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Friday, 08 September 2017


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"no one has succeeded in producing that spark of animation in hitherto inanimate material?"

I'm confused. I thought you said you weren't talking about our Prime Minister?

Whyaxye...damned fine response to the obvious question!!

I am fine with the God, no God or God junior or what ever as it makes little difference. What I have always wondered is why here---"Third Stone from the Sun". With billions of planets throughout the universe, it's just here?

In the very elementary physics I had to study I was taught that matter cannot either be created or destroyed - changed yes but destroyed no.

If I read it correctly the "Big Bang" theory is that there was nothing and then there was the start of everything which keeps expanding into more everything. So how does that relate to the idea that matter cannot be created or destroyed?

Now hear this. The Big Henry to the bridge.

AussieD, I feel a headache coming on;)

Whitewall I had a constant headache when I went back to school and then Uni. Ballistics I could understand as I could prove how it worked but the more theoretical stuff hurt my head dreadfully.

Compared to some of the stuff the boffins sprouted at me the mysteries of celestial navigation was like one plus one

You have it all wrong there never was a beginning it has always been there.
What you have is a universe in amongst and next to other universes where there is a give and take between them that has always been. There is a breathing out and in which takes out one universe into another and then changes to whatever the new offspring universe is.

David, you're a bit behind the times. Synthetic life has been constructed:

Viruses are among the most simple of living things, but the technology will advance.

A man-made universe is also a theoretical possibility. Science ethicists have been discussing the ramifications for years:

Also, we don't know that this is the only planet that has intelligent life and the Big Bang didn't originate from nothing. Maybe Henry will explain.

Oy, I am positive this will earn me a monstrous migraine, but I've been called to the bridge ...

Neither I nor any of my betters -- Einstein et al. -- know how the Big Bang, life, self-awareness, and a bunch of other seemingly incomprehensible phenomena came about. Innumerable books have been written, both by genius level scientists, philosophers, and other polymaths (as well as by total twats), which merely speculate about these issues. But in the end, no one knows why there is something instead of nothing. Personally, I think it is unknowable.

And now I have been called to another bridge -- the card game at my club downtown, where bloodthirsty little old ladies are waiting with bated breath for my scalp, under which a furious migraine is emerging even as we speak.

Adios amigos ...

We shall pray for you, with unmatched vigor I'm sure!

In sympathy, I will go to the sporting goods store and buy myself a new fishing reel. And a new hat.

I suppose as we get closer to a grand theory of everything some quantum effect will be hypothesised which allows for the spontaneous creation of universes out of nothing.

I think TBH is probably right about conciousness etc. Unknowable.

Which most likely means someone will discover it next week!!

"Prime Mover" David, works for me. Given that, I am afterall, nominally at least, Presbyterian (which makes ... er, should make (given the many many times you've David, tried to pin me down)

Now where was I? Oh yeah. Presbyterianism makes all things possible. ... Hmmm. I suppose I ought further delineate, the Cumberland Presbyterian variety. Look it up yourself or ... relating it to the content of Cuffer's comment above - consciousness by way of octopodes:

Take that Bob, Henry!

Given me a whole new view of calimari!!

It doesn't matter.


There you go again, blathering on about matter, corporeal substance and how it got up and walked at some point.

Consider a computer. A good old, rap your knuckles on the screen, PC, iThingy, whatever. That's a system right.

Now inside that PC runs another system called software. Word, Excel, Outlook, games, etc.

Well there's a particular kind of software called "Virtualization" software. Virtualization software mimics a real hardware computer in software.

So you switch on your PC, for example, and on your Windows desktop you see an icon called "My virtual PC" or similar. You double click that, and you see a window displayed. Inside that window you see the same thing you see when you switch on your real hardware computer: Black screen first with the geeky messages, then the Windows splash screen, then the logon box. You logon, then you see a Windows desktop with icons inside the Window, just like your real hardware PC.

This "virtual PC", as it is called, is exactly the same architectural, logical, Windows thing as the physical rap your knuckles on it host computer. You can even have multiple virtual PC's running inside your physical host PC. Each one can have software installed inside it: Word, Excel, Outlook, etc., including, yes, you guessed it, virtualization software too!!!

"Bigger fleas have little fleas,
Upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas,
and so on, ad infinitum."

