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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Friday, July 31, 2020

Cases of "Impossible" Writing or "Impossible" Speech

In the literature of the paranormal, we sometimes find cases in which we are told that someone wrote what it should have been impossible for that person to write, or when we are told that some speech occurred that seemed beyond any natural explanation. An example of the first thing can be found on page 484 of Volume II of the book Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death by Frederic Myers.  Hugh Junor Browne and Elizabeth Browne stated the following: 

"When our daughter Nelly was nearly five years old, she had not learned a single letter of her alphabet. She had certainly received no instruction whatever. One day her elder sister was writing automatically. To please the child, we put a pencil in her hand. Presently we observed that she had written some words, and on looking we saw that the words were, 'I am a mesmeric medium.' "  

On the next page A. E. Hempstead states the following about a young Etta who had never been taught any letter of the alphabet, and who was brought to school for the first time:

"The first morning of her attendance a slate and pencil were given her to keep her quiet ; she scribbled awhile, when it was noticed that she had written very distinctly the name Emma. As it was known that the child had never been inside of a school before, and that she knew no single letter of the alphabet, it was a great surprise. The slate belonged to some of the pupils, hence was not preserved by the young ladies. I regretted the loss of such a rare test of spirit control, and urged them, should such a thing ever occur again, to preserve it. The child attended the day following, and instead of slate a leaf from a tablet and lead pencil were given her. After she had amused herself awhile she returned the paper, and it was seen that a number of attempts to write the name Emma had been made. As she handed in the paper she said, 'Nozer,' and another sheet was given, with an improvement; the third was, given, when upon either side was written with bold running hand, 'your aunt Emma,' quite as large and perfect as the above." 

A Laura Hempstead testified to the same thing, and a statement from the mother testified that the child had not been taught the alphabet when this occurred. 

The author Robert Dale Owen (who was once a US congressman) wrote the long fascinating work Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World, a work on the paranormal which you can read here on archive.org.  I recently discovered another long fascinating work by Owen, a book that has the rather poor title The Debatable Land Between This World and the Next, with Illustrative Narrations.  The book gives us some fascinating accounts of "impossible writing." 

On page 434 Owen tells of a beautiful young Violet he knew, a woman who died 40 years previously.   On page 445 he discusses how (in the presence of a Mr. Foster and a Miss P.) he saw the name of this departed friend mysteriously written on a piece of paper.  He then tells us this about Mr. Foster:

"His arm seemed slightly convulsed, as by a feeble electric shock ; and he said : 'The name is on my arm ;' whereupon he bared his left arm to the elbow, and I read thereon distinctly the name Violet. I did not, however, pronounce it, but left him to spell it out, letter by letter. The letters looked as if they had been traced by a painter's brush, with pink color...Miss P had never heard Violet's name ; nor, as I have already stated, had Mr. Foster."

On page 56 of the very interesting book On the Edge of the Etheric by James Arthur Findlay, we have some descriptions of apparently paranormal speech at a seance of what is called a direct voice medium: 

"On the first occasion I experienced these voices 
I was decidedly suspicious, and yet as the seance 
went on I wondered how it would be possible for any 
man, even if he had accomplices, to carry on such an 
imposture for over three hours. Thirty separate 
voices spoke that night, of different tone and accent, 
they gave their names, their correct earth addresses 
and spoke to the right people, were recognised, and 
referred to intimate family affairs. Never once was 
a mistake made and the darkness really increased the 
evidence in favour of the genuineness of the whole 
proceedings, as, difficult as it would be to remember 
everyone’s departed friends and relations and their 
family affairs in the light, it would be doubly so in 
the dark, because fifteen people were present and the 
medium would have to remember exactly where each 
one was sitting. The voice on every occasion spoke 
in front of the person who recognised the name, the 
earth address and the details which were given. 
It was all very mystifying, and the fact that 
sometimes two or three voices spoke at once did not make it less so."

On page 57 the same author tells of a seemingly paranormal voice speaking at a seance:

"So ran my thoughts that memorable night of 
the 20th September 1918, when suddenly a voice 
spoke in front of me. I felt scared. A man sitting 
next to me said 'Someone wants to speak to you, 
friend,' so I said 'Yes, who are you?' 'Your 
father, Robert Downie Findlay,' the voice replied, 
and then went on to refer to something that only he 
and I and one other ever knew on earth, and that 
other, like my father, was some years dead. I was 
therefore the only living person with any knowledge 
of what the voice was referring to. That was extra¬ 
ordinary enough, but my surprise was heightened 
when, after my father had finished, another voice 
gave the name of the other person who on earth knew 
about the subject, and this voice continued the con¬ 
versation which my father had begun. No spy 
system, however thorough, no impersonation by the 
medium or by any accomplices, could be responsible 
for this, and moreover I was an entire stranger to 
everyone present. I did not give my name when I 
entered the room, I knew no one in that room, and no one knew me or anything about me." 

On page 64 Findlay gives this impressive summary of experiences with mysterious arises arising in seances:

"Eighty-three separate voices have spoken to me. or 
to personal friends I have brought with me ; two 
hundred and eighty-two separate communications 
have been given to me or to them ; one hundred and 
eighty of these I class  'Al,' as it was impossible 
for the medium or any other person present to have 
known about them ; one hundred I class as ' A2,' 
as by means of the newspaper or reference books the medium could have found them out."

In the chapter beginning on page 92 Findlay gives three examples of such "A1" communications, the first one involving Findlay's soldier brother speaking to a mysterious voice claiming to be a dead soldier, one who seemed to know quite a few details known only to Findlay's brother and his fellow soldiers.  

In his book The Voices (which can be read here) the writer William Usborne Moore (formerly a Vice-Admiral) discusses his experiences with the medium Etta Wriedt.  The excellent scholarly work Psychics, Sensitives and Somnambules by Rodger I. Anderson says this on page 186 about Wriedt:

"Wriedt's voices regularly carried on intelligent conversations in Arabic, Croatian, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Serbian, and Spanish....Wriedt's communicators were often very successful in identifying themselves to the sitters, providing correct names and personal histories, referrring to facts and circumstances that were unknown to the sitter at the time but subsequently verified as correct....Wriedt was investigated scores of times by multiple researchers, all finding in her favor." 

Moore's long 400-page book (published in 1913) gives very many accounts corroborating such claims. He describes seances  occurring mainly in 1912, in a room without any audio equipment, at a time when all voice transmission technology was bulky and primitive. The loudspeaker was not really invented until four years later, judging from this quote:  "When Bell Labs introduced the first electronic vacuum tube amplifier in 1916, the true loudspeaker became possible." (Another source dates 1915 as the date when the first "practical dynamic audio speakers" were invented.)

 For example, on page 6 we read this about a mysterious voice speaking at a seance:

"Then, to my own and my Croatian friend's astonishment, a loud voice began to talk to him in the Croatian 
language. It was an old friend, a physician by pro- 
fession, who died suddenly from heart disease. My 
friend Hinkovitch could not identify who that might 
have been, but they continued for some time the con- 
versation in their native tongue, of which, naturally, 
I heard and understood every word. Mrs. Wriedt, for 
the first time in her life, heard how the Croatian 
language sounds." 

On page 51 Moore quotes a friend of his (Colonel E. R. Johnson) describing his experiences hearing mysterious voices at a seance:

"This was the first voice heard at the daylight seance. All the others were identified with certainty. They consisted of seven relatives, some of whom spoke only once, others on three or four occasions. Several times the individual conversations must have lasted from twenty minutes to half an hour, and related to incidents and events which could not have been 
known to the medium, and in some cases to anybody 
now living except myself. References were made to 
objects that have disappeared for twenty or thirty years, 
which were accurately described, and, on the other 
hand, to conversations and events which took place 
between the seances. Besides relatives, I was spoken to by seven personal friends and acquaintances, and three of these asked me to carry messages to living people. In one case an incident was referred to which was entirely unknown to me, but which I afterwards ascertained to be quite correct."

To give another of countless examples in Moore's long book, on page 190 we read this account by Mr. Munro in 1912 hearing a mysterious "spirit voice" at a seance of Etta Wriedt:

"The first spirit to speak was my cousin's late husband, Joe Crowther ; and I must confess that I felt a little disappointed, for in no way could I recognise the voice, or any other particular char- 
acteristic. It was not long ere the voice approached, and 
held conversation with myself, which, of course, was what 
I desired. After the usual preliminaries, I asked this 
spirit if he remembered the last conversation he and I 
had had together ; to which he answered : ' Yes, per- 
fectly.' Q.: 'If you remember that, can you tell me 
what it was about ? ' A. : ' Do you mean to say you do 
not remember?' Q.: 'I remember perfectly; but it 
would convince me much more that this was indeed you, 
Joe, if you could detail it to me.' A.: ' Well, do you 
remember I was showing you some photographic mining 
prints I had. taken, and explained the various strata ? ' 
(This was exactly what took place.) Q.: 'Yes, that 
is quite correct. And now, can you tell me where we 
had that conversation, and if anyone else was present 
besides ourselves?' A.: ' It took place in this house.' 
Q.: ' Yes, but in which room?' A.: 'In the library, 
and there was no other person present.' I may say that 
nobody, to my knowledge, ever knew of that conversation besides Joe Crowther and myself."

Could this have been mind-reading and some kind of ventriloquism by Mrs. Wriedt? Apparently not, for Mr. Munro states the following on page 191:

"At the same time my friend Joe continued to speak to me quite clearly, without the trumpet. I distinctly heard his voice, the voice of the trumpet, and Mrs. Wriedt's voice (endeavouring to explain some message which the recipient could not quite grasp) ; that is to say, three distinct voices speaking at once."

On pages 239-240 a witness gives this account of mysterious voices at seances of Mrs. Wriedt:

"One evening a lady was present who is a professional 
musician, and, as there was some delay, she consented, 
after considerable pressing, to sing. Hardly had she 
began the 'Jewel Song' from Faust when a strong 
tenor voice came from the trumpet and sung the song 
with her, making a wonderful duet. She afterwards told 
us that it was her husband's voice, and that no one but 
herself knew that he used to sing this song with her." 

On pages 324-325 we have testimony by an Edith K. Harper who attended very many of Etta Wriedt's seances.  She states she heard messages given in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Norwegian, Dutch and Arabic, "with which the medium was quite unacquanted" and "two, three and even four spirit voices speaking simultaneously to different sitters."  She also reports the appearance of luminous "etherealized" forms, as Moore does on quite a few times. 

At the link here you can read an edition of the Annals of Psychical Science (Volume 8, Number 49). The first article is by Professor Charles Richet, and is entitled "My Experiments with Madame X."  Richet discusses experiments in Paris, France with a  woman who would write in Greek. The Greek she wrote was sometimes quotations from ancient Greek literature (for example, some of the Greek consisted of quotations from Plato's Apology).  Such writing was inexplicable, because this woman did not know any Greek. Richet witnessed the woman produce the Greek writing below. 

 Example of the Greek written by Mme. X

Richet states this on page 23:

"In the first place, Mme. X. does not know Greek. Certainly it is impossible to prove absolutely that a person does not know a language. It is easy to prove that one knows a foreign language, but it is radically impossible to prove that one is ignorant of it. However, we can establish the following facts: that Greek is a difficult language to learn, and cannot be acquired offhand: that Mme. X. has never, either in her childhood or later, studied Greek books; that she has no Greek books at her home; that neither her husband, nor her sister, nor her children, nor her friends, nor I have ever seen her studying Greek; and consequently, .even a priori, the improbability that she has studied Greek and knows Greek is very great."

Richet was the winner of a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He is the author of the classic parapsychology work "Thirty Years of Psychical Research," which you can read online here

The word xenoglossy is used for such an ability to write and speak in a language you never learned. A much more modern case of xenoglossy is described in a publication of the Parapsychological Association (Volume 9, Issue 1).  In the article "A Case of Xenoglossy" on page 18, we read the following:

"We examine the case of a Caucasian 32-year-old female
psychiatric patient (Jacquie) living in San Diego, California, who spontaneously spoke, wrote, and translated complicated
Sanskrit-related languages about spiritual concepts from four different traditions. Eleven hours of video recordings of these phenomena were taken from June 6th – July 31st, 1983. She had no prior knowledge of these ancient languages, concepts, or traditions. Jackie heard 14 Sanskrit messages consisting of from 5 to 8 lines that she immediately wrote down phonetically in English script in various situations, including four while she was in a psychiatric hospital and under watch while heavily medicated. Additional recordings show Jackie in a trance, spontaneously speaking phrases and uttering incomplete messages in Sanskrit-related languages. A review of the patient’s life and an analysis of the complex messages she received provide compelling evidence that she could not have learned this composite of languages secretly nor constructed the text by culling the necessary materials during this pre-internet period. The patient was unable to hold a job because of frequent episodes of severe headache and seizure-like activity thought to be psychogenic in nature; periodic hospitalizations were required to protect her from suicide; and she needed federal assistance for food, money, and medical care. These medical, psychological, economic, and social problems made it further unlikely that she could travel and perform the necessary study of obscure texts to master the topic."

Postscript:  On pages 397-400 of the interesting book Death: Its Causes and Phenomena, With Special Reference to Immortality co-authored by Hereward Carrington, we have an account of an inexplicable voice at a seance. A man at the seance asked the voice about an incident that only he and his deceased father knew of. The voice was able to exactly and accurately answer various questions about the incident, describing how the father took his son for the first time to a military college, heard the son called a rat, sat with his son on a log, and saw his son cry. 

In the interesting 1907 book The Psychic Riddle by Isaac Funk (pages 86 - 151) we have an interesting account of seances with the medium Emily K. French. Funk (the same Funk of the famous Funk and Wagnall's dictionary) reported that at such seances there would very often occur most mysteriously a booming male voice claiming to be that of a deceased American Indian. Funk said that this could not have been some ventriloquism from the old, frail and female Emily, because her voice was often heard (by Funk and other witnesses) at the same time as this booming male voice. This was before audio speaker technology was advanced enough to allow faking such an effect. Funk tried a test in which Emily was asked to hold two-tablespoons of colored water in her mouth. The booming male voice was still heard. Emily then spit out the colored water, which was found to be the same two tablespoons. 

On pages 334-337 of the very interesting book Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World by Robert Dale Owen, there is one of the most interesting stories of "impossible writing" ever told, although it has the drawback of being a second hand story (told to Owen by a captain who heard it from Robert Bruce).  While on a small ship Bruce reported a mysterious stranger writing on a slate.  Later the stranger could not be found. The slate said to steer the ship to the northeast. Everyone on the ship was asked to write the same words on the slate, and no one's handwriting matched the writing.  The captain finally agreed to steer the ship to the northeast. A while later Bruce's ship discovered a distressed ship next to an iceberg, and its passengers were rescued. One of those passengers (who Bruce identified as the mysterious stranger he saw) was asked to write the message on the slate, and his handwriting matched that on the slate.  That passenger said he had recently had a dream of visiting another ship. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Mainstream Keeps Misinforming Us About Origin-of-Life Research

For 70 years the mainstream science literature has presented misleading coverage about origin-of-life research.  There has been a huge amount of bunk and baloney in the press coverage of origin-of-life research, and the statements made on this topic by scientists themselves have often been inaccurate. Many examples of such misstatements can be found here and here and here and here and here and here

A recent press article on origin-of-life research commits the same type of sins committed 100 times before by press reports of origin-of-life research. The article in Knowable Magazine is entitled "Searching high and low for the origins of life."  In its second sentence the article makes this false claim: "Yet recent studies have shown that two essential ingredients — amino acids and primitive cell membranes — can form spontaneously and reliably near the hydrothermal vents found in seafloors." 

The research discussed did not show any such thing. The amino acid research discussed did not measure any spontaneous formation of amino acids near hydothermal vents found in seafloors.  Instead, some scientists produced only one of the twenty amino acids used by living things, using  a glass vial containing ammonia and other substances.  

There are two reasons why such an experimental setup is not at all a realistic simulation of hydrothermal vents in the ocean. The first reason is that while hydothermal vents might rarely produce a little ammonia, there is no reason to believe that an undersea hydrothermal vent would ever be surrounded with a concentration of ammonia anywhere near as great as in the glass apparatus used for the experiment  (about 400 millimoles per liter, which is about 18 grams per liter).  Any ammonia produced in an undersea hydrothermal vent would be so massively diluted by the surrounding ocean water that it would never reach anything close to the concentration of ammonia used in the experiment. In their supporting information document, the scientists discuss the mixture they used, and confess that "these concentrations are higher than would have been present in the early oceans," an admission that they were not realistically simulating the early Earth's oceans. A paper analyzing the chemical composition of fluids collected near a hydrothermal vent makes no mention of ammonia, and this table listing the chemical composition of fluids from hydrothermal vents does not list ammonia as one of the ingredients. 

The second reason why such an experimental setup is not at all a realistic simulation of hydrothermal vents in the ocean is that the experimental setup used a closed glass apparatus, without using any continual water flow to simulate the circulation of water that would constantly occur undersea (and would occur even more strongly around a hydrothermal vent).  A similar experimental flaw was one of several gigantic flaws of the famous Miller-Urey experiment, an experiment which tried to simulate the atmosphere using a closed glass apparatus, but failed to account for the circulation of gases in the atmosphere. There were no closed glass jars or enclosed glass units billions of years ago. 

It is rather easy to do an origin-of-life experiment taking into account either the circulation of gases in the atmosphere or the circulation of water in the ocean.  For example, an experiment can be done outdoors, allowing a natural circulation of air currents and precipitation. Or an experiment can be done indoors in an open area that receives air currents of about 5 or 10 miles per hour, as well as occasional simulated rainfall produced by sprinklers or similar devices.  An experiment simulating the ocean can have a constant circulation of water produced by some kind of faucet-like apparatus or water jet that keeps running. 

But our origin-of-life experiments keep failing to provide this most basic requirment for a realistic simulation of early Earth conditions.  Below is a photo from the hydrothermal vent simulation experiment discussed by the Knowable Magazine article (from the Supplemental Information here).  

Such a visual is laughable. The ocean is a place of constant water circulation. You do not realistically simulate the ocean with a little sealed-off glass container like this. The yellow arrow points not to a stream of water simulating circulating water in the ocean, but to a solution of ammonia and other chemical reactants "slowly injected" into the water.  

There is a reason why origin-of-life experiments typically use sealed glass devices that fail to simulate the circulation of gases or water in the early Earth. The reason is that if they were to realistically simulate the early Earth, their experiments would never produce anything very noteworthy related to the origin of life. 

What was the result of this experiment claiming to simulate ocean hydothermal vents, but failing to realistically simulate such a thing? Only one type of amino acid was produced: alanine, one of the two simplest amino acids. There are twenty types of amino acids used by living things. 

Does the article in Knowable Magazine tell us about the experiment producing only one of the twenty types of amino acids used by living things? No, instead it gives us some language that might make us think that all twenty types of amino acids were produced.  We are told "the hydrothermal vent proponents say they have all the right ingredients." 

Talking about "ingredients" is appropriate when talking about food preparation, but inapproprate when referring to the fantastically ordered complexity of even the simplest living thing.  But if you insist on referring to "ingredients of life," you would have to list 25 ingredients needed for living things: the twenty types of amino acids used by living things, and the five types of nucleotides used by DNA and RNA. Experiments attempting to simulate hydrothermal events have not produced more than one or two of these 25 ingredients.  So how on earth can the article be claiming that "the hydrothermal vent proponents say they have all the right ingredients"? One or two out of 25 is 4% or 8%. Since when does 4% or 8% equal 100%? 

Bragging about having all the right ingredients for the random appearance of life is like saying that your typing monkey can produce 300-page textbooks, because your keyboard has all the right characters of the alphabet.  And if your keyboard has only one  or two of the 26 characters of the alphabet, it would be particularly misleading to make such a statement.  It is just as misleading to brag about having "all the right ingredients" when only one or two of 25 necessary ingredients for life have been produced by experiments trying to simulate hydothermal vents. 

As for the Knowable Magazine's claim that cell membranes "can form spontaneously and reliably near the hydrothermal vents found in seafloors," it is baloney.  The article is talking about kind of fatty bubbles. Such things are incomparably simpler than the membranes of cells, which are fantastically complex things, as discussed here The paper cited does not mention any experimental technique realistically simulating hydrothermal vents or any early Earth conditions.  The experimenters simply started out with solutions very dense with fatty acids, and observed some bubbles they called "vesicles" (a term that is appropriately used only when talking about a bubble-like structure in cells).  The Knowable Magazine article incorrectly calls such a mere bubble a "protocell," using the same very inappropriate term used in the title of the scientific paper. 

How did the researchers get these bubbles? Their utterly preposterous procedure is described in the supplementary information of their paper, which you can read hereYou can get a rough idea of what was going on by imagining someone half-filling a large salad bowl with water, and dumping 14 cans of powder into the water. What the researchers did is to dump absurdly huge amounts of many types of fatty acids into a solution of water.  Table 2 shows that they put into their solution about 900 grams per liter of each of 14 different types of fatty acid.  The resulting solution had about 13,000 grams of fatty acids per liter, and was probably as thick as syrup or gravy.  This is a totally unnatural solution not corresponding to anything that would have existed in the oceans of the early Earth.  It is unlikely that any liter of water in the early Earth's ocean had even a thousandth of this amount of fatty acids.  But the Knowable Magazine article most inaccurately describes this ridiculously artificial concoction as a "laboratory replica of ancient deep-sea conditions."  

We are being misinformed here not only by the writer of the Knowable Magazine article, but also by the scientists who authored the paper, who had no business using the term "protocell" after merely producing bubbles from a solution artifically packed with such a ridiculous abundance of fatty acids.  Since no one has ever observed anything like a mere fatty bubble turning into a cell, it is extremely misleading language to be referring to such a fatty bubble as either a "protocell" or a "primitive cell membrane." 

  1. Pour 900 grams of a fatty acid into a liter of water (half the size of a 2-liter soda bottle).
  1. Repeat this step 13 times, using a different fatty acid each time.
  1. Heat or shake the resulting syrupy mixture, to produce bubbles.
  1. Triumphantly call these bubbles “protocells” or “primitive cell membranes.”
Suitable for elementary school students, but not honest ones

During the past 70 years we have been told so many false or misleading things by those reporting about origin-of-life research that you may be forgiven if you regard the literature of origin-of-life research as being not half as credible as the sales pitches of used car salesmen

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Grant Them an Infinity of Planets and They Still Cannot Explain Life or Mind

Those who wish to claim a natural origin for earthly life are in vastly worse shape than you might think from listening to their smug brags. For example, inside the human body are more than 20,000 different types of protein molecules, each a different type of "just right" complex invention with the information complexity of a 20-line or 30-line computer software subroutine (or something even more complex).  In the animal kingdom there are vastly more different types of protein molecules than the 8 million different types of protein molecules that have already been sequenced.   Evolutionary theory offers no credible explanation for such complex innovations, the complexity of which was unknown to Darwin. As Harvard scientists have stated, "A wide variety of protein structures exist in nature, however the evolutionary origins of this panoply of proteins remain unknown." 

Faced with such difficulties, theorists may resort to desperate measures such as appealing to the possibility of some vast unobservable reality called a multiverse. In the scientific journal Nature there was recently published a paper entitled “Emergence of Life in an Inflationary Universe.” Although the multiverse-hawking paper by Tomonori Totani tries to salvage the groundless hypothesis of abiogenesis (the idea that life can arise from mere lifeless chemicals), the paper inadvertently suggests that such a hypothesis is enormously unbelievable.

The author introduces us to the RNA World hypothesis. This is a hypothesis contrived to make the origin of life from chemicals (abiogenesis) seem almost infinitely easier than it would actually be. Any actual living thing would consist of at the very least a cell. Cells are the basis of all living things. The simplest self-reproducing cell would require many types of protein molecules.

A team of 9 scientists wrote a scientific paper entitled, “Essential genes of a minimal bacterium.” It analyzed a type of bacteria (Mycoplasma genitalium) that has “the smallest genome of any organism that can be grown in pure culture.” According to wikipedia's article, this bacteria has 525 genes consisting of 580,070 base pairs. The paper concluded that 382 of this bacteria's protein-coding genes (72 percent) are essential. So multiplying that 580,070 by 72 percent, we get a figure of about 418,000 base pairs in the genome that are essential functionality. This is all information that must be arranged in just the right way for the tiny microbe to be capable of self-reproduction. The simplest living thing would require hundreds of different types of protein molecules, and each one of those protein molecules would be a complex invention with many parts that has to be just right. 

There is no reasonable chance that such fine-tuned complexity could have arisen accidentally. There is no way to reach such a result gradually. If by chance one of these protein molecules were to accidentally arise, that would do no good, because that would give you less than 1% of the functionality needed for the self-reproduction of a cell. There would be absolutely nothing in nature that would cause 1% or 2% or 5% or 10% of what was needed for a self-reproducing cell to be preserved if such a fraction were to accidentally arise. You would need to have everything needed for self-reproduction for life to get started.

To try and escape such a seemingly insuperable difficulty, the RNA World hypothesis was introduced. The idea is to imagine a mere self-reproducing RNA molecule that is not a cell and does not have any proteins, and to call such a hypothetical thing a beginning of life. After presenting such an idea, someone can say, “Look, it's not so hard for life to arise.”

The RNA World hypothesis does not work. Since cells are the basis of all life, and since a mere molecule making copies of itself would not contain any cell, such a molecule should not be considered an example of life originating. If such a self-reproducing RNA molecule were to originate, it would be a biological dead end. There would be no credible natural path of progression leading from such a thing to a living thing consisting of a self-reproducing cell. A self-reproducing molecule would no more be a living thing than a self-reproducing soap bubble (tending to split up into two other soap bubbles) would be a living thing.

We can compare the RNA World hypothesis to a man suggesting that it is possible for cars to self-assemble in a car factory where there are no workers and no assembly robots. The man's scheme might go like this: contrary to all sense, he defines a car as any two wheels connected by an axle. He then proposes a mathematical model by which every billion years or so an earthquake or a tornado might cause an axle in an unoccupied automobile factory to become accidentally connected to wheels. This, the man claims, would be an accidental construction of a car. Of course, this scheme is nonsense. Two wheels connected by an axle is not something we should be calling a car, and there is no accidental path leading from such a thing to an actual car. Similarly, a self-reproducing RNA molecule would not be a living thing, since it would not have a cell. And there could be no accidental progression from such an RNA molecule to a self-reproducing cell.

In their excellent recent paper "Using statistical methods to model the fine-tuning of molecular machines and systems," which discusses quite a few things relevant to the discussion of this post, Steinar Thorvaldsen and Ola Hossjer state the following about one scientist's calculation of the probability of a transistion from the RNA World scenario to a  "proteins and cells" level of life:

"Eugene Koonin...has made a theoretical study of the path from a putative RNA world to an explicit translation system (like a 'DNA-protein world'). He found this path to be incredibly steep (Koonin 2012, p. 376), even under the best-case scenario."

We are told in Thorvaldsen and Hossjer's paper that Koonin calculated that the chance of such a transition occurring would be less than 1 in 10 to the thousandth  power.  That's less than the chance of you correctly guessing the telephone numbers of 100 consecutve strangers. 

A self-replicating RNA molecule would consist of many nucleotide building blocks aranged in just the right way. But no experiment realistically simulating the early Earth has ever even produced a nucleotide.  Some of these experiments have produced nitrogenous bases, but such things are mere fragments of nucleotides. 

In his paper Totani lets us know about some reasons for thinking that the there is no reasonable chance that a self-reproducing RNA molecule could have appeared. Totani delves into the question of how improbable an accident would be necessary for a self-reproducing RNA molecule to arise. In an article on Livescience.com describing Totani's paper, we read, “Researchers think that in order for RNA to perform its essential function of copying itself, it needs to be composed of a chain of nucleotides longer than 40 to 60 nucleotides.” But we also read that none of the experiments designed to form RNA molecules from nucleotides could consistently produce RNA molecules longer than 10 nucleotides. Similarly, if you write a computer program designed to simulate random key pressing such as a monkey might perform, your program will be able to produce a real word after maybe 1000 trials. But the chance of getting a 7-word grammatical sentence would require something like trillions of trials; and your program would never produce an intelligible paragraph if you let it run your entire lifetime. 

We read the following in the LiveScience.com article discussing Totani's paper:

But researchers have found that the random formation of RNA with a length greater than 40 is incredibly unlikely given the number of stars — with habitable planets — in our cosmic neighborhood. There are too few stars with habitable planets in the observable universe for abiogenesis to occur within the timeframe of life emerging on Earth.”

The reality underlying that statement is a very big deal for several reasons. For one thing, it means that all SETI efforts to search for life by radio telescopes should be absolutely fruitless and should yield no result, under the assumptions of materialism and an accidental origin of life. For another thing, it means that the RNA World scenario is an utter flop as an attempt to explain how life could have naturally originated. If your theory requires luck greater than we would ever expect to occur in the observable universe, your theory is a dismal failure. Since abiogenesis (the accidental origin of life from chemicals) would actually require complexity vastly greater than a mere self-reproducing RNA molecule (which would not be a living thing any more than a self-reproducing soap bubble is a living thing), the actual situation is very much worse for an abiogenesis theorist than suggested by the quote above.

In his paper Totani tries to salvage this explanatory disaster. What he very desperately resorts to is a multiverse appeal to a vast number of unseen galaxies outside of the observable universe, a number more than 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times greater than the number of galaxies in the observable universe.  The observable universe contains no more than about 10 to the twentieth power sun-like stars. But Totani tells us, "Our universe, created by a single inflation event, likely includes more than 10100 Sun-like stars." There is no scientific basis for thinking that so many  unobservable galaxies and unobservable stars exist. 

To try to give some justification for appealing to unobservable galaxies, Totani appeals to the cosmic inflation theory. Having a very confusing name, the cosmic inflation theory is often confused with the Big Bang theory, but it is really just a variation of the Big Bang theory. The Big Bang theory makes the very general assertion that the universe started to expand from an incredibly hot and dense beginning 13 billion years ago. The cosmic inflation theory makes a very specific claim that during a tiny fraction of the universe's first second, the universe underwent a burst of “exponential expansion” in which the expansion rate was vastly greater than at any time in the universe's history. You can believe in the Big Bang theory without accepting the theory of cosmic inflation.

The cosmic inflation theory was invented to explain away apparent fine-tuning in the Big Bang, such as extremely precise fine-tuning of the universe's initial expansion rate. Scientists were bothered that the Big Bang theory seemed to require that the initial expansion rate of the universe had to be fine-tuned to something like 1 part in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to end up with a universe like we now have. To alleviate their discomfort at this fine-tuning, the cosmic inflation theory was invented. If this theory were simple, we might categorize it as a design avoidance device, since the main purpose of the cosmic inflation theory is to avoid or evade what seems to be evidence of design in the universe's birth. But since the cosmic inflation theory is a very complicated contrivance, it is more descriptive for us to categorize it as a design avoidance contraption. A contraption is some very complicated thing which seems ugly because of a lack of simplicity.

If you doubt that the cosmic inflation theory should be called a contraption, just look at the scientific paper here, where it is made clear that the cosmic inflation theory requires not just one type of fine-tuning, but six very specific types of fine-tuning. So we have here an attempt to explain away a case of fine-tuning, by introducing a theory that itself requires quite a few types of fine-tuning. 

There is no observational basis for believing in this cosmic inflation theory. Because of what is called the recombination era that hopelessly scattered all light from the earliest millenia of the universe's history, there is no possibility of ever observing events that occurred before about 300,000 years after the Big Bang (ruling out any possibility of ever observing exponential cosmic inflation in the universe's first instants).  In a statement quoted in livescience.com, Totani claims that in cosmology “it is agreed the universe underwent a period of rapid inflation, producing a vast region of expansion beyond the horizon of what we can directly observe.” There is no such agreement among cosmologists, and some major cosmologists reject such a claim. The idea of proclaiming some incredibly extravagant speculation is true because it is popular among some tiny group of theorists is counter to good scientific practice. A few decades ago string theory and supersymmetry theory were popular among particle physicists, but there was never any evidence for them. And there is no evidence that “the universe underwent a period of rapid inflation, producing a vast region of expansion beyond the horizon of what we can directly observe.” In fact, there are recent reasons for rejecting such a claim. It is interesting that a very recent scientific paper is entitled, "Cosmic Discordance: Planck and luminosity distance data exclude LCDM." The authors claim that their analysis "excludes a flat universe," the main thing predicted by the inflationary cosmology Totani appeals to.  Also, a recent observational study provides a strong reason for thinking the early universe was rotating, contrary to the predictions of the cosmic inflation theory. 

While Totani tries to suggest there is some agreement among cosmologists regarding whether "the universe underwent a period of rapid inflation," the actual truth is that this idea of an instant of exponential expansion in the very early universe has spawned countless different sub-theories, and such a proliferation of theoretical speculations is not an actual consensus. 

But for the sake of being charitable, let us imaginatively grant Totani all the extra galaxies that he might wish for in his desperate attempt to salvage the respectability of the idea of abiogenesis. We may imaginatively grant such thinkers an infinity of galaxies and an infinity of planets. Under such an assumption, would it then be true that such thinkers can say that they have an explanation for life and for mind? Absolutely not. Materialist thinkers do not have any  credible explanation for life or for mind, even if they assume that there are an infinite number of planets.  They certainly do not have an explanation for life in the concept of so-called natural selection, such a term being a not-literally-accurate phrase that refers to a mere filtering effect (not actually choosing or selection) that has no real creative power.  As the leading botantist Hugo de Vries stated:

"Natural selection is a sieve. It creates nothing, as is so often assumed; it only sifts." 

