Well, it's no use me posting swottish stuff tomorrow when you'll all have hangovers! And anyway, don't blame me because it's all that Malcolm Pollack's fault for pointing me in the direction of the MIT Technology Review, not, I must admit, my favourite reading over breakfast! Anyway, if my brain hurts then yours can do likewise so we'll start with Moore's Law - yeeees, quite, me neither! Like most of these swottish laws it is fairly easy to state even if the implications are not. In this case, Mr. Moore, a leading computer wizard reckoned that during the history of computing the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles roughly every two years. Here's a picture to help you grasp this less than exciting insight:
Well if that hasn't sent you back to sleep let me move quickly on to an application of Moore's diagram - and thinking - that is much more intriguing. In essence, suppose you had no knowledge of the history of computing but you knew Moore's Law then you could work backwards to find out when the first transistor was invented. Now suppose that you apply this type of regression to the evolution of life. If you can work out the rate of increase in complexity you could work backwards in time and reach the starting point of life on earth. Well, a couple of brain-boxes have done just that:
These guys argue that it’s possible to measure the complexity of life and the rate at which it has increased from prokaryotes to eukaryotes to more complex creatures such as worms, fish and finally mammals. That produces a clear exponential increase identical to that behind Moore’s Law although in this case the doubling time is 376 million years rather than two years.
Look, stop yawning, this is really exciting stuff because, you see, if you work backwards on that basis then life began 9.7 billion years ago, give or take a 2.7 billion years. But, you shout with amazement and disbelief (er, you did shout, didn't you?) the earth is only 4.5 billion years old so that means life began somewhere else! But if it did, then, as that ace swot, Enrico Fermi, pointedly asked in his famous paradox, where the hell is it? Well, of course, he didn't put it in quite those terms but it is a question demanding an answer from those who, eager to avoid an anthropological-centred universe, insist that life forms must exist throughout the cosmos. They may be right but so far we have seen absolutely no sign of it.
Well, that's enough swottery for me, I'm going back to bed because my head hurts!