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Probability of life Options
Kirill Vorobyov
Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2019 6:32:43 AM

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Hello!

I know we've discussed this before on multiple occasions, and I did browse a few old threads thinking maybe I could post this in continuation of one of those, but they all seem to be overcrowded with different subject lines already, so finally I decided to start a new thread.

Once I said that I didn't believe the evolutionary theory explained the origin of life, because for an evolution to even start, at some point a physical system (a candidate for the first biological being) must spontaneously acquire the ability to encode information about itself and a mechanism that can read this information and use it to build new generation of that system. And that is a very sophisticated mechanism, even the simplest version of it. The key is that it cannot develop gradually, it must get formed by chance "at a single strike of a lightning bolt" out of the prebiotic soup. And the probability of such an event spontaneously happenning should be so negligible that I said I thought it would never happen. However, I did admit at that time that I actually didn't have numbers to support my judgement, so it was completely intuitive.

Now I have found that this guy - Eugene Koonin (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Koonin) in his book "The Logic Of Chance: The Nature And Origin Of Biological Evolution" actually did make the required estimation.

Koonin estimates that the simplest physical system that can encode and reproduce itself must contain a specific chain of 1800 nucleotides. With 4 types of nucleotides, this gives 4 raised to the power of 1800 combinations, only one or few of which can work. Therefore, the probablity of such a system forming spontaneously "at a strike" is 1 devided by 4 raised to the power of 1800, which gives the probability of 10 raised to the power of minus 1081. That's 0.0000 <1800 ohs> 0001.

Now, given the lifetime of the physical Universe (the one we live in), this probability means that for such an event to happen just once, we'd need like 10 raised to the power of 900 (i.e. 1 with 900 ohs) universes.

Just thought this may be of interest to some of you.


Epiphileon
Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2019 12:07:40 PM

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It seems the assumption here is that the first replicating molecules would have had to be living, that is not necessarily the case. The first replicating molecules may have been just lifeless molecules that bonded. However, this would have begun a process of natural selection within whatever medium they were occurring in. Given this scenario, life is much more likely.

Besides that, the probabilities of any other origin seem even more fantastic.

Question authority. How do you know, that you know, what you know?
Y111
Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2019 11:26:53 PM
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Kirill Vorobyov wrote:
Now, given the lifetime of the physical Universe (the one we live in), this probability means that for such an event to happen just once, we'd need like 10 raised to the power of 900 (i.e. 1 with 900 ohs) universes.

Why? What would you need all the other universes for? Suppose the probability of your birth to your parents was 1/100, does that mean they had to have 100 babies for you to be born? Also, lottery winners don't have to make thousands of attempts to win once.
Kirill Vorobyov
Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2019 4:48:52 AM

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Y111 wrote:
Kirill Vorobyov wrote:
Now, given the lifetime of the physical Universe (the one we live in), this probability means that for such an event to happen just once, we'd need like 10 raised to the power of 900 (i.e. 1 with 900 ohs) universes.

Why? What would you need all the other universes for? Suppose the probability of your birth to your parents was 1/100, does that mean they had to have 100 babies for you to be born? Also, lottery winners don't have to make thousands of attempts to win once.


Y111, that was a methaphor to illustrate the unlikeliness of the event.

If for an event to happen you need to make 10 to the order of 900 (just think about this number! - it's 1 and 900 ohs after it) attempts, this in fact means that in one try this simply will not happen.

And to make the picture even clearer - spontanous creation of a replication mechanism is not the only impossible event in the evolution process. Form what I've read (not only Koonin - other scientists largely agree with the overall picture presented below), I understand that the whole evolution of biological beings on the planet Earth can in fact be described as Darwin's evolution during long periods of time, except that at some points there have been revolutionary changes at which points the complexity of biological beings jumped in orders of magnitude, and as in the case of reproduction those changes could not develop gradually, they represented one-time mutations perhaps as statistically impossible as the very first "revolution" that led to reproduction.

In other words, even if the miracle happenned and despite the 10e-1081 probability reproduction somehow did occur by chance, for life on Earth to reach the today's level of development a few other as improbable events should have happened at later points.
Kirill Vorobyov
Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2019 4:59:51 AM

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Epiphileon wrote:
It seems the assumption here is that the first replicating molecules would have had to be living,


What do you mean "living"? This is the probability for the simplest possible replicating structure to form in the prebiotic soup.

You can call it living or not. I understand many refer to that point as the beginning of "life", but I guess other definitions are perfectly possible.
Kirill Vorobyov
Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2019 5:02:22 AM

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Epiphileon wrote:

Besides that, the probabilities of any other origin seem even more fantastic.


The probability of some other origin is strictly equal to 1 minus 10e-1081 = virtually 100%.
Jyrkkä Jätkä
Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2019 5:42:49 AM

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That's about the same propability that the people in USA would vote an amoeba to their president.


In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.
RuthP
Posted: Friday, March 29, 2019 3:32:12 PM

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Kirill Vorobyov wrote:
Hello!

