by Meghan Rouillard, LPAC Scientific Research Team
March 12th marks what would be the 151st birthday of the great Russian-Ukrainian scientist Vladimir Vernadsky. This past year was dedicated in Russia as a celebration of his life and work, an occasion which was also honored by 21st Century Science and Technology and LaRouchePAC.
Here we publish for the first time a new and original English translation of a fascinating speech delivered by Vernadsky in 1931, entitled, “On the Conditions of the Appearance of Life on Earth.”
In this speech, we find a powerful argument for why processes on Earth, and in the Universe, are organized according to a top-down principle of life, and even higher, human cognition. This is a concept found throughout the writings and speeches of economist Lyndon LaRouche, who has often referenced the work of Vernadsky.
Vernadsky was a patriot of both Ukraine and Russia, and would surely look upon the current situation in this region with both sorrow and disdain, but also, hope, confident that the only future for both nations, and the rest of the world, lies in the domain of a commitment to unending scientific and technological progress, a requirement which is incompatible with the thinking of many citizens and world leaders today, but a commitment which LaRouchePAC is actively fighting for.
ON THE CONDITIONS OF THE APPEARANCE OF LIFE ON EARTH
Sur les conditions de l’apparition de la vie sur la Terre
translated from French by Meghan Rouillard1
VLADIMIR VERNADSKY, 1931
PRESENTED TO THE SOCIETY OF NATURALISTS OF LENINGRAD
French translation revised by the author
The problem of the first appearance of life on our planet has not yet been treated by science. It belongs to the domain of philosophy or of religious thoughts; the wisemen who concern themselves with this subject usually go beyond the framework of scientific work. The importance of their deductions is by this fact equal and not superior to that of the deductions drawn from other domains of thought. They treat these problems, they study them not as wisemen, but as philosophers.
It seems to me that this is the moment to approach this problem in another manner without leaving the domain of scientific facts. The scientific study of this problem is not possible, however, in all of its breadth.
It serves us well to take this problem into account and to clearly determine the limits that science presents today.
This will not be the solution to the problem of the mechanism of the genesis or appearance of life on our planet, or abiogenesis, for example, but the determination of the conditions in which such an appearance or a generation is uniquely possible.
The conditions for the appearance of life on our planet must be examined in a real framework.
Life is only known to us in the actual environment as an indissoluble part of a determined mechanism of our planet.
Such a mechanism is that of the geospheres, or envelopes, of our planet—the biosphere.2
The conditions which determine the first appearance of life on Earth are identical to those which determine the formation, the genesis, of the biosphere on our planet.
Thus, the problem of the beginning of life on Earth consists scientifically of the problem of the appearance of the biosphere on Earth. It is the unique form in which the problem can be tackled today. Outside of the biosphere, life is unknown to us scientifically, and its manifestations do not exist. The organism outside of the biosphere is not a real construct, but a logical and abstract one according to its properties, still more foreign to reality than the air of a physicist is foreign to real air—that is to say, the troposphere. The air of the physicist is only a first approximation of the scientific knowledge of a real phenomenon and such an approximation causes the cardinal properties of the troposphere to mostly disappear from the scientific horizon. The air of the physicist (with respect to life outside of the biosphere) is a logical construct, the troposphere, (with respect to life as part of the biosphere) is a real fact3, or rather an empirical generalization. 4
Not only do we come closer to reality in considering the problem of the appearance of life on Earth as the problem of the appearance of the biosphere, but, we obtain a new and solid foundation for scientific work; we rely on an immense quantity of new empirical facts—geological and geochemical.
Geology today allows us to pose scientifically the problem of the appearance of the biosphere;and geochemistry determines, with great precision, the conditions to which life had to respond to be able to exist in the biosphere.
Reducing the problem of the beginning of life to that of the beginning of the biosphere, we pose it scientifically, because in this case it is possible to verify, by experiment or by precise observation, the results which can be deduced from it.
Yet we should not lose sight of another situation. In speaking of the appearance of life on Earth, of the genesis of the biosphere, it is important to consider as resolute Redi’s principle—this great empirical generalization, established in the 17th century, easily confirmed by experiment and scientific observation. It bears the meaning, “All that is living arises from living things.” Expressed thus, for the first time in Latin, in the scientific language of the epoch, “Omne vivum viv (Omne vivum ex vivo).” Redi’s principle is precisely correct. It is, however, not a philosophical principle, but a scientific generalization. The savant would never lend an absolute meaning (from philosophy) to this concise formula and deduce from it all logical conclusions. This is not an ideal, abstract construction, but an empirical generalization which has determined limits. It can consequently be expressed as the following: “All living things originate from living things in the biosphere, of which the physico-chemical phenomena are, taken together, determined and clearly limited.” Thus, Redi’s principle does not indicate generally the impossibility of abiogenesis outside of the biosphere or its impossibility after the discovery in the biosphere of new physico-chemical phenomena (current or existing in the past), which were not taken into account at the time of the construction of this principle.
