA site provides an overview, goals, missions, definitions, the Roadmap Report and Workshop, the Mars Polar Lander Mission, NASA Astrobiology Institute, NASA Astrobiology Academy, an online tutorial, FAQs, and more. There is also NASA Astrobiology Institute.
This project's aim is to find planetary systems orbiting nearby stars and searching for life using infrared interferometry to see very faint light sources. At this site you will find information on the mission, extrasolar planets, searches, interferometers, meetings, outreach programs, the people behind the mission, what's new, and links to other sites exploring the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
This NASA site defines the Exobiology project, and offers links to the Exobiology Program, NASA, Space Science, Solar System Exploration, the Space Science Division at Ames, and other related web pages. Information is also provided for upcoming events, an Astrobiology Workshop, and the Mars mission, such as the exopaleontology -- the search for fossils -- of the Mars Pathfinder.
SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence , was first brought to light when the Voyager missions were sent to search the outer planets. The Voyagers have since continued their flight beyond the Solar System with information about we humans here on Earth. The SETI Institute is still continuing its search. At this website you will find the Project Phoenix, the SETI Institute, SETI information, educational resources, FAQs, news, how you can help, and links to other related sites, NASA sites, scientific organizations, and research related to SETI.
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Richard Michael Pasichnyk
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