"I've spoken to these eggs many times and they make it quite clear...they are not a human being."
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.
"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."
"Is Earth the ideal planet for life? What is the future of life in our universe? We often imagine our place in the universe in the same way we experience our lives and the places we inhabit. We imagine a practically static eternal universe where we, and life in general, are born, grow up, and mature; we are merely one of numerous generations."
"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."
"I'll start with a topic that is called an inside-outside view of the planning fallacy. And it starts with a personal story, which is a true story."
"As I look through the structure of the words and the structure of the sentences, it just becomes clear that they don't have recursion. If recursion is what Chomsky and Mark Hauser and Tecumseh Fitch have called 'the essential property of language', the essential building block—in fact they've gone so far as to claim that that might be all there really is to human language that makes it different from other kinds of systems—then, the fact that recursion is absent in a language — Pirahã — means that this language is fundamentally different from their predictions."
"I'm always running out of metaphors to try and explain what the difficulty is. But suppose you took Scrabble sets, or any word game sets, blocks with letters, containing every language on Earth, and you heap them together and you then took a scoop and you scooped into that heap, and you flung it out on the lawn there, and the letters fell into a line which contained the words “To be or not to be, that is the question,” that is roughly the odds of an RNA molecule, given no feedback — and there would be no feedback, because it wouldn't be functional until it attained a certain length and could copy itself — appearing on the Earth."