Who is This Guy and Why is He Here?

Oct 23 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Hi. I’m very excited to be guest blogging here. This is my first guest blogging spot, so please be gentle.

Cassandra’s Tears is where I normally hang out blogging. I attempt to make some really cool science accessible to the non-scientist. I also talk a bit about technology and the anti-science positions. Rarely, readers are treated to a bit of humor or a past attempts at short stories and poetry.

I have always enjoyed science. When I was three, I could shock anyone older than about 30 by telling them I wanted to be a paleontologist and name dozens of dinosaur genera. Over time (more than I’d care to actually think about), I learned a lot about myself.

I still love science, but I love the knowing. I’m not real big into the actual finding out. Basically, I suck at experiment and observation. I’m also easily distracted. I can’t stand to be fixed onto one subject. I’ve never gotten an advanced degree, because they don’t make advanced degrees in general science. Still, I’ve learned a lot on my own and am pretty comfortable with most areas of science.

This stood me in good stead while I was teaching. I taught, for a few years, at a tiny little school in Sabine Pass, Texas. You might remember it being run over by hurricanes Rita and Ike. I joined Sabine Pass School right after Rita and stayed until right after Ike. I taught; biology, chemistry, physics, IPC (physical science), oceanography, and TAKS prep courses… all in the same year. Suffice to say that I know a little about a lot.

I’m a huge fan of science fiction, even though there is little out there worth reading or watching nowadays.

Now, I’m still involved with both education and science. I’m a science content specialist for a company that works in publishing, education, and assessment. So, I get to read all the cool stuff and then try to incorporate that into our products. Yes, I live in a cube farm.

On Cassandra’s Tears, I’m engaged in a chapter review of The Emergence of Life by Pier Luigi Luisi. Abiogenesis is a fascinating topic and so much has been learned in just the last decade. What’s interesting about the book is that the author has included some chapter ending questions for the reader. These aren’t like ‘test’ questions, they are thinking questions.

Those are what I would like to talk about here. I think this would be a good place for discussion. I’m planning on taking a few of the questions about life and the generation thereof and giving you my thoughts about the matter. I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter as well.

“What is life?” and “Where did life come from?” are not simple subjects. I think it’s the nature of biology (being squishy rather than firmly defined).

If you think about chemistry, you can firmly declare a molecule to be of a given type. It isn’t water unless it’s 1 oxygen and 2 hydrogens in a covalently bound system. You can even talk about solutions with varying ratios of solute to water, but you can define them in very specific ways and have a standardized convention for stating how much solute, how much solvent, and the concentration of the solution. So, even if there’s a range, you still have a very specific definition.

You can't really do that for life and there are a lot of 'ifs', 'ands' and/or 'buts' involved.

So, that's what we'll discuss here. Totally new, totally fresh, so let's get the ball rolling. What do you think a good definition of life is?

7 responses so far

  • gerty-z says:

    welcome! sounds interesting 🙂

  • [...] is our new guest blogger.  I really dig his blog, especially the Timeline on Creationism and Science.  Go read him here [...]

  • Welcome. I really dig your science and creationism timeline.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    There is no such thing as life, the noun. There are only living things. "It's alive!" is using a descriptive adjective, which is fine. You might want to discuss being alive in the context of emergent properties of complex systems with certain characteristics. Lets not encourage vitalism; people talking about 'life force', and the like.

  • kevinmccarthy says:

    Thanks for the welcome.

    Jim, I wouldn't worry, I've got two or three posts worth of material on emergent properties, but there are really good questions that we can't answer yet.

    The main one is whether the origin of life is purely deterministic or if there is a contingent aspect to the process of emergence.

    Luisi breaks these down as deterministic is how chemistry behaves. If you put pure oxygen in a container with pure iron, you will get rust. It's going to happen. A deterministic view of life would be saying that, given the prerequisites, then life happens, every time. The universe should be teeming with life. Now, there's a lot to this. Obviously, the precursors are readily available everywhere, even deep space.

    The contingent view holds that, even though the precursors are present, life may or may not be based on some chance event. This isn't 'life force' or anything like that. It's just, did the right macromolecules happen to be in the right spot at the right time.

    Luisi (and I) will be presenting a few thought experiments along these lines.

    The point isn't to say 'this is how it happened', but merely to open the minds and the thought processes. I doubt we'll ever be able to say for sure whether life arises deterministically or contingently. Although, a universe with life on the majority of planets will be good evidence toward the deterministic side.

    But, I've already said too much... I'm about to give away a bunch of posts here. It's just a fascinating topic and I look forward to exploring them with everyone.

    You can read the chapter reviews of Luisi's book that I've done so far at the link in this post.