This is referred to as nested virtualization. Here's exactly what it looks like when using Microsoft's offering ...

Each virtual PC in virtual PC hierarchy knows only the software that runs inside it. It is the parent of those child software installations inside it.

The "dumb" child software, like Word, Excel, Outlook, running inside the parent PC are that PC's "matter" or "corporal substance".

The "clever" software, that is, the virtual PC's running inside that PC are the beings created by the "parent" PC. (What was God's phrase on this, oh yes: "I made man in my form". Indeed.)

The parent virtual PC knows everything there is to know about the child software installed and running inside it, all the "dumb" inanimate matter, and all the virtual PC's of the same form as the parent. In the context of the parent virtual PC, there is no free will. The parent can pause them, and work out what they're going to do next - full predictive powers.

The child PC's have no such predictive knowledge of their parent PC, or their parent's parent PC. They can use Gödel's proofs to deduce the existence of the parent systems, but not much more. Any information imparted to a child virtual PC by its parent would have to be accepted a prioi by the child as an axiom, or an act of faith, that it came from the parent.

In the context of a child PC there appears to be free will. And that's good enough for it! In dealing with the bumping and grinding up against other peer virtual PC's and software running next to it in the same parent PC, the ability to influence and knock about with them appears like free will. And in the child PC's context it is, or at least, it's good enough! It can't know what the parent might have planned for it anyway, as we've said, so it has no need to worry about the pseudo-freewill it has when considered at the parent PC's level.

When a virtual PC bumps and grinds up against its peers (other virtual PC's next to it in the same parent) and corporeal substances (other software next to it in the same parent), it can reflect upon them by creating virtual PC's of its own to represent the peers it has met, and install software to represent the matter it has sensed, and variations on them. Over these thoughts and reflections it has full control, so it seems to it, but, of course, these are fully known to the parent PC.

Now re-read Berkeley from 400 years ago ...

Whatever power I may have over my own thoughts, I find the ideas actually perceived by Sense have not a like dependence on my will. When in broad daylight I open my eyes, it is not in my power to choose whether I shall see or no, or to determine what particular objects shall present themselves to my view; and so likewise as to the hearing and other senses; the ideas imprinted on them are not creatures of my will. There is therefore some other Will or Spirit that produces them.

No wonder so many Computer Science institutions honour him by using his name!

So you and I, animate systems, and the corporeal substance around us, inanimate systems, are merely the thoughts and reflections of our parent system. Like us with our own thoughts, he switches them on and off as he pleases. If He wants some extra "corporeal substance" me merely installs some more software. If he wants some more "animate substance" he merely switches on some more virtual PC's.

But remember, like that virtualization picture and the poem, it's a hierarchy. Our parent has a parent, and so on, ad infinitum like the fleas.

It is not logical for an ultimate parent of parents to exist, because Gödel's proofs still apply to him: There will be truths and forms that exist outside of him and the system of which he is made, and those run in a parent system.

It is logical to conceive of the hierarchy and its infiniteness as a whole.

If you wanted to summarize it: the parent child relationship of systems, creators and created, each nesting inside an infinite hierarchy, and the wholeness of the nexus, you couldn't do much better than the Left Footer's gem ...

God is: The Father, Son, (i.e. the parent child relationship) and the Holy Spirit (or was that the "Wholly" Spirit?! - the hierarchy nexus, the whole thing).

Again someone from many hundreds of years ago with an uncanny penchant for the Computer Science of the 20-21st centuries.


Good ... Prime Mover SoD. I'd never imagined it!

So. There's two Cumberland Presbyterians here on D&N.

Probably two who think Darwin/Wallace got it "about" right. The Prime Mover indeed works in mysterious ways.


Oops. Seems I passed too lightly over Andra's "It doesn't matter."

Make that three Cumberland Presbyterians.

Hello again. I'm back from the club with my scalp intact. A suitable partner did not materialize for me, so I survived the anticipated savagery from some of the lols (little old ladies) lying in wait. This also relieved me of a full-blown migraine.


Thanx for your good wishes. I'm sure they persuaded the Big PM-in-the-Sky to spare me at the club.


That's how it usually works!


That octopus article is nothing more than wild-ass speculation. The immediate clue is "... a philosophy professor who has spent some time observing octopus behaviour, so it’s only natural that he should start to wonder about octopus minds."

