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.)

PRESS RELEASE: North Korean space launch explosion




Earlier this morning, UTC 03:27:00, North Korea launched a ballistic rocket of unknown intent.

The rocket reached an LEO (low Earth orbit) of approximately 390 kilometers where it separated into independent payloads, some continuing to travel out to 500 kilometers in altitude above the surface of the planet.

Fifteen individual payloads were identified, each accelerating to nearly 30,000 kilometers per hour, at which time they detonated releasing pellet sized projectiles, roughly seven mm in diameter. It is estimated that more than two billion pellets were delivered across 300 kilometers of LEO altitude.

The intent, as described by U.S. Military, ESA and NASA officials, can only be considered “all-out war on our communication systems.”

“We’re already experiencing satellite failures. Every satellite in LEO will probably be destroyed. Starlink? Toast. Network channel satellites? Gone. We’re looking at near-complete blackout.”

“And the Space Station? Thank God they had an emergency capsule they could deploy. But the station itself, total loss.”

An international response is pending. Early news shows that Chinese forces are already flowing across the North Korean border.

“As far as space exploration and communications go, we’ve been sent back to the 1940’s. Humans are never going to travel to LEO again. You can kiss the Moon and Mars goodbye. Sorry Elon.”

Galactic Sleeper Radio Waves

I’m just toying with an idea here.

I sent this to my editor (my Mother, actually, who’s 80 now) and she said, “This is another apocalypse story. That makes me sad.”

Well, shit. Writing apocalyptic tales is all I feel like doing these days.

Anyway, I think think the idea is novel. What do you guys think?

Find the full page version here.

Fermi Paradox solution: Superbugs

The arms race against pathogens is a losing proposition.

What if all the effort we put into killing bacteria, fungi and viruses only serves to evolve those microbes into variants that will eventually kill us off?

“Kills 99.9% of germs — Woo-hoo! Ninety-nine point nine percent, that’s great.”

“Uh, what about the other 0.1%?”

“Bah, they don’t count.”

Humanity has been fighting a war-on-microbes for more than a century now. And it’s been a boon to the eradication of illness. What used to kill us, infection, poor sanitation no longer does. I realize that not all of us have benefited, though. Lack of proper sanitation is still one of the top killers in economically challenged nations. Education and enablement of good hygiene and public health remains a top issue there.

Yet, I wonder what one hundred plus years of killing *nearly* all the microbes—leaving their most robust, heartiest brethren to evolve, repopulate and spread—has accomplished.

Wouldn’t it be ironic to learn that all of our germ-o-phobe behavior has actually been developing superior strains of super bugs. Wash your hands with soap and warm water (leaving the strongest bugs to live another day.) Wear deodorant that kills almost all of the odor causing bacteria (leaving only the smelliest to persist). “Kills 99.9% of germs on contact” — mouthwash, sanitizers, wipes…

  • 99.9 percent reduction is the EPA’s arbitrary cutoff for sanitizer performance.

What if our efforts, for a century, has been creating an army of Killer Pathogens Set On Humanity’s Destruction!

Sure enough, the list of antibiotic resistant pathogens grows yearly. The more we fight the stronger they become.

Is this a war we can never win?

A war we will eventually lose, ending human civilization.

If it happens to us, this desire to protect ourselves by eradicating pathogens—which only escalates their evolution—might it not happen to most intelligent alien races? Killing them off, thereby solving Fermi’s Paradox?

Here comes SuperBug to save the day!



Mitigating Humanity’s Existential Risk

Elon Musk wants to preserve the species. The ONLY way, he thinks, to do this is to make humanity a multi-planet race.

Ignoring the fact that the Universe is Absurd, that ultimately everyone and everything will dissolve into the void, let’s examine the factors that support or refute his hypothesis and come up with an alternative.

Let’s say we want to plan humanity’s continued existence out a billion years, out to when the Sun begins to bloat and heat Earth’s surface to the point of boiling off the oceans and roasting the biosphere to a crisp. What will we need to prepare for?

  • Asteroid/comet impact
  • Super volcano eruption
  • Narrow beam gamma ray burst
  • Solar eruption
  • Nuclear war
  • Plague

There are other risks that don’t really rise, realistically, to the level of “end of days”: antagonistic AI, global warming, alien invasion, and those unknown unknowns. But I wager that humanity’s existence is not actually threatened by such things.

