Thursday, February 18, 2016

Earth 2.0: Let There Be Life!

Microscopic Life: Survive! Replicate!
Nine billion years had passed for Earth to reach the sphericalish disposition I described in my previous article, and which I will refer to as Earth 1.0.  In short, it is incontrovertible that the Big Bang generated physical matter which digested in the fiery belly of stars was then regurgitated, reaggregated  redigested again and again  resulting in our vast universe of material complexity.

All this chemical, nuclear and physical mixing was driven by properties inherent in the matter and spatial location relative to other matter. Importantly, the subsequent organization of all this physical matter was strongly dependent upon the very nature of particles and the forces and energy exchanged between them.

About 4.5 billion years ago Earth 1.0 was transitioning toward a state of higher complexity.  One might label these new, underlying, organizing elements as biological properties.  Given yet another immensely long period of time, these properties would lead Earth down a path toward an every changing destination filled with diverse, living organisms.

Macroscopic Life: Survive! Replicate!
It is important to note that Earth 1.0 didn't leap to Earth 2.0 overnight; that would require something akin to religious magic, an unbelievable occurrence given the abundance of evidence found over centuries of research. In truth, the Earth's liquid oceans sloshed, and its gaseous atmosphere swirled; the Moon's gravitation tugged while the Sun's radiation showered upon this pebble.  And with numerous other physical inputs, at some juncture a bit of the planet's matter became complex in a biological fashion began down a new path of self organization.

Now, one might be tempted to label all the resulting intermingling as random processes; on the contrary, the biological self organization that emerged was simply a tiny bit more stable than the disorganizing forces mustered against it.  Over a very, very long period of time this process, now known as evolution by natural selection, dominated.  With extremely gradualism engaged a planetary ecosystem of living things systematically coalesced from the mix of physical matter and growing biological detritus present.

Life evolved!

These organisms competed with the physical elements and with each other through billions of sunrises and sunsets until an amazing diversity of living things spread across the planet.  It is possible life sprung from one or multiple sources, from organic molecules seeded from comet impacts, from the peripheries of active ocean volcano, or from sunlit pools of rare chemical solutions.  Regardless, the world of Earth 2.0 thrived with ever changing varieties of prions,viruses, archaebacteria, eubacteria, protists, fungi, plants and animals wherever conditions permitted.

Megascopic Life: Survive! Replicate!
Importantly each living individual had within it a new drive to replicate itself, if not perfectly, then at least sufficient to pass on information to the next generation to do essentially the same.  These genetic commands encoded in chemical DNA became ever more complex to better contend with the elements, competition from other individuals, and cooperation with other individuals if the outcome resulted in a new stable, replicating generation of its own.

In fact, Earth 2.0 has been alive now for more than four billion years, thriving continuously changing gradually, and establishing a living layer that raged to be successful biologically.  Living organisms alongside physical matter interwove ecosystems that continued if they were holistically stable, and crashed if circumstances were too destabilizing.   Some of these destabilizations were local and others resulted in global mass extinctions, nevertheless life persisted.

Terrestrial life flourished upon the physical and biologically complicated Earth hungering to replicate itself without any real conscious reflection on how to adapt for future.  Evolution's simple organizing nature was embodied by survival and replication of those organisms who inherently survived and replicated. Then about 40,000 years ago, amidst life's flourishing a unique species of life emerged. This species would usher in a new era, wielding a new organizing element with skill, the meme.

Earth 3.0, here we come!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Earth 1.0: Matter of Fact

In the beginning (plus a few billion years)
Before we start forming a vision of the future, we need to consider what has come before us. Specifically, what are the larger events that have delivered the present day.  Knowledge of this legacy will provide perspective into soluions for today's challenges.  To that ends, I will summarize in three articles the salient details of the entirety of the past.

A long time ago (13.8 billion years to be fairly precise) the universe as we know it began with a rapid expansion that resulted in the congealing of matter  (primarily Hydrogen and Helium with trace amounts of Lithium) from energy.  Suffice it to say the singularity at the center of this "Big Bang" event continues to be studied, but the preponderance of evidence points to this moment as the origin of all matter.

Now, of course, we exist in a world that is much more that those three lightweight elements (insert your favorite Periodic Table joke).  Over the course of billions of years after the Big Bang the very nature of matter drew itself together via gravity into immense clumps of sufficient mass that ignited into the self sustaining nuclear energy plants we call stars.  