It is useful to be reminded of recent experience, which clearly indicates the difference in comprehension, scientific and philosophical, of the fundamental principles of the natural sciences. The principle of the conservation of matter was established in the 18th century. That signifies for the naturalist: Matter is constant in its mass, and is not lost in the course of physico-chemical processes as known to us. And we know that until the discovery of radioactivity we often did experiments to empirically determine the limits and the precision of this principle. It was and it remains still today not an abstract and ideal philosophical principle, but an empirical generalization of real science, correct within the determined limits. Within these limits it has remained resolute still, as we discovered phenomena where matter was not conserved. Just as for the principle of Redi it does not indicate the impossibility of abiogenesis, of <<generatione aequivoca (spontaneous generation)>> in general, it determines only in great detail the domain and the conditions of the framework in which abiogenesis does not exist.
According to Redi’s principle, there is not and there has not been abiogenesis in the biosphere within the framework of geological time, that is to say, within the framework of all time, where life is a part of the mechanism of this terrestrial envelope.
Two versions, concerning the appearance of life on Earth, have been expressed in the scientific milieu, both independent of the geological structure and the history of the Earth.5
According to one, life would have entered our planet from the outside, from cosmic space, and would enter there, perhaps constantly in a continuous manner still today. 6 According to the other version it would be the brute matter which by some unknown means would have engendered life on Earth during one of the ancient geological periods, or may have engendered it—maybe imperceptibly to us — continually and incessantly in this way, the way of spontaneous generation—of abiogenesis, but the process remains imperceptible to us.
These two versions in such a vague form, do not find support in our precise scientific knowledge, although they are not only published, but unfortunately considered in popular writings of scientific journals as knowledge or scientific hypotheses. They are neither.
The problem of the appearance of life is, by the first version, transported to extraterrestrial conditions. It may be then that life would be an event as eternal in the structure of the cosmos as the atom and its compounds, the forms of radiant energy, etc.
Another is however possible, which would suppose that the genesis could not have occurred on our planet, and was realized somewhere in the cosmos, but that the living organisms upon arriving on Earth at one point would have been able to maintain themselves, having found there a favorable terrain for their manifestation.
It is obvious that in this case life could not constitute an eternal trait of the Cosmos, but that the conditions for its appearance are linked to phenomena absent from terrestrial nature. In the second version, one form or another of abiogenesis — Redi’s principle is negated, in a way that hasn’t yet been expressed.7
This negation has always been contradicted up until the present, in the course of more than 250 years, by experiment and scientific observation, but human thought stubbornly does not take this into account.
In fact, this negation lacks a scientific foundation, it is tied to certain principles and widespread articles of religious and philosophical faith.
Certainly, the principle of Redi (Section 2) itself does not absolutely negate abiogensis, it only indicates the limits where abiogensis cannot occur.
Conditions could have existed in the history of the Earth, where there was no biosphere, and phenomena or physico-chemical states existed in the Earth’s crust which are absent today, which were necessary for the manifestation of abiogenesis. It is also possible, that there are physico-chemical phenomena unknown to us, not taken into consideration, by the principle of Redi, allowing for abiogensis, which would exist still today on the Earth, but escape our attention because of the inadequacy and the lack of precision of our current scientific methods.
It is impossible to negate the existence of phenomena which Redi’s principle does not take into account, but their discovery would not be able to weaken the correctness of the principle in the domain of physical phenomena upon which this principle has been founded. It may be that the possibility of abiogenesis exists among ordinary chemical and geochemical phenomena not taken into consideration by Redi’s principle. 8
Not having the possibility of deciding which of these versions corresponds to reality and whether or not there exist other possible representations, we attempt to establish conditions for the manifestations of life on Earth, conditions obligatory for each representation that relates to its beginning on our planet, basing ourselves upon a substitution of the problem of the beginning of life by that of the beginning of the biosphere.
It is important to take into account here the progress of geology, which determines the age of the biosphere, and the facts of geochemistry which exclude some of the current representations with respect to the evolution of the forms of life in the framework of the biosphere. The geological facts which follow must be taken into consideration as empirically precise.
The field of life—that is to say pressure and temperature, along with the climate which depends on them and the chemical character of the environment favorable for life — exist unceasingly, without interruption, residing altogether continuously since the Archaen era. In the course of more than a billion and a half years the field of life has been analogous to that of today.
The greatest part of the Archaen era had been penetrated by life, and is analogous and genetically linked to today’s era in its essential traits.
The biosphere has existed throughout these times in an immutable manner. It is not only the fossils remains of life which prove it, but the immutability over the course of all time of the processes of the superficial alteration of the Earth’s crust. It is also proved by the character and the paragenesis of minerals which constitute the biosphere and which are the most closely linked to life in their genesis.
However, it may be, that the Archaen system were not identical to that of the Archeozoic, as it has appeared possible to admit that it only forms a part of it. 9 The research of R. Schwinner10 concerning the particular structure of the most ancient part of the layers of the Archean era — of the Laurentian system (Section 9) — seems to me worthy of serious attention, demanding careful verification. In this system, rocks and minerals that are genetically linked with superficial alteration, where the source must be sought in the biosphere, seem to play a secondary role, which is different from that of other systems.
Thus, geology seems to bring us closer to the beginning of the biosphere, that is to say, to the beginning of life. Did the biosphere exist back in the Laurentian epoch?
The study of the phenomena of life from the point of view of geochemistry has, in its own way, brought to light the particularities of the action of organisms on their ambient environment, which allows us to indicate precisely, with exactitude, the conditions which had to exist at the time of the appearance of life. These conditions put limits on the possible admissions, concerning the forms of abiogenesis, as well as for the cosmic introduction of life. All the theoretical representations must be taken into account.
Two phenomena must be mentioned. Firstly, it is important to estimate the particular properties of the space occupied by life, of the biosphere, lacking in the other geospheres—the particular structure from this point of view of these spheres and terrestrial envelopes (Section 6). And secondly, we are obliged to take into account the particular geochemical functions unique to living organisms, distributed in many diverse morphological forms. We have always observed in the biosphere, in employing the geochemical terms, a living and heterogeneous matter11 and life has always fulfilled, simultaneously, diverse biogeochemical functions.12
All the judgements about the beginning of the biosphere must above all explain the complex, non-homogenous structure of the biopshere, the profound physical difference which separates the spaces of the biosphere occupied by living organisms from those spaces occupied by brute matter.” They cannot, on the other hand, admit abiogenesis or the introduction of life by the fact of the appearance of an organism which is morphologically unique, by the appearance of some algae or bacteria, for example, which would be the origin of millions of all species of plants and animals, formed by evolution in the course of geological time. A complex heterogeneity of living forms had to appear simultaneously, which then blossomed into current, living nature.
The particularities of the space occupied by life, that is to say, the singularities of the “bodies” of organisms, were correctly appreciated a long time ago by Louis Pasteur, but this empirical generalization of first order curiously has not penetrated science even today; we do not take it into account.13
Life could only be created, according to Pasteur, in a particular dissymmetrical environment, distinct from the regular environment of the biosphere. By the term dissymmetry, we understand a complex phenomenon which Pasteur apprehended differently than we do. This notion was developed further by Pierre Curie, who formulated a principle of immense theoretical import, a principle which I will call the principle of Pierre Curie. This principle states: “Dissymmetry can only manifest itself by the action of a cause, having been endowed with the same dissymmetry.”
I cannot enter here into details, but it is important to note, that according to the principle of Curie an extreme stability of the dissymmetrical environment or of the dissymmetrical phenomenon must exist in the environment where this dissymmetry is lacking.14
Evidently, very diverse manifestations of dissymmetry can exist, and dissymmetry connected with the phenomena of life is one of these forms.
We will call the specific dissymmetry of life the determined property of the space or of another phenomenon connected with life, for which there is no element of symmetry other than the axes of the simple symmetry, but these axes are abnormal, because one of their essential properties is lacking — that of the parity of right and left handed phenomena observed around them. Such a disymmetrical environment is clearly distinguished from the crystalline environment characterized by the axes of simple symmetry. Only one of these two antipodal phenomena — right or left — exists or predominates in the dissymmetrical environment, although both can potentially exist there, whereas the enantiomorphic symmetrical crystalline environment always encompasses the two environments simultaneously — but always separated, and quantitatively identical — right and left. In the dissymmetrical environment characterized by life, only one of these two environments — left or right — or one of the two clearly predominates. We can represent this dissymmetrical environment mathematically, as an enantiomorphic symmetrical crystalline environment, for which the symmetry is broken. The dissymmetry indicates a violation of ordinary symmetry.15
The elements of complex symmetry are always found in such a dissymmetrical environment; there exists neither a center nor a plane of symmetry.
Thus the doctrine of symmetry does not encompass the particular symmetry of life, the disparity between left and right handed phenomena serve as an obstacle to it. From the point of view of the doctrine of symmetry, it is a particular and determined violation of symmetry.16
Pasteur indicated that the structure of material of living organisms as well as the physiological manifestations of these organisms were characterized by a clearly expressed dissymmetry, with a predominance of right-handed phenomena. 17 The right character of organisms is manifested by the right rotation of the plane of polarized light, in their essential components — pure and crystalline, concentrated in eggs, in seeds — by their right crystalline antipodes, which are formed during the crystallization inside of organisms, by the assimilation of the right antipodes by organisms in the phenomena of nutrition (only those can serve them as far as nutrition); the organisms are indifferent to left-handed antipodes in these processes.
I will not indicate the general and important deductions which Pasteur drew from this empirical generalization. I will only note that he indicated, justly, well before the establishment of the principle of Curie, that spontaneous generation, abiogenesis, the appearance of life from within brute matter, could only have taken place in such a right-handed dissymmetrical environment. He believed that it was in this direction that it was necessary to direct the attempts to synthesize a living organism. 18
He had already stated, and until now it is still proven to be true, that only living organisms possess such a dissymmetry on Earth.
It follows the generalization of Pasteur, in taking into account the principle of Redi, that the matter of the biosphere is heterogeneous in an extraordinary manner. On the one hand, the living organisms are dissymmetric, in the indicated way, and only form by multiplication, that is to say providing the dissymmetric substance itself (according to the principles of Redi and Curie). On the other hand, the ordinary terrestrial matter does not have such a structure.
None of the other of Earth’s envelopes contain the dissymmetrical matter discovered by Pasteur.
The limit which separates these two environments is very distinct.
Still other terrestrial bodies were discovered after Pasteur, possessing the same properties as petroleum, but petroleums are linked, in their genesis, with life.19
The dissymmetry of petroleum, connected to its biogenic origin, permits introducing a correction to the doctrine of Pasteur. There must exist not only right-handed forms of life, as Pasteur thought, but also left, because although it is right-handed petroleums which predominate, there exist also rare petroleums of left rotation.
This correction to the generalization of Pasteur relative to the right character of living symmetry would have been able to be noted earlier, during his life, other manifestations of living symmetry having been known for a long time and giving to organisms among the predominant majority, or right handed forms, individual left handed forms: for example, certain mollusks have left handed spiral shells (left handed individuals) among the predominant mass of right handed spiral forms, a phenomenon which has caught the attention of naturalists since the 18th century.20 Thus the essential trait of this dissymmetry is the clear predominance of one of the antipodes, the striking inequality of the amount of right and left.
The predominance of right forms in living phenomena is normally clearly marked, even though here also, in this case, the most important albumins of mammals (man’s), colloidal mixtures, possess in an overwhelming majority of cases left rotation.
In addition to living organisms, petroleums, and other organic products which are linked by their genesis to life, all the other phenomena of the biosphere, do not manifest this dissymmetry. This dissymmetry is lacking, as Curie showed21 in the electric and magnetic fields.22
Man can create in laboratories environments of enantiomorphic structure, possessing some properties of dissymmetric enantiomorphic structure, characteristic of life. However, he has not succeeded up until now in creating a dissymmetrical environment analogous to that which we find in the interior of organisms.
The study of the action upon living phenomena by environments formed by left or right handed circularly polarized light opens a field of great interest, but it is not a dissymmetrical environment similar to that of organisms. It is necessary still, always, to have in view, according to the principle of Curie, that the activity of man would be itself a dissymmetrical cause and the creation by him of a dissymmetrical environment, responding to life, would be a normal event, from the point of view of dissymmetry.
According to certain indications there would exist dissymmetrical phenomena outside of the Earth, in the Cosmos. And already Louis Pasteur searched for the cause of the appearance of the dissymmetrical phenomenon of life in the Cosmos, in the phenomena located outside of our planet.
The spiral form of nebulae and of some stellar agglomerations indicates the probable presence of analogous dissymmetrical phenomena in the Cosmos. If the right spirals predominate in effect, clearly, among the spiral nebulae, as numerous photographs attest, or in certain parts of the universe right spiral nebulae are concentrated and in others left spiral nebulae, the existence of dissymmetric spaces in the Cosmos would become more than probable. This dissymmetry would seem to be analogous to that which we observe in the space penetrated by life, that is to say, that it possesses enantiomorphic vectors and both of the vectors — left and right — could exist there at the same time, but not in equal number; the right-handed vectors most often predominate there. footnote]Evidently, there exist different forms of dissymmetry. This phenomenon has not been sufficiently studied theoretically. Here, I cannot touch upon it and I hope to return to the examination of this phenomenon elsewhere. I will note that the “dissymmetry” of space penetrated by right-handed radiations (or left), for example by the right-handed light of sodium, differs from the living enantiomorphic dissymmetry, because left-handed enantiomorphic phenomena are impossible there. In employing the precise modern terminology, these enantiomorphic milieu must be distinguished from dissymmetry, because there, the symmetry is not broken. (Often the light used in a polarimeter was/is from a sodium lamp — MKR)
It is possible that our planet, deprived of dissymmetrical phenomena, in addition to life in the Biosphere, can — in traversing the regions of the Cosmos which possess it — penetrate into some stage of its history, in the space of right dissymmetry of this genre, that is to say can be enter into in the conditions of the right dissymmetric field where life can be engendered. 23
Certainly, this right-handed dissymmetric field cannot in any way on its own engender life, but its absence excludes this process.