Let us imagine that there exists an infinite number of planets. Presumably then any combination of atoms could occur, no matter how improbable. So with such an infinity of planets there might arise by chance any of the proteins that now exist in the human genome. There might exist all kinds of fantastically improbable organisms, appearing by a chance combination of atoms.  But this would still not mean that life and mind would be well explained. There would still be four gigantic shortfalls:
  1. There would still be a failure to explain anything vastly improbable that occurred in the history of life on Earth. 
  2. There would still be a failure to explain human reproduction and morphogenesis.
  3. There would still be a failure to explain human minds, self-conscious minds that can think and imagine and reason, minds that have a unified self-identity.
  4. There would still be a failure to explain human memory.
Given an infinity of planets, there would still be a failure to explain anything vastly improbable that occurred in the history of life on Earth, such as the origin of a self-reproducing cell from random chemical combinations, or the formation of complex fine-tuned functional proteins from random mutations. You explain something that occurred on planet Earth when you make observations inextricably linking the two things (such as a video showing a meteor making a crater), or when you discuss some causal reason why the thing was likely to occur on planet Earth. You do not explain something by discussing some situation under which one such thing would be likely to occur somewhere in an infinity of space.  For example, if you leave your teenage son at your home while you go on a trip for 10 days, and then come back to find your son has drawn turtles on every square foot of the walls and ceiling of your home, you do not explain such behavior by saying that such a thing would occur at least once given an infinity of planets.  You would only explain such a thing if you produced some observation showing what caused it, or gave some reason why your son was likely to behave in such behavior.  Claiming that things can be explained by saying "they would happen once if there is a multiverse" is a wacky perversion of the whole notion of explanation. 

Now let us consider human reproduction and morphogenesis. We have no real understanding of how a speck-sized egg is able to progress to become a full-sized human. Nowhere in a human being is there stored a specification of how to make a human being. Contrary to the misinformation that is often taught when people claim that DNA is some kind of blueprint or recipe for making a human, DNA contains no such thing. DNA (the same as the human genome) merely contains low-level chemical information, the type of chemical information needed to construct microscopic molecules. DNA does not specify the overall body plan of a human being, does not specify how to make any of the organs or appendages of a human being, and does not specify how to make any of the 200 types of cells of a human being. See this post for quotes by quite a few mainstream biology authorities stating that DNA is not a blueprint or a recipe for making a human. 

So how is it that a speck-sized egg is able to progress to become a full-sized human? We do not understand this profound mystery. Until we understand that, we cannot claim that we understand biological life, and have no business claiming that we understand the origin of the human species or claiming that we really understand the origin of any single human. 

Could we somehow get around this difficulty by imagining an infinity of planets? Not at all. I can imagine a type of human being that  might be self-reproducing, and which might have within itself a full explanation for how such self-reproduction occurs. Such a type of human being would be vastly different from an actual human. It might have stored within it a vast database fully listing the instructions for how to assemble a full-sized human. Such instructions might have complex assembly algorithms for each type of cell and each type of organ and each type of appendage in the human body. Such a type of human being might also have all kinds of complicated machinery for reading such complex instructions, and for building a biological organism exactly like itself. We can imagine a human with all kinds of specialized construction tools within itself for building a human, just as we can imagine a complex self-reproducing robot with very many built-in tools it could use to make a copy of itself. Given infinite combinations of atoms that might occur given an eternal length of time, and an infinity of planets, we might expect just such self-reproducing robots might accidentally arise, and that just such organisms with everything needed for their self-reproduction might arise.

The problem is that such a possibility is irrelevant, because it does not match what we actually know about humans. A human being is no such thing as the exotic possibility I just described. A human being does not have within it any instructions for making a human body, any human organ, or any of the 200 types of very complex cells used by humans (DNA being no such thing). Nor does a human have within itself anything capable of reading and acting on such fantastically complicated instructions if they happened to exist. So the possibility just discussed (something that might occur given an infinite number of atom combinations) cannot be the explanation for how humans are able to reproduce.

So how is it that human reproduction is able to occur? Materialists have no credible explanation. Even if they assume an infinity of planets, they will not overcome this difficulty.  Given the known limitations of the human body, and its lack of any specification for making a human being, there is no hope of explaning how there could be a progression from a tiny speck-sized egg to a full-grown human. No amount of previous luck (arising from an infinity of planets) can get you out of this difficulty. 

Consider also the human mind. We have no understanding of how any possible arrangement of matter would ever produce a self-conscious mind.  Let us imagine some machine capable of arranging atoms in endless variety. If such a machine were to operate for an eternity of time, we still would not expect that any particular arrangement of atoms would produce an intelligent self-conscious mind.  There is no understanding of how neurons can produce a mind, and no understanding of how any other arrangement of matter could produce a mind. 

Consider also the question of memory. The two most hard-to-explain facts about memory (given human biology) are the following:

(1) the fact that humans can instantaneously remember a vast number of obscure pieces of information learned many years ago;
(2) the fact that humans can remember things accurately for more than 50 years. 

The explanatory problem is that given the organization of the human brain, nothing of the sort should be possible. The brain has no known capability for writing learned information, and no known capability for reading learned information.  There is no known system by which the brain encodes learned information into neural states or synapses states, nor can we even credibly imagine such a system given the known limitations of the brain and brain tissue. It has never been proven that any learned information has ever been written to a brain and stored for even a few months. We know that synapses (claimed by some to be a storage place of memories) are short-lived things; for example, the paper here suggests the half-life of a synapse is "days to months," and the paper here tells us that synapses turnover at a rate of about 7% per week. We know that the proteins that make up synapses have very short lifetimes of only a few weeks.  No one has any understanding of how a brain could even store a memory for two years, let alone 50 years.  The brain has nothing like what we see in computer systems that allow permanent long-term storage and instantaneous recall of stored information.  Indeed, given the multiple types of severe signal noise and relatively slow signal transmission in brains, caused by things such as synaptic delays, an instant recall of information should be impossible if the information is read from brains. 

