Thursday, 12 November 2015

Living planet: the cosmic connection (updated 12 Nov 2015)

Terrestrial life appears to have begun with single celled organisms some 4.1 billion years ago (until only a few months ago the accepted figure was 3.8 billion years), when the earth was still subject to  the late heavy bombardment, a very hostile place of meteors and molten rock. It is now a labyrinth of vegetation, bacteria, viruses, insects, worms, reptiles, fish, birds and mammals interacting through hierarchies and networks in ways  only now beginning to be apparent. It is all happening on scales ranging from the sub-atomic  to the global and it is no longer heresy to say that the processes of organization and self improvement  throughout are far from random. Intelligence and purpose are revealed to an extent which the 19th century biologists could never have imagined. The whole biosphere appears to be intelligent through and through, not just a lot organisms blindly competing for survival and driven at random by a blind watchmaker. Random processes do occur, but they are present within an ordered scheme and used by some guiding agency in a systematic way.
Did terrestrial life start in the late heavy bombardment?
Equally revolutionary is our growing perception of how this ecosystem is influenced by extraterrestrial factors:

  • Sun and Moon affect tides, which affect  marine life ranging from viruses to blue whales.  Tidal effects probably extend down into the crust which is also home to bacteria and viruses. The cyclic motions and eclipses of celestial objects, together with the Earth’s magnetic field, have allowed birds and mammals to migrate over large distances.
  • Sunlight is the energy source which through photosynthesis powers all microbes and plants, except that a few  get their energy from  reactions between inorganic chemicals of stellar origin.
  • Solar energy, mostly ultra-violet (UV) , brings heat into the atmosphere and ocean, so that ice can be melted, water evaporated and a life friendly warm environment sustained. Although the Sun’s output has grown by 20-30% over the 4.3 billion year history of the Earth the surface temperature has remained life friendly.
  • Cosmic rays from supernovae, gamma ray bursts and supermassive black holes non-randomly induce mutations in viruses, bacteria and the cells working within living organisms.  This has permitted speciation in insects and microbes (and possibly worms) and microevolution in some higher life forms (e.g.  Darwin’s finches).
  • Supernovae (very hot stars in their death throes) manufacture iron and heavier elements used in life and civilization, either directly in the composition of soil, plants and animals, or indirectly by providing the radioactive heat sources (uranium and thorium isotopes) deep down in the Earth  which drive plate tectonics and volcanism, both crucial to the biosphere’s evolution (e.g. the water cycle would be impossible without it).
  • Stars have produced  elements (notably carbon -12),  simple compounds and organic complexes with up to 10 atoms, either internally or in circumstellar space, which are all part of the living systems here on Earth. Precursors of RNA and DNA together with some 200 other organic compounds have been produced in astronomical  environs.
  •  Comets consisting largely of ice are thought to have replenished atmospheric water loss as they hit the Earth over the aeons. The water loss is due to due to cosmic ray bombardment driving water molecules into space. 
  • Meteors and meteoric dust amounting to millions of tons over the aeons have crashed and burned into the oceans, land and atmosphere with inevitable effects on organisms, especially during the late heavy bombardment of 3.8 - 4.15 billion years ago.
  •  Asteroid motion has been orchestrated by Jupiter, Saturn and Venus to result in mass extinctions as the asteroids hit the Earth over hundreds of millions of years. A rapid spurt of new life forms are created after every extinction event. 

  •  Cosmic fine tuning (e.g to 100 decimal places in the case of the gravitational constant) was needed to allow all the processes of life and individual  organisms to occur. Dozens of physical constants are  adjusted in this way to permit biological life.

  • Dark matter may be playing a role in these events, e.g. in guiding the motions of planets over billions of years or in affecting heat processes in the Earth’s core. Research on this is only just starting and given that exotic dark matter forms most of the universe its role in the biosphere could be fundamental.
  • Quantum entanglement ('spooky action at  distance') is now accepted as standard physics. It enables instantaneous interaction between certain particles e.g molecules originally sharing the same quantum state, regardless of separation, including some in biological systems. Probably the farthest apart organisms subtly influence each other with no time delay and given that all particles were entangled in the Big Bang singularity there could be atoms in organisms connected to anywhere in the universe at any time, past, present or future.
Most of this is fairly easy to check in a google search and far from exhaustive. It is the result of peer reviewed academic research. Holding in one's mind all these connections between life and the universe adds an extra dimension to the experience of witnessing nature and, for me, testifies to the intricacies  of God's creation and the way it was brought into being.