The dissymmetry of the environment of the terrestrial surface certainly has importance at the moment of the appearance of life on Earth in the specific case where life was engendered on Earth, and had not been penetrated by cosmic space.
Another condition on which I propose to dwell here, concerns the two possible versions of the appearance of life (Section 3) — its terrestrial origin and its cosmic origin.
Life and all the living organisms constitute a normal and indissoluble part of the biosphere. The biosphere itself is not an accidental formation, it is a determined mechanism, a stable dynamic system, an equilibrium which has established itself in its essential traits since its commencement, that is to say from the beginning or middle of the Archaean Era, since the Archaeozoic, and which has existed incessantly without interruption and without essential changes in the course of 1.5 – 2 million years.
Two types of material constitute the biosphere — inert matter on the one hand and living matter on the other. The inert matter formed, after all, by minerals, which remains immutable in its morphological manifestations, that is to say, with respect to its chemical composition and its physical state. The same minerals formed it during the Algonquin Era and before that, and still form it today, new minerals have not appeared on the surface of the Earth in geological time, if we don’t count all the minerals produced by life and especially by human technology.24
The other part which constitutes the biosphere — living matter — offers a completely different phenomenon. Living matter is eternally changing in its entirety and in its separated parts in the course of the evolution of species. This living matter is the carrier of free energy in the geochemical processes of the biosphere; it is its active constituent part. The stable forms of living matter, many such species of radiolaria, unchanged since the Algonquin Era, or for Lingula since the Cambrian Era, are exceptions. They exist in their permanent structure for millions of years. All the others have radically changed over this time, having undergone an evolution. The living world of the Paleozoic biosphere and that of today are clearly different. The world of brute matter remained the same for all this time.
As this had been indicated, we do not have scientific knowledge of life, but from part of the biosphere, submitting to determined laws: life outside of the biosphere does not exist; it is an unreal abstraction.
When speaking of the appearance of life on our planet, we have nothing other than the formation of the biosphere in view.
The immutability of the brute matter of the biosphere, of its minerals, cannot be maintained but by the condition that the life which is linked there with it in the closest manner, also remains immutable in certain of its determined, essential traits. In changing morphologically, it must remain immutable in its overall effect, in its complex nature, in its manifestations, linked with the formation of minerals, that is to say, in the first place, in its quantitative overall chemical composition and in its overall mass. It has always had to constitute “one and the same part” determined by the mass of the biosphere,25 because it is only under this condition that the grandiose phenomenon of the formation of the terrestrial envelope, of the “superficial alteration,” always unchanged — which under the influence of life is produced upon all of the hard earth, rests chemically and mineralogically immutable in the course of geological time.26
Consequently, since the beginning of the biosphere, the life which constituted a part of it, should have already been a complex body, and not a morphologically homogeneous body, because the exterior of the superficial alteration would not have been able to form without life (integral part of the mechanism of the biosphere). The manifestations of life which are tied to it, its geochemical functions, thanks to their complexity and their diversity, cannot be the privilege of one single species of organism. They are incessantly distributed, across all of geological history and until now, among the different forms of life.
In the chemical structure of the biosphere we are dealing with the living world in its ensemble and not particular species. Among the millions of species there is not a single one which can, on its own, fulfill all of the living geochemical functions, which have existed since the beginning of the biosphere.
Thus the morphological composition of the living world had to be complex since the beginning. The living functions of the biosphere, the biogeochemical functions, are immutable across geological time. None of them appeared in the course of this time. They all existed simultaneously, and always. They are geologically eternal. 27
GEOCHEMICAL FUNCTIONS OF THE BIOSPHERE
1) Gaseous Function — I have indicated for a long time and on several occasions, the remarkable trait which characterizes the structure of the Earth, that all the gases of the biosphere are tied there, in the strictest manner, to life, formed in large part by biogenic means and are exchanged in the same manner. Although, here, we can distinguish, as I do in the following, a quantity of diverse chemical functions, the general effect of life in the gaseous regime of the biosphere is so important that it is fair to assemble it in a single chart as an independent function, an important part of the gaseous regime of the planet. The production of gas:
N2—O2—CO2—CH4—A2— NH4—H2S, etc. 28
2. Form free oxygen — Production of free oxygen (by a reaction of C02, H20, by nitrates, etc). A process which is indispensable for the existence of all living beings (aside from a few families of bacteria) and has a great importance in the geological history of the globe.29
ALL CHLOROPHYLLIC PLANTS
3. Oxidative function — Oxidation of chemical compounds which can give various degrees of oxidation or can change easily — while giving oxygentated products. It seems that this function is characteristic for all the multivalent elements:
H, Hydrogen, etc.30
BACTERIA (mainly autotrophs)
4. Calcium function — Release of calcium in the form of pure carbonate salts (simple and complex), oxalates, complex phosphates (apatites) etc.
