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):
- 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,
- 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.
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.)