John Sears

Author, 2077: Knights of Peace

See also

 Our Precious Planet

Deep mystery of existence

Posts by subject

Sunday, 1 November 2015

The horse in civilization

Certain animals are very familiar to us and it is easy to forget how important, if not crucial, they have been to our civilisation and  history. In another post I list the attributes of the domestic dog, some of them verging on the miraculous

In his book HiddenTreasures in the Book of Job Hugh Ross highlights a number of animals which have been pivotal  in the history of civilization. Parts of the world lacking these , e.g. Australia prior to colonization, continued in the pre-civilization  mode until influenced by colonial expansion
Along with the horse humans have employed  donkeys, cows, oxen, sheep, goats , llamas, yaks,  camels,  elephants, ostriches, birds of prey and dogs , all variously used  in transport, communication, ploughing, grinding grain,  pumping  water, forestry, supplying milk, cheese and meat, hunting, rescue, scavenging, policing, ceremonial  events, cavalry, sport, entertainment and provision of companionship.

It is not surprising that horses, which were first  tamed around 2000 BC,  have proved particularly valuable since they are well suited to breeding  and training for purpose,  providentially having  genetic characteristics which lend them to this, as do dogs.  In contemporary society this is particularly noticeable in the case of race horses.   Horses are just the right height for riding – not too low, so that a tall  rider’s feet don’t trail on the ground as with a donkey, and not  too high to risk serious injury to the rider in the event of a fall.  They are also quite hardy and adaptable to the weather, being able to perspire when hot  and wear a blanket  when it is cold. 

In retrospect, a horse can be considered as a predecessor of today's automobiles and communication lines.

They are valued as loyal and courageous by their owners, especially in battle.  They demand minimal maintenance: just 1 hour of feeding in the morning and 1 hour in the evening.  Their ability to smell water has been invaluable on journeys where this is scarce e.g. Bedouins in the desert used them to locate the next watering hole. 

Over time they have been used for:

  • transport over short and long distances, taking rider or luggage or food  over all kinds of terrain, ranging from grassy plains to rocky mountain passes and allowing trading between distant nations

  •  carrying of messengers and couriers in relays via posting stations, allowing information to reach command centres or edicts to be rapidly disseminated by a central authority, a great enabler of nation states and empires

  • organised agriculture: pulling ploughs, powering water pumps and mills, hauling logs

  • search and rescue in all weathers, taking the rider to the distressed and injured and able to transport both the rescuer and the rescued back to safety

  • healing of the mentally stressed and distressed by allowing themselves to be stroked, petted and hand fed

  • circuses , pageants and military parades, for entertainment or inspiration  of crowds 

  • fighting, riot and crowd control, being trained or blinkered to remain calm even in noisy or potentially disturbing situations, when explosions, flashes or gunfire might be expected to upset them

Horses have also had a major role in our military history up to World War I, risking their lives and staying loyal to their owners  in battle in a way which is not matched by any other animal. 

One particular military use of the horse has been in conjunction with the stirrup, which appeared in Europe around 500 AD. This was fundamental in the rise of feudalism since it led to mounted knights with much superior power over foot soldiers.  A knight with a stirrup to hold him steady could easily overcome resistance from an opponent on foot who prior to this invention could have toppled him off the horse.  The stirrup gave a strategic  advantage to those seeking to establish, maintain or expand a fiefdom.  The feudal lord would also have amassed sufficient wealth to train and equip knights and build a castle, giving him impregnable power until the invention of gunpowder, which enabled the king or other national leader to demolish the lord’s castle in one afternoon of heavy bombardment and firearms made the feudal knight in armour obsolete, with or without the use of a stirrup.

Today the military and farming role of the horse has been usurped by engine-driven machinery. Now perhaps their main use is as a major source of entertainment:  show jumping, racing for the gambling industry, breeding competitions, ceremonial  activities and circuses. Yet they still come to the for in crowd control and fighting in mountainous country.

In researching this blog I was surprised to discover that the modern two-toed horse (Equus caballus) originated some 6000 years ago, about the time organized agriculture was taking over from  pastoral/ hunter gather ways of life and on the N.American continent. There had been dog-sized predecessors  for millions of years.   It was first domesticated around  4000 years ago somewhere  in the Black Sea area.  At that time, before the sea level had risen to current levels due to the  melting ice of the last Ice Age, there was a land bridge between the N.American and Asian continents, where the Bering Straits are at present. The American horses migrated across this to Asia and Europe; others, according to recent research,  were hunted to extinction by  native Americans. Today’s wild horses in America came from Europe over the last few hundred years, since the first  Spanish explorers around 1500.

Almost certainly the technology of today which allows blogs like this to be distributed worldwide would not have arisen without the advances in civilization arising from the use of horses. 

John Sears
Author, 2077: Knights of Peace