Animals and algal aqueous plants (often chlorophyllic), unicellular calcified animals (formanifera, etc.), animals with calcified skeletons (crustaceans, mollusks, echinoderms, coral, brachiopods, bryozoans, vertebrates, etc.). Terrestrial plants and animals, vertebrates, mollusks, mosses (chlorophyllic), etc.
5. Reducing function — Clearly expressed for the sulfates, production of H2S, FeS2, and, it appears, other sulfuric biogenic metals (ZnS, CuS, etc., in part directly and in part by the action of biogenic H2S).31
6. Concentrating function — Concentration of elements determined by living matter and the ambient environment. It is a characteristic phenomenon for carbon, a fundamental bioelement and for many other elements. The importance of life in this respect becomes more and more clear from the standpoint of the more profound knowledge of geochemical processes. We can distinguish species of organisms endowed with different concentrating forces — some concentrate more than 1% of the weight of the organism (for example, Si, Fe, K, etc.) — these are the silicon, iron, and potassium-based organisms. For other organisms, the quantity of elements which they contain surpasses that of their average abundance in the biosphere (organisms rich in a given element). These phenomena are known for:
ANIMAL AND VEGETABLE ORGANISMS, from different unicellular and multicellular families
7. Combustion of organic compounds function — The essential fact regarding this function is the transformation of organic carbon compounds of the biosphere, always produced by life, in gaseous substances — H20, C02, N2.
8. Function of the reduction of organic compounds, giving other gases: H2S, CH4, H2, etc.
9. Function of metabolism and respiration, tied to the absorption of O2 and H20, and the release of C02, followed by an intense migration of chemical elements, retained by the organisms in then same living matter.
Taking into consideration the extreme rapidity of the multiplication of organisms and the gaseous processes tied to the release of gas in the course of respiration (one of the essential sources of C02) — the chemical importance of life in the biosphere will become clear.33
Its importance is manifest even more clearly by way of the incessant release from extremely active bodies in the biosphere, of free oxygen, carbonic acid and hydrogen sulfide, for which hundreds of reactions are known today, tied to their action upon the inert part of the biosphere. In examining this table, what jumps out is, 1) that all the geochemical functions of living matter in the biosphere, without exception, can be executed by the unicellular organisms, protozoans, 2) that the execution of all these geochemical functions by one single species would be impossible, and 3) that in the course of geological time, a change of different organisms which are replaced, one by another, in the execution of this function takes place, while the function itself remains immutable. The geochemical functions of life are geologically eternal — and form a part of the mechanism of the biosphere.
It is not until the moment of the appearance of civilized humanity in the biosphere that one organism found itself capable, on its own, of producing simultaneously varied chemical processes, but achieving this by its intelligence and technology, and not by the physiological work of its structure.
The result which we have come to, the empirical generalization regarding the infallible existence in the biosphere of a simultaneous and extremely varied geochemical function representative of life, is the essential condition, determining the character of its appearance.
Regardless of the appearance, it must be represented by a complex living body, not by an ensemble of individuals in one single space, but by an ensemble of multiple species belonging, morphologically, to clearly distinct, different classes of organisms, or to a particular hypothetical form of living matter, different from the Linnean species, a form unknown to us.
The possibility of the full realization of all geochemical functions of organisms in the biosphere from the unicellular organisms renders probable that this was effectively the first appearance of life, because we have reason to consider the formation of multicellular organisms by way of the evolution from unicellular ancestors as a real phenomenon.
If we were to know the chemical composition of these monocellular organisms, responding to living geochemical functions, and if we had been able to qualitatively determine the importance of each biogeochemical function in the mechanism of the biosphere, this would have given us an idea of the chemical composition of living matter, which always had to exist in the biosphere since its beginning, and could not change in the course of evolution.
Thus the first appearance of life during the genesis of the biosphere had to produce itself not in the form of some unique species of organism, but in the form of their ensemble, responding to living geochemical functions. The biocenoses had to appear from the outset.
If we admit of abiogenesis on Earth (the principle of Redi remaining intact), there exist two possibilities for abiogenesis: either the simultaneous formation of an ensemble of unicellular organisms, of determined biogeochemical function; or the formation of an organic form which is nonexistent and unknown, whose later disintegration into organisms of diverse geochemical functions would be produced very rapidly and by an unknown means, independently of the processes of evolution.
The fact is, that the process of evolution, in whichever form we choose, always develops in the already existing framework of living nature. To conclude logically from there that there is a change of forms of organisms by evolution outside of living nature, as we often do, would be a mistake of logic, an inadmissible extrapolation.
All the theories of evolution, without exception, examine the process as developing in the framework of existing living nature. This is evident for Darwinism and related theories. The survival of the fittest (the principle of Malthus, adapted by Wallace and Darwin in their theoretical constructions) or the idea of solidarity (Kessler, Kropotkine34) both equally recognize of living species in the complex, heterogenous living framework which already exists.
But, moreover, the scientific trend which relates to the work of Geoffroy St. Hilaire and Lamarck, attaches an immense importance to the change of the environment, that is to say change in the biosphere, an environment linked in the closest way with living nature. Because it is, above all, living matter and all processes which relate to it which change in the biosphere. The fundamental part, the brute matter — outside of its biogenic part — remains immutable not only in its solid parts, but also in its liquid and gaseous deposits.
This also relates to hypotheses such as, for example, that which was last presented by J. Walter, who treats the change of marine life in relation to the physico-chemical change of the composition of the ocean environment. The most important change of ocean water concerns its living part, in general its biogenic part. It is none other than this single fact which should interest us here in the theory of professor J. Walter. Here, I cannot enter into a discussion of his principal hypothesis — that the change of the chemical composition of ocean water occurs in a determined direction, always the same, invariable in the course of geological time, for example, in the form of an always greater concentration of ocean water. Facts do not appear to indicate this.
But a certain change, the oscillation of the composition, in an equilibrium as complex as ocean water, certainly had to be produced, at a time when its most active part, the marine life, changed ceaselessly and without interruption.
In any case, all of these changes, and hence also the process of evolution itself, cannot be taken into consideration when we speak of primitive, heterogenous living matter, which, whether transported from cosmic spaces or created by abiogenesis outside of the biosphere (which did not exist then) for the first time rendered possible the process itself of the evolution of species.
The primitive living matter, which gave birth to current living nature, had to transform itself outside of the laws of evolution, which correspond exclusively to organized beings, living and formed within the framework of living, already existing nature.
Probably the geochemical functions of life served as the essential factor of this transformation.
Primitive living matter probably had to correspond to a complex of organized forms, unicellular and bacterial.
The extreme rapidity of the multiplication is one of the important properties of such a complex. The quantity V, the speed of the transmission of life35, in this case attains billions and tens of billions of centimeters per second. Life would be able to cover the entire surface of the planet in a few days, to thus form the biosphere, to establish the genesis of the process of evolution and its laws, that is to say, the process, linked with the reciprocal action of organic forms in the framework of the biosphere.
The creation of the biosphere, its beginning was thus the beginning of the moment of the process of evolution, of the creation, in this way, of successive diverse series of hereditary organic species.
Today, we can, as it would appear, try to establish the geological epoch when that could have taken place, that is to say, to establish the moment of the formation of the biosphere.
The time is favorable to pose such problems, as a great movement of ideas is taking place currently in the geological sciences, of principles and fundamental empirical generalizations which are being created and revised.
Two such fundamental geological problems exist outside of common geological phenomena, in the domain of great tectonic problems, and in this moment are of profound interest to geological thought.
These two problems are — the formation of the moon and that of the formation of the Pacific Ocean, or more exactly of the genesis of a particular symmetry in the structure of the Earth’s crust.
As we plunge ourselves into the study of current and past phenomena, this dissymmetry reveals itself still more. The dissymmetry of the Earth’s crust is primarily manifested by the diverse distribution of continents and oceans on the Earth’s surface and secondly by the fact that this superficial distribution is in reality linked in the closest manner with the deep structure of the Earth’s crust. There do not exist under the bottom of the ocean more geospheres, than those which find themselves, however, in the structure of the continents. These are the stratisphere, the metamorphic geosphere, and the granite geosphere generally. There is thus produced a clear dissymmetry in the superficial layers of the planet. Moreover, this dissymmetry is also transmitted to the troposphere. It also has specific properties (for example, ionization) over the ocean, which are missing over the continental parts.36
The dissymmetry of the Earth’s crust can be explained if we examine the relationship between the genesis of the moon from the interior of the Earth and if we admit that it was created at the moment of a unique catastrophe of maximum intensity which our planet endured.
The oceanic basins, as the professor G. Pickering (1907-1924) deduced, basing himself upon theoretical considerations about the moon, formed in terrestrial crevices, which were produced during the formation of the moon from part of our planet.
I have decided to take into consideration the consequences of this cosmogenic hypothesis, as it now admits, more and more, of a scientific verification.
Up until now it existed practically outside of geological thought. It seems to me that today the geologist cannot fail to pay attention to it. Because on the one hand, such a representation of the history or the Earth and the moon — and of their relations — are intact after the great progress and the profound changes in recent cosmographical research 37, and secondly, the forces which are there taken into consideration, and which are those of the tides, are a real fact. We must take this into account not only with regard to actual phenomena, but even more so those from the time when our planetary system was formed.
The formation of our satellite is not only an astronomical fact, but also geological, and the physical constitution of its surface is also in line with such a hypothesis.
If the moon had its beginning from the Earth, from its upper part, can the geologist overlook this fact, can he not search for its manifestation in the phenomena which he studies?
He could have done this even more recently, when it was believed that the genesis of the moon from terrestrial activity took place a very long time ago, during pregeological time.
It cannot be done today, as the age of the most ancient geological phenomena which he studies in a concrete manner, for example the Archaen Era, is determined by a number of years, whose order matches the same decade — 109 years — which corresponds to the existence of our planetary system. The age of the most ancient minerals (pegmatites from the Archaen era) established by the methods of radioactivity is nearly 2 * 109 years38, the duration, or the boundary of the solar system is close to 5 * 109 years39. Today, the geologist studies much more ancient phenomena than the pegmatic lodes whose age is known to him. The moon was not separated from the Earth at the exact beginning of the formation of the solar system. Thus the critical period of its formation, of the brusque separation of pieces of matter which had formed the moon, entered into the framework of geological time. The geologist would not know be able to take this fact into account.
But, furthermore, the astronomers themselves try to relate the time of the formation of the moon to geological processes; to geological time. Recently, in developing and more profoundly and precisely the fundamental work of G. Darwin in this domain, R. Schwinner40 (Section 4) tried to link the formation of the moon with the great tectonic periods which the geologists had noted, utilizing the theory of resonances attempted to prove that at a given time, by the interference of ocean tides with the vibrations of the planet from the created tides, pieces of terrestrial matter would have been able to be detached from the lithosphere and to give to the Earth a satellite, which is our Moon. He linked to this fundamental and unique phenomenon all the great, critical tectonic periods which existed in the course of geological time. He acknowledged that the formation of our satellite coincided with the most ancient of great tectonic movements which took place during the Laurentian Epoch. He thinks that the study of Laurentian rocks allows for distinguishing them from younger, Archaen rocks. And finally he pronounces the great probability of the rapid reestablishment, after the detachment of the moon, of climatic conditions, essentially unchanged since then, identical to those which exist today on the terrestrial surface and which from that point determined the uninterrupted presence of life.
There are already geological facts which necessitate this last admission. Because if people had been able to admit, that at the beginning of the Archaen Era, that is to say during the Laurentian period41, that life didn’t exist — it is certain that it already existed during the later Archaen Epoch.
The biosphere therefore had to be born close to this critical moment on Earth.
In linking the genesis of the biosphere to the greatest event in the history of the globe, we place it in unique and exceptional conditions which had been able to permit to the genesis of the characteristic symmetry of life — conditions which do not exist in the biosphere now. Because in the course of the formation of the moon there whirling motions, which had to give rise to great cavities in the surface of the Earth.
It is by such movements that the terrestrial matter would be pulled away outside of terrestrial attraction. It is at the current location of the Pacific Ocean where the right dissymmetrical field had to be located.
One of the conditions — the dissymmetrical cause — indispensable according to the principle of Curie (see Section 6), had to exist temporarily at this time on the surface of our planet. One of the conditions for abiogenesis could have been able to be present for some time. Thus the genesis of the biosphere (and the appearance of life), of the formation of the cavity of the Pacific Ocean (dissymmetry of the Earth’s crust) and of the genesis of the Earth’s satellite — coincide as geologically simultaneous events and it is possible — are both genetically linked.
Hypotheses of this scale have no importance for science until, first of all, they can be scientifically verified, when they pose problems admitting of scientific verification, and when, secondly, they link, simultaneously, phenomena which formerly had appeared to be accidental and independent.
It is precisely the case here. We pose on the one hand the problem of the study of laurentian rocks from the point of view of the non-existence of processes or superficial alteration. The processes of metamorphosis must be different there than in the more recent Archeaen rocks. In these the minerals which metamorphose are identical to the product of the superficial alteration of our biosphere.
In the metamorphic laurentian rocks, the action of life should be absent. We must study them according to this point of view. This study, whose goal is concrete and clear, is to be done.
Not only do the tectonic movements lead to the same unique cause — the formation of our satellite — but at the same time all the geological phenomena of great stature are connected to it: the volcanic phenomena, glacial epochs, the appearance of the great morphological divisions of life.
The same unique event is connected to the formation of the dissymmetry of the Earth’s crust, the distribution of the oceans and the continents. The volume of the cavity of the Pacific Ocean minus that of the moon does not contradict this genesis, as it is a phenomenon of the same order (The volume of the moon is close to 5 * 109 km3, that of the Pacific Ocean1.3 * 109 km3).
The latter geological study will show how the idea of the simultaneous genesis of the biosphere (appearance of life by abiogenesis or from outside of the Earth and the genesis of the evolution of species), of the formation of the Pacific Ocean (dissymmetry of the Earth’s crust) and the creation of the Moon correspond to reality. Can we really see there the beginning of the planet which we study and whose fundamental traits have since remained unchanged?
This immutability leads us to immutability — that of the astronomical phenomena of the movements of planetary and solar systems — immutability of the phenomena of the Earth, eternal in the course of geological time.
— V. Vernadsky