Don't get me wrong -- I have nothing against philosophical wondering, provided it is understood that this has absolutely nothing in common with scientific research. It's what people resort to doing when they are in the bathroom with nothing to read.


Good one.


Can you be more specific? There are so many things that don't matter ...


I missed your remarks (also JK's that followed) while typing my preceding comment.

I like it. It is reminiscent of the old "Turtles all the way down".

Now my head really hurts.

I think I'll stick with the words offered by a Sin Bosun I much admired. He was fond of quoting the King James Bible at the drop of a hat and one of his favourites was Psalm 107, verses 23 and 24.

SoD you and he would have hit it off immediately.

Well Henry,


What does "liberty-of-conscience", which I wholeheartedly support, have to do with any of the comments I have recently made here? Please explain and/or tell me what I am missing.

Speaking of free-association wondering, which I think is a healthy and sometimes stimulating thing to do, has anyone else here ever wondered why or how an intelligent man like Richard Dawkins fails to understand what is quite obvious to billions of less intelligent and less well-educated people? How does one explain Dawkins' blind spot?

"How does one explain Dawkins' blind spot?"

Its a living Henry. And, it would appear, a pretty good one.

BigHen - "Turtles all the way down", that is effing brilliant! Never heard that one before. That's going in the old kit bag for re-use later as needed. In fact, next time I'm teaching someone recursion in programming, or warning of infinite regress in a system, I shall slide the phrase in, "In the code of the function, call the function itself, and it's Turtles all the way down!"

OzD - That Psalm's a beaut. Far more concise than spotting Him with computers. Always knew I was in the wrong profession.

JK - Yep, Liberty, freedom of conscience, all bound up in it. JR Lucas called his book "Freedom of the Will" for a reason.

Look, all this agreeing with each other really won't do. How is the indigenous troll to do his work? - Aha, I see, after your cunning plan to oust me with PG was foiled by the gaffer, plan B!

I blame Missred ...


P.S. Bob gone a tad quiet?

Loz (I will address you thusly when I speak to you seriously),

Stephen Hawking mentions "Turtles ..." on Page 1 of "A Brief History of Time". A 200-page gem of a book written for the layman.

Read this book.



The tad of quiet was because I had places to go and people to see. I'm happy just to have apparently stunned everyone else to silence with synthetic virology. Science has added creating life to its repertoire. Take that, PM.

It's disappointing that Henry wouldn't name a favorite hypothesis for the origin of the Big Bang. Mine is that the universe actually sums up to nothing, which makes the question the wrong one:

"Pascual Jordan first suggested that since the positive energy of a star’s mass and the negative energy of its gravitational field together may have zero total energy, conservation of energy would not prevent a star being created by a quantum transition of the vacuum. George Gamow recounted putting this idea to Albert Einstein: “Einstein stopped in his tracks and, since we were crossing a street, several cars had to stop to avoid running us down”."

To paraphrase, it's nothing all the way down.

Bob, I rely on you to contradict me but my reading of your links tells me that the viruses were created from manipulated DNA, and DNA, of course, is a 'living entity'. What I want to know is how 'living entities' were created from inert ingredients.


You almost read my mind! I was tempted to mention "A Universe from Nothing" by Lawrence M. Krauss.

But, of course, this concept ultimately encounters that infinite-regression problem: "a quantum transition of the vacuum" is actually something rather than nothing. In fact, the very concept of an infinite regression is something in itself!

I also recommend this book to you, Loz.


Here's the part you missed:

"Live synthetic viruses have their entire genomes constructed from synthetic viral genes, which are then assembled using various methodologies to yield complete viral genomes. The first man-made infectious viruses generated without any natural template were of the Polio virus [1] and the φX174 bacteriophage [2]. With synthetic live viruses, it is not the viruses that are synthesized, but rather their DNA genome ..."

I'm not a molecular biologist and would be lying to claim I understand the particulars, but there are two basic techniques involved. One is the manipulation of atoms:

The other is the tendency for organic molecular structures to self-assemble:


I was just being a wise guy. Maybe the "steady state" hypothesis was retired too soon, no?


