Monday, 18 July 2011

Evolution: onward and upward

About 4 billion years ago the Earth is rock, molten lava, obnoxious gases and a vast amount of water.
 The information content of the planet's surface is minimal and there is no biosphere.

Within the blink of a cosmic eye (less than a few hundred million years) the first life forms appear. Even the simplest organism is extraordinarily complex and information rich. Life begins to alter its own environment, even the atmosphere, in a way which promotes more life.
The biosphere has started and its information content begins to grow.

500 million years ago life multiplies in the ocean, diversifying, experimenting, the atmosphere is benign. Vision had been invented in sea creatures so that the world is seen  for the first time in the history of Earth, if not the universe. Coded survival solutions are being carried between species  (horizontal gene transfer), e.g. by viruses, and within species (vertical gene transfer) by descent with modification. Probably much else is happening.
The information content of the biosphere is huge and growing fast.

Today, ecosystems abound in water, on land and even in the air and  information content is astronomically high and still growing fast.

Why is it growing fast? Because humankind is evolving fast and we are incredibly information-rich in a way distinct from any other species, having spanned the world, turning it into a global metropolis in the sense that you can travel by air between any two cities on the planet in a time comparable to that of traversing a city on foot; while knowledge and social interaction is planet-wide at the speed of light.

We are unique in many ways. Our technology has developed to the state where we can, e.g.
  • produce food in abundance and, in principle,  distribute it to where it's needed
  • heal the sick and prevent diseases
  • manage some natural systems to a limited degree (e.g. wildlife reservations)
  • undo some of the environmental damage we do
  • simulate nature in mathematical models
  • record data, process it and distribute it globally as well as around the solar system
  • transfer people from one celestial body to another
  • copy subsystems within elementary life forms
  • probe matter down to quarks, gluons and other subatomic particles
  • derive knowledge of the universe billions of years into the past and billions of light years away
  • harness the quantum world for electronic devices and computing
  • release the power of the atomic nucleus. 
Our imagination, creativity, curiosity, persistence, intelligence, consciousness and tool-making prowess have allowed us to probe into the working of nature, to speculate on its limits and orgins, to exploit it in innumerable ways and travel in our imaginations independently of  space-time. 

At this stage in human history we are confronted with deep questions on what it means to be human and what is sacred as biotechnology has the potential to physically alter our mind-body system in ways unimaginable only a few decades ago.

Which reminds us that there are even more important ways we are distinct from other life forms. Humans have a sense of
  • good and  evil
  • justice and judgement
  • truth
  • humility and pride
  • pity and mercy
  • grace 
  • redemption and salvation
  • humour, irony and narrative
  • aesthetics
  • awe and wonder.
We are able to conceive of divine love as the highest ideal and of a monotheistic source of all being from which our reality emanates and to which we can choose to relate to in body, mind and spirit, because we have been imbued with the freedom to do so.

It is fortunate we have these qualities of mind and spirit and the choice of a relationship to our Creator. Otherwise how are we going to cope with the  nature we have discovered and used as well as those layers of mystery which, if science, technology and medicine are not  plunged into some atheistic, neo-pagan or post modern dark age,  may be revealed in future?

Now let me descend from the soap box and invite your comments.

Author, 2077 AD