When Thoughts go… Insights come
Those insights came to me when talking with my close friends while adoring the blueness of sky… living life.
Search and Research
Obviously, as the words say, there is a difference between re‑searching and searching, in purpose and meaningfulness of either or the lack of them. One could argue: Re‑search, as the word suggests, is turning over, regurgitating, already known, and accepted facts. Genuine progress is only achieved when one searches, in new fields, when one delves into the unknown.
Generally, this is not overly important to me, I don’t support progress in science and technology. In view of human evolution I believe, we are already far too far ahead of what we can cope with.
In the early days of humanity, there were hunters and gatherers. The first went out into the land and brought things into the cave, indiscriminately, while the latter sorted them out and stored them. Both had a function. Today, many have lost the sense for sorting and keeping. We live in a throw-away society, things stay with us not long enough to find value, which comes from relationship.
Later, this image arose in my mind again, and I spun it further. Yes, many try to squeeze the last drop out of available knowledge through iteratively reshuffling it, and accidentally stumbling across something meaningful.
There are some who systematically arrange components of knowledge into two-dimensional pattern, and thus find definable vacant territories. Only a few enter into the third dimension and deduce new results. Only one in a century would build an Eiffel Tower, alas, still based on available knowledge.
Moreover, there are hunters who go out there just for the sake of being out there and mindlessly snatch anything they can grab hold off and leave it to the gatherers to discover its usefulness.
There are a few who see the potential of things, but cannot express it, and there is one in a century who recognises the value of his finding. If he could talk, he would be the one who truly brings about change.
The Purpose of Life
Not again, I hear you gasp. I promise you my approach in this essay is not from the usual angle. I would like to refer to life per-se, life as something just wiggling around, and not the typical existentialistic philosophical elaborations. Sure, I could have phrased the title differently. For example: ‘Why does Life exist?’ or ‘Why does the World need Life?’ or ‘What consequences has the existence of Life on the Universe?
Really, planets are quite okay by themselves, and the rest of the universe does not seem to be concerned at all about the existence of life. In fact, incredibly inconsequential life is in this kind of aspect and proportion.
On the other hand, one may ask whether planets need some organisms to dig up and turn over their crust? There seem to be many planets out there with no evidence of life where erosion does a good enough job. Alternatively, maybe, our myopic condition prevents us from seeing it.
Someone said: “Go out and multiply.” Has anyone asked back: “Why?” I am not complaining and freely admit the fun attached to practising, but still. Therefore, just because someone said it, why does everyone and everything hurry out and comply?
Admittedly, I have no answer.
…comment five years later: “I think I have.”
What is Life?
Wikipedia defines: “Life is a characteristic, distinguishing objects with self-sustaining biological processes from those who have not.” And there are more, saying almost the same: “…it is a characteristic some things have and dead things have not.” I have found none actually spelling out what this one ‘characteristic’ entails.
Nobel laureate Erwin Schrödinger writes: “From Delbrück’s general picture of the hereditary substance it emerges: living matter… is likely to involve ‘other laws of physics’ hitherto unknown.”
In other words: He does not know. He continues explaining what actions livings things perform, not in biological terms but in those of physics, entropy, the second law of thermodynamics and more terms of physics. For sure, it sounds intelligent, especially when one talks to people in the field of biology who are not fluent in physics, generally.
Others talk about living things in regards to reproduction and metabolic transformation. Again, no one actually says what life is.
Here is a small selection of a few who attempt to make statements about what life is:
- Brig Klyce says on his web page, “Life is a Cell.”
- “Life is nothing but an electron looking for a place to rest” (cute and romantic) – Albert Szent-Gyorgi, an American University Professor.
Sounds unusual, but I like it because it encourages me to tell you my idea, which you may consider unusual, as well. Moreover, in the context and purpose this writing I would like to keep it simple: “Life is wriggling for some purpose, even if the only reason is to move to another place because there is food or a better condition for wriggling.”
Terry’s Big Bang
For Terry, the Big Bang is the only plausible way explaining the start of it all. There is no opening for discussion or any lenience for compromises. He is adamant. He refuses to call it a theory, but fact. All other explanations he discards as ridiculous, they are illogical.
I asked: “What was before the Big Bang?” This irritated him, momentarily only, and he offered an idea. Unfortunately, I cannot recall it, because I liked my question very much and had been too occupied constructing a theory of my own.
Accepting the Big Bang for the time of discussion, and continuing in this vein, I suggested, maybe after the universe has expanded for some time it might slow down and, eventually, come to a standstill.
Then the outward movement would reverse, and the universe would collapse. Like a stone, thrown up in the air. Under the force of gravity, it would gradually slow down and returns to the ground.
Eventually, this collapse would accelerate. The speed of matter would be very high. At some stage of the convergence, all the matter would hit each other with such tremendous vehemence, it would disperse again. Like the above‑mentioned stone, when it hits a muddy puddle it would splash copious amounts of mud.
For the new world, who does not know anything from before, it would look like the beginning of everything, just like a Big Bang. This suggestion would explain, why the Big Bang occurred as well as what happened before it happened. There is a minuscule flaw in my idea, however, because the Big Bang is not the focus of this writing I would like to let it rest, here.
My point is: Nowhere in the colossal scheme of gigantic events, neither life nor its ramifications are of any consequence. In my writing: “Insignificance Matters” I present a more romantic view of the importance of life.
For a moment, in order to prepare the ground for my thoughts on life as it is, I take the liberty to digress for a brief moment.
A Perfect Sphere
Often, I wondered why the surface of the Earth is not smooth, or at least not much smoother than it is. Why are there high mountains and deep valleys, especially in the oceans? There are volcanic eruptions and tectonic plates. Why?
About four and a half billion years ago, shortly after a blob of lava had been protuberated (spat out) by the sun (why?), Earth was a piece of molten material. When it cooled down and solidified, and with the support of gravity and rotation, it should have obtained the shape of a perfect sphere.
Due to its rotation and centrifugal forces, our planet is a bit fat around its girth, I accept this. But ruggedness with the highest mountains (Mount Everest of 8848m) and abyssal plains in the oceans with depths around 6,000m and hadal zones, reaching down (as far as we know) to 11,000m? I reckon this is all a bit too much.
Roughly, this means 9km up and 11km down, a difference of 20km. Relating this variation to the Earth’s diameter of 12,742km, it would be an unevenness of 0.16% only, but still, to me, the Earth appears much more rugged than this. For my later elaborations, it does not matter, the unevenness is significant enough to cause the effect I am going to describe, in a short while.
Many billions of years into the future, the core of Earth will have cooled and solidified, putting an end to tectonic plate shifts and volcanic eruptions. Then erosion can work undisturbed and soon all the mountains will be flattened and the oceans were filled with the rubble, and the surface of the Earth will be more or less smooth; the way I expected it to be, from the start.
When the oceans will be filled with mountains and stuff, where would the water go? Today, there is about 1,260,000,000 km3 of water on this planet. About 98% is collected in the oceans. It would be evenly spread all over the ground. In appendix (1), I have calculated: The layer of water on a flat Earth would be 500 m deep. No land. We would be all back in the water. Why did we ever get out of it?
The Beginning of Life
They reckon the origin of life (appendix 2) happened about 3.8 billion years ago, not even a billion years after the Earth took shape.
I don’t know what form life assumed then because the first algae appeared only about two billion years ago and first land life happened around four hundred million years ago. May this be as it is, nevertheless, how did it happen?
Terry says it’s all a coincidence, it happened by pure chance. I have my own thoughts on this. They may not be entirely convincing, initially, but as I continue unrolling my idea, it certainly will turn more and more plausible.
Let’s assume for the moment, at the time when life began, the Earth was somewhat smoother and generally covered with water, but in some places, its depth may have been only half a meter or there about.
It was not the water as we know it today, this clear transparent liquid, but more, what one could call a primordial slime, filled with all sorts of lifeless matter.
Since oxygen collected in the atmosphere only about two billion years ago, a cocktail of all kinds of exciting gases hovered as a vile stench above this slime.
Generally, the temperature was much higher, thus the humidity too, thus there were storms with lightning galore. Most of the time lightning just hit the slime surface and would evaporate a few thousand litres.
Did it happen this Way?
However, occasionally, lightning struck where the water level was only shallow. Then the water vaporised completely at this point and the slime coagulated into a cake.
This may have happened millions of times, but one day the right combination of slime content and gases were together, and when lightning hit the place, the correct temperature developed and after all commotions had subsided the cake wiggled away into the depth of the sea.
Was this life? Why did it wiggle? It wanted to go back into the water. It liked it more, there and it felt at home and safe.
There it may have rested not quite knowing how to occupy itself, nor respond to its surrounding. However, it continued wiggling hither and thither but more importantly: it grew.
And one day, maybe while exploring the upper levels of the sea, it got hit by lightning again, and it broke into two pieces. After this, it had a companion to talk to. After this, there was no stopping.
Dividing was fun because you had more and more friends to play with. In addition, they discovered how to multiply. And they all lived in abundance.
Unfortunately, nothing is permanent. Our German poet Schiller says it in his poem Der Ring des Polykrates “… denn des Glückes ew’ge Freude ward keinem Irdischen zuteil. … because luck’s eternal joy was given to no earthly being.” This was the prerogative of the gods.
What went wrong?
Population increased and occasionally, there was a lack of food or not enough space at the places of most comfort. Fighting for food started and subsequently it was important how fit one was, how skilled one was in hurting others. There was killing amongst the same species for the survival.
