• Gary Enfield
    112
    It is generally portrayed by media outlets that the origin of life can simply be explained by Evolution - yet the only known mechanism for evolution that we have discovered in the universe simply cannot do it.

    In simple terms - that single evolutionary mechanism is the Living Cell, and there is no conceivable way that anyone has found to produce the true complexity of the 1st living cell from the sterile chemicals of the early Earth, without a prior living cell to do it. That is the dilemma.

    It is what sparked the origin of Abiogenesis - the field of scientific research that now tries to explain how the first living cell was achieved, (with almost no progress on the key points after decades of research and experimentation).

    As mentioned elsewhere, individual cells - even for the most basic forms of life such as bacteria or archaea - are incredibly complex. They have been likened to true 'cities' of activity with :-

    • genuine programmable manufacturing assembly lines (called Ribosomes);
    • elaborate transport mechanisms which take manufactured proteins to the places in a cell which can make use of them;
    • to the 'central library' of DNA;
    • the 'hospital service' which repairs DNA up to 10,000 times a day within a single cell;
    • 'power stations' to generate energy;
    • 'food production' to generate the sub-components for fats, amino acids, DNA, RNA, etc.;
    • waste disposal and recycling processes.

    Dawkins described living beings are the most complex things in the whole of existence - and he may well be right. He also majors on how evolution can develop a species and make complex things out of simple ones. But as Finipolscie points out, evolution is a process of change, it is not a process of start.

    So Dawkins cannot address the question of origin based on the known mechanism for reproduction because the first cell would still have been complex, and certain elements - like the pre-existing DNA template for thousands of proteins; plus ribosomes; and the whole mechanisms of reproduction and metabolism must have been there before the first cell membrane encompassed them in some way.

    When you look at the odds of forming just a simple average protein (involving a thousand or more amino acids) from just the necessary 22 amino acid components, (out of a selection of 500), by chance alone, that one protein has odds of 10 to the power 260 - which is more permutations than there are atoms in the universe. Furthermore, it would be necessary to have more than one of that protein in order to allow nature to experiment and find other proteins that it could achieve something useful with - and this means that if such a protein did bust all odds to occur once within the time available since the Big Bang, it truly couldn't be expected to happen by chance again - ever.

    A single cell also needs thousands of specialist proteins all working in perfect harmony, for it to exist and work.

    So the only way to achieve this would be to have a reliable replication/evolution process before the only one we know to have ever existed - a mechanism which is incredibly complex and involves the coding and de-coding of information 3 times in the process that we have.

    Codes - just think about that. Codes that interlink with other codes to achieve something useful - when sterile chemicals have no objective for any outcome. They are not interested in generating life.

    The evolutionary process described by Darwin relied on survival and selection. To make evolution fit into the timescale since the emergence of our solar system - and indeed, in the gap of 100m years between the rocks cooling to bearable levels and the time that the first evidence for the presence of the first cells emerges (ie. traces of slime mould in rocks) Dawkins added a process of 'positive selection' in which creatures select desirable features when choosing a mate. We come back to the point that there has to be some factor like thought or survival, (which often requires thought), which gives evolution an apparent direction, in order to achieve the evolution we recognise.

    Abiogenesis has failed to show that all of the 22 necessary amino acids for life can be generated from the same chemical mix/start point, because chemical environments necessary for some amino acids would be harmful to others. They also require a certain mix of base chemicals to achieve the chemical make up of DNA and RNA - chemicals - and those chemicals were not thought to be present on earth - but only in surrounding space at best.

    So the mystery of the origin of life is very real.
    Even if you could find an alternate mechanism for accurate chemical reproduction - what could give it its sense of direction before life had an in interest in preserving itself. Whatever factor could apply to chemicals alone, to start giving an evolutionary direction in favour of life?
  • Present awareness
    71
    Life did not have an origin, it was always here, just like the universe itself. Life arrived on earth by comet, which carried frozen life forms in a state of deep hibernation. Once thawed out in the warm waters of the earth, life began to multiply and evolve.
  • emancipate
    240
    Is this the fiction section of the forum?
  • Bitter Crank
    9.3k
    Several billion years after the fact we can't go back and look at the beginning of life -- that time and space has long since been plowed under. True enough -- evolution describes the history of life, not its first enduring instantiation. How the primordial stew formed any of the components of what would eventually be 'life' is not, perhaps can not, be known at this time.