Here is how I view the unknowable:

  • Q: Why is there something instead of nothing?
  • A: Because after you get rid of "all" somethings, you will still not have achieved "nothingness"!
  • Q: And what, pray tell, will still remain?
  • A: What you can not ever get rid of is the concept of "nothingness"!
So where did the concept of nothingness come from? I claim that this is unknowable.


That's kinda what I was getting at with the steady state. Maybe what we think of as our universe is only a local phenomenon in a larger structure we can't yet see. That would be different than the "multiple universes" hypothesis that's popular now and could mean there's no such thing as "nothing".

Btw, I have Krauss's book. It's somewhere in my queue behind 'Don Quixote', which I put off for about 30 years. Doesn't look good, does it?


I agree. There is no such thing as nothing. But, pain-in-the-ass that I am, my next question is: Why is there something instead of nothing?

This is how one drives oneself crazy ...

Read Krauss now. The "Don" (but not The Donald) can wait another 30 years :)


If a tree falls in a forest with no one around to hear it, etc.

Possibly "nothing" is only a human conceit with no consequential meaning. That's the kind of insight you can get from novels, but I'll probably get to Krauss. If you haven't read Feinman's books you'd probably enjoy them. He was a character.


Yes, Feynman was quite a character. He is, of course, a legend at Los Alamos.

During the Manhattan Project, he used to figure out the combinations of his colleagues' safes (we all had safes in our offices for our classified documents). Then he would punk them by leaving notes for them in their safes.

In my days at the Lab (1986--2002), that would have landed him in jail. In his day, however, Oppenheimer would have bailed him out; he couldn't afford to do without the little genius for too long.

David (et al.),

I feel like I've been ignoring your post, which has spawned all these comments above. Allow me to correct that.

Ten years ago in a post, I attempted to define life, a "principle", for want of a more definitive nominative identity, which most humans "know ... when they see it", such that the definition goes beyond merely identifying its essential qualities and characteristics, as dictionaries do.

The title of my post is "Entropy; Timshel; Life". It is actually the first of a trilogy of posts on the subject. You might like it. I invite you to read it (as well as posts 2 and 3 of the trilogy).

Thank you, Henry. I have just got up and read your first post and now I need to go and lie down again! I just know that I am going to have to re-read it several times to be sure my peanut brain has grasped it all - but I'm grateful because my brain needs the exercise.


I read your posts and found them interesting. As a materialist (SoD is right, but I try to keep an open mind), I'll attempt a translation. We know the chemistry of at least a substantial portion of the cosmos is fairly uniform, and that organic molecules self-assemble in space even where there is very little energy to facilitate the process. Therefore, potential life exists in, for all practical purposes, nearly infinite areas. In other words, a spirit or permission isn't necessary. I've read about the definition of life as negative entropy, but have no opinion.

My reading list has grown more hopeless. If anyone else is interested, Schrodinger's book is available as a free ebook at:


Thank you very much for your feedback on my 10-year old musings about the definition of life. As you probably noticed, yours is the first feedback I have ever received for my trilogy of posts.

I appreciate your observation that "..., a spirit or permission isn't necessary." I agree. But I didn't mean to imply that it was.

My point about something, which is as yet not completely understood and which for specificity I refer to as something "sublime", provides what you identify as organic molecules that have the inherent ability to self-assemble. This may be another instance of an emergent phenomenon.

Thanx again for your interest.


Sorry to misunderstand your intention. To restate, a process can be sublime, in the sense of subtlety or inspiring awe and wonder, and still be a natural consequence of the laws of physics. Stars self-assemble in a fairly uniform way, though there are many variations, so stars could be described as emergent. The same is true for the heavier elements they produce during their "lives". Again, the process varies according to local conditions, but the results are similar. However, I'm not arguing for determinism.

In case you're not aware of it, I highly recommend this site for science news:

Thanks again, Bob. I used the word "sublime" in exactly the sense you described -- awe-inspiring but not necessarily spiritual in nature.

I have at times subscribed to news feeds dedicated to science. But I have concluded that most of these feeds are not generated by science authorities; they tend to be generated by news people and/or computer algorithms. A lot of what makes the grade may be somewhat newsworthy, but not earthshaking (as it were). I figure if it is really something I would be interested in reading, it will be published by the NYT.

I no longer subscribe to the Old Grey Lady (all its news is now mostly lint :). But I am likely to hear about it elsewhere if the scientific discovery is extraordinary.

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