Transparent Blue by Physics and Chemistry

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University of St Andrews

Astronomy Group

LEAP Project

University of St Andrews

Postdoc at University of Cambridge
Cavendish Astrophysics
Laboratory of Molecular Biology


Life may have come from non-life as one big accident. This seems highly unlikely, at least given the way our universe is set up, so if it's that way, then we are probably the only intelligent life in the universe, maybe the only life at all.

Or maybe the origin of life was directed, in which case it has happened as few or many times as the director deigns, but at least once, at least here.

Or maybe the origin of life occurs due to necessary physical principles acting on conditions that are, in certain regions of our universe, inevitable. Put some likely simple chemicals and rocks near enough to a star and pop! Life. Every time. In this case, life is very likely all over the place.

Or maybe life arises from incremental chances, incremental steps, maybe with some or all of the chance steps the numbers are fixed a bit, the dice are weighted by particular physical laws and conditions. After all, random isn't truly *random*. Even a coin flip is absolutely fixed by basic Newtonian physics. There might be a physical selection after these steps, choosing the structures that replicate however inefficiently over those that don't replicate at all. In this case, life might be unique to the Earth, all over the place, or in very few places, depending on how unique the steps are and what the probabilities of the steps happen to be.

Which one of these is it? I don't know! No one knows! That's why I and many others do the research. Because we don't know the answer, but with research, maybe we can find it. I approach my work in light of this hypothetical: If we ever find life on other worlds, something we can possibly do even within other solar systems within the next 25-50 years, that will strongly suggest that it wasn't a big accident, and will help strongly constrain how many little accidents and how likely they would have been. Or that discovery, along with the exploration of prebiotic chemistry in the lab, might point to life being inevitable given ubiquitous starting conditions.

Nothing can rule in or rule out a generic designer. If we find life, that's consistent with the designer, and if we don't, also consistent. That's why the design hypothesis is not personally very interesting to many scientists. Even if it happens to be true (and how would we know?), it's a terribly boring answer.

How to Reach Me:

Phone:Check Where I Am

Battcock Centre for Experimental Astrophysics
Cavendish Laboratory
JJ Thomson Avenue
Cambridge CB3 0HE