    The answer might be found elsewhere in the solar system or galaxy, should we be lucky and alert enough to happen upon a pool of proto-slop stumbling toward life. Highly unlikely, at best.
  • Paul S
    146
    Beings may not get too close to the secrets of our universe, but they can mimic quite a lot, as arguable demigods that manipulate the creation of life itself. I'm being purely speculative but what if most of the beings across the universe were genetically engineered by few or one species.
  • magritte
    227
    In simple terms - that single evolutionary mechanism is the Living Cell, and there is no conceivable way that anyone has found to produce the true complexity of the 1st living cell from the sterile chemicals of the early Earth, without a prior living cell to do it. That is the dilemma.Gary Enfield
    Evolution is the process of any change over time. In a more narrow biological sense, evolution is random spread of differences followed by statistical natural selection of traits. General evolution is not at all concerned with the peculiarity of life on this planet but with the universe as a whole and all of its developments.

    In a more narrow biological sense, evolution is random spread of differences in living organisms followed by statistical natural selection of traits. Here,we are making Life an object on a pedestal. As important as life is to us living, nature might not be making this distinction.

    Where the test comes in is in borderline cases like viruses that have some but not all classified features of being alive. Are viruses alive? Did viruses come before or after bacteria?
  • Tom Storm
    714
    So the mystery of the origin of life is very real.Gary Enfield

    No one denies this. Responsible scientists do not. The best answer to the question of abiogenesis is we don't yet know how it happened. But filling the hole with a fantasy because don't yet have an answer is not cool either. I recently spoke to some people who are certain life on earth was manufactured by aliens.
  • T Clark
    4.8k
    It is generally portrayed by media outlets that the origin of life can simply be explained by Evolution - yet the only known mechanism for evolution that we have discovered in the universe simply cannot do it.Gary Enfield

    No reputable biologist in the last 100 years, if ever, has proposed evolution as described by Darwin as the mechanism for the origin of life.

    Abiogenesis has failed to show that all of the 22 necessary amino acids for life can be generated from the same chemical mix/start point, because chemical environments necessary for some amino acids would be harmful to others. They also require a certain mix of base chemicals to achieve the chemical make up of DNA and RNA - chemicals - and those chemicals were not thought to be present on earth - but only in surrounding space at best.Gary Enfield

    ...forming just a simple average protein (involving a thousand or more amino acids) from just the necessary 22 amino acid components, (out of a selection of 500), by chance alone,Gary Enfield

    You have misrepresented the current scientific understanding of potential mechanisms for abiogenesis. No current biologist proposes that cells are built up from constituent chemicals "by chance alone." The only ones I've seen who do are creationism apologists trying to undermine the credibility of current science. Have you read any modern science-based literature on abiogenesis? Suggest "Life's Ratchet," recommended by @apokrisis a few years ago. It changed my understanding of how the world works.
  • Enrique
    450
    So the mystery of the origin of life is very real.Gary Enfield

    Cell division is chemically simple and automatic. In experiments, phospholipid bilayers pinch in two when they contain enough molecules, without any enzymes or biochemical machinery required. Mitosis and meiosis are regulated versions of what is at base a completely spontaneous process. Cellular mechanisms may actually constrain rather than induce the multiplication of cells.

    The amount of recursive order vs. disorder in macromolecules might be overestimated by intro theory. If you look at a ribosome (image of ribosome subunit), drawn from a post in the thread "Nothing to do with Dennett's Quining Qualia" at this forum, the complexity implies that every single one probably contains much variation. Life's processes seem at base messier and more haphazard than the picture obtained from your average textbook. When I look at this, I see an RNA tangle of a kind that could have arisen as the first protocellular colonies combined and divided at least millions of times per day.

    A plausible quantum mechanism of biochemical evolution has been proposed: atoms within macromolecules existing in superposition during which they are in multiple states at once, meaning that some molecules are in hundreds or even thousands of different configurations simultaneously, greatly reducing the span of time necessary to reach optimum adaptation by naturally selected collapse of the wave function.

