Not So Fast

From our reader Henry, here’s an interesting item: geneticists studying the rate at which biological complexity has increased over time have arrived at a provocative extrapolation.


  1. Kevin Kim says


    Posted December 27, 2013 at 2:51 am | Permalink
  2. Dom says

    “By this way of thinking, life on Earth is a continuation of a process that began many billions of years earlier around our star’s forerunner.”

    And how did that life start? Aren’t we just pushing the big question back?

    Posted December 27, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink
  3. Dom,

    The question under consideration is “when” not “how”.

    Posted December 27, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink
  4. Kevin Kim says

    What if we tackle both “when” and “how” by conjecturing that life began the moment the universe came into existence? The idea has a certain weird (if not entirely logical) appeal. Not that such a theory has much in the way of explanatory power, of course, but it’d be interesting fodder for sci-fi authors.

    Posted December 27, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  5. Bill says

    Let’s suppose that like many life processes the evolution of complexity is a sigmoid curve. It starts slow, then goes through a middle fast rise, and then starts leveling out to reach some asymptote. If we are past the fast rise portion, then extrapolating backwards would give an origin earlier than the age of the earth.

    Posted December 27, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  6. JK says

    Not certain, just pretty sure I saw something very much like TBH’s link (HBD Chick?) that, postulated the timeline beginning at ten billion years. Which would tend to lend some credence to Kevin’s suggestion.

    Just personally, doesn’t seem too far fetched.

    Posted December 27, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink
  7. You can conjecture whatever you like, Kevin. It’s (still?) a free country.

    Posted December 27, 2013 at 4:40 pm | Permalink
  8. Bill,

    The article mentions such a possibility:

    “Sharov and Gorden reject this argument saying that it is suspiciously similar to arguments that squeeze the origin of life into the timespan outlined in the biblical Book of Genesis.”

    Posted December 27, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink
  9. Bill says


    They reject the argument out of hand simply by equating it to creationist efforts. they are wedded to a linear nature.

    The issue is whether nature is linear or sigmoid in its actions. This is a fundamental issue when approaching any phenomenon, and underlies much of the discussion over toxicity of chemicals or the effects of radiation.

    If nature is sigmoid, then there is a no-effect threshold in dose-response curves, below which there is no detectable result. If nature is linear then the only no-effect is zero exposure.

    Posted December 27, 2013 at 7:14 pm | Permalink
  10. Kevin,

    Allow me to give a less frivolous response to your conjecture.

    In the first few minutes after the Big Bang, only 3 elements were produced in spacetime: hydrogen; helium; and trace amounts of lithium. The heavier elements, such as carbon, had to wait for stars to ignite and subsequently cook them via thermonuclear fusion.

    Life as we know it (and most of us love) requires heavy elements such as carbon, which is one of those elements that is created inside the core of a star by nuclear fusion.

    Now, in order for these elements to get out of a star’s core and into inter-stellar space, where it can ultimately be utilized to spark life as we know it, a star has to undergo a supernova explosion. This is how some stars, more massive than our sun, end their starry existence.

    During such a catastrophic event, the massive star’s inner core, which has exhausted all of its nuclear fuel, collapses and releases an enormous quantity of energy. And the portion of that energy that is able to survive the collapse is in the form of escaping neutrinos.

    Fortunately for life, the outer layers (including the heavier elements) of the collapsing star are blown off into interstellar space by these vast quantities of escaping neutrinos.

    Hence, life as we know it could not have come into existence prior to the first supernova explosions, which occurred roughly 1.6 giga-years ABB (After the Big Bang).

    Posted December 27, 2013 at 7:26 pm | Permalink
  11. Bill,

    I am in no position to argue, neither for nor against, the “provacative” extrapolation of these researchers, as reported in the linked article.

    As our friends on Fox are wont to say, “We report; you decide.”

    Posted December 27, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink
  12. Kevin Kim says


    Very interesting. Thanks.

    Posted December 27, 2013 at 11:05 pm | Permalink
  13. Albeit off topic, this link is mostly for JK.

    Posted December 28, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink
  14. JK says

    And mucho (how’s my Diversity Edovercacity going appresianado appro[x]jflininuting The BigHenry?) oy, how could I do this otherwise making both and the amongstwhich weun’s most goggleyswitch Arkansanese [translateable via Google] oonareversibly the most incrovertibly

    Happy Happy Happy New Year of allest!

    Perhaps Most of All, The-One-Eyed-Man I owe the Profoundest of all the financial advice I’ve received this year to. Happy Happy Happy Peter.

    (Apologies to whoever holds the Norm Crosby©)

    Posted December 28, 2013 at 6:57 pm | Permalink
  15. “Anyone who’s ever spent any time in the South, out in the woods, will tell you – never EVER underestimate a hillbilly.”

    Especially not if he’s got more fingers than teeth. I’ve seen “Deliverance“, yo :)

    Happy New Year, JK, and the rest of all y’all.

    Posted December 29, 2013 at 1:28 am | Permalink
  16. Henry, Also that later movie, Southern Comfort, where some National Guardsmen begin an actual “war” with some decidedly wily Cajuns during a training exercise in the LA swamps.

    Between the Arkansanese and his penchant for acronymous phrasing, JK often leaves me puzzling whether what he’s posted is profound or as elusive as that ivory-billed woodpecker, reportedly sighted in his home state several years ago. Traveling through Arkansas in 2006, on the way to NM to visit our son in the Air Force at that time, my husband and I stopped at some town, which had turned this ivory-billed woodpecker sighting into a cottage industry, replete with post cards and assorted souvenirs. The local BBQ was great, along with deep-fried green beans, a novel preparation method to me. I asked our waitress if this woodpecker sighting was real and she smiled and told me, “that’s what people say around here.” and pointed out their ample supply of souvenirs. He comes by the “indirect” honestly, it seems, lol. (just teasing you JK).

    I can’t comment to the actual thread here, being born deficient of the science/math gene. My physics mad son made me watch a boring youtube video of a cnc machine, rhapsodically singing its praises and telling me that someday he would like to own one. After a minute, I told him I had seen enough of this fancy drill……. and I added insult to injury by asking if Dremel makes one.

    Posted December 29, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink
  17. Holly,

    Our resident Arkie is also no stranger to TWI (texting while intoxicated). But we love him anyway. (BTW, JK, “Happy Happy Happy Peter” is the kind of straight-line I wouldn’t touch with industrial-strength gloves) :)

    I assume your son was stationed at Kirtland AFB, which is near Sandia National Labs. I have had some professional connections there, back in the day …

    Best wishes for the New Year!

    Posted December 29, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink
  18. Thank you Henry, and Happy New Year to you too! Actually my son was stationed at Cannon AFB in Clovis, NM.

    Posted December 29, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink