The new data indicate a major paradigm shift in science
by Chandra Wickramasinghe
(Vidya Jyothi Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, MBE, is an Honorary Professor at the University of Buckingham, UK, an Honorary Professor at the University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka and an Adjunct Professor at the National Institute of Fundamental Science, Sri Lanka)
How did life come about? Not just on Earth, but anywhere in the Universe? Does life appear on all Earth-like planets with oceans and atmospheres by spontaneous processes involving well-understood laws of physics and chemistry? Or did it involve extraordinary, even miraculous, intervention?
How old is the universe itself? How did it come about, if at all he did have you ever appeared? Is there evidence of life outside of Earth? In comets, the space between stars in our Milky Way galaxy, other planets, other galaxies? Science must indeed produce miraculous options, but questions continue to be asked and seek answers. Many of these questions have an ancient history that predates Western culture going back to ancient Greece in the first century BCE. The answers may have genesis outside the Western realm. The concepts of zero, infinity (Ananta) are all of Indian origin and are inextricably linked to Hinduism and Buddhism. It is probably for this reason that the idea of an infinite universe has been rejected by the power of Western science!
In the past six months many of the most strongly held views in science have been challenged by the arrival of new data. We may now be even closer to finding answers to the age-old questions of our cosmic ancestors and the origins of the universe.
The James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) launched in 2021 is the most powerful astronomical observatory ever, surpassing the scope and power of the previous Hubble Space Telescope. It was designed to look deeper and deeper into our origins: from the formation of stars and planets, to the birth or possible birth of the Universe itself. Webb is an international partnership between NASA, ESA and CSA.
Findings using the new James Webb Telescope have shown the existence of galaxies much older than the age of the trendy Big Bang model of the universe itself – the universe is just 13.8 billion years old, about three times the age of Earth. .
This unusual light pollution called CEERS-93316 (Fig.1) was observed by the James Webb Telescope and is thought to be a very distant galaxy at a distance of about 35 billion light years. These recent findings, among others, support theories of a steady-state universe with infinite ages, or models of the universe that include alternating phases of creation and destruction. These emerging models of the cosmos are remarkably consistent with ancient Vedic, Hindu and Buddhist views.
Another equally important paradigm shift taking place now relates to the question of the origin of life, and the connection between life on Earth and the wider universe. The Kepler Orbiting Telescope launched in 2009 was dedicated to finding Earth-like habitable planets in our galaxy outside the solar system. A large number of such habitable planets have been discovered so far, and a few weeks ago the James Web Telescope was deployed to study one of these exoplanets in detail.
This “twin of Earth” known as K2-186 is located 120 light years from Earth. A surprising discovery was a molecule called dimethyl sulphide, along with carbon dioxide and methane, in the atmosphere of K2-186 which has been hailed as definitive proof of extraterrestrial life. The argument depends on what the molecule dimethyl sulphide looks like only produced by biology on Earth – mainly by plankton in the sea. Therefore, over time scientists have accepted that a second habitable planet exists 120 light years from Earth. So, the outstanding question now is How and by what processes did life begin on this planet? Or indeed on any other planet?
A long-held view (going back to Aristotle in the third century BCE) is that life arose and evolved easily and “naturally” on a world like Earth (or on K2-186, for that matter) as soon as the “right conditions” existed. The modern version of this concept has been protected since the beginning of the 20th centuryth The century is the so-called “spontaneous generation theory”. Despite any concrete evidence for it and much evidence to the contrary this concept remains part of the holy grail of biology.
According to this theory of spontaneity the organic molecules in the ocean must assemble themselves. naturally they are ancient life systems that have evolved over thousands of years to produce the beautiful panorama of life of which we are only a small part. Undoubtedly, there is no concrete evidence to support this theory, and yet it was accepted by the entire scientific community, almost as an act of faith.
Experiments to “prove” the process if spontaneous generation and synthesis of life from non-living things have continued to be carried out in the world’s most advanced biotechnology laboratories for more than half a century. All attempts made to replicate the automated manufacturing process in the laboratory under as wide a range of conditions as possible have ultimately failed miserably. The reason is simple: the probability barrier required to go from inanimate matter to a simple dynamical system is on a very astronomical scale. The origin of life requires a system that exceeds the scale of the Earth, our solar system, our Milky Way Galaxy and perhaps includes the universe, which now appears to be infinite in scale.
Different from the automatic generation of life is the idea that life is a cosmic phenomenon or panspermia as it is now called. This basic idea has an ancient history in Western culture that predates Aristotle and is attributed to the pre-Socratic philosopher Anaxoragas. Anaxoragas suggested that the seeds of all life are ubiquitous and take root and develop into organisms whenever the right conditions are present. This is the idea of Panspermia (from Greek roots: Spermata – seeds; Pans – all over). Similar ideas are expressed in Buddhist, Hindu and Vedic cosmologies and these predate the ancient Greeks by many centuries.
