Cosmic Origins and Evolution

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This essay was in response to an assignment requesting the link between cosmic origins and human development, and how this is related to my own life. I would like to say that this essay is really incomplete in what I really want to say due to the nature of the essay. However, due to time constraints, this is what I put together. I would like to add more in relation to collective learning and human language. But for now, this is what I have. Enjoy. I would love constructive criticism.

Submitted: October 11, 2009

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Submitted: October 11, 2009

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All living organisms rely on water. We evolved from water and continue to evolve with the help of water. There are many questions about the transition from matter to life. The amazing forces of nature allow humans, among other species, the capability to survive on land, yet still possess an internal environment of water for our offspring to develop in before joining us on land. The events that led up to this outcome can only be theorized, but with sensible accuracy. Universal conditions and events make it possible for life to evolve.
During the formation of the universe, the major elements underlying many processes were hydrogen and helium. It is not hard to understand where helium came from since it can be formed from hydrogen. On the other hand, hydrogen is traced back to the Big Bang. It is the most abundant element in the universe; stars and even human bodies are primarily composed of hydrogen. It is not really a question of what life is, but how it formed. The elements in the universe have not really changed, only how they have been linked together. “Nothing changes; but everything changes” (Christian, 2005). The basic elements that existed in the birth of the universe exist in all living organisms today, billions of years later. We have evolved in composition, but not in components. David Christian further explains this concept by saying: “things seem to exist independently of each other, and to have particular and distinctive characteristics, it is also true that everything is really the same” (Christian, 2005).
It is not as hard to understand how life evolved from life, as it is to understand how life evolved from non-living chemicals and matter. We learn from the theory of evolution that organisms adapt through natural selection. This is not hard to understand since species adapt on a daily basis to their environmental situations. We also learn that chemical elements have the same capability to evolve and adapt to their environment. Since “evolution works…among complex but nonliving chemicals,” we can slowly begin to understand where living organisms evolved from (Christian, 2005). The picture begins to become clearer when we think about the influence of water within this process. Since all living things are dependent upon water, it is a logical starting point to the evolution of life.
The early earth was a giant ocean of magma. Scientists can estimate what elements existed by analyzing gases from present volcanic activity. In doing this, it provides evidence that many compounds of hydrogen, helium, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen existed, including water vapor. This is not surprising due to the process of star death and planet formation. During the death of a star, once the hydrogen is completely converted into helium, the star can no longer retain the process of fusion. The exchange of cooling down and heating up leads to the production of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and even iron, if the star is large enough. Once the star dies, its remains are spread throughout its region of space. Since planets form through the accumulation of spatial debris, it is not surprising that earth consisted of the elements found in volcanic gas. Once a portion of hydrogen and helium escaped the earth’s magmic surface, the gravitational field was able to hold many gases near the earth through the creation of a stable atmosphere. Once the earth began cooling, water vapor poured down from the newly formed atmosphere, providing the foundation for life.
The formation of the Earth included the arrangement of the elements in a design that placed liquid iron at its core. This element has provided the Earth with protection from solar rays while also allowing a certain amount of light through to allow life to thrive. This protection that I speak of is the electromagnetic field. Electromagnetism is highly responsible for the complexity of life inhabiting the Earth. Electromagnetism “determine(s) how atoms are assembled and how they combine into larger and more complex molecules” (Christian, 2005). However, atoms are not the most fundamental building blocks of matter or life. Atoms are made up vibrating strands of energy, which is theorized in the String Theory. These stands of energy make up the atoms that are held together by nuclear forces. Electromagnetism provided another component to making life on earth inhabitable.
I would like to briefly discuss bacteria as the source of living organisms. The theory of Panspermia suggests that life evolved below the earth’s surface. Archaebacteria can thrive inside rocks kilometers below the surface and in seafloor volcanic vents at temperatures above boiling point. Since archaebacteria can survive in such drastic conditions, it provides a practical basis for life to evolve given the state of early Earth. These organisms could have survived from obtaining energy from chemicals. There is also another bacterium called cyanobacteria that contains chlorophyll, which is the main component for the process of photosynthesis within plants. Cyanobacteria are determined to be the ancestors of plants. Interestingly enough, if we did evolve from bacteria, they still “remain the dominant forms of life on earth today” (Christian, 2005). All living organisms have the same underlying chemical processes and similar behaviors, but very different anatomy and physiology; all has evolved from bacteria but branched off into different evolutionary paths.