Stars generally fuse lighter elements into heavier ones which generates heat and emits light aka starshine.  Give a star enough time and it will go through a variety of stages depending on its size forging the likes of Carbon and Iron at its core.  Importantly, the scores of different elements that make up the compounds on Earth were not formed in this most basic stellar fusion.

To get this panoply of atomic elements you need an exploding star, a supernova to be precise.  When such a star violently explodes much of the star material is exposed to extremely high energy and pressures, resulting in the manufacture of all the elements we know and love on our planet Earth.

Given enough time, those distributed bits of ejected star matter clumped together over billions of years, resulting in a universe full of galactically organized star systems, many that have interesting chunks of matter orbiting around them. Time is if anything patient, and we are talking hear about 9 billion years of time-- that's enough time to watch every complete television series (including Breaking Bad and the Simpsons) more than two million times each...with commercials.

The point being, this rock orbiting around our medium size star, took its good old time getting to its current spot.  Additionally, this extremely basic overview is only a snapshot of all the processes that we now understand which contributed to how Earth aggregated into the oblate spheroid of solid, liquid and gaseous materials upon which we stand today.

From Dust The Earth and All Living Things
Now it's no surprise that primitive human cultures would invent creation myths to explain how the Earth and Universe formed. They had very creative minds and a scarcity of data. Today, with modern scientific methods and sound logic, we know with extreme certainty that this is how the Earth really came into being.  It behooves us to use that understanding to build a Millenium Vision.  

Perhaps the core lesson to walk away with is, as Carl Sagan was fond of saying, that we humans are all stardust.  As such, we need to retire fanciful Genesis implications to the cultural fiction section.

Knowing how the Earth began can give us insight into natural processes, material resource availability, and the interrelated nature of all matter.   It also serves as a preamble to understanding how life arose on this planet.  

Life is the second tale in the saga of Earth's legacy.  We'll navigate the rise of living things on Earth next week.

For more detail on the Big Bang and the formation of Earth, I recommend this 5 minute video (The Beginning of Everything)  and this feature length National Geographic documentary (How the Earth Was Formed)

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Millennium (re)Vision

We can figure this out!
A lot can happen in a thousand years.  Humanity has demonstrated just how much a single species can impact a planet and its ecosystems, not to mention its own culture, even over the past century alone.  Scaling up manufacturing production, information sharing, medical technology, universal knowledge: all of these things have made individuals and organizations more effective at accomplishing the targeted objectives of the human whim.

It seems obvious that bringing to bear the organized pursuit of general well being for the entire planet is well within the capability of billions of human beings.  That is, if we can unify our efforts toward common objectives humanity can accomplish any realistic end state.  And yet, gathering together men and women and the governments that lead them to progressively maintain a better world is rather like herding seven billion cats...on a free range, catnip plantation.

Developing and sharing ideas in a unified fashion has the potential to provide conditional access to those proverbial catnip plants.  A long term vision  that is marketed successfully can catalyze human effort en mass.  Certainly, any long-term vision will have its short-sighted nuances.  As such, a world vision needs to be flexible, both to appeal to a wide variety of people and to permit midstream adjustment over time.  (Yesterday's ozone layer hole becomes today's hurricanes becomes tomorrow's rising glacial ocean threat)

The general goals of this Millennium Vision* project has the single intention of targeting the parameters of greater goodness for our world system.  Admittedly, I am personally "channeling" this one draft version of a better future for all.   Yes, I am one of billions who might come up with parallel visions, yet I have hope that through honest, rational eyes I can present parameters of a particular future that is especially worthy of pursuit.  (at least I will have made a honorable attempt)

One thousand years is an eye blink to the Earth's billions of years.  Yet over the next fifty human generations humanity will likely play the largest role in what comes to be on this planet and relatively nearby.  In that sense these human generations will wield the closest thing to godlike power the world has ever seen.  If we mindfully envision a future, act on that positive target, and monitor and correct as we go, the world stands a much higher chance of arriving at an especially beautiful place.

Let's get to it.

* Note I have rebranded the working title of this project from The Millennium Plan to The Millennium Vision.  A long term vision must come before assembling the rigorous plan to get there.