Sticks In The Air / Pino ? Quadrophenia

Alan McKendree amck at
Mon Jun 14 10:15:57 CDT 2004

>Date: Sun, 13 Jun 2004 10:16:24 -0700 (PDT)
>From: Marcus Surrealius <bushchoked at>
>To take Scott's role for a second, some scientist
>calculated the odds of amino acids forming randomly
>and they were something like a one followed by a
>hundred thousand zeroes

Problem is, they *don't* form randomly.  Each possible combination of 
atoms/molecules is selected or discarded (lives or dies) according to 
how stable it is and how readily it can reproduce.

Think of a set of, say, 200 wheels lined up with the edges facing 
you, and with all the letters of the alphabet written along the edge. 
Spinning all 200 wheels simultaneously, over and over, would give 
almost no chance of reproducing a line from Shakespeare. 
Specifically, doing a spin of all 200 wheels each and every second, 
it would take 3 followed by 275 zeros YEARS -- many times longer than 
the age of the Universe -- to produce a single desired 
(200-character) line.  But what if you
1) start with a specific line in mind, and
2) stop spinning each wheel that happens to land on the correct 
letter of its position in the line?
By spinning only the wheels showing wrong letters, you can reproduce 
the line relatively quickly.  I can't reproduce the math here, but 
just by chance, you'd expect 7 or 8 out of the 200 wheels to hit the 
correct letter on the VERY FIRST SPIN, and never have to be spun 
again.  At a spin per second, you should be done in less than a day. 
Working toward a known line serves as a means of not only eliminating 
randomness but of fantastically reducing the time needed to achieve 
meaningful results.

In the same way, the ability to self-replicate (and [eons later], to 
live and adapt to environmental conditions) serves as both an engine 
to generate and a standard by which to preserve robust, viable 
molecular combinations, and to eliminate unstable ones.  The process 
of combining atoms/molecules may have been initially random, but 
which combinations survive and evolve is not.  The existence of very 
complicated amino acids, cells, animals etc. is not proof of a 
supervising intelligence or an unknown process putting them all 

"the average Texan...carries not just a gun but a SHOTGUN."
     --Pete Townshend, 1967

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