"If you look at people who sequence DNA—the original DNA sequences, which is a wonderful piece of work of course—in Watson's own DNA sequence—it's a very platonic view of what life is all about. You take a human being, an exemple, an exemplar, J.D. Watson. You've got his DNA. That's the end of the story.??"But of course it isn't like that. If there wasn't difference, then we wouldn't have genetics. We wouldn't have evolution. We'd all be stuck in the primeval slime. Genetics has moved on to think about difference. Why are people, why are snails, so different from each other?"
"There are 43 stones passing amongst you. It’s called the Tradescant's Ark Experiment and I’ve named it in honor of John Tradescant and John Tradescant, Sr. and Jr., father and son, who were collectors of things in the 17th century. They were the exhibitors of the world's first pay-to-view museum and they had a cabinet of curiosities set up in Lambeth, on the Thames, which much later was sold to Elias Ashmole and became the germ of the Ashmolean Museum. Not much of it survives, there are little parts of it in the Ashmolen Museum. What is more important is the intellectual move they made in the catalog, which John Tradescant the younger created and in which he distinguished between 2 types of things, naturalls and artificialls. He divided all the things he collected into those he thought were natural and those that were modified by human hand—what archaelogists today call artifacts."
"Songs can survive hundreds of years of geographical and cultural separation."
The coincidence last spring of Walter Isaacson's Einstein biography (Einstein: His Life and Universe) hitting the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list, coupled with the publication of The Endless Universe: Beyond The Big Bang by Paul Steinhardt, the Albert Einstein Professor of Science at Princeton University (coauthored with Neil Turok), created an interesting opportunity.
I invited Walter, Paul and Columbia University string theorist, best selling author and TV presenter, Brian Greene, to participate in an Edge symposium on Einstein. Walter, Paul, and Brian, showed up for the session in early June.
"The essential idea is that you separate metabolism from replication. We know modern life has both metabolism and replication, but they're carried out by separate groups of molecules. Metabolism is carried out by proteins and all kinds of other molecules, and replication is carried out by DNA and RNA. That maybe is a clue to the fact that they started out separate rather than together. So my version of the origin of life is that it started with metabolism only."
"Many of the people here worry about what life is, but maybe in a slightly more general way, not just ribosomes, but inorganic life. Would we know it if we saw it? It's important as we go and discover other worlds, as we start creating more complicated robots, and so forth, to know, where do we draw the line?"
"If you program a computer at random, it will start producing other computers, other ways of computing, other more complicated, composite ways of computing. And here is where life shows up. Because the universe is already computing from the very beginning when it starts, starting from the Big Bang, as soon as elementary particles show up. Then it starts exploring — I'm sorry to have to use anthropomorphic language about this, I'm not imputing any kind of actual intent to the universe as a whole, but I have to use it for this to describe it — it starts to explore other ways of computing."
"One question is, can we extrapolate back from this data set to describe the most recent common ancestor. I don't necessarily buy that there is a single ancestor. It’s counterintuitive to me. I think we may have thousands of recent common ancestors and they are not necessarily so common."