    Missing links such as the ribozyme have been discovered, hybrids of protein and RNA segments that catalyze their own replicative processes.

    This does not rule out some kind of preternatural intervention, but mechanisms by which evolution can occur, whatever its conscious or nonconscious causes, are being proposed and discovered.
  • Present awareness
    71
    yes, why not make a story out if it?
  • Wayfarer
    11.8k
    One of the questions to ask, is if the origin of life occurs naturally as a result of the concatenation of favourable circumstances, why doesn't it continue to happen? Why are there no examples of transitional forms of living cells emerging spontaneously in the host volcanic springs (or wherever it is supposed to have happened) and recapitulating the origin process? Why is it that it is not occuring spontaneously today? Whereas, in reality, all organic life seems to encode a linear memory going back billions of years to the single point of origin. That must mean something.

    Anyway - there are some current books which propose solutions to the problem you've raised - see

    https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/0393352978/

    https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B06XKW9RGH/ (mentioned by T. Clark above).

    The only ones I've seen who do are creationism apologists trying to undermine the credibility of current science.T Clark

    I too learned a ton of stuff from @apokrisis about this issue, even if life's too short to follow up on all the reading required to really grasp the details.

    There's a philosophical issue, however. Notice the implicit dichotomy - that either the scientific analysis is accepted, or you're likely a creationist. These are the jaws of the dilemma that Thomas Nagel found himself in, when he published his 2012 book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. He was accused of 'giving aid and comfort to creationists' - even though Nagel himself professes atheism! (See this.)

    What concerns me about the scientific analysis, is that it often can't help but be reductionist: to declare that life is simply a complex transactional relationship between various classes of molecules. I can see why that kind of analysis appeals to engineers (like yourself!), but I think it leaves something out. But if you try and describe what is 'left out', then you can't do it in terms which are intelligible to the perspective of engineering.

    There's another biosemiotic theorist I've encountered, called Marcello Barbieri. He doesn't agree with 'physicalism' (the notion that at its basis, life is simply molecules in motion) but also doesn't come anywhere near to intelligent design. See What is information?
  • Wayfarer
    11.8k
    Even if you could find an alternate mechanism for accurate chemical reproduction - what could give it its sense of direction before life had an in interest in preserving itself. Whatever factor could apply to chemicals alone, to start giving an evolutionary direction in favour of life?Gary Enfield

    I think that is a well-formulated question. The problem it articulates is that of intention - that life, even the very simplest forms of life, seem to possess an intentional aim, namely, to survive and propagate. And it's hard to imagine how 'the intention to survive' could even be concieved in terms of chemical replication. It is precisely with the emergence of living things that intentional behaviour begins to manifest - yet 'intentionality' is just the very factor that physicalist accounts want to dispense with, because of its association with purpose and the dreaded 'telos' of Aristotelian philosophy.
  • schopenhauer1
    5.5k

    Survival with self-reflection brings the endless loop. To know one is surviving and can do otherwise while surviving and accepting this.
  • T Clark
    4.8k
    What concerns me about the scientific analysis, is that it often can't help but be reductionist: to declare that life is simply a complex transactional relationship between various classes of molecules. I can see why that kind of analysis appeals to engineers (like yourself!), but I think it leaves something out.Wayfarer

    This is from the Amazon description of Nagel's Mind and Cosmos:

    And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history, either. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such.

    I don't buy the views expressed in either your or Nagel's quotes above. They seem disrespectful to me. They seem to deny that consciousness is integral to, an intimate part of, our universe. Consciousness is nothing special any more than neutrinos, cockroaches, or I are. It's just one of what Lao Tzu would call the 10,000 things. Just stuff.

