Seven days in sunny June


It is amazing that out of the countless trillions of ways molecules can be arranged, only a few million ways result in things that can reproduce themselves.

The biologist E.O. Wilson estimates there are about 13 million species, broken down as follows:

Insects 9 million
Bacteria 1 million
Fungi 1 million
Viruses 0.3 million
Algae 0.3 million
Worms 0.3 million
Plants 0.2 million
Protozoa 0.2 million
Echinoderms 0.2 million
Mollusks 0.2 million
Crustaceans 0.2 million
Fish 30 thousand
Reptiles 10 thousand
Birds 10 thousand
Amphibians 5 thousand
Mammals 5 thousand

It has been estimated that since the Pre-Cambrian Explosion 540 million years ago, during which the predecessors of most of these species arose, upwards of 90% of all species are extinguished each 100 million years due to environmental catastrophes. Hence, even counting the ways life might have been organized in the distant past, not more than a few hundreds of millions of molecular patterns have worked.

In comparison, a practically infinite number of molecular patterns are possible given the dozens of atomic building blocks nature has to work with and the astronomical number of possibilities for stringing these atoms together in three-dimensional space. (…)

Life owes its improbable existence to an exceedingly rare kind of code. This life-code does two things unique to life.

First, it enables self-replicating order to be structured out of disorder. Second, it enables that order to be maintained (for a while) against all the forces that make things fall apart. Wow yourself with this: life-codes are merely a mathematical sequence, like a formula, that shazam-like transforms randomness into purpose and entropy into organization.  

{ Martine Rothblatt, Will Uploaded Minds in Machines be Alive? | Institute for Emerging Ethics and Technology | Continue reading }

photo { Garry Winogrand }