Guide to the Cosmos

 Making the Wonders of our Universe Accessible to Everyone

Scientists Confirm My Analysis of the Origin of Life
&  Feynman Simplified 1D Released

I am fascinated by the yet-unanswered question of how life first originated.


I don’t mean how life-forms procreate and evolve from one generation to the next — all that is very well explained by genetics and Darwinian evolution.


But how did the very first living thing become alive?


For most of a century, scientists claimed life began in a “warm little pond” from spontaneous chemical reactions. The vast majority of scientists held the view best enunciated by former Harvard professor of biology and Nobel Laureate George Wald. He said: “However improbable…given enough time it will certainly happen…the ‘impossible’ become possible, the possible probable, and the probable virtually certain. One only has to wait: time itself performs the miracles.”


But not all agreed. Sir Fred Hoyle said life arising through random chemical reactions was “as likely as the assemblage of a 747 by a tornado whirling through a junkyard.”


In 2010, I published Can Life Be Merely An Accident?. This book presents what I believe is the only physically and mathematically rigorous analysis of the probability of randomly forming the minimal genetic code capable of sustaining any form of life. I showed that the random formation of even the minimal DNA, even once throughout the entire expanse and existence of our observable universe, is absurdly improbable. Even in the most optimist scenario, the odds are less than 1 in N, where N has more than 203,500 zeroes.


I also showed that if there were two ways to form life, and if one way was 1/100th of 1% less favorable than the other way, then that way would be 100 billion, billion times less likely to form spontaneously than the more favorable way. In simpler terms: only the most probable form of life has any chance of arising. If we do ever find alien life, I predict it will be based on DNA with the same biochemical design as life on Earth.


When I published these findings my views were very unconventional, perhaps even heretical. Benedict Arnold got about the same reception that greeted me in the scientific community.


But that has changed. Many scientists now agree with my primary thesis that DNA is far too complex to form spontaneously. A current Harvard professor of biology, Jack Shostak, perhaps the world’s leading pre-biotic biologist, has a revised theory. He thinks some very small molecule that could self-reproduce did form spontaneously. This molecule would have to be several billion times smaller than our DNA. Over time, Shostak says, the descendants of this primeval molecule grew, eventually becoming something like RNA. And over more time, RNA-like molecules evolved into DNA.


As I address in my book, there are huge challenges to the bootstrap approach. Among others, even tiny genetic “life” fragments would have to dramatically out-compete the “non-life” fragments. The “life” fragments must survive and reproduce, but equally importantly, the “non-life” fragments must rapidly fall apart. Otherwise all the available carbon in the universe would be trapped within “non-life” fragments, because those are extraordinarily more probable.


While all my ideas aren’t completely accepted, I am gratified that now I rarely meet a university biology professor who claims DNA was spontaneously created. The first step toward a more sensible scientific theory is abandoning an absurd theory.


To explore this fascinating subject, go to my website for Can Life Be Merely An Accident?, now being offered as part of a Holiday Special.


Best Regards,




Dec 9th, 2014


Note: Previous newsletters can be found on my website.


I am happy to announce the fifth release in the Everyone's Guide to the Feynman Lectures series: Feynman Simplified 1D: Sound, Waves, Angular Momentum & Vision.


Feynman Simplified 1D covers one quarter of Volume 1 of The Feynman Lectures on Physics. The topics we explore include:

  • Angular Momentum
  • Moments of Inertia
  • Rotations in Three-Dimensions
  • Sound & Beat Frequencies
  • Modes & Harmonics
  • Fourier Series & Transforms
  • Complex Waves
  • Symmetry Properties of Natural Laws    

This completes the series for Volume 1.



Happy Holidays from our House to Yours!
Joan & Robert