For the Origin of Life, on Earth or Elsewhere, “Ingredients and Conditions” Aren’t Enough
by David Klinghoffer
You carefully set out the implements and ingredients on the kitchen counter. Two cans of tuna, bag of egg noodles, block of Cheddar cheese, onion, frozen green peas, condensed cream of mushroom soup, can of sliced mushrooms, a cup of potato chips (for the topping).
Lined up at the ready, a mixing bowl, baking pan, and a pot with water for the noodles. Also a can opener, a grater for the cheese, colander for the pasta, cutting board and knife to chop the onion. Set one burner to high, and the oven to 425 degrees F.
Your family is hungry, but everything is in place! The easy-to-follow recipe gives a prep time of 15 minutes, and 20 more to cook. Of course that’s approximate.
Now sit back and relax. How long before these items assemble themselves into a tuna casserole? Pour yourself a glass of wine and watch what happens.
Oh, you’re concerned that the stuff has no means of coming together physically? Well, as days pass and you continue to stare intently at your unassembled casserole, perhaps that promised Seattle mega-earthquake comes along and jostles things around.
The cheese collides with the grater. A tuna can knocks into the can opener. The water sloshes in its pot and some gets on the unopened bag of pasta. Throw in a few aftershocks for good measure.
Ridiculous? No more so than stories that are a regular feature of science news that expect incomparably greater wonders to follow automatically when the “ingredients” of life, or some of them, appear to be in place — whether on a distant, Earth-like exoplanet or on the early Earth itself. This week’s pairing comes from NASA and Nature.
NASA reports the discovery of a new world, Kepler-452b some 1,400 light years away, that is seemingly Earth-like in key respects, orbiting in the “habitable zone” around a star like our sun…
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