In the Beginning... Introducing the Origins Issue
(Top Posts - Science - 082609)

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Scientific American -- September, 2009
  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=in-the-beginning
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Excerpt:

...

In the following pages, a physicist grapples with the over-
arching question of how the universe began.  A chemist
addresses possible ways in which life first started, and a
biologist takes on what has made the human mind different
from that of any other animal's. Then a historian of tech-
nology contemplates the first computer, perhaps the most
extraordinary invention of the human mind. A final section
provides brief chronicles of the inception of dozens of phy-
sical and biological phenomena, in addition to a series of
remarkable human inventions.

...

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The Origins of the Origins Issue
  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=starter-menu-the-origins
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Excerpt:

...

We decided to probe some of the most profound questions that
humans ask about our existence, such as, Where did everything
we see in the universe today come from? How did life begin?
What led to the remarkable sophistication of the human mind?
We knew we would want to provide in-depth feature articles on
key topics in technology and in the physical and life sciences.

...

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The Origin of the Universe ( Preview )

Cosmologists are closing in on the ultimate processes
that created and shaped the universe
  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=origin-of-the-universe
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Excerpts:

Key Concepts

 a. Our universe began with a hot big bang 13.7 billion years
     ago and has expanded and cooled ever since. It has evolved
     from a formless soup of elementary particles into the richly
     structured cosmos of today.

 b. The first microsecond was the formative period when matter
     came to dominate over antimatter, the seeds for galaxies and
     other structures were planted, and dark matter (the unidentified
     material that holds those structures together) was created.

 c. The future of the universe lies in the hands of dark energy, an
     unknown form of energy that caused cosmic expansion to begin
     accelerating a few billion years ago.

The universe is big in both space and time and, for much of human-
kind's history, was beyond the reach of our instruments and our
minds.

That changed dramatically in the 20th century.

The advances were driven equally by powerful ideas-from Einstein's
general relativity to modern theories of the elementary particles-and
powerful instruments-from the 100- and 200-inch reflectors that
George Ellery Hale built, which took us beyond our Milky Way
galaxy, to the Hubble Space Telescope, which has taken us back
to the birth of galaxies.

Over the past 20 years the pace of progress has accelerated with
the realization that dark matter is not made of ordinary atoms, the
discovery of dark energy, and the dawning of bold ideas such as
cosmic inflation and the multiverse.

The universe of 100 years ago was simple: eternal, unchanging, con-
sisting of a single galaxy, containing a few million visible stars. The pic-
ture today is more complete and much richer.

The cosmos began 13.7 billion years ago with the big bang. A frac-
tion of a second after the beginning, the universe was a hot, formless
soup of the most elementary particles, quarks and leptons. As it
expanded and cooled, layer on layer of structure developed: neutrons
and protons, atomic nuclei, atoms, stars, galaxies, clusters of galaxies,
and finally superclusters.

...

The universe continues to expand and indeed does so at an accelerating
pace, driven by dark energy, an even more mysterious form of energy
whose gravitational force repels rather than attracts.

...

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The Origin of the Mind ( Preview )
  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=origin-of-the-mind
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Excerpt:

Key Concepts

 a. Charles Darwin argued that a continuity of mind exists between humans
     and other animals, a view that subsequent scholars have supported.

 b. But mounting evidence indicates that, in fact, a large mental gap separ-
     ates us from our fellow creatures. Recently the author identified four
     unique aspects of human cognition.

 c. The origin and evolution of these distinctive mental traits remain largely
     mysterious, but clues are emerging slowly.

...

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The Origin of Life on Earth ( Preview )

Fresh clues hint at how the first living organisms arose
from inanimate matter
  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=origin-of-life-on-earth
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Excerpt:

Key Concepts

 a. Researchers have found a way that the genetic molecule RNA could have
     formed from chemicals present on the early earth.

 b. Other studies have supported the hypothesis that primitive cells containing
     molecules similar to RNA could assemble spontaneously, reproduce and
     evolve, giving rise to all life.

 c. Scientists are now aiming at creating fully self-replicating artificial organisms
     in the lab­oratory-essentially giving life a second start to understand how it
     could have started the first time.

 d. Every living cell, even the simplest bacterium, teems with molecular contrap-
     tions that would be the envy of any nanotechnologist. As they incessantly
     shake or spin or crawl around the cell, these machines cut, paste and copy
     genetic molecules, shuttle nutrients around or turn them into energy, build
     and repair cellular membranes, relay mechanical, chemical or electrical
     messages-the list goes on and on, and new discoveries add to it all the
     time.

...

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The Origin of Computing ( Preview )
The information age began with the realization that
machines could emulate the power of minds
  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=origin-of-computing
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August 19, 2009

The Origin of Oxygen in Earth's Atmosphere

The breathable air we enjoy today originated from tiny
organisms, although the details remain lost in geologic time
  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=origin-of-oxygen-in-atmosphere
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Excerpts:

It's hard to keep oxygen molecules around, despite the fact that it's the third-
most abundant element in the universe, forged in the superhot, superdense
core of stars. That's because oxygen wants to react; it can form compounds
with nearly every other element on the periodic table. So how did Earth end
up with an atmosphere made up of roughly 21 percent of the stuff?