I know we've discussed this before on multiple occasions, and I did browse a few old threads thinking maybe I could post this in continuation of one of those, but they all seem to be overcrowded with different subject lines already, so finally I decided to start a new thread.

Once I said that I didn't believe the evolutionary theory explained the origin of life, because for an evolution to even start, at some point a physical system (a candidate for the first biological being) must spontaneously acquire the ability to encode information about itself and a mechanism that can read this information and use it to build new generation of that system. And that is a very sophisticated mechanism, even the simplest version of it. The key is that it cannot develop gradually, it must get formed by chance "at a single strike of a lightning bolt" out of the prebiotic soup. And the probability of such an event spontaneously happenning should be so negligible that I said I thought it would never happen. However, I did admit at that time that I actually didn't have numbers to support my judgement, so it was completely intuitive.

Now I have found that this guy - Eugene Koonin (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Koonin) in his book "The Logic Of Chance: The Nature And Origin Of Biological Evolution" actually did make the required estimation.

Koonin estimates that the simplest physical system that can encode and reproduce itself must contain a specific chain of 1800 nucleotides. With 4 types of nucleotides, this gives 4 raised to the power of 1800 combinations, only one or few of which can work. Therefore, the probablity of such a system forming spontaneously "at a strike" is 1 devided by 4 raised to the power of 1800, which gives the probability of 10 raised to the power of minus 1081. That's 0.0000 <1800 ohs> 0001.

Now, given the lifetime of the physical Universe (the one we live in), this probability means that for such an event to happen just once, we'd need like 10 raised to the power of 900 (i.e. 1 with 900 ohs) universes.

Just thought this may be of interest to some of you.

You misrepresent Dr. Koonin if you try to use his work to argue against evolution in general or against an abiogenic (a non-living) origin of life. I have not read the book to which you refer. Dr. Koonin, however, published an article in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) back in 2007, which spoke to reasonable mechanisms, meaning environments extant in the world and known chemical reactions, which increase the odds that naturally occurring small organic (meaning carboniferous, not biotic-origin) molecules might, through ordinary chemical reaction, form into RNA. Dr. Koonin's earliest work after receiving his degree focused on the possibility that small RNA viruses represent an intermediate step between abiotic (non-living) chemistry and the chemistry and genetics of living organisms. Biologists in general differ on whether or not they consider viruses to be defined as life. It seems reasonable to see them, then, as an intermediate step.

It is important to recognize the world of the origin of life in no way resembled the world today. The world of formation of life-precursor molecules and those more complex molecules (RNA, amino acids, DNA) which went on to become involved in life was vastly different. It was far more geologically active, with energy and chemicals from deeper layers of the earth regularly breaking through to the surface, and later under the ocean(s), facilitating reactions. There was no free oxygen in the atmosphere. (That would need to wait for the evolution of green plants, unicellular photosynthesizers). The atmosphere was a reducing atmosphere, not an oxidizer. This, too facilitated the development of the kinds of molecules under discussion.

It is necessary to recognize it is chemical reactions that are under consideration. When one speaks of astronomical odds of a particular event occurring, it is necessary to realize there are astronomical numbers of molecules. The numbers of opportunities, therefore, for a particular change in reaction in an equilibrium setting is equally astronomical. Molecules in equilibrium are not static. They are constantly reacting and changing from one state to another. Rates of reaction are vastly enhanced when there are widespread sources of energy, as in volcanic activity venting from deep in the earth, as in the state of the world during the origin of life.

Here is a link to the PNAS article. It is very short and easy to understand. Amazingly enough, PNAS actually lets you read the entire article without a $30 fee: Koonin, PNAS 2007: "An RNA-making reactor for the origin of life"
Epiphileon
Posted: Sunday, March 31, 2019 11:11:58 AM

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Epiphileon wrote:
Besides that, the probabilities of any other origin seem even more fantastic.
Kirill Vorobyov wrote:
The probability of some other origin is strictly equal to 1 minus 10e-1081 = virtually 100%.

That is not at all a truism due to the inherent generalization of "any other origin", pick an alternative and let's discuss the probabilities.
Further, this application of probability theory is highly dubious.

Ruth has made another one of the points I thought of when she states there were astronomical numbers of molecules available, and given the time scale astronomical chances for them to combine in the necessary formations.

The first type of natural selection on the planet would have been survival of the stable. In the chemical composition of the prebiotic oceans of Earth, molecules would have formed as a result of chemical bonding and a variety of outside energy inputs. The race of evolution actually started here, well prior to life. Laboratory experiments have shown that proteins could develop in this manner.

