Why Does Mineral Soup Want Anything?
Posted on 03 June 2016
I wrote the below in my journal November 2013. I frequently try to get a grasp of the bigger picture. Sometimes that picture gets pretty big.
When people think of a singular moment of creation, they tend to think of the Big Bang: that moment when all of the universe exploded into beingness. Physics appears to be neat, mathematical, and ultimately knowable. Therefore, many people find a certain amount of assurance in focusing on this moment.
Another primal moment would be that instant when primordial mineral soup and lightning combined in just the right way to create life—abiogenesis.
When scientists get closer and closer to that first bright spark of universal beingness, what we know about physics and mathematics start to break down and become nonsensical, in particular before one Planck time. The same seems to be true when it comes to life. We can find the building blocks for DNA. We can run lightning like energy through it and recreate self-replicating sequences. We seem to be whittling away on the problem of “how” and mistaking it for the question of “why”.
When an animal evolves an appendage we say that appendage exists in order to fight off predators, or to attract mates, or to better access food. That is the “why” of it. But why does mineral soup need to replicate?
You can argue that it is simply a mechanical process set in motion. Need doesn’t enter into it. Then why does this mechanical process fear its own cessation and seeks self preservation—why evolve more and more elaborate ways to sustain itself? Why develop in ways that seem antithetical to itself? This mineral soup does not appear to uniformly develop. It develops distinct entities that feed off one another’s energy. Why would a mechanical process do that?
Yet another primal biological moment needing explanation: why does awareness even exist? What about mineral soup makes it possible for a loose affiliation of DNA to recognise that another loose affiliation of DNA is nearby and that the correct responses are to either flee, fight, freeze, predate, or procreate. If mineral soup did only one of of these things every time, then clearly we may still be talking about a mechanical process. But to size up another collective of beingness and to make repeatedly successful decisions about whether to run, resist, eat, or get on with a bit of rumpy-pumpy with another is a pretty remarkable thing when you come to think about it.
This leads to questions such as how does mineral soup divide itself up? How does it determine this collection of DNA is a oneness? How does it form a collaborative beingness that is an “I” and not an “us”. Why does the group lose its individual identities and start evolving collectively? Why are parts of this entity willing to sacrifice themselves for the survival of the rest of the entity? Why, when a mistake enters the genes of the entity and creates a new sort of entity, is it at times anathema to others of its kind? Why does the new entity protect itself and any that it recognises as like itself? Remember we are talking about mineral soup here. The system seems rigged for diversity controlled by various forms of biocide. Even the oneness is at odds with itself when upon occasion a cell decides it will become immortal, then starts dividing: that’s called cancer. However, it is an immortality that eventually destroys itself.
Finally, why does mineral soup eventually form, reform, and expand itself until it is capable of reflecting upon itself, its own nature, and the nature of the universe of which it is a part? At some point consciousness becomes logical because it is faster to think of ways to survive than to wait around for a serendipitous genetic mistake to exploit. At another point self-consciousness becomes logical because when combined with empathy it can bring a functioning individual back into collaboration with a new sort of collective beingness, while making the possibility of diversification faster and more robust.
I think there is a whole layer of the universe that we haven’t even begun to properly contemplate or explore. My own crackpot theory is that perhaps consciousness is a thing like light, and elements of consciousness are everywhere and part of of everything. Certain structures facilitate a consciousness circuit better than others…but if you have the structure, you get the consciousness. This of course just opens up a whole new array of questions, if it’s even true. In any case I find thinking about these things a starting place for considering the ethics of human behaviour.
Bonus cool videos to make this journey even weirder:
Peace and kindness,