Friday, October 23, 2009

Stay tuned

Stardust virus Flu in the family.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stay tuned

I'll be back. A pile-up of obligations intrudes.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Good and Evil in the Cosmos

Does the Force have a dark side? Are Good and Evil somehow embedded in our Universe? Well, according to our theme, ordered structures that are not alive simply maximize the dispersion of energy, and sometimes matter—like a burning candle. There's no holding back, no good or evil, just going as fast as possible. But, as we see on our planet, with the genesis of life, a yin yang arises. A living cell is an expression of managed maximization, that is it optimizes rather than maximizes dispersion.

Perhaps therein lies the first spark of good and evil. Cells are powerful dispersers of energy and matter, and do as much as they can, but not so much that they compromise their own integrity. When a cell begins to maximize it becomes a cancer cell.

The same "rule" applies to us and other living things. Every culture has codes of behavior that manage maximization. Civilizations have collpased when they failed to reign in excesses.

So, in a very real sense, good and evil may be embedded in the stars but not expressed until swirls of stardust coalesce into planetary systems bearing life.

(C) R. E.Morel 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Still working

This Good vs. Evil topic is proving to be a bit challenging. Bear with me.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Farm Biology 101

The Good/Evil piece is still on the drawing boards. I wrote this post for a local sustainable/organic farming group to put on their Web site and thought you might be interested. We are, after all, the beneficiaries of a sun in the cosmos.

Each of us values the many bounties brought to us by our dedicated local farmers, but what about the underlying and fascinating biology that paves the way to harvest? This series of articles will take us on a journey from sun to seed and beyond.

The Harvest

Farmers harvest crops; plants harvest sunlight

We all know that plants need sunlight to grow and produce the bounty that we buy at market and savor at our tables. But just how does sunlight assist in serving up this cornucopia? Living requires energy, your eyes and brain are using energy to read what you’re reading right now, and plants need energy to live and produce he food we eat. Sunlight is the source of life’s energy. The leaves of green plants are very sophisticated solar panels. Green plants, including farm crops, harvest the sun’s energy and package it into sugar molecules that they, and we, need to stay alive. Without the conversion from light energy to chemical energy we wouldn’t be here.

But where does the sugar come from? Sugar is a form of matter but sunlight is pure energy, there’s no matter in it. The matter in sugar comes from two simple ingredients, water and carbon dioxide. Recall that water is H2O, that is, two hydrogen atoms attached to an oxygen atom, and those hydrogen atoms really like staying attached to the oxygen atom. It takes a lot of energy to strip them away. That’s where the Sun’s energy comes in. Plants use some of the energy that they receive from sunlight to pull the hydrogen of of oxygen, making the hydrogen available for combining with carbon dioxide. That’s what sugar is made of, hydrogen combined with carbon dioxide. Plants use another portion of the light energy to fashion the chemical bonds that hold the atoms in the sugar together. Those bonds contain energy that originally came from the Sun, so, in this sense, we are all solar powered!

And, you’re breathing the leftover from water right now; it’s the oxygen that was attached to the hydrogen atoms in H2O. We need oxygen, as do living crops, to extract the Sun’s energy that was packaged in sugar molecules. That unpackaging results in the very ingredients we started with, carbon dioxide and water. You’re exhaling them as you breathe. The cycle goes on as long as plants do what they do with sunlight.

Next: Nitrogen nitrogen everywhere but not a drop to drink.

© R. E. Morel 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Break

I'm taking a brief break. Will be back with shortly>

Monday, August 10, 2009


This may appear to be a beautiful inanimate piece of jade embedded with chips of gold, but it is the chrysalis of a Monarch butterfly. Within it, a universe of events is generating a most amazing metamorphosis, a metamorphosis that will change the way this organism disperses matter and energy.

The metamorphosis will change this:

to this.

So what is going on in this jade-and-gold jewel, and why should we call it cosmic? Consider this dynamic from the point of view of the dispersal of matter and energy. Monarch caterpillars eat leaves and disperse the once solid leaf matter and energy. The light of life in this sense is the same as the light of a candle flame that disperses the solid matter of the candle into a dispersed mix of gases, light and heat. The candle dissappears, and in this case, soe does the caterpillar!

As the leaf becomes part of the caterpillar's life force and being, a portion of the organized matter that was once "leaf" becomes dispersed as heat, carbon dioxide, water vapor, and a few other waste products.

