Fermi Paradox: RNA forms on basaltic glass

How did life arise on Earth?

The mechanisms of that process continue to elude scientists. The answer could provide both the foundation and exasperation of many human disciplines.

  • Knowing how life arose would support the continued separation of science from theology.
  • Creating artificial life using the discovered process could aid in genetics, medicine and the development of artificial general intelligence.
  • Confirming the process could solidify the estimations of the prevalence of life in the Universe.

Fermi’s Paradox poses, at its most basic: if there are trillions of life supporting planets, where are all the aliens? As a correlated argument, Nick Bostrom, a Swedish philosopher and physicist, posed the theory of “Great Filters”: assuming Fermi’s lack of observational aliens, what aspects of existence “filter” out the aliens?

The answers to Bostrom’s question fall into essentially two groups where, given humanity exists (duh):

  1. Is life itself hard to create, hard to manifest and generally rare in the Universe? That is, the Great Filter is behind humanity. (Yay!) Or,
  2. If life is easy to create and shows up everywhere in the Universe, what kills off (filters) the myriad alien civilizations that should exist? And, are some of those Great Filters ahead of humanity? (Boo!)

Essentially, is humanity “in the clear” or are there a shit-ton of existential threats, known and unknown, waiting to pounce and smudge us out of existence?

Pushing this boulder further up the hill… Finding that life is hard to create—is good for us. We have, in mostly likelihood, squeezed through the Great Filter that throttles life. But, finding out that life is easy to create, is bloody everywhere in the Universe—is bad for us. There should be a slew of aliens out there, but there ain’t, so, something kills them off, and will probably kill us off too.

Enter RNA and the fact that it forms on basaltic glass.

Recent studies (reference: Catalytic Synthesis of Polyribonucleic Acid on Prebiotic Rock Glasses) have shown that, perhaps, the mechanism for creating the building blocks of life looks like this. And, given that we believe life bloomed damn fast, geologically speaking, on Earth perhaps only five-hundred million years after Earth formed, this method could help explain why.

From Science.org:

In lab experiments, they show how rocks called basaltic glasses help individual RNA letters, known as nucleoside triphosphates, link into strands up to 200 letters long. The glasses would have been abundant in the fire and brimstone of early Earth; they are created when lava is quenched in air or water or when the melted rock created in asteroid strikes cools off rapidly. (link)

Bottom line? Scientists may have found an intriguing and perhaps prevalent “bio-genesis” mechanism that could indicate the relatively straightforward process of creating life in the Universe. (Yay!)

Which means that, following most Fermi Paradoxers and Nick Bostrom’s Great Filter theories, humanity is doomed. (Yay! Ha.)


(Of course, we’re all doomed. In 100 years, everyone reading this is guaranteed to be dead, so, why the hell should we care about the future of humanity? I’ll be dead. You’ll be dead. We’ll all be dead.)


20 thoughts on “Fermi Paradox: RNA forms on basaltic glass

  1. Hi A. Mole,

    Why couldn’t it be we have simply miscalculated the size of the Universe? Maybe it is a million or more times larger. Or maybe the aliens are at the atomic level. Perfectly happy there, doing good stuff, with towns and families and everyone working to make life better. Jetting around space, visiting planets, even Earth. Only we can’t see them. It might be something like this: we release 1,000 dust particles into the jet stream and wait a hundred years and then try to find the exact same particles. I believe in infinite odds. Incalculable odds. Why? Because all of us are dumb. The light and the night are way smarter than we are. Love. Duke

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Our size is matched to our gravity. A planet 10x Earth would have minuscule creatures. A planet like Mars, where Olympus Mons reaches 86,000 feet tall, might have giants roaming.
      I think tiny aliens might have benefits in that the energy to live and move would be fractional to ours.
      The light seeks nothing for itself, only to shine.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Why is it that since humans first tried to make sense of the environment there has been a hierarchical acknowledgement of “who is the smartest”? Whoever comes out with the idea that seems to make the most sense wins the day. We continually do this even unto the present. Your questions and the responses are good examples.
        However, history is all about change. Certainly we can see that the theories of two and three thousand years ago do not comport with our current understanding of reality. So why do we believe that what we call “science” and sound reasoning today, will not fall completely apart in a few years or centuries? There have always been learned men and women, but with the passing of time their “facts” go away to be replaced by new “facts”. I’m unsure why people think that anything is a “fact”, even with the scientific method. Can reality be objectified? I think not as long as the observer has a subjective mind. For me, this is the real rub. We have added “an error factor” for all experiments, particularly if they make predictions. We lay statistics upon all of our experiments and then say, you see this can be repeated, this is more than a mental fiction, it reflects reality, which is the goal of science. Since we will “probably” never see the edges of the universe in person or reach the speed of light or travel into a worm hole, then we must construct a mathematical model on what we might experience under those conditions. Bravo! I have no problem with that, it is only that it ultimately means little when we consider what might be the “true reality of the universe”. Will we ever know our true origins? Again, I think not. We are up against numbers that our minds cannot comprehend. For example, what good does it do to tell someone that Graham’s number is bigger than the googolplex? Even if someone standing at a chalkboard in front of a room full of peers “proved” the case, would it still be a fact one hundred or a thousand years from that day? I don’t think it would be. So there is my argument. As long as we have subjective minds, we will never be able to discover any absolute fact, unless we are given help from a source completely out of the question today. Ha. Here is something I discovered:

        The staff is only going through the motions in the wooden building under the tin roof, everyone waiting for the wind and the rain
        The doctor has an appointment with the Ambassador
        Like the fermentation of fruit brandy, humid tones join languid shadows to sweat and bubble in the lobby of the embassy

        This mental fiction will last only until it is edited or changed by me or Jan. Such are the confines that history gives us. Duke

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Our subjective minds…
          I guess, at any one point in time, we (informally) assume our reality is the only one. Or, at least one only one that counts. But even as I wrote that, what about the alter-realities of religions? God exists? God is bogus? Depends on who you ask. So, yeah, even when we think we’re being “factual” we never are and will never be.
          Should we contextualize our statements, “I’m 80% sure this is correct, for now, from what we know…”?
          Your point really strikes home when we begin an argument. Don’t we always argue from some set of assumptions? But we never voice those and construct a playing field with those laid out as caveats. We just jump in and press our points.
          Hubris (mild or extreme) seems the framework we all operate from. I’m afraid I don’t see that changing. But, notes like yours are critical to checking our vast and ugly set of assumptions.

          Like

  2. I think it’s a case of both are truthy. As we’ve discussed in the past, from a purely statistical perspective, it’s not hard to see the occurrence of life as relatively rare. As I recall, both our rough envelop estimates came out pretty close and put the odds as greater than the number of stars in the local group.

    It does seem that, if life does start, it burgeons.

    But I also think we’re victims of our own success as a species, and when people talk about humanity in a million years, I hear only the Peanuts-style trumpet “wah-wah-wah” because, yeah, right, a million years. I’d put those odds even lower than the occurrence of life in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. On the same day as this basaltic glass news, another utterly click-bait “paper” was released, archivx or somewhere, “Probably four aggressive alien races may exist in the Milky Way Galaxy.” All based on how nasty humans have been to each other, across political borders, in the last 100 years. I could barely contain my laughter.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Even if life has the same building blocks, I don’t see how we’d ever interact with an alien anyway. They’d come from a planet with totally different gravity and atmosphere and combination of elements, and therefore they’d have totally different metabolisms and sensory organs. I’m just guessing, anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nah, you’re correct, and it’s much deeper than that. If English speaking humans went into space for even one generation, they’d have so many different experiences they’d return speaking a totally incomprehensible form of our own language. It may be “English” but think of the new words, new acronyms, etc, they’d need invent to describe what they’ve been through.

      Liked by 2 people

          1. 1 proton, 1 electron = most common stuff of the Universe. H + H + O = universal solvent.
            Gravity’s inverse square law. Speed of light.
            Lots of sharable knowledge in physics & chemistry. Math I view as glue, necessary, but not the topics of interest.

            Liked by 1 person

  4. I was just reading about the Balsatic glass thing from a science feed I get on FB. Yeah…I’m also worried about the Vacuum Death of the Entire Universe which could wipe out ALL life in 5 minutes based upon some random fluctuations of atoms or some shit…which, if you can stay tuned while I lube my mind, Paul is about to officially change his name to PI and found the Church of the Infinite Void. I’ll be takin’ flight like Dracul!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My own suspicion is that it’s easy (relatively speaking) for life to get started. But each step after that is progressively less likely: photosynthesis, eukaryotic life, sexual reproduction, multicellular life, motility, land based animals, etc. Evolving a species with the right combination of intelligence and dexterity to produce a civilization seems profoundly unlikely. It took 90% of Earth’s habitable period for it to happen here. This seems to be what Bostrom misses.

    So most likely we have a universe full of singled celled organisms, and rarely anything more sophisticated. The nearest other civilization may be billions of light years away, if they’re within our observable universe at all.

    Unless they show up tomorrow and prove me wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fully agree. The whole middle of the Book-of-Life is missing from Nick’s story.
      That and all the amazingly beneficial coincidences that Earth’s biology and Humanity, specifically have enjoyed.
      We are unique — not filtered in or out.

      Liked by 1 person

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