EP 167 Bruce Damer on the Origins of Life

Jim talks with Bruce Damer about the origins of life. They discuss what Earth was like 4 billion years ago, how the oceans formed, the new concept of urability, the distinction between supporting life & bringing it into being, the source of organic building blocks, combinatorial selection, the ocean vents theory vs the warm little pond hypothesis, the Murchison meteorite, wet-dry cycling, the water problem, using stromatolites & other natural analogs to test conjectures, finding the oldest evidence of life in a hot spring setting, shouting matches as evidence of paradigm shifts, what warm pools were made of, a one-pot solution that’s testable at every stage, the source of vesicles, why the ocean is implausible as a starting point, chemical gardens, the great search for the origins of emergence, semipermeable membranes, “the ignoble sludge of the Progenitor,” the jacuzzi origin of life, the origin of life as a communal unit, the ratchet to greater complexity, thermal change in near-real time, the error catastrophe in evolutionary computing, actual experiments being performed, the Fermi paradox & astrobiological implications, a hot spring on Mars, urability scores, the Drake equation, where complexity theory meets biology, the rarity of complex life & the responsibility that comes with it, bringing the universe to life, and much more.

Canadian-born Dr. Bruce Damer has spent his life pursuing two questions: how did life on Earth begin? and how can we give that life (and ourselves) a sustainable pathway into the future and a presence beyond the Earth? A decade of laboratory and field research with his collaborator Prof. David Deamer at UCSC and teams around the world resulted in the Hot Spring Hypothesis for an Origin of Life, published in Scientific American in 2017 and the journal Astrobiology in 2020. The scenario has now passed its first key experimental tests in the laboratory and at volcanic hot springs around the world and has emerged as a leading contender for a general theory of abiogenesis. Implications of the work are now spreading through evolutionary biology, philosophy, AI and the search for life beyond Earth. New work with collaborators has proposed the urability framework, how life can start on many different worlds, and addresses some aspects of the Fermi Paradox.