But the youngster is also storing some of that leafy matter and energy, everything it will need to morph into a form that will consume an entirely different diet of matter and energy—an adult butterfly.

Within the jewel, the caterpillar is literally dissolving, and patches of tissue that lay dormant in the jeuvinile, are developing into a new head, a new body, new wings, new muscles, and an entirely new apparatus for dispersing matter and energy. The butterfly, unlike its "other self," will consume nectar from flowers, not leaves— a new self!

The universe has designed a creature with a double-dispersal life! That's the way it is in the cosmos. Nature finds as many ways as possible to disperse matter and energy—many of them quite beautiful to look at.

Does the Cosmos have a sense of humor?

(c) R. E. Morel 2009 All rights reserved

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Water into Wine

These are yeast cells. They ferment the sugars in grapes and produce the alcohol in wine. But that isn't the whole story. Wine is more than just alcohol.

Grape-vine leaves capture the Sun's energy (energy from the cosmos) and package it tightly into grape sugars. The vines use some of that sugar energy to manufacture and incorporate, through complex biochemistry, the universe of ingredients that we find in mature grapes. Those ingredients are the foundation for the enormous array of delicate and distinct wine varieties and vintages that we celebrate.

Now here's the water into wine part. The sugars in grapes are made from just two ingredients, carbon dioxide and WATER. Well not all of the water. Water is made up of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, H2O. To make sugar, the hydrogen in water must become available and combined with carbon dioxide. Grapevine leaves use the Sun's energy to strip the hydrogen atoms out of water molecules making them available for combination with carbon dioxide. Without water we wouldn't have wine. By the way, you are breathing the leftover from this stripping process—oxygen!

Why is wine making a cosmic event? Remember the central cosmic theme? The Universe figures out the best ways of dispersing energy and matter. Wine making transforms grape "matter and energy" into a less tightly packaged form of grapes, a liquid form that begs to be dispersed further. Wine drinking is the final rendering of grape matter and energy back to the starting point. If you've had a glass of wine recently, some of your breath is dispersing the carbon dioxide and water that once was "grape."

Wine making and wine drinking are expressions of the same cosmic force that guides the genesis stars and candle flames!


Monday, August 3, 2009

The Spider and the Fly

A creature from outer space?

This is a close-up of a spider's "face." If we keep in mind that Earth is just as "out there" as anywhere else in the Universe, we could say that this is indeed a creature from outer space. And spiders are expressions of the same cosmic theme that fashions stars from stardust. They are very good at capturing a tight package of matter and energy, like, say, a fly and dispersing it to the surroundings. We'll see how this works but first a little poetry.

The Spider and the Fly—an excerpt
Mary Howitt

"Will you walk into my parlour? said the Spider to the Fly

Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little Fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by;
With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer drew,
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue --
Thinking only of her crested head -- poor foolish thing! At last,
Up jumped the cunning Spider, and fiercely held her fast.
He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlour -- but she ne'er came out again!"

We all know what happened to the fly. Can't feel too sorry, since, if you read the whole poem, she is a victim of her own vanity.

Let's look look a this tragic tale from a cosmic perspective. A fly is, like the wax and wick in a candle and a gigantic cosmic dust cloud, a highly concentrated bit of matter and energy. Our cosmic theme predicts that a means of dispersing it will arise. In this case it's a spider. Injections from the spider's fangs liquefy the fly's insides and the spider digests the meal. The energy in the matter that was once the fly's inner body is eventually dispersed to the surroundings as heat. The spider uses some of the matter in the fly to maintain its body and some becomes dispersed as carbon dioxide and water vapor. The "unused portion," essentially the fly's skeleton, will be dispersed by other life forms, such as bacteria.

Next: Water into wine. What do these have to do with it?

(c) copyright, R. E.Morel 2009. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Nerve of Stardust!

These are nerve cells just like the cells in our brains that allow us to read and interpret the image and words that we see here. Our brains are an elegant lacework of trillions of connections among nerve cells that constantly monitor our bodies' status and send signals for managing adjustments. They tell us when we are thirsty or hungry, upright or upside down. Delicate nuances in these connections shape conversational styles, generate senses of humor, create mathematical genius, forge artistic talent, and fashion dreams, all cosmic events when you consider their promordial origins—stardust. Stardust that can dream!

