I’m a great fan of sperm in a pan. However, I’m also a fan of panspermia, if you can be a “fan” of a scientific hypothesis. I suppose I like the additional romantic element that panspermia brings to hypothetical speculation on abiogenesis and the origin of life. If that makes me unscientific, well, that’s because I’m not a scientist and took my degree in Wordification and Filmazement.
Panspermia describes the possibility that life on Earth was seeded, catalysed or in some way influenced by material entering its ecosystem from space. And what with various organic compounds being discovered in the chilly depths of space, far beyond the reach of human hands, it’s a hypothesis that is, at the very least, plausible.
However it’s not particularly the scientific aspect of panspermia I was thinking about. Did you miss my blogtv show last night? Of course you did. You were outside, discussing politics with impossibly handsome people whilst eating fine wines dipped in caviar. Or maybe you were making frantic love as the police stormed the house, or having a quiet drink, or just generally not sitting in front of your computer for 3 hours watching me chat with AndromedasWake, cavorting for the amusement of Internet and its blind, insatiable eye. Anyway, that was where I thought of the following nugget of pseudophilosophical claptrap.
At what point can the introduction of material from space be called panspermia? The earth was roundly trounced with debris for, oh, ages once it had coalesced. It would seem likely that some of the elements introduced or events created by such a bombardment might affect, directly or indirectly, the process of abiogenesis; it could even be argued that Earth itself is a product of panspermia since it’s made up of a lot of different spacebound bits, and continued accreting long into its life.
To me, panspermia suggests a scale. On the one end, we have a rock with some stuff on it that falls to earth and is, eventually, abiogenesised. Or however you’d phrase it. On the other end of the scale you have a fully-formed sentient creature that crash lands and then does something inarguably direct, like throw a few hundred seeds around the place.
So at what point does matter from space affecting the process of abiogenesis take on the loftier mantle of panspermia? What if three of the four bases of DNA were sitting about (I’m aware this is a gross oversimplification) and the fourth one arrived on a comet? What if it was a few simple amino acids and sugars that fell to earth? Where is the cutoff in this grey area?
Clearly, I’m not contesting the workability of the panspermia hypothesis at all, I just like thinking about stuff like this. Perhaps you do too. And panspermia isn’t really an explanation for the origins of life in as direct a way as abiogenesis, just an additional variable that needs to be taken into consideration. After all, if an alien had landed on earth and created us from protein bars and, well, sperm in a pan . . . that would explain where WE came from, but it wouldn’t explain the processes behind the evolution of the alien and its penchant for soiling newborn worlds. And if comet dust and attending organic molecules were instrumental in abiogenesis, it means we’re even less likely to be alone then we were before. It’s highly likely that, given the vast size of the universe, life is existing right now, beginning right now, dying right now. It’s an awe-inspiring thought, and maybe it will encourage you to visit my BlogTV show next time I advertise YOU VULTURES