Although hydrogen is the main element within the universe and living bodies are highly composed of hydrogen, it does not explain how life evolved. According to Levi Primo, “carbon is the key element of living substances” (Levi, 1995). He goes on to say that carbon “is the only element that can bind itself in long stable chains without a great expenditure of energy” (Levi, 1995). This makes sense since living substances are derived from the continuous merging of smaller organisms. Living organisms are made up largely by hydrogen and carbon. Amino acids, which have been found in “dust clouds in interstellar space,” provide the a foundation for the building blocks of complex organisms. Since amino acids are made from chains of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, which make up proteins, it is not surprising to know that amino acids “dominate the chemistry and the structure of all living organisms” (Christian, 2005). Nucleotides are another basic component of living organisms, which are also composed of carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen. Water and alcohols, which are essential for phospholipids formation, have been found within meteorites and comets. When the earth was bombarded with meteorites and comets before the atmosphere formed, many fundamental sources for life to exist, could have begun the evolution of complex organisms. Through the protection of water, these basic components of life were able to thrive and evolve into organisms (Christian 98). Since “carbon can bond to itself in complex ways, it can form more complex and varied molecules than any other element” (Christian, 2005).
But how does this lead to organisms? Chemical evolution reflects how chemicals adapt to their environment and also become more complex compounds. The chemicals most capable of surviving and reproducing were “selected” by the environment (Christian, 2005). “Wherever in the universe conditions allow large amounts of organic chemicals to form and interact, life may be a near certainty” (Christian, 2005). This foundation for life provided the appropriate environment for the building blocks of life to produce, such as complex molecules like DNA.
The increasing complexity of linking larger and larger structures together has developed into the life and society of the present day. It is a misunderstanding to believe that evolution occurs in a linear fashion. Plants and animals coevolved from the basic elements of life. “All living organisms…contain cells that use the same basic chemical processes and pathways…and they all use the same genetic code” (Christian, 2005). Susan Milius discussed how researchers are paying attention to the behavior of plants. Before, it seemedridiculous to compare animal behavior with plants. However, research is revealing the previously-secret lives of plants. Not only do plants possess the same major neurotransmitters as animals, such as serotonin and GABA, but they also can communicate through the release of chemicals (Milius 16). Through understanding the lives of plants, it can help to explain the origins of life more simply.
All organisms are made up of the same elements, but have followed different paths in evolution. This explains the varying complexity among organisms. Humans have become the most complicated of organisms with the rise of intelligence and creativity. However, the capabilities of humans are not exclusive to our species. Nonmammals, for example, have displayed “advanced abilities such as learning by copying the behavior of others, finding their way in complicated spatial environments, manufacturing and using tools, and even conducting mental time travel (remembering specific past episodes or anticipating unique future events)” (Patton, 2008). Organisms have independently evolved complex abilities.
The earth possesses a multitude of various environments. Each ecosystem contains a number of species of organisms that manage the “energies and resources in its immediate environment” (Christian, 2005). It is no wonder that there seems to be an indocumentable number of species still existing on the Earth; although, E.O. Wilson and colleagues with the Encyclopedia of Life are trying. Each ecosystem must sustain itself; it must provide a purpose for each organism in order for life to continue to flourish. James Lovelock argues that the Earth is a “superorganism” that maintains homeostasis through self-regulation, similar to the organisms on its surface. “Evolution never ends…adaptation is an endless process” (Christian, 2005). Organisms are highly adaptable to their environment and will continue to evolve until there is too much disorder.
A single cell is a very complex system, whose functions are imitated within society. Living organisms have evolvedinto mini-universes, each containing the same basic elements, all seeming to function independently, but still reliant on the other mini-universes within the greater universe. Our complexity comes with a price. Decreased life expectancy appears to be related to the increased complexity of life; “a star is simpler than an insect, but a star also lives much longer” (Christian, 2005). Organisms process more energy per unit mass than any star does, which increases with biological complexity.
Humans may not always be the dominant species. Changes in the climate have driven the most adaptable species to survive. Humans have evolved into creatures of high complexity and high consumption. Not only do humans have to constantly seek food, but they have learned to constantly consume other resources as well, jeopardizing the lives of all other species. Humans have become obsessed with the idea of progress – usually in the form of wealth or knowledge. Control has become a predominant aspect in daily living. Humans are facing the consequences of their actions and have increased the challenges of survival for all species. Now humans are trying to find ways to help the whole planet survive. Our responsibilities have moved from local to global, and even universal.
It seems as though our universe is a system of growing entropy. The order that we see has stemmed from the process of moving towards disorder. It appears that the earth is heading toward a state of thermodynamic equilibrium from the increasing mass of unusable energy, known as entropy, until the universe experiences a “heat death." The universe began with the thermodynamic equilibrium, and so it will end that way. Perhaps this “heat death” will simply be a transition for new life to emerge and experience the wonders of nature. So if we are heading in the direction of thermodynamic equilibrium, it is out of our control. We can stop worrying about when the world will end, and simply live our lives to its fullest potential each day. We can try to make the lives of everyone else better.
[Sources: Eric Chaisson "Follow the Energy: Relevance of Cosmic Evolution for Human History," David Christian Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, George F.R. Ellis “Physics, Complexity and Causality,” Primo Levi The Periodic Table, Susan Milius "No Brainer Behavior," Paul Patton “One World, Many Minds,” Fred Spier "How Big History Works," NOVA, Origins: Earth is Born]


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