Deep Time

 

Something that annoys me is when they say life must be common in the universe, because it happened on Earth so quickly. The Earth is four and a half billion years old, they remind us, and the bacteria that would later be fossilized as stromatolites were there by its 300 millionth birthday. Relatively speaking, that’s pretty darn fast! Why, as soon as the conditions are right for life, up it pops!

That is head-shakingly stupid. Abiogenesis, assuming it happened and happened here, is a chemical process. Chemical processes happen on millisecond and finer time scales. 300 million, 3 million years – they make no more difference to the chemistry than 3 minutes would.

When life arose, it arose quickly or slowly in relation to the conditions around it, at that time. All the time that has passed since then, and all the time that will ever pass forever, does not change any event in the past. Not the least little bit. The past happened, and events were quick or slow then. It’s absurd to think anything, even the passage of time, can ever change any aspect of what has happened.

So the notion that life must be everywhere because it happened once is equally absurd. I suppose it does have the attraction of aging well, however. Any thing we can attribute to the length of time since life’s appearance in the dim past will be even more remarkable tomorrow.

Thank you for reading.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    It is not science. It is speculation. Mind you, it could be easily proven or disproven by getting out to other planets and stellar systems.

    • #1
  2. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    If I understand your argument correctly, then I’m in agreement with you in one particular but generally not on the overall point you’re making. If it looks like I misunderstand you, please let me know.

    The point on which I agree is this: based on our current knowledge, and despite the view many embrace, there is no sound statistical basis for the argument that “life must be common in the universe.”

    I don’t agree that stupidity is required to think otherwise. If we assume that life is the product of a naturally occurring chemical event, then it follows that there is some probability (let’s call it p) that such an event will occur again given similar initial conditions.

    It’s natural that one would look upon the vastness of the universe in both space and time and conclude that, however unlikely was abiogenesis, surely it must have happened more than once. One needn’t be stupid for thinking that, given that, since there are very few meaningful numbers as large as the probable number of chemical reactions in the universe in any given billion years (let’s call it r), then surely the probability that life occurred elsewhere must be very high.

    But that probability, 1 – (1 – p)^r, is close to one only if p is not very small compared to 1/r. In other words, however large the number of opportunities, if the probability in any single instance is sufficiently minute, then the likelihood of a repeat occurrence remains small.

    We can make some wild estimates of the number of opportunities for chemical encounters in the visible universe. Unfortunately, we’re on more shaky ground even than that when it comes to guessing how probable abiogenesis was the first time. All we know is that it happened once, and that gives us no basis for an estimate of probability.

    That’s counter-intuitive even to people who understand large numbers.

    If we thought that the universe would go on forever, that it had some kind of steady state quality, then we could reasonably assert that life will recur: however small p gets, (1-p) raised to infinity is going to approach zero, and so the probability of life will approach unity.

    But there’s little reason to believe that the universe — the bit we can see, at any rate — will remain entropically interesting forever. We expect heat death, and with it a practical limit to r.

    And so we have no basis for optimism or pessimism regarding life in the universe, and won’t have until we learn more.

    • #2
  3. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    If I understand your argument correctly, then I’m in agreement with you in one particular but generally not on the overall point you’re making. If it looks like I misunderstand you, please let me know.

    I think you get it. My point is that it is stupid to think that abiogenesis is common because it happened a very long time ago, and that the longer ago it happened the more likely it is to have happened elsewhere.

    • #3
  4. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    We have a lot of excellent engineers today working with not so excellent scientists.

    • #4
  5. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    If I understand your argument correctly, then I’m in agreement with you in one particular but generally not on the overall point you’re making. If it looks like I misunderstand you, please let me know.

    I think you get it. My point is that it is stupid to think that abiogenesis is common because it happened a very long time ago, and that the longer ago it happened the more likely it is to have happened elsewhere.

    Yes, I agree that that is a mistaken perspective. I just think it’s an intuitively natural perspective, in that it’s natural for very large sample spaces to make the probability of any possible outcome to seem likely. It’s simply an unfounded assumption when the probability is truly unknown and the sample space is finite.

    Of course, if it had happened twice a long time ago, it would be reasonable to suspect that it has probably happened many times since then (all other things being roughly equal).

