The inanimate world

The inanimate world came into existence a good 13.8 billion years ago, right with the Big Bang.

To describe this world, we resort to physics (the forms and conversions of energy) and chemistry (the structure of matter and its transformations). We see this world as shaped by physical forces and chemical reactions.

This is a world in which things are: they exist in an eternal present, without a sense of past, without a sense of future, without a purpose.

The fundamental change mechanisms of combination, variation, decomposition and degradation were active from the onset. We can see their early effects in the chemical evolution, i.e., the creation of the chemical elements through nuclear fusion (for lighter elements up to iron) and neutron capture (all elements heavier than iron). Other examples include the formation of stars and the explosion of super novae, the movement of tectonic plates and the erosion of entire mountain ranges.

Note the underlying pattern: change can accumulate. An immediate change, like a chemical reaction, has a limited effect that remains locally contained. Yet over time, effects of many small changes working in the same direction can aggregate to yield an impact of cosmic scale.

We tend to perceive our deep natural history as stale and uneventful. But when taking into consideration the slow but relentless change mechanisms operating in the inanimate world, it should come as no surprise that these conditions were sufficient to give rise to a novelty that would transform our planet: life.

This is the eighth in a series of short posts on the origins of innovation.

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