There were strong and weak ones, some who had plenty and others who had not. Fear of dying from starvation or being killed was the probably the first unpleasant emotion. Power and greed were the first motivations to cause separation.
To avoid being killed the weaker had to flee, migrate, away from the environment they had evolved into, to places further down where living was harsh, but at least they were not persecuted by the powerful.
Many died from those unfavourable conditions, but some adapted to the new surround and survived. “What does not kill us makes us stronger.”
For a long time, mere survival was their only concern. However, eventually, there was time to muse, and there were stories remembered about a place where life was easy and frolicsome. Thus, inevitably, one day some young ones gathered and dared to venture back to find this place of lore.
When they arrived there, they found, others were living there who tried to protect their habitat, but the boisterous young ones realised, they were stronger. There was war. There were hate and mass killing. It was of no consequence who won.
These basic primaeval emotions and instincts, greed, striving for power and the arrogance to satisfy them by any available means are present in all living things on this planet, and they all abide by them, compulsively.
Ever since it went on like this for more or less three and a half billion years.
Human Beings arrived
About three and a half million years ago the first upright walking human‑like creatures appeared, for some unexplained reason. Only two hundred thousand years ago, the first Homo sapiens were found in Africa only two hundred thousand years ago.
After some time, changes to primaeval behaviours occurred. Interesting, sure. My essential question is: “Did these humanoids display any changes in those primitive behaviours?” And further to this: “When did the first being obtain enough consciousness to realise, they could choose not to follow these aggressive compulsions?”
During most of those two hundred thousand years, this I-consciousness may have risen sporadically but only three hundred fifty years ago, early in the period of Rationalism, we find evidence, when in 1637, René Descartes, known as the father of modern philosophy, formulated his famous argument “Cogito, ergo sum” “I think; therefore I am”.
About one hundred years later, completing the time of Rationalism, Immanuel Kant, the most influential thinker of modern times, described morality and virtues. They are the standards a person should subscribe to in every action. They were the moral foundation of Western civilisation.
Kant postulated the idea of perpetual peace made possible through a world federation of socialistic republics, through which he was setting out the framework for Marxism.
During the times following, Romanticism proclaimed with Jean-Jacques Rousseau(“I feel before I think.”) :
“Standing for a natural form of morality lifts the spirited human being above the animal.”
Where can we find this kind of thinking in today’s world where consumerism, waste, and greed are promoted? Where have these ideas gone, when have we lost them? When I talk this way today, people give me the evil eye!
It went wrong
I guess, the crux of the matter was (and still is) the fact, there were places on Earth with plenty of food and others with less, places where living conditions were ideal and others where were less favourable, even hostile. The reasons why a site was more valuable and desirable. Beings turned territorial.
What caused this? Here we go: Because the Earth was not smooth. There were shallow waters where life was good and deep chasms where life could hardly survive.
If Earth would have been smooth and the water level constant, living conditions would have been the same everywhere. With no ‘more‑or‑less’ conditions, no ‘having‑and‑not‑having’ would have developed.
We would look different because we would not have come from a piece of scorched primordial cake, since water would have been 500 m deep, everywhere. If life were meant to be, it would have found its way in.
I am sure there is more than one way to condense some matter densely enough to make it wiggle.
Therefore, maybe, we should start all over again, once the Earth is smooth. Then there would be no desperate predispositions of greed, hate, and thirst for power.
Maybe then, eventually, the thoughts (proclaimed in the late eighteenth century, when practical rationalism triggering the French Revolution): liberty, fraternity, equality, solidarity will have a chance to be a common desire, and we will end up with a world in peace.
Why is Earth not Ideal?
Since a smooth Earth surface is inevitably obvious for the peace in the world, why is it not? Why is the Earth this rugged?
If you cook a pudding, as soon as it settles it forms a skin, although it is still molten and hot below, there are no higher or lower parts, there are no shifting tectonic plates, nor any volcanic eruptions. Unless someone stirs the pudding; but why would anyone do such a thing? (appendix 3)
Who could have an interest in, who would benefit from disharmony on Earth?
8 September 2010
Please refer to my writing called “Insignificance that Matters” where I present a more romantic view of the importance of life.
Depth of water layer once the Earth is smoothed
On Earth, there is something like 1,260,000,000,000,000,000,000 litres of water. 98% of the water is collected in the oceans, and the average depth of the ocean is about 1,000 m.
Water on this planet 1,260,000,000 km3…converted
(based on average diameter of 12,742 km) 1,083,207,000,000 km3 …calculated
Earth plus water volume 1,084,487,000,000 km3
Earth plus water diameter 12,743 km, meaning, if Earth is covered completely with water its depth would be (12,743 – 12,742 km)/2= 500 m
Timeline of Evolution of Life
Above is a short version of a timeline of the Evolution of Life. There is a more explicit and detailed version on this blog. Click here to get there.
Please refer to my essay on Like in a Laboratory
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