     

    • #5
  6. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Relatedly?

    • #6
  7. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    I think that the creation of eukaryotes was the big unlikely step. Two lifeforms merging. A Great Filter indeed. 

    The Great Silence is real, though. 

    • #7
  8. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    We have a lot of excellent engineers today working with not so excellent scientists.

    I guess this happens because the engineers begin real productive work when they finish formal education and the scientists pretty much continue to live off the taxpayer funding provided the universities and some non-profits.

    I’m not against research funding for advanced efforts at universities but the funding source should not be federal income taxes, or as we can see today federal borrowing. There’s plenty of funding available from private sources.  I was going to use Elon Musk as an example but he is deep into both sides of this issue.

    • #8
  9. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    We have a lot of excellent engineers today working with not so excellent scientists.

    I guess this happens because the engineers begin real productive work when they finish formal education and the scientists pretty much continue to live off the taxpayer funding provided the universities and some non-profits.

    I’m not against research funding for advanced efforts at universities but the funding source should not be federal income taxes, or as we can see today federal borrowing. There’s plenty of funding available from private sources. I was going to use Elon Musk as an example but he is deep into both sides of this issue.

    Michael Crichton had the best proposal — fund opposing research — for example, on “climate science.” I don’t think we’re getting government out of funding research anymore than we’re getting money out of politics. 

    • #9
  10. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Relatedly?

    Aliens–Martians–the topic never moves forward. I hate all of it. I never pay attention to any of it. Rep.  Burchett of Tennessee is finally looking into where all of the extra-planetary alien research money is going. 

    • #10
  11. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Relatedly?

    Aliens–Martians–the topic never moves forward. I hate all of it. I never pay attention to any of it. Rep. Burchett of Tennessee is finally looking into where all of the extra-planetary alien research money is going.

    My astrophysicist family member likes to ask — why do all the images from our (supposedly advanced military) aircraft look like Tic Tacs? We can’t get better resolution??

    • #11
  12. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Relatedly?

    Aliens–Martians–the topic never moves forward. I hate all of it. I never pay attention to any of it. Rep. Burchett of Tennessee is finally looking into where all of the extra-planetary alien research money is going.

    My astrophysicist family member likes to ask — why do all the images from our (supposedly advanced military) aircraft look like Tic Tacs? We can’t get better resolution??

    If your job is to drop bombs or bullets on it, how much resolution do you need? 

    • #12
  13. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Django (View Comment):
    If your job is to drop bombs or bullets on it, how much resolution do you need

    If you’re trying to distinguish the missile defense batteries from the decoys you might need quite a bit. China has apparently made some decent mockups of a Patriot launcher for training purposes.  But we could build some mockups of our own to use as decoys.

    • #13
  14. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):
    If your job is to drop bombs or bullets on it, how much resolution do you need

    If you’re trying to distinguish the missile defense batteries from the decoys you might need quite a bit. China has apparently made some decent mockups of a Patriot launcher for training purposes. But we could build some mockups of our own to use as decoys.

    It’s not as if they fly in without information and try to feel their way around. 

    • #14
  15. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Django (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):
    If your job is to drop bombs or bullets on it, how much resolution do you need

    If you’re trying to distinguish the missile defense batteries from the decoys you might need quite a bit. China has apparently made some decent mockups of a Patriot launcher for training purposes. But we could build some mockups of our own to use as decoys.

    It’s not as if they fly in without information and try to feel their way around.

    The deal is what you do when electronic warfare has degraded the electronic navigation systems and how your drone will find relatively mobile systems by sight.  

    • #15
  16. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):
    If your job is to drop bombs or bullets on it, how much resolution do you need

    If you’re trying to distinguish the missile defense batteries from the decoys you might need quite a bit. China has apparently made some decent mockups of a Patriot launcher for training purposes. But we could build some mockups of our own to use as decoys.

    It’s not as if they fly in without information and try to feel their way around.

    The deal is what you do when electronic warfare has degraded the electronic navigation systems and how your drone will find relatively mobile systems by sight.

    I was originally replying to a comment mentioning “military aircraft” and assumed that meant manned aircraft not drones. 

