BEYOND CENTER, ASU
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 20, 2013
How did life begin? What sort of process can turn a complex mixture of chemicals into a genuinely living organism? The origin of life remains one of the great outstanding mysteries of science. At the heart of the enigma lies a deep conceptual mismatch between the realms of physics and chemistry, which are cast in the language of matter, energy and forces, and the realm of biology, which is described in the informational terms of genetic instructions, signals and codes. Decades of research into life’s emergence have focused on the chemical substrate – the hardware. But the key to life’s distinctive qualities lies with the organization and management of information – the software. In my lecture I will describe attempts to shift the problem of life’s origin from chemistry to information theory and complexity theory. Although we may never have a blow-by-blow account of life’s murky beginnings, a great deal hinges on the answer. If life emerges readily in earthlike conditions, then it may have started many times on Earth, raising the tantalizing prospect that a shadow biosphere of alternative life forms interpenetrates the known biosphere. But if life is a bizarre statistical fluke, then we may be alone in the universe.
PAUL DAVIES BIO (from his website)
Paul Davies is a British-born theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and best-selling author. He is Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science and co-Director of the Cosmology Initiative, both at Arizona State University. Previously he held academic appointments at the Universities of Cambridge, London and Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK, before moving to Australia in 1990, initially as Professor of Mathematical Physics at The University of Adelaide. Later he helped found the Australian Centre for Astrobiology.
Davies’s research interests are focused on the “big questions” of existence, ranging from the origin of the universe to the origin of life, and include the nature of time, the search for life in the universe and foundational questions in quantum mechanics. He helped create the theory of quantum fields in curved spacetime, with which he provided explanations for how black holes can radiate energy, and what caused the ripples in the cosmic afterglow of the big bang. In astrobiology, he was a forerunner of the theory that life on Earth may have come from Mars. He is currently championing the theory that Earth may host a shadow biosphere of alternative life forms.
In addition to his research, Davies is known as a passionate science communicator, and is in demand world-wide for media appearances and public presentations. He has lectured on scientific topics at institutions as diverse as The World Economic Forum, the United Nations, the Commission of the European Union, Google, Windsor Castle, The Vatican and Westminster Abbey, as well as mainstream academic establishments such as The Royal Society, The Smithsonian Institution, the New York Academy of Sciences, The American Association for the Advancement of Science and hundreds of universities. He has twice debated scientific topics with the Dalai Lama, and contributed to numerous debates about science, religion and culture. His 28 popular and specialist books have been translated into over 20 languages, and are notable for presenting complex ideas in accessible terms. Among his best sellers are The Mind of God, About Time, How to Build a Time Machine, The Fifth Miracle and The Goldilocks Enigma. His latest book, The Eerie Silence, is about the search for intelligent life in the universe, and will be published in early 2010. Davies devised and presented a highly successful series of 45 minute BBC Radio 3 science documentaries, and a one-hour television documentary about his work in astrobiology, entitled The Cradle of Life. In Australia his many television projects included two six-part series The Big Questions, filmed in the outback, and More Big Questions. Paul Davies has won many awards, including the 1995 Templeton Prize for his work on the deeper implications of science, the 2001 Kelvin Medal from the UK Institute of Physics, and the 2002 Michael Faraday Prize from the Royal Society for promoting science to the public. In April 1999 the asteroid 1992 OG was officially named (6870) Pauldavies. In June 2007 he was named a Member of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s birthday honors list.