Consider the fact…

…that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stuck fast, untimely wounded or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result - eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly - in you. (Bill Bryson; A Short History of Nearly Everything)

I love the above quote but it leaves me with a sense of disquiet. You see, I’m not quite sure how to feel knowing that the impossibly long genetic sequence which has preceded me is likely to end with me. As someone who is not in the “family way”, it appears that I will be the end of the line, the final outcome of a vast, unbroken chain of events stretching back to the dawn of time. After so much evolutionary success it’s somewhat amusing to think that I may be an experiment that didn’t work, an evolutionary dead-end, as it were. One could say that it’s difficult to comprehend, given the successes that I have been built upon. Be that as it may, and as depressing as it might sound, it’s a reminder that I shouldn’t take myself too seriously. Life, in general, is a crapshoot. Some of us will hit the target and some will not, and whether you like it or not, that’s just the way it is, because we are all integral parts of the process.

wildcat2030:

A New Physics Theory of Life - Why does life exist?  - Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.” From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life. “You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said. England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations. “I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong,” he explained. “On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.” (via A New Thermodynamics Theory of the Origin of Life | Simons Foundation)

wildcat2030:

A New Physics Theory of Life
-
Why does life exist?
-
Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.” From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life. “You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said. England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations. “I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong,” he explained. “On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.” (via A New Thermodynamics Theory of the Origin of Life | Simons Foundation)

divineirony:

Evolution doesn’t work the way you think it does! Paleontologist Henry Gee demolishes fondly held misconceptions and reveals the true workings of evolution. An exclusive excerpt from “The Accidental Species”!

From Amazon:
The idea of a missing link between humanity and our animal ancestors predates evolution and popular science and actually has religious roots in the deist concept of the Great Chain of Being. Yet, the metaphor has lodged itself in the contemporary imagination, and new fossil discoveries are often hailed in headlines as revealing the elusive transitional step, the moment when we stopped being “animal” and started being “human.” In The Accidental Species, Henry Gee, longtime paleontology editor at Nature, takes aim at this misleading notion, arguing that it reflects a profound misunderstanding of how evolution works and, when applied to the evolution of our own species, supports mistaken ideas about our own place in the universe.

Gee presents a robust and stark challenge to our tendency to see ourselves as the acme of creation. Far from being a quirk of religious fundamentalism, human exceptionalism, Gee argues, is an error that also infects scientific thought. Touring the many features of human beings that have recurrently been used to distinguish us from the rest of the animal world, Gee shows that our evolutionary outcome is one possibility among many, one that owes more to chance than to an organized progression to supremacy. He starts with bipedality, which he shows could have arisen entirely by accident, as a by-product of sexual selection, moves on to technology, large brain size, intelligence, language, and, finally, sentience. He reveals each of these attributes to be alive and well throughout the animal world—they are not, indeed, unique to our species.

The Accidental Species combines Gee’s firsthand experience on the editorial side of many incredible paleontological findings with healthy skepticism and humor to create a book that aims to overturn popular thinking on human evolution—the key is not what’s missing, but how we’re linked.

astrodidact:

A volcano in Indonesia produces lava that looks BLUE! via IFLS/fb



Though the molten sulfur looks red in daylight, during the night, the blue flames that reach heights of 5 meters (16 feet) are highly visible. The sulfur, which is right around its melting point at 115°C (240 °F), is pumped away from the volcano so it can cool and be collected by miners for 680 rupiahs per kilogram (about 2.5 cents per pound).

These photos were taken by award-winning photographer Olivier Grunwald. He faced extremely hazardous conditions during the shoot and had to wear a gas mask to protect himself against the toxic fumes.
http://sploid.gizmodo.com/spectacular-blue-lava-flows-at-this-indonesian-volcano-1498816568
Photo credit: Olivier Grunwald http://www.oliviergrunewald.com/

astrodidact:

A volcano in Indonesia produces lava that looks BLUE! via IFLS/fb

Though the molten sulfur looks red in daylight, during the night, the blue flames that reach heights of 5 meters (16 feet) are highly visible. The sulfur, which is right around its melting point at 115°C (240 °F), is pumped away from the volcano so it can cool and be collected by miners for 680 rupiahs per kilogram (about 2.5 cents per pound).

These photos were taken by award-winning photographer Olivier Grunwald. He faced extremely hazardous conditions during the shoot and had to wear a gas mask to protect himself against the toxic fumes.

http://sploid.gizmodo.com/spectacular-blue-lava-flows-at-this-indonesian-volcano-1498816568

Photo credit: Olivier Grunwald http://www.oliviergrunewald.com/