A creature from outer space?

(c)2009 R. E. Morel all rights reserved

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Stardust Memories

This is a photo of C. elegans, an organism that dissipates tightly packaged bits of matter and energy in its surroundings. It eats bacteria. In other words, it expresses the same cosmic theme that we see in all of Nature. It is an organized complexity that represents one best avenue for dissipating matter and energy.

An adult worm is a little shorter than a comma in this post and is composed of about 1,000 specialized cells generated from genetic memory stored in a single fertilized egg cell.That memory directs the developmental orchestration that produces a whole worm with a complete digestive system that processes bacteria, a nervous system that allows it to sense its surroundings, and a reproductive system that produces more C. elegans. All of these coordinated in the context of a specialized dissipative dynamic.

Most genetic memory–composed of stardust formed into the exquisitely ordered codes of DNA–goes back billions of years and we share it. Nature has expanded on those stardust memories and produced the enormous diversity of life on our planet.

Next time we'll discover what these are and how they fit into stardust memories.

(c)copyright R. E, Morel 2009 All rights reserved

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Actin and the Cosmic Theme

(c) 2009 R. E.Morel All rights reserved.

Photo quiz: Seems like I gave away the answer, sort of. These are actin filaments (green) in cells. The blue blobs are the nuclei, storehouses of information, most of it billions of years old. They hold the codes for making all of the substances cells (including our cells) need to live, including the codes for making actin.

But what are actin filaments and what do they do? How do they reflect the cosmic theme? A cell is a buzz of transactions. And every transaction is an expression of the comic theme. Actin plays many roles. For one thing it acts as "railroad tracks," rails direct vital substances contained in cellular vesicles (remember vesicles?) to their destinations. And they are part of our muscles. Without them, we couldn't so much as wiggle a finger.

What is it?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Cosmic Chemistry of Life

(c) Copyright R. E. Morel 2009 All rights reserved

Quiz answer: This is a road map of just some of the interrelated biochemical reactions going on in all living things, you included, right now.

Somehow, over billions of years, the cosmos produced on our planet, and probably on many others, an elegant chemical symphony that is the basis of our existence. And that "somehow" is an extension of our universal cosmic theme.
Each of the hundreds of chemical reactions in the road map represents an event, and events disperse energy. In less than one tick of a clock, trillions upon trillions of these events occur in each cell. So, we find that life at the chemical level represents exactly the same theme as star formation and candle flames, matter and energy organizing in ways that enhance the dispersal of energy.

But how does this staggering array of chemical dynamics fit into the world of the cell, the fundamental microscopic cathedral of life? That's next.

Photo quiz:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


(c)copyright R. E. Morel 2009. All rights reserved.

Quiz answer:
This photo shows substances similar to material that was deposited on Earth long ago from meteors and comets. One theory of the origin of life proposes that space debris like this provided one fundamental requirement for the genesis of life—a container. All life is composed of containers called cells, and, within them, the enormously complex transactions between matter and energy, the biochemistry of life, move at blinding speeds. Containers like the ones in the photo could have provided the opportunity to house and concentrate early chemical reactions. This could have led to a progression toward more and more complex and organized systems of chemical reactions. At its most basic level, that is what life is—biochemistry in a container!

But the complexity of even a single living cell is mind boggling, far more organized than just jumbles of chemical reactions.. Why did such a seemingly impossible complexity develop? That's where our cosmic theme comes in. Remember, in everything from cosmic dust clouds forming stars to candles and their flames, matter and energy "discover" the best ways to generate dispersal. And that means generating organized dynamic forms, like cells.

Long before life began on our planet, energy from the sun was constantly driving countless chemical reactions. Many of the substances that resulted were tightly packaged matter and energy. These substances represented the same sort of packaging we see in cosmic dust clouds and candles. In other words, the Earthly primordium eventually became home to matter that was ripe for dispersal. And life, just like a sun or a flame, became the "discovery" that represented the best solution for "unpackaging" concentrated matter and energy.