It is true that if there were an infinite number of planets, there might accidentally arise some organisms that would have physical biological equipment suitable for instant recall and 50-year memories. We can imagine organisms with some very different type of information storage system, perhaps one resembling a computer system.  In such organisms, the instantaneous recall of 50-year old memories might be explicable. 

But the problem is, we are not any such organisms. So such a possibility (something that might arise from an infinity of planets) does not do any good with the problem of explaining human memory. 

I can group the problems of explaining life and mind into two broad general categories:

Mathematical improbability problems. Human beings have very many known extremely complex and fine-tuned physical innovations that we would never expect any organism to have accidentally acquired, most notably more than 20,000 fine-tuned types of protein molecules, each of which is a very complex invention fantastically unlikely to have appeared through any known biological process, and also 200 types of very complex super-organized cells, none of which we would expect to have arisen though chance processes. Since unconscious nature would not actually select things, such fine-tuned innovations are not explained by the not-literally-accurate phrase "natural selection," which is just a misnomer term used for the vacuous idea of "survival of the fittest," a mere "survivors survive more" idea that is not any real theory of biological organization explaining why fantastically improbable fine-tuned arrangements of matter would occur. 

Bodily insufficiency problems. Some of the most fundamental aspects of life and mind (human reproduction, consciousness, self-hood, imagination, abstract thinking, instantaneous formation of permanent memories, instantaneous memory recall and 50-year memory preservation) are not credibly explained by any material things that exist in human bodies. Humans have biological things sufficient to explain pregnancy, but not the progression from a speck-sized human egg to a full-sized newborn baby. 

It does not actually help remove problems of the first type if you imagine an infinity of planets, because you do not explain something merely by showing that it would occur once given an infinite number of trials.  And even if you imagine such an infinity of planets or an eternity of time, it would not help you escape the mountainous difficulties in the second of these categories. 

So even if we grant our materialistic thinkers an infinity of planets, that still will not make them people who can explain life or mind. Even with an infinite number of planets, such thinkers will still be people making a futile attempt to explain life and mind as bottom-up effects bubbling up from arrangements of molecules. The only way to credibly explain life and mind is to postulate that they are both top-down effects arising from some reality higher than mere material bodies. We can only have our bodies with so many levels of vast organization because of some organizational principle beyond anything biology professors postulate.  We can only have our minds and memory capabilities because of some source of mind beyond anything biology professors postulate. 

The idea that both life and mind are top-down effects arising from some mysterious external reality is necessary because of the many severe failures of bottom-up explanations.  But such an idea may seem unthinkable merely because we have been "bottom-up brainwashed" all our lives to believe that life and mind must be bottom-up effects with a merely molecular explanation. To gain some insight on how we have been conditioned to favor a bad type of explanation, let us consider a hypothetical planet rather different from our own: a planet in which the atmosphere is much thicker, and always filled with clouds that block the sun. 

Let's give a name to this perpetually cloudy planet in another solar system, and call this imaginary entity planet Evercloudy.  Let's imagine that the clouds are so thick on planet Evercloudy that its inhabitants have never seen their sun.  The scientists on this planet might ponder two basic questions:

(1) What causes daylight on planet Evercloudy?
(2) How is it that planet Evercloudy stays warm enough for life to exist?

Having no knowledge of their sun, the top-down explanation for these phenomena, the scientists would probably come up with very wrong answers. They would probably speculate that daylight and planetary warmth are bottom-up effects.  They might spin all kinds of speculations such as hypothesizing that daylight comes from photon emissions from rocks and dirt, and that their planet was warm because of heat bubbling up from the hot center of their planet.  By issuing such unjustified speculations, such scientists would be like the scientists on our planet who wrongly think that life and mind can be explained as bottom-up effects bubbling up from molecules. 

Facts on planet Evercloudy would present very strong reasons for rejecting such attempts to explain daylight and warm temperatures on planet Evercloudy as bottom-up effects. For one thing, there would be the fact of nightfall, which could not easily be reconciled with any such explanations. Then there would be the fact that the dirt and rocks at the feet below the scientists of Evercloudy would be cold, not warm as would be true if such a bottom-up theory of daylight and planetary warmth were correct.  But we can easily believe that the scientists on planet Evercloudy would just ignore such facts, just as scientists on our planet ignore a huge number of facts arguing against their claims of a bottom-up explanation for life and mind (facts such as the fact that people are just as smart and still maintain their memories when you remove half of their brains in hemispherectomy operations, the fact that the proteins in synapses have very short lifetimes, the fact that people who lost the great majority of their brains due to disease can be above average intelligence, and the fact that the human body contains no blueprint or recipe for making a human, DNA being no such thing). 

Just as the phenomena of daylight and planetary warmth on planet Evercloudy could never credibly be explained as bottom-up effects, but could be credibly explained as effects coming from some mysterious unseen reality unknown to the scientists of planet Evercloudy who had never seen their sun, the phenomena of life and mind on planet Earth can never be credibly explained as bottom-up effects coming from mere molecules, but may one day be explained as top-down effects coming from some mysterious unknown reality we cannot currently fathom. 

Postscript: In the very interesting paper "Using statistical methods to model the fine-tuning of molecular machines and systems" we read that Koonin calculated a probability of less than 1 in 10 to the 1800th power of a self-replicating RNA molecule arising in the observable universe. That is a probability so low that it can be described as being for all practical purposes zero.  Tracking down the paper referred to, I read the following: "In other words, even in this toy model that assumes a deliberately inflated rate of RNA production, the probability that a coupled translation-replication emerges by chance in a single O-region is P < 10-1018."  The O-region referred to is a region the size of the observable universe.