The answer is tiny organisms known as cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae.
These microbes conduct photosynthesis: using sunshine, water and carbon
dioxide to produce carbohydrates and, yes, oxygen. In fact, all the plants on
Earth incorporate symbiotic cyanobacteria (known as chloroplasts) to do
their photosynthesis for them down to this day.

For some untold eons prior to the evolution of these cyanobacteria, during
the Archean eon, more primitive microbes lived the real old-fashioned way:
anaerobically. These ancient organisms-and their "extremophile" descendants
today-thrived in the absence of oxygen, relying on sulfate for their energy
needs.

But roughly 2.45 billion years ago, the isotopic ratio of sulfur transformed,
indicating that for the first time oxygen was becoming a significant compon-
ent of Earth's atmosphere, according to a 2000 paper in Science. At roughly
the same time (and for eons thereafter), oxidized iron began to appear in
ancient soils and bands of iron were deposited on the seafloor, a product
of reactions with oxygen in the seawater.

"What it looks like is that oxygen was first produced somewhere around
2.7 billion to 2.8 billon years ago. It took up residence in atmosphere
around 2.45 billion years ago," says geochemist Dick Holland, a visiting
scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. "It looks as if there's a significant
time interval between the appearance of oxygen-producing organisms and
the actual oxygenation of the atmosphere."

So a date and a culprit can be fixed for what scientists refer to as the Great
Oxidation Event, but mysteries remain. What occurred 2.45 billion years
ago that enabled cyanobacteria to take over? What were oxygen levels at
that time? Why did it take another one billion years-dubbed the "boring
billion" by scientists-for oxygen levels to rise high enough to enable the
evolution of animals?

Most important, how did the amount of atmospheric oxygen reach its pre-
sent level?

...

Climate, volcanism, plate tectonics all played a key role in regulating the
oxygen level during various time periods. Yet no one has come up with
a rock-solid test to determine the precise oxygen content of the atmosphere
at any given time from the geologic record. But one thing is clear-the origins
of oxygen in Earth's atmosphere derive from one thing: life.

...

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August 21, 2009

The Origin of Zero
Much ado about nothing: First a placeholder and
then a full-fledged number, zero had many inventors
  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=history-of-zero
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Origins: The Start of Everything
  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-start-of-everything
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References:

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History/Origins/Future of Energy,
Matter, Space, Time, and Life ...
Universe(s) Origin(s) / Introduction

(updated August 16, 2009)
  http://prohuman.net/origins_august2009intro.htm

~~~

The totality of naturalism (all that is /
all that ever was / all that ever will be)
  http://prohuman.net/philosophy_general/totality_of_naturalism.htm
"... Naturalistic infinity ... Infinity is a very long time,
after all ... Isn't it wiser to reach from the known (the
natural) to the unknown (as a natural but as of yet,
incompletely understood area) -than it is- to fantasize
about the unknown (via ancient myths of supernatural
entities / places) in an effort to pretend the unknown
(the supernatural) interacts with the known (the natural)?
..."

~~~

Infinite Universes, Infinite Size,
No "In the Beginning", No End
  http://prohuman.net/science/infinite_universes_infinite_size.htm
"... when one opens one's mind up to the possibility
that there was really never nothing,  that the all of
which we are a part had no absolute beginning, and
has no absolute ending, that the infinity that spawned
each of us is endless, I suppose one is faced with
a paradox, to either feel one's existence is validated,
as being an important part of an infinite and never-
ending and never-not-existing all -or- to feel infinitely
small and unimportant -or- both, as it's simply just
a matter of how you look at it ..."

~~~

Universe(s) Video
   http://prohuman.net/science/universes.htm
"The Universe - Parallel Universes History
Channel, 2008 ... Parallel Universes ... BBC
Documentary, 2001 ... Observable universe
... WMAP Content of the Universe ... Multi-
verse ... Not just  a staple of science fiction,
other universes are a direct implication of
cosmological observations, by Max Tegmark ..."

~~~

Inspirational Science (Tribute to Carl Sagan) Video
  http://prohuman.net/science/inspirational_science_carl_sagan.htm
"The Carl Sagan Portal ... Carl Sagan Lives ...
Ann Druyan Talks About Science, Religion,
Wonder, Awe . . . and Carl Sagan ... All of
Carl Sagan's 'Cosmos' Videos ..."

~~~

Universe(s) Origin(s) 7 of 7 - Nothing / Everything
  http://prohuman.net/universes_origins_7_of_7.htm
"... the nature of being in this grand cosmos of wonder and
mystery whereby nothing is the most important something
that resides at the core of everything that has existed, does
exist, and will ever exist ..."

~~~

All That Is, All That Was, All That Ever Will Be? Video
  http://prohuman.net/science/all_that_is_was_ever_will_be.htm
"... Immortality? ... Immortal Suffering? ... Oblivion?
... Pleasant Immortality Hope? ... Totality of Reality?
... Cosmological Calendar ... The Universe - Cosmic
Apocalypse ..."

~~~