    One of the questions to ask, is if the origin of life occurs naturally as a result of the concatenation of favourable circumstances, why doesn't it continue to happen?Wayfarer

    Good question, although I don't know if it's relevant to this discussion. Here's a first guess - the world is already full. No room for newly generated organisms. I'll do some reading to see what other people say.
  • T Clark
    4.8k
    The problem it articulates is that of intention - that life, even the very simplest forms of life, seem to possess an intentional aim, namely, to survive and propagate. And it's hard to imagine how 'the intention to survive' could even be concieved in terms of chemical replication.Wayfarer

    Now we are in the realm of evolution as described by Darwin. Survival has nothing to do with intention or purpose. If certain characteristics or behaviors make an organism more likely to survive than an organism without those characteristics or behavior, and if those characteristics or behaviors can be passed on genetically, the organism will be more likely to survive until it can reproduce and pass those characteristics or behaviors on to its offspring.
  • Wayfarer
    11.8k
    Survival has nothing to do with intention or purposeT Clark

    But again - the ability to survive, the will to survive, are not present in inorganic nature. There is nothing with a will to survive on Mars, unless Perserverance tells us otherwise. Organisms seek homeostasis, which is the tendency towards a stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes. So I’m arguing that even viruses embody an intention or purpose to survive, on a very simple level, which you don’t observe in anything inorganic.
  • Wayfarer
    11.8k
    This is from the Amazon description of Nagel's Mind and Cosmos:T Clark

    Would I be right in guessing that is the sum total of your knowledge of that book ;-)
  • T Clark
    4.8k
    the ability to survive, the will to survive, are not present in inorganic nature.Wayfarer

    Do you think a bacterium has a "will to survive?" What does that even mean? It doesn't have a will to survive. It survives or it doesn't.
  • T Clark
    4.8k
    Would I be right in guessing that is the sum total of your knowledge of that book ;-)Wayfarer

    Yes, although I have read other writings that discuss the same issues. I have also spent a lot of time paying attention to my own personal experience self-consciousness.
  • Wayfarer
    11.8k
    Do you think a bacterium has a "will to survive?" What does that even mean?T Clark

    Yes, I do. Of course, a bacterium doesn't *think* anything, or say 'oh shit I'm in trouble'. It's not a conscious being, or reflective, or intelligent. But it's a living organism, and living things are characterised by homeostasis. Note the action-verb in the definition of homeostasis: 'seeks equilibrium'.

    Of course, it's not until evolution reaches the stage of h.sapiens that a real reflective and abstract consciousness was to develop. But all animals strive to survive, they make enormous efforts to do so, even the most basic. And that's something that no mineral or comet or rock or whatever can do.

    That's precisely what is missing in the materialist/physicalist account of living organisms - it is the one attribute it can't recognise, because it's not directly observable. I think it's more the case that naturalism assumes that the 'will to survive' characterises organic life, it doesn't contemplate the ontological implications of that. (For a delightful essay on same, see Evolution and the Purposes of Life, Steve Talbott, The New Atlantis.)

    There's a current NY Times article about coronaviruses. It notes that even now, science has trouble defining what a living being is. It notes that 'a rabbit' actually fails one of the accepted definitions of living organisms.


    Would I be right in guessing that is the sum total of your knowledge of that book ;-)
    — Wayfarer

    Yes, although I have read other writings that discuss the same issues
    T Clark

    The point about Thomas Nagel's book, is that (a) Nagel is a respected philosopher (rare breed) and (b) a professed atheist, with no Intelligent Design ax to grind. His 2012 book was one of a series of books by him on the very broad topic of the nature of conscious experience and its relation to the objective sciences. Mind and Cosmos was sarcastically derided as 'one of the most despised books of 2012' because it takes aim at the mainstream view, which Nagel calls 'neo-Darwinian materialism'. So it's a watershed book, in my view, although of course a lot of people will disagree. But it's worth the read, and so are many of the criticisms, both pro- and con- that it generated. (Ask me, I have them all bookmarked :-) )
  • T Clark
    4.8k
    Yes, I do. Of course, a bacterium doesn't *think* anything, or say 'oh shit I'm in trouble'. It's not a conscious being, or reflective, or intelligent. But it's a living organism, and living things are characterised by homeostasis. Note the action-verb in the definition of homeostasis: 'seeks equilibrium'.Wayfarer

    So, to be consistent you'd also have to think a plant has a will to seek the sun. You've completely changed the meaning of the word "will." Here are some definitions:

    • the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action.
    • control deliberately exerted to do something or to restrain one's own impulses.
    • a deliberate or fixed desire or intention.

    So, you think bacteria decide and desire.

    We can stop this. It's not as if I don't know what you are talking about. It's not as if I can't understand why you feel the way you do. I just think it is a misleading and non-productive way to look at consciousness.