    • #16
  17. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Django (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):
    If your job is to drop bombs or bullets on it, how much resolution do you need

    If you’re trying to distinguish the missile defense batteries from the decoys you might need quite a bit. China has apparently made some decent mockups of a Patriot launcher for training purposes. But we could build some mockups of our own to use as decoys.

    It’s not as if they fly in without information and try to feel their way around.

    The deal is what you do when electronic warfare has degraded the electronic navigation systems and how your drone will find relatively mobile systems by sight.

    I was originally replying to a comment mentioning “military aircraft” and assumed that meant manned aircraft not drones. 

    I hope our military aren’t making that assumption any more.  The possibility does make me nervous. 

    • #17
  18. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):
    If your job is to drop bombs or bullets on it, how much resolution do you need

    If you’re trying to distinguish the missile defense batteries from the decoys you might need quite a bit. China has apparently made some decent mockups of a Patriot launcher for training purposes. But we could build some mockups of our own to use as decoys.

    It’s not as if they fly in without information and try to feel their way around.

    The deal is what you do when electronic warfare has degraded the electronic navigation systems and how your drone will find relatively mobile systems by sight.

    I was originally replying to a comment mentioning “military aircraft” and assumed that meant manned aircraft not drones.

    I hope our military aren’t making that assumption any more. The possibility does make me nervous.

    What do my assumptions have to do with what the military does? 

    A military can’t prepare without some assumptions, though the assumptions should have a good basis. Our systems need to answer five basic questions: 1) Where is it? , 2) What is it?, 3) What is it doing?, 4) What are its capabilities, 5) What is its intent? 

    The last two are almost impossible to fully answer, so assumptions will be made. 

    • #18
  19. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    My astrophysicist family member likes to ask — why do all the images from our (supposedly advanced military) aircraft look like Tic Tacs? We can’t get better resolution??

    Maybe they aren’t showing us the best stuff the get?

    • #19
  20. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    My astrophysicist family member likes to ask — why do all the images from our (supposedly advanced military) aircraft look like Tic Tacs? We can’t get better resolution??

    Maybe they aren’t showing us the best stuff the get?

    Or maybe what they’re seeing is an artifact of the image processing software they’re using and not really an alien spacecraft at all. One seems at least as plausible as the other.

    • #20
  21. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Relatedly?

    Aliens–Martians–the topic never moves forward. I hate all of it. I never pay attention to any of it. Rep. Burchett of Tennessee is finally looking into where all of the extra-planetary alien research money is going.

    My astrophysicist family member likes to ask — why do all the images from our (supposedly advanced military) aircraft look like Tic Tacs? We can’t get better resolution??

    Why bother? We can’t even shoot down a big round white slow-moving balloon.

    • #21
  22. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    A seven day Creation does not seem so implausible when it is acknowledged that the biochemical processes that occur in living organisms can take place in milliseconds.

    • #22
  23. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    JoelB (View Comment):

    A seven day Creation does not seem so implausible when it is acknowledged that the biochemical processes that occur in living organisms can take place in milliseconds.

    Agreed. It seems implausible for other reasons, but not for that.

    • #23
  24. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):

    A seven day Creation does not seem so implausible when it is acknowledged that the biochemical processes that occur in living organisms can take place in milliseconds.

    Agreed. It seems implausible for other reasons, but not for that.

    What reasons?

    • #24
  25. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):

    A seven day Creation does not seem so implausible when it is acknowledged that the biochemical processes that occur in living organisms can take place in milliseconds.

    Agreed. It seems implausible for other reasons, but not for that.

    Old joke from the world of IT:  

    Q. How could God create the world in only 6 days?

    A. He didn’t have an installed base to consider.

    We’re seeing the truth of it in the rollout of the new version of Ricochet.   (I’m not complaining in the least.  Take your time, developers, take your time. I hope you can afford to.)

     

    • #25
  26. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):

    A seven day Creation does not seem so implausible when it is acknowledged that the biochemical processes that occur in living organisms can take place in milliseconds.

    Agreed. It seems implausible for other reasons, but not for that.

    What reasons?

