Sep 8, 2006

Rime Of The Ancient Mariner

I can easily believe, that there are more invisible than visible Beings in the universe. But who shall describe for us their families? and their ranks and relationships and distinguishing features and functions? What they do? where they live? The human mind has always circled around a knowledge of these things, never attaining it. I do not doubt, however, that it is sometimes beneficial to contemplate, in thought, as in a Picture, the image of a greater and better world; lest the intellect, habituated to the trivia of daily life, may contract itself too much, and wholly sink into trifles. But at the same time we must be vigilant for truth, and maintain proportion, that we may distinguish certain from uncertain, day from night.
-- T. Burnet, Archaeol. Phil. p. 68 (1692)

Facile credo - these are the first words of the motto to 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Now, it talks about belief in supernatural beings, but I'm going to talk mostly about beliefs in natural phenomena. Some things are easier to believe than others, and I cannot bring myself to believe in some of the hypotheses, for example, on the origins of water on planet Earth.

Generally, I think we are unclear about the scope of the known and knowable. Science purports to describe the visible beings in the universe, and the modern man (not necessarily male;) firmly believes in science and scientific discoveries. However, when talking about ancient events, like 1 billion years ago, we have to acknowledge certain limits of accessibility to our knowledge. We don't know and we might never do, no matter how science progresses, much more than we now know about the Rodinia supercontinent, for example. Mapping out a supercontinent is as much a play of imagination as anything else.

Imagination also plays an important role in the above mentioned hypotheses on the origins of water. Liquid water is found only on Earth, although in other form it has been found elsewhere in the Solar system and interstellar clouds. The origins of water are traced back to the origins of the universe.

Here are the hypotheses listed in Wikipedia:
  1. The cooling of hot gases were released causing "outgassing", potentially bringing water to Earth.
  2. Comets, trans-Neptunian objects or water-rich asteroids (protoplanets) from the outer reaches of the asteroid belt colliding with a pre-historic Earth may have brought water to the world's oceans.
  3. Liquid may have been "locked" in the Earth's rocks and leaked out over millions of years.
  4. Photolysis. (Radiation can break down chemical bonds separating liquid from hard mass)
  5. Rain and sandstorms may have pooled.
I like the 'may have been' modality here, signifying 'we don't know but we'd like to know'. A few words on each hypotesis:

1. Outgassing is producing gases from solids and is not the same as producing liquid water. It is the quantity of water that is puzzling here.
2. My favorite: the panaqua theory - asteroids bringing water to Earth, therefore life! It looks very much like putting all your eggs in one basket, though. And there are different claims as to the correspondence of isotopes found on comets with those in oceanic water.
3. May have. However, evidence suggests that water was present on Earth pretty early after its formation. Several hundred millions of years early, that is. This is pretty short time, considering that the age of Earth is now calculated at 4.5 billion years.
4. Photolysis - probably, the effect on light on chemicals. But again, there had to be MANY chemicals. And oxygen. What is the main source of oxygen - algae, and plants in general.^_^
5. Rain, wtf? I thought the formation of oceans preceded the formation of athmosphere, at least oxygen-rich atmosphere. Anyway, the whole water cycle is full of mysteries.

This post is getting ridiculously long, and I haven't said anything about the most recent experiments on producing life. This is because my point is that the Supernatural Man (TM) asks questions about life, the universe, and everything (water as part of everything), but at the same time makes myths, writes poetry, sings, loves, plays, translates (o rly), paints, and reads. And refuses to sink into trifles, habituated to the trivia of daily life.

Off to cook my pork stew with rice.


ffox said...

the worst or maybe just one particulary unpleasant among all bad things about the Sup.Man (tm) is not the asking of questions about life, but the giving of awfully ridiculous answers.

cluelessness + carelessness (+...) = aggravation to the Thinking Ones (C)(R)

like in the saying "Those of you who think you know everything are very annoying to those of us who do."

Hazel Baggins said...

@ ffox
Honest to God, I don't want to be Sup=Superior, as in Sup.Rune of Divine Favor!:) However, Divine Favor outside GW is highly doubtful boost. ^_^

I don't have answers to the questions posed. Do you? You truly are a faithful believer.

Oh ye of great faith, believe and you shalt move mountains... oops, planets.

I'm infuriated by the 'know-it-all' attitude, just like you are:)

ffox said...

to quote stewie griffin "In the battle of science versus religion, science produces credible evidence" :)

i don't believe blindly - i'm not a hazardous person. i bet safely.

Hazel Baggins said...

Yeah and verily, who needs this battle anyway? Peace, child.

On the ideological front, on which I hope you finally agreed this battle rages, credibility is divided between the two teams. Count the philosophers.

And no, it's not about chance, otherwise I'd go for Pascal's wager:)