From the 1970s onwards the late Sir Fred Hoyle and the present author became the flame bearers of the theory of universal life which was a revival of the ancient theory of panspermia. The starting point in our investigation involved the identification of cosmic dust, the billions upon billions of micrometer-sized “dust” that make up a few percent of the mass of the entire Galaxy, and appear as visible dark clouds and trails in the background. of stars in the Milky Way. By 1984 we had accumulated enough astronomical evidence to conclude that the vast majority of this cosmic dust is actually life-associated – bacteria and viruses in various stages of decay and decay, but still largely preserving the information needed to start life on any habitable Earth. – like a planet.
A case against the spontaneous generation of life
One of the strongest arguments for life being a cosmic rather than a mere earthly phenomenon was made by the late Sir Fred Hoyle back in 1980, summarizing the position we had reached at the time:
“The very small probabilities, which one calculates in the synthesis of these substances (eg enzymes), show that they are as close to certainty as one can wish that life did not originate here on Earth. Indeed, countless possibilities show that life is too complex to have its origins confined to our galaxy alone. Global resources were definitely needed……”
If there was a deep natural principle that drove the inorganic systems in relation to the evolution of primitive life – the evidence of this would have long been found in the laboratory, as we noted, it was not found. In addition, with very low statistics a priori The possibilities of transition from non-life to life are left with only two options:-
(1) The origin of life was a very unlikely event that should have happened on Earth against all odds (because we are here!) but therefore cannot be done anywhere else. If so, we will be hopelessly alone as a life system in the Universe.
(2) Besides, a much larger cosmic system than existed on Earth, and a much longer time scale was involved in the first event, after which life was transmitted to Earth and elsewhere by processes that the late Sir Fred Hoyle and the present writer proposed many years ago – star panspermia.
We then went on to argue that this universally derived inheritance of life, and its full evolutionary potential (contained in the genes of bacteria and viruses), is distributed mainly by comets and other cosmic dust deposits on habitable planets like Earth. Comets in this view are the incubators and distributors of life information in the universe through viruses and bacteria.
While in 2023 comets are accepted by many scientists as the reservoirs of organic molecules that may have contributed to the creation of spontaneous life, their role as carriers of life itself, despite an ever-growing body of contradictory evidence is still widely disputed. Strong evidence of comets containing molecules that can only be found in biology is coming fast and dense. The Rosetta Space Mission to a comet – Comet 67P/CG – launched in 2013 has yielded compelling evidence, all of which is consistent with the existence of small objects found in comets.
Another comet, Comet Lovejoy, was recently spotted and was found to be spewing large amounts of ethyl alcohol and some sugar into the atmosphere – the equivalent of 500 bottles of wine per second. These are natural products of fermentation, which is clear evidence of subsurface microbial activity in the comet.
Do cosmic viruses always fall to Earth?
One important test of the theory of universal life is to examine the stratosphere of overlapping genetic systems – viruses and bacteria. Encouraging competent international space authorities to do this was not easy. The first dedicated attempt to test the idea of germs falling from a comet was made in collaboration with scientists at ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) in 2001.
A positive finding of the falling microbiota was made, and the number of bacterial cells collected in a limited volume of the stratosphere at 41km led to an estimate of the global fall rate of 0.3-3 tons of microbes per day. This is transformative for others 20-200 million bacteria per square meter arrive from the atmosphere every day.
More recently, microorganisms have been found several times between 2013 and 2017 outside the International Space Station orbiting 400km above the Earth. There is no easy way to ensure that such microorganisms would have been raised on the surface of the Earth.
This discovery is so important to science that it needs to be repeated; but the desire to repeat it is hard to find. A similar experiment, however, is being planned by a team of scientists led by Professor Dhammika Maganarachchi at the National Institute of Fundamental Studies and myself. Balloon launches so far are planned within the next six months. The team at NIFS will be assisted by my grandson, Reuben Chandra Wickramasinghe, who has a visiting position at the Department of Mathematics, University of Colombo.
I believe that by 2023 we have reached an important turning point in the history of human civilization. When it is finally accepted that life on Earth is a small part of a much larger cosmic biosphere the consequences for humanity will be enormous. Even more important would be to recognize that extraterrestrial life in the form of microbes – bacteria and viruses – exists among us. even now and they keep raining on our earth. Such viruses can be the cause of devastating epidemics, but even better, we must be aware of cosmic viruses and viruses that have the potential to expand our genomes – the genomes of all terrestrial life forms – and over time reveal an ever-changing panorama of cosmic life. .
Although technological advancements continue at a rapid pace, humanity as a whole is becoming more and more diverse. Wars and terrible sectarian strife and tragic suffering must be seen everywhere. The “climate change” marches and the growing youth protests are perhaps a sign of a desire to rebel against the dominant paradigms that seem to threaten our lives.
Thomas Kuhn famously declared “…when paradigms change, the world changes with it.” One could perhaps argue that a reversal of this reason is also possible – “when the world changes paradigms can be forced to change.”
Wickramasinghe, NC and Wickramasinghe, RC, 2023. Life and the Universe: a final synthesis, Journal of Cosmology, Vol. 30, No.10, pp. 30160 – 30174
Wickramasinghe, C., Wickramasinghe, K., Tokoro, G., 2019. Our Cosmic Ancestry in the Stars (Inner Traditions, NY)