    Joel, I can speak only for myself regarding what is and isn’t plausible. (That’s true of all of us, I suppose.) Other people, particularly people who have religious faith as traditionally understood, will obviously not share my subjective sense.

    For me, the implausibility of the Biblical account of creation is that it seems to require the acceptance of a metaphysical universe. Given that we can posit strictly physical processes, processes that would seem to be consistent with our observations of the physical world around us, that could plausibly account for the origin of life, the cost of proposing a deep and profound metaphysical mechanism, with all of its attendant complexity, seems excessive.

    This argument from parsimony isn’t a disproof of a metaphysical creator. It doesn’t even offer a statement about the probability of a metaphysical creator. It simply influences my own sense of plausibility, given that I generally favor parsimonious explanations over vastly unparsimonious ones.

    • #26
  27. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):

    A seven day Creation does not seem so implausible when it is acknowledged that the biochemical processes that occur in living organisms can take place in milliseconds.

    Agreed. It seems implausible for other reasons, but not for that.

    Old joke from the world of IT:

    Q. How could God create the world in only 6 days?

    A. He didn’t have an installed base to consider.

    We’re seeing the truth of it in the rollout of the new version of Ricochet. (I’m not complaining in the least. Take your time, developers, take your time. I hope you can afford to.)

     

    As an aside regarding that “installed base”:

    I’ve long thought that one of the surest ways to launch a project doomed to fail is to say, in essence: “Here is the current big software thing. It is your ‘requirements specification’: create a new system that does the same thing, but using modern tools, languages, etc.”

    One of the great allegedly formally unsolvable problems in computing is to write a program that can predict the behavior of any other program presented to it. Practically speaking, fully understanding a large program is hard, and asking someone to fully replicate its function is an invitation to project creep.

    Not saying that’s what Charlie and his crew are facing. I don’t know whether they’re updating Ricochet, rewriting it, reimagining it, or deciding that what we have is good enough — and it is, as far as I’m concerned. I just know that working with a pre-existing system as the only complete “reference” is problematic, and that I’ve avoided taking on such efforts in the past.

    • #27
  28. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):

    A seven day Creation does not seem so implausible when it is acknowledged that the biochemical processes that occur in living organisms can take place in milliseconds.

    Agreed. It seems implausible for other reasons, but not for that.

    What reasons?

    Joel, I can speak only for myself regarding what is and isn’t plausible. (That’s true of all of us, I suppose.) Other people, particularly people who have religious faith as traditionally understood, will obviously not share my subjective sense.

    For me, the implausibility of the Biblical account of creation is that it seems to require the acceptance of a metaphysical universe. Given that we can posit strictly physical processes, processes that would seem to be consistent with our observations of the physical world around us, that could plausibly account for the origin of life, the cost of proposing a deep and profound metaphysical mechanism, with all of its attendant complexity, seems excessive.

    This argument from parsimony isn’t a disproof of a metaphysical creator. It doesn’t even offer a statement about the probability of a metaphysical creator. It simply influences my own sense of plausibility, given that I generally favor parsimonious explanations over vastly unparsimonious ones.

    @henryracette Do you have a plausible explanation for the existence of the physical world without life?

    • #28
  29. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    @henryracette Do you have a plausible explanation for the existence of the physical world without life?

    Bob, again, plausibility is a subjective thing, and it depends a lot on one’s perspective. Personally, I find the idea of the universe arising as a result of quantum fluctuations in a vacuum to be plausible — I’ve heard nothing proposed that strikes me as more plausible, and quite a lot suggested that seems less so to me.

    • #29
  30. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    @ henryracette Do you have a plausible explanation for the existence of the physical world without life?

    Bob, again, plausibility is a subjective thing, and it depends a lot on one’s perspective. Personally, I find the idea of the universe arising as a result of quantum fluctuations in a vacuum to be plausible — I’ve heard nothing proposed that strikes me as more plausible, and quite a lot suggested that seems less so to me.

    Under such plausibility then, in a metaphysical existence without limit, there could be unlimited occurrences of intelligent life in unlimited forms in unlimited time and space. Can you think of any way any of that intelligent life could ever know or have any understanding of how this happens.?  Where do you think the quantum fluctuations in a vacuum could have come from?

    • #30
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