Next we'll discover more about life's synchrony with a cosmic theme. In the meantime, what's this photo about?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Candle Flame

Photo Quiz Answer: The structures (approximately actual size) in the photo are called Benard cells. You are looking down on a shallow layer of mineral oil in a glass container. The oil has been dusted with a fine powder that reveals the cells. The oil is being heated uniformly from below, and the cells are upwelling heat energy from below and dispersing it to the surroundings above. These cells form as if by magic. They represent the best pathway available for distributing and dispersing the heat energy being pumped into the oil. This self-ordering is an expression of our cosmic connection: Matter and energy work together to produce ordered dynamic structures that disperse energy, and often matter, in the best way possible.

To explore our cosmic theme a bit further let's consider something a little more familiar than Benard cells—a candle flame. We know what happens when we light a candle. Once started, a flame evolves in seconds into a form that all of us recognize. We may start the process with a match, but the flame quickly organizes all by itself. We know what happens, and it happens for the same reason that Benard cells appear. The flame is the best way of spreading out the matter and energy that are tightly packaged in the wax and wick of the candle. The solid candle is transformed into gases and the energy contained in the candle are dispersed as heat and light. But, it reasonable to ask how all this connects to the cosmos and life in the cosmos?

Take a look at this photograph, called the Pillars of Creation, taken by the Hubble telescope. These are gigantic clouds of cosmic dust that contain enormous amounts of matter and energy, very much like a candle, only on an entirely different scale. (Even at warp-speed, it could take Captain Kirk's Enterprise years to travel from the bottom to the top of these clouds.) But, no matter the scale, the clouds are expressing the same theme as a candle flame! Stars are being born within them, and, just as in candle flames, stars are the best way of dispersing energy. Around some of these stars planets will form, and some of those may well be life friendly. Eventually some of those planets may produce new civilizations.

We see the dust and its potential. But, where did the dust come from and what's in it? That we will discuss next.

In the meantime: Can you identify what this photo is showing?

This is a photo taken by the Hubble telescope. What are they and how do they express the cosmic theme?

(c)2009 R. E. Morel

Monday, June 1, 2009

Where the Dust Came From

Copyright R. E.Morel 2009

Photo Quiz Answer: This might look like a gigantic cosmic event—perhaps a star exploding? It isn't. It's really a dime-size mold growing on an orange. That, however, doesn't make it any less cosmic. The mold is a living thing, and life expresses the same theme we have been talking about. Just as in a candle flame and in enormous dust clouds, such as the Pillars of Creation, life represents the best available means of dispersing matter and energy. In this case the mold is processing "orange matter" into diffuse gases (carbon dioxide and water vapor). And, though it's not apparent or easily measured, the mold is dissipating heat energy into the surroundings. We do essentially the same thing.

Now, back to those cosmic dust clouds. Where did the dust come from? It turns out that it came from the explosion of a giant star, a red giant, many billions of years ago. The photo below shows the size of one of these giant stars compared to our sun, the tiny, almost invisible, dot in the rectangle at the lower left. Before red giants explode they manufacture all of the matter that ends up in the clouds, and they leave behind plenty of resident energy that "needs" to be dispersed—eventually by new stars. That's how we got here. We come from dust clouds formed when a red giant exploded. And the material, except hydrogen, that makes up our bodies and everything else around us was manufactured in our gigantic "birth star." Hydrogen, a major component of life forms, has been around, almost literally, forever. It's fascinating to note that carbon, the central element in all of life's chemistry, is the first element to form in red giants. Next we'll look into the origin of life.

In the meantime, what's in the photo?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Are we alone?

Are we alone in the Universe? Does life exit on other planets? If so, could there be intelligent life "out there?" Carl Sagan has said yes, because there are virtually countless worlds amenable to life. So, just by the shear number of possibilities, there must be extraterrestrial life, perhaps even intelligent life. But, until recently, no natural law could lend predictive power to what has been essentially guesswork.

A new window of understanding opened with a paper published in 2006 [R. E. Morel and George Fleck, “A Fourth Law of Thermodynamics,” Khimiya, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 305–310 (2006)]. That paper describes a consistent universal theme, a dynamic between energy and matter that applies universally to non-living and living systems. It says that matter and energy self-organize in ways that create the best avenues for dispersal. In cosmic dust clouds, that means forming stars. On biofriendly planets that means the genesis of life. And that theme connects us to the cosmos. The next post will explore how a candle flame is an expression of this cosmic theme. In the meantime, can you identify what's shown in the photo? Please submit your answer—sorry no prizes.