October 15, 2012

Stuff just gets up and walks. Part 19b.

The universe is a combination of matter and energy, which are essentially the same thing. Matter can become energy, and energy can coalesce into matter. It's just like electricity and magnetism: same thing, different mood.

What this says to me is that everything is essentially matter (which is the same as saying "everything is essentially energy"). We, too, are made of matter. We're stuff. A wonderful mixture of stuff, to be sure, but still stuff. And yet we're alive. In essence, stuff just gets up and walks. It takes a very long time but as (I think) Sean Carroll once said, "Life is an inherent property of matter." I believe this because everything seems to point in this direction. The seeds of life were inherent in the Big Bang. Everything needed for life was already there in the first instant. Given time and the right environment, life will always blossom. I'm sure this is true everywhere in the universe, wherever conditions are right.

I was pleased to see a re-statement of the same idea on Bob Ballard's "Alien Deep", a show on NGC. (And yes, I know he's kind of brain-dead about certain issues.) He was talking about how rock rises from the ocean as a result of volcanoes, and eventually this rock hosts living creatures. He visited a large patch of land that he'd witnessed emerging from the water decades ago. At that time, it was as barren as a moonscape. But on his return many years later, the cameras recorded the life that now exists on that rock. (Mind you, a lot of it floated in on the air currents or was accidentally carried there by birds. But let's ignore that for a moment.)

The comment Ballard made at the end of the show was, "Rock is our ultimate ancestor." I hadn't thought of it that way, but he's right (sort of). "Matter" is a better word to use, since rock is just rock, while matter is all sorts of things. We need that magic mix of matter (and energy) to create life, but it obviously happens. We're here, aren't we?

I say it all the time: stuff just gets up and walks. Yes, our ancestors were furry creatures and lizards and fish and worms and even single-celled life. But if you look far enough into the past, there is only one possible origin for life. Matter is our ultimate ancestor.

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