Is there such a thing as unique biochemistry? Some theorists have claimed that the chemistry of life must take numerous forms on different planets scattered through the universe. Did they really mean the chemistry itself?
Yesterday I enjoyed leafing through Murray Gell-Mann’s book “The Quark and the Jaguar” (W.H. Freeman and Co. New York, 1960) I read a few ideas written by this far-sighted author that answer the above statement.
Gell-Mann agrees that Earth’s life is due to a “large number of chance events”…hence life will look very different on other planets where their hence events will surely be different.
However, the “laws of chemistry [are] based on the fundamental laws of physics.” That fact leaves little room for a chemistry of exoplanet life to be different from that found on Earth. The laws of biology also depend on the laws of physics and chemistry. Although biology also depends on a vast amount of additional information–like how accidents turn out–such accidents are also subject to the laws of chemistry and physics. No new information about the basic laws of physics and chemistry is likely to show up in chemistry or biology anywhere else in
Gell-Mann’s point is that no new information–little new complexity– is generated by biology, which depends.on history.” Many bio-changes have occurred in earth’s four billion years. Many of these accidents have
played a major role in the history of life on Earth. The science of biology is “much more complex than fundamental physics “…because chance has played such a large role in its use of the laws of chemistry and physics.”
Who can honestly question these laws? “For a complex adaptive system (like life) to function, conditions are required that are intermediate between order and disorder. Hence there is no life in the sun, or on a
perfect crystal at absolute zero. Life is a complex, adaptive system and
must have conditions “intermediate between order and disorder” in order
to exist. It’s not the laws that adapt and change.
Life evolved on Earth when its surface provided an environment where “depth and effective complexity” could both exist. Evolution here was an exercise in complex organization. Therefore, conditions between order
and disorder are most likely to be required on our exoplanet neighbors in order to jump-start the biochemical elements that use the laws of chemistry and physics to sustain any kind of life.
One question remains, Gell-Mann suggests: Are all complex adaptive systems living? Like very advanced robots? Gell-Mann says robots “identify regularities in the data streams they receive and compress those regularities into schemata.” However, it is easy to make errors–by mistaking randomness for regularities and vice versa.
Evolution anywhere (or robots) would need to evolve (or be designed) toward a “…roughly balanced situation in which correct identification of some regularities would be accompanied by both kinds of mistakes.”
Hm-m-m. I hope Gell-Mann’s thoughts will be helpful in our search for extraterrestrial life? Or have we changed the game forever? The search is now complicated by the fact that dried tardigrades have been sent to
our moon. If they come to life and reproduce, we will be faced with the possibility that any life we find in our solar system could be related
Author of The Archives of Varok
The View Beyond Earth (Book 1.)
The Webs of Varok (Book 2.)
Nautilus Silver Award 2013 YA
ForeWord IBPA finalist 2012 adult SF
The Alien Effect (Book 3.)
An Alien’s Quest (Book 4. Released Nov.21, 2016)
Excerpts, Synopses, Reviews, On Writing, Characters and More-
Reviews of significant books- www.goodreads.com/Cary_Neeper
How the Hen House Turns- www.ladailypost.com
Complexity, Bio, Bibliography and Links- caryneeper.com
Astrobiology- astronaut.com search:Who’s Out There
Cary's first novel and Webs of Varok prequel A Place Beyond Man was originally published in 1975 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, Dell, and Millington, London. Cary re-released A Place Beyond Man as an Author’s Guild Backinprint edition, now available from online booksellers. Its themes of sustainability and interspecies cooperation have now grown into new adventures for its human, elll and varok family as they travel the alternate 21st century Solar System in the five-volume Archives of Varok, coming from Penscript Publishing House in 2012–2014. Cary’s other works include two musical science fiction comedies “U.F.F.D.A.!” and “Petra and the Jay,” as well as newspaper and magazine articles, essays, short stories, and book reviews for The Christian Science Monitor.