Beaches refers to life created by the sea, ‘aggregated by aleatoric resonance.’ Although that doesn’t exist (as far as I know) there is a little scientific speculation behind it, with the emphasis on speculation.
The starting point is an arrow of time.
the arrows of time1
Time has direction, from the past to the future, and that is one of the great scientific mysteries because: why? The indications of this direction in the world are the arrows of time, and to see whether something is an arrow, you can imagine filming it and playing the video backwards. If it looks like speculative fiction, it’s an arrow, and if it’s basically okay, it’s not.
For example, a bowling ball rolling in a car park would look sensible played forwards or backwards, the ball would just appear to roll in the other direction, so there is no arrow of time. But if you played a video of a waterfall backwards, the water would appear to run upwards against gravity, definitely speculative fiction, and you have an arrow of time.
death in reverse
If you filmed a living creature and played it backwards, there would be stacks of speculative fiction, ie, lots of arrows. In particular, the creature’s ‘birth’ (which was its death in the usual forward direction of time) would look very peculiar because inanimate feathers, blood, and gooey bits would spontaneously come together and start running around clucking (for example).
The question one can ask, if one has way too much free time, is exactly how unrealistic is that sort of beginning for life?
In speculative fiction, probably the closest well-known example is Victor Frankenstein’s creation. But that was cheating, because Frankenstein was a semi-intelligent designer who actively assembled his loathsome, hideous and vile etc. monster from bits and pieces, and we want spontaneous creation. Best to start with something simple.
copper sulphate crystals
Admittedly they’re not alive, but they do make great pets. If you pour hot water onto a crystal it dissolves (death) and if you then put the blue liquid into a freezer for a while, the molecules of copper sulphate join together in the right way and the crystal reappears (birth). Video and play it backwards, and it looks kind of okay, no speculative fiction and no arrow of time. Now to move up the evolutionary ladder.
trout thought experiment
A trout leads a long and fulfilling life and dies of old age surrounded by its family. No predators defile the body and it gradually dissolves in the sea. It would look strange played in the reverse direction, but what would be needed for the death to actually happen backwards?
Firstly, an ocean with a lot of fish pieces, like a bouillabaisse; secondly, some sort of resonance that creates an affinity or attraction to bring the correct bits together at the right time; and lastly, not a fish, because the bits would have to be specialised for the agglomerations to occur as it develops towards a living creature.
could it happen?
For the simplest organisms, I think it could, it is at least something like the replication of viruses, and after all life started somehow. For more sophisticated organisms on Earth, it seems highly unlikely, and for alien life forms, who knows?
evolution and more questions
One key issue is the improbability argument.2 In a nutshell, it says that the chance of randomly creating complex life from bits and pieces is like a hurricane sweeping through a scrapyard and spontaneously assembling a Boeing 747, ie, no chance. The same applies to the ‘random’ creation here, and the answer, as it is for all life that we know about, must be evolution.
The inanimate pieces that come together to form these speculative life forms must be products of evolution in some way, and that raises more questions, for example,
- How would the life forms die? Would there be recycling of parts? (Unfortunately I am picturing an organism that grows to a massive size and then explodes into lots of pieces.)
- Evolution has an arrow of time. Can it also run backwards?
- Could some kind of random variation occur in the assembly process?
- How much spare time do I have anyway?
- The ridiculously brief and inaccurate summary here is based on the excellent book “Time’s Arrow and Archimedes’ Point” by Huw Price, Oxford, 1996.
- “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins, Bantam, 2006.