I’ll clarify here that we’re not talking about human civilization. Let’s start first with just persisting the species out into the future a few thousand to a few million years. Yes, we stated that a billion years is our target, but let’s start small and see how far we can get.

There are a few factors we’ll need to address. The first is timing, how quickly will humanity need this capability. Then there are resource requirements, sustainable independence, minimum viable population, and, if we want to retain or return to a technological civilization, the reemergence of industrial capability. We won’t get to all of these but we’ll skim over them for completeness.

Why are we bothering with this discussion?

Right. Here’s the gist: I posit that there’s an alternative means of human preservation that we should be pursuing right now, in lieu of and/or in addition to, spreading humanity’s legacy out among the planets.

What are we afraid of? We’re afraid of the surface of our planet becoming uninhabitable. Mitigating every one of the above listed risks involves sequestering an enclave of humanity *somewhere* safe, for years if not decades. We want to hide out in some protected, self-sufficient place until we can resume activities, hopefully Earth-top-side.

What if the surface of Earth never returns to a livable state? Bah! Five massive extinction events resulting in five returns from the brink of annihilation prove that, until the Sun swells to consume the inner planets, Earth will always return to a state of habitability.

Is space the only alternative? If not, then where, other than the surface of Mars or the Moon, can we squirrel away a self-sufficient, re-emergent pocket of humanity?

Queue the music…

Under the sea.
Under the sea.
Darlin’ it’s better, down where it’s wetter, take it from me.

Who’s up for a little cocktail (sauce)?

A city on Mars?

Bullshit. Build a city at the bottom of the sea. Or deep within the Earth.

Such a metropolis would be protected from cosmic radiation, volcanic winter, nuclear fallout, a ravaging plague of zombies, and all the toxins and trauma, malcontents and mayhem. We wouldn’t need to spend $billions blasting resources into space. Or traversing billions of miles of a very nasty inter-planetary void. We could leverage all the benefits of cheap labor, cheap materials and exhaustive know-how right here where we need them.

Within a few years we could build a vast network of cities, all self-sustainable, all independent. Such preserves could be supported by tourism yet isolated at the first signs of trouble.

Every disaster movie ever made makes provisions for such failsafe protections of humanity. And there’s a reason why — it make sense. Even if (or when) the worst of the worst calamity takes place, the buried and submerged cities would weather the situation far more easily than some half-baked outpost on Mars could survive the decades alone without support from Earth.

Eventually, if humanity can survive its own self-made ills, it might construct the means to disperse its seed into the cosmos. (Why we, here and now, should give a shit about that, is beyond me.) But, even if Elon wants to immortalize himself as some savoir of Humanity 2.0, then building a city on Mars shouldn’t be the first step. Establish a subterranean city for the Morlocks and Mermaids and then shoot for the stars.

Comparing a Martian colony to Nemo’s Atlantis we have the following factors:

  • Timing: How long will it take to get a viable habitat built, stocked and operational? Do we have 10 years before the next apocalypse? 50? We don’t really know, but surely sooner is better. With Nemo City we could start tomorrow.
  • Resource requirements: Besides air, water, nutrients and nearly everything else, what does Mars need to establish itself as a potential sanctuary for, not just humanity, but all of humanity’s dependencies? Think biosphere/ecosystem here. Again, for a earthly solution, all the stuff required for existence is right outside our front door. For Barsoom City? Oy! Maybe you won’t have to bring dirt for farming (provided you can wash the peroxide salts from the Martian soil).
  • Sustainable independence: Will a Martian colony EVER actually become independent? With technology, industry,  agriculture and growth enough to blossom and return the favor back to Earth? Sure science fiction thinks so. But reality?
  • Minimum viable population: We know humanity prospers in the gravity well, with the oxygen levels and sunlight saturation of Earth. On Mars? What strange illnesses will reveal themselves, both on the red planet and along the months long trip to get there? Will human births suffer? Human fertility? What of restocking Earth with surplus Martians and surplus supporting biota (animals, plants, bacteria and fungi)?
  • A technological civilization and the reemergence of industrial capability: It took humanity thousands of years, and terrajoules of energy to lift itself up to a technological society. Will Mars be able to repeat this?

Elon, do you really want to preserve humanity? If so, maybe you could turn your sights down from the heavens to the ground beneath your feet. Use your Boring company to tunnel into the earth and there build an actual salvation city.