    Lao Tzu didn't even think people should be willful. Wu wei, action without acting, is acting without will. If I can do it, why can't a nematode?
  • simeonz
    303
    One of the questions to ask, is if the origin of life occurs naturally as a result of the concatenation of favourable circumstances, why doesn't it continue to happen? Why are there no examples of transitional forms of living cells emerging spontaneously in the host volcanic springs (or wherever it is supposed to have happened) and recapitulating the origin process? Why is it that it is not occuring spontaneously today? Whereas, in reality, all organic life seems to encode a linear memory going back billions of years to the single point of origin. That must mean something.Wayfarer
    @T Clark already pointed out that it may be due to the fact that the evolutionary stage is already saturated with complex self-sustaining life and there are dominating forces already present. The evolutionary analogue of the first-to-market phenomenon. Another idea I can come up with, is that it is easier to create symbiotic relationship and leech to or collaborate with other lifeforms then to go your own way. The only way that the stage can be reset and start anew is if some grand catastrophy destroys the present status-quo, such as a meteorite tosses itself to earth, or a multi-host viral pandemic kills the apex species.

    I think that is a well-formulated question. The problem it articulates is that of intention - that life, even the very simplest forms of life, seem to possess an intentional aim, namely, to survive and propagate. And it's hard to imagine how 'the intention to survive' could even be concieved in terms of chemical replication. It is precisely with the emergence of living things that intentional behaviour begins to manifest - yet 'intentionality' is just the very factor that physicalist accounts want to dispense with, because of its association with purpose and the dreaded 'telos' of Aristotelian philosophy.Wayfarer
    If by intention we mean complex multi-layered behavior, such as immediate reactions, situational tactical (i.e. modal) behavior, long-term strategic behavior, I am not sure that physicalists should oppose it. I wouldn't, with a physicalist hat on. What may appear controversial is why the behavior ends up being constructive to the sustenance of the organism. Why the intention is indeed directed towards life sustaining behavior. But considering that the spectrum of possible choices ultimately sorts into life-sustenance and life-cessation, I think that it is obvious that if life of both intentions (i.e. forms of complex strategic behavior patterns) proliferated at one point, the latter category would have become extinct, leaving the former to assume reign of our hereditary genetic chain.
  • Isaac
    4.2k
    That's precisely what is missing in the materialist/physicalist account of living organisms - it is the one attribute it can't recognise, because it's not directly observable.Wayfarer

    Then by what means did you learn that...

    all animals strive to surviveWayfarer

    ?
  • Wayfarer
    11.8k
    So, you think bacteria decide and desire.T Clark

    They can learn. As I said, I don’t think they’re capable of conscious intention or abstract ideation, but both ‘will’ and ‘intentionality’ have broader meanings than simply human will or conscious intention.

    to be consistent you'd also have to think a plant has a will to seek the sun.T Clark

    Plants, like any living thing, exhibit homeostasis and metabolism, but they’re insentient. They can be differentiated from minerals, but they lack some of the capabilities of sentient creatures. If they have a ‘will’ it might be a metaphorical expression, however, they possess qualities and attributes that minerals don’t exhibit.

    Lao Tzu didn't even think people should be willful. Wu wei, action without acting, is acting without will.T Clark

    Chinese philosophy doesn’t really have a bearing on these questions which really are peculiar to the modern West. I think Schopenhauer’s conception of ‘will’ as a universal striving or wanting is much nearer the mark. I suppose from the Taoist perspective, ‘non-doing’ is precisely the kind of antidote to suffering that Schopenhauer recommended, which is why he often refers to Eastern spirituality in his writings.


    That's precisely what is missing in the materialist/physicalist account of living organisms - it is the one attribute it can't recognise, because it's not directly observable.
    — Wayfarer

    Then by what means did you learn that...
    Isaac

    I figure that other creatures are not so different to myself, whereas materialism wants to treat them, and me, as objects, saying that the sense of subject-hood can simply be eliminated.
  • T Clark
    4.8k
    both ‘will’ and ‘intentionality’ have broader meanings than simply human will or conscious intention.Wayfarer

    No, they really don't. Sure, maybe chimpanzees can will and intend. I don't know. Not amoeba. You are redefining words for your own convenience.