The problem with any of the theories of abiogenesis, at least for those who wish to believe in alternatives to natural causation, is that there is no way to observe the process, even if we could real-time observe a planet on which it was happening the process took hundreds of millions of years; however, laboratory experiments in which early conditions are replicated have produced biological substances and if these are manipulated in the lab, basically forcing what would have eventually happened by chance, you get complex replication. Here is one example of that.
Scientists crack how primordial life on Earth might have replicated itself


Question authority. How do you know, that you know, what you know?
Kirill Vorobyov
Posted: Monday, April 1, 2019 5:08:57 AM

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RuthP wrote:

It is necessary to recognize it is chemical reactions that are under consideration. When one speaks of astronomical odds of a particular event occurring, it is necessary to realize there are astronomical numbers of molecules. The numbers of opportunities, therefore, for a particular change in reaction in an equilibrium setting is equally astronomical. Molecules in equilibrium are not static. They are constantly reacting and changing from one state to another. Rates of reaction are vastly enhanced when there are widespread sources of energy, as in volcanic activity venting from deep in the earth, as in the state of the world during the origin of life.


That's right, I understand it is by taking into account all these factors that Koonin takes some two hundred orders of magnitude off the probability of individual event (1e-1081) and comes up with the probability of approximately 1e-900 "per universe".

Thanks for the article, RuthP.

I am not a scientist, and I am not trying to make an argument either for or against what mainstream scientific view is. I am not in a position to do so. One thing I do want to say though.

Life on Earth exists, this is a fact. It has not only originated, but has developed into its present complex forms somehow.

If the probability of it developing into these forms by way of random mutations of inanimate nature is 1e-900 per universe, then we must conclude that it is virtually 100% certain that there should have been some Big Unknown at play here, something REALLY big that we currently overlook.

That's my only point. Like when people thought the earth was flat but their all attempts to reach its edge inevitably failed, it subsequently turned out that the big unknown had been that the Earth was a sphere.

Somehow the idea and design manage to prevail over physical matter. How excatly? The Big Unknown.



Absinthius
Posted: Monday, April 1, 2019 10:52:33 AM

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Another nuance to consider is that the context in which this initial reaction would have occurred is very different from what we have now. Conditions such as temperature, pressure and available molecules and compounds in the air, water or soil are nothing compared to what they are now.

I am sure that the experts are taking these kinds of differences into account, but it will be nearly impossible to understand them completely. Therefore the probability calculations will have a fairly large degree of uncertainty and the actual probability could be lower, or higher than what is estimated here.

As for the question in general, as is stated very humorously in a book by Terry Pratchett: (I paraphrase) "Things with a chance of one in a million happen all the time)". This principle applies here as well. The odds of this happening on any planet or in any universe are astronomically small. But considering the amount of potential things with astronomically small chances, some are bound to happen..

Just to state the obvious.. apparently this one has happened! No other hypothesis with a higher probability has so far been brought up, so this is the best we got. Let's apply Ockham's razor.

Look, how about this? Let's pretend we've had the row and I've won. See? It saves a lot of effort.
Kirill Vorobyov
Posted: Tuesday, April 2, 2019 5:03:45 AM

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Absinthius wrote:

Just to state the obvious.. apparently this one has happened! No other hypothesis with a higher probability has so far been brought up, so this is the best we got. Let's apply Ockham's razor.


I agree. I admire scientists who put their effort in discovering various fine nuances and new facts that all feed into our understanding of the overall picture.

But I think it is important in the meantime to keep in mind that the picture as it is developing for our view has a huge black hole right in the center of it.

It seems that the more we learn, the more wide open the question of how life originated and developed on this planet is. I am sure there will be a revolution in our understanding at some point, but when - who knows.
pedro
Posted: Wednesday, April 17, 2019 1:30:14 AM

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As soon as we understand it we will become extinct.

All good ideas arrive by chance- Max Ernst
Kirill Vorobyov
Posted: Wednesday, April 17, 2019 4:11:15 AM

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pedro wrote:
As soon as we understand it we will become extinct.


Why? We'll be be up one level in knowledge, I think that's a good thing.
dusty
Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2019 8:36:49 AM

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All I know for sure is what Pasteur figured out, and I don't think life originated here, we are all descendants from bacteria that arrived from meteorite.

I can understand that for something to start there had to have been an end, but I think those are just points we arbitrarily label once we recognize them, they are just cycles that are part of The Circle

I guess I think of the origin of life as when motion began, and since the only place where things don't move is absolute zero (which we cannot obtain) I just figure it's always been moving,

The easier question to answer is:

Is it possible to go from motion (life) to stop ,

No I don't think it is, only for our tiny cycles to end in this motion of everything

I don't really like this topic due to the fact that it tends to get high-jacked by both the religious and the anti-religious in attempt to prove the other wrong, so it's nice to hear these, more neutral, well thought out different views

To be concerned of the fate of the world is not bad, but bearing false witness is to not be
leonAzul
Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2019 10:39:09 PM

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Perhaps my understanding of mathematics is not so deep, yet it occurs to me that because we can observe life, its probability is exactly 1.


"Make it go away, Mrs Whatsit," he whispered. "Make it go away. It's evil."
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