    Chinese philosophy doesn’t really have a bearing on these questions which really are peculiar to the modern West. I think Schopenhauer’s conception of ‘will’ as a universal striving or wanting is much nearer the mark.Wayfarer

    I've experienced will in both a Western and Taoist context. They are the same thing. I haven't read much Schopenhauer. Seems like you and he are messing with the language together. Since this is philosophy, I'll acknowledge that that's the way things are done. Confuse everyone by changing definitions whenever you please.

    On the other hand, if you've redefined "will" and "intent," you've also redefined "consciousness," into something that has nothing to do with human self-awareness.
  • Isaac
    4.2k
    I figure that other creatures are not so different to myself, whereas materialism wants to treat them, and me, as objects, saying that the sense of subject-hood can simply be eliminated.Wayfarer

    That's just describing the two positions. You said that something was missing from the materialist account that was not directly observable. I was asking you what that is. Is your answer that it's the "sense of subject-hood"? Presumably this is a feeling you have of some sort? So if I ask "Do you have a sense of subject-hood - yes [ ] , no [ ]" will I not have just measured it?
  • Olivier5
    2k
    Missing links such as the ribozyme have been discovered, hybrids of protein and RNA segments that catalyze their own replicative processes.Enrique

    Indeed, the best hypothesis for abiogenesis seems to be the RNA world. It solves the chicken-and-egg problem in the DNA-proteins relationship characteristic of cellular life. Cellular life would come from a different, more elemental form of "molecular life", which prions and ribosomes would be remnants of. Where and when this RNA world happened is of course a question. The time between earth formation and the first proofs of photosynthesis on earth is a few hundred million years, perhaps too short for the slow development of cellular life from an RNA soup. Maybe the RNA world was not born on earth.
  • Wayfarer
    11.8k
    That's just describing the two positions. You said that something was missing from the materialist account that was not directly observable. I was asking you what that is. Is your answer that it's the "sense of subject-hood"? Presumably this is a feeling you have of some sort? So if I ask "Do you have a sense of subject-hood - yes [ ] , no [ ]" will I not have just measured it?Isaac

    You're doubtless aware of 'eliminative materialism', right? in fact, you'd be one of the advocates of this school on this site, right? So what is it that 'eliminative materialism' seeks to eliimate? What does it deny the existence of? Why does Daniel Dennett say 'the hard problem' is actually a problem at all?
  • Isaac
    4.2k
    You're doubtless aware of 'eliminative materialism', right? in fact, you'd be one of the advocates of this school on this site, right? So what is it that 'eliminative materialism' seeks to eliimate? What does it deny the existence of? Why does Daniel Dennett say 'the hard problem' is actually a problem at all?Wayfarer

    I'm not sure how any of that answers my question, but... The SEP has a better answer than any I could give (I've no qualifications in Philosophy).

    Eliminative materialism (or eliminativism) is the radical claim that our ordinary, common-sense understanding of the mind is deeply wrong and that some or all of the mental states posited by common-sense do not actually exist and have no role to play in a mature science of the mind. — SEP

    But you'll have to explain the link between that and my question as I'm not seeing it.
  • Wayfarer
    11.8k
    OK, I'll go back to your question.

    So if I ask "Do you have a sense of subject-hood - yes [ ] , no [ ]" will I not have just measured it?Isaac

    No - you haven't measured it. You will simply have to take my word for it. And that is what gives rise to those debates about 'philosophical zombies' - for all you know, I (or anyone) could be a simalcrum of a human being with no subjective experience whatever, but if I could answer 'yes' to that question, you'd have no way of knowing. (Myself, I think it's a silly argument, but people have it, I think you'll find reference to it in that very SEP article...no, it's here https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/zombies/).

    It is the 'subjective sense of being' that is the subject of David Chalmer's 'hard problem of consciousness'. Daniel Dennett claims that there is no such problem, and that the subjective sense of being is merely the illusory output of cellular mechanisms.
  • Isaac
    4.2k
    No - you haven't measured it. You will simply have to take my word for it.Wayfarer

    All measurements come with error margins. If measurements which might be false don't count as measurements then we can't measure anything!
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