What caused the chemical elements that exist as we now know them?
What class of laws can convert simple states of matter into such complex final states with the efficiency that works in this universe?
Originally hydrogen and helium were present in the primordial universe and all of the common elements such as carbon, iron, and oxygen and so on came from the stars which are nuclear fusion furnaces. Starting with hydrogen and helium they processed it into heavy elements like carbon and iron and oxygen and uranium. Carbon is the life-giving element, and it gets out of stars by their explosion as supernovas, which is the principal means whereby the carbon and other important elements are disseminated throughout the universe, and the dispersed material eventually accumulates into the next generation of stars and planets.
Given that carbon is the key element for life because of the carbon cycle in living matter in which carbon dioxide is fixed by photosynthesis to form organic nutrients, it is logical to examine the process which produced it. Carbon nuclei form in the cores of stars from the triple encounter of three helium nuclei. The collision of helium nuclei within stars is not unusual but the simultaneous collision of three helium nuclei is extremely rare, so rare in fact that there would be no possibility for significant carbon production at all if it were not for a remarkable coincidence.
Nuclear reactions vary considerably as a function of energy. Occasionally there is a sudden increase in the efficiency of a reaction at some particular critical level of energy, a sharp peak in the reaction rate known as a “resonance”. It appears that nature has obligingly provided just such a resonance in the triple-helium reaction at precisely the thermal energy level occurring in the core of stars. As the result of this most fortunate of coincidences carbon is manufactured in much greater profusion than would otherwise occur. The laws of physics and the structure of stars conspire to ensure that the production of carbon, an improbable derivative, is prolific.
However, the resulting enormous amplification of the synthesis of carbon would be negated completely if the carbon became consumed in the ensuing cycle of the nucleo-synthesis sequence, the collision of another helium nucleus with the carbon nucleus to produce oxygen. Since this is a binary instead of a triple encounter it is much more likely to occur, so it would appear that the carbon would all be processed into oxygen if there is another resonance. Well, it just so happens that there is such a resonance, but it is shifted ever so slightly away from the critical energy level – just enough so that the carbon atom survives undisturbed. It appears almost as if the structure of the universe and the laws of physics have been deliberately adjusted to enable the emergence of life, and subsequently consciousness.
Some of the helium in the universe is primordial since the universe started out with mainly hydrogen and helium and some of it is manufactured by nuclear synthesis inside stars. One possible method for production of helium from the original elementary particles existing in the early primordial universe would be from the collision of protons which could have become bound together by the nuclear force. Such a resulting “di-proton”, had it existed, would then have decayed to form a proton and neutron nucleus of deuterium (heavy hydrogen), and when two deuterons collide they readily fuse to form a nucleus of helium much more efficiently than the production of helium in stars.
So, if all of the hydrogen had become processed into helium there would now be no hydrogen in the universe if the nuclear force that binds protons together were only very slightly stronger. Fortunately the di-proton does not exist, but if the nuclear force were only very slightly stronger the electric force of repulsion between the protons would have lost the competition between forces and the universe would have been altogether different. How delicate the balance is of the forces of nature! As it is about 90 percent of the nuclei in the universe are hydrogen which is vital for life and consciousness. The sun and all stars like it is a hydrogen nuclear fusion reactor in which a cycle of thermonuclear reactions occurs during which four hydrogen atoms synthesize into a helium atom with the release of nuclear energy, and without hydrogen there would exist no stable stars. Also, hydrogen is one of the basic components of water which is critical for life, so without hydrogen life would never have arisen in the universe.
Underlying everything are the laws of physics which are able to permit matter to self-organize to the point where life and mind, consciousness, emerges, mind from matter, and the most striking product is the human mind and its development of mathematics. The laws of physics produce systems which then lead to consciousness, which then produces mathematics, which illustrates the very underlying laws of physics which gave rise to it. Then we are able to analyze precisely those complexities which led to mind and mathematics. Now if we were to ask where mathematics works best it is in areas like astrophysics and particle physics so that we find that the product of the most complex system we know in nature, the human brain, finds a consonance with the fundamentals that make up the world and the universe.
Elements in the human body
The amounts of the elements in the human body and the ratio of each one to the others are listed in the table below with the most common being Hydrogen and the least common being Cobalt. The numbers indicate the relative proportion of each element to the others in the body with Cobalt being the least set to 1.
The human body consists of a very select combination of atoms. Our bodies mostly consist of Hydrogen and by weight human bodies contain such large amounts of Oxygen and Carbon that they are virtually unique in composition in the known universe. There is one particular element which is, remarkably, completely missing from the human body and that is Helium, the second most abundant and prolific atom in the entire universe. Why is this so? It is because Helium has an internal structure that leaves it incapable of trading electrons with other atoms so that it cannot react with the chemicals which define life—the body’s metabolism, reproduction and growth of cells. Oxygen and Carbon are much, much rarer than Helium but they can readily interact with the different elements and with the wide variety of chemical bonds that are essential in living matter, those tiny subatomic particles which make atoms which in turn make increasingly larger cells, tissues and organs. Oxygen also creates an entirely new set of dangers for us besides all of its advantages. The chemistry of oxygen that makes it so efficient at generating energy can also turn it into a poison, because as a great receptor for electrons from other atoms oxygen generates energy while it also forms new compounds. Unchecked those molecules can and do disrupt cells and damage our DNA.
Underlying every known risk factor contributing to degenerative diseases from arteriosclerosis to cancer is excess free radical activity with its resulting damage. A free radical is an oxygen molecule with an odd number of electrons in the outer orbital ring of one of its atoms—a distinction that may seem trivial but which has enormous significance. The imbalance makes the resulting atom or molecule promiscuously unstable, violently reactive and potentially very destructive, ready to attack any nearby substance in the body setting off further free radical reactions with explosive rates of cell-destroying power. Just as oxygen produces rust on metal surfaces, so inside the human body the unbalanced oxygen molecules literally rust the internal organs.
Oxygen originally changed the world by allowing larger mammals with many more cells but the Earth changes life just as life changes the Earth and we are now facing the consequences of the changes which we as a species are forcing upon our world’s atmosphere by destroying the forests and because of the chemistry of the atoms we absorb into our bodies by our habits such as by smoking tobacco, abusing alcohol and drugs and eating overmuch protein and fats and sugar and sodium. The fact of the composition of the human body being unique in the known universe should intrigue our intellects into questioning why and how this should be so. If there is a purpose for this what could it possibly be? If there is intelligent design involved in the unique evolution of the human body it certainly behooves us to be very careful about what we are doing to disrupt it and about destroying our world’s environment by those habits which also poison and sicken us.
We have natural disasters including earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, tornados, blizzards, fires, drought conditions, famine and awful diseases of many kinds, and we also have religious, political and ethnic wars, terrorism, atrocities, nuclear arms proliferation, along with economic upheavals, air pollution, vanishing species, destruction of forests and many other serious problems which are disrupting the stability of humanity.
There must surely be dire future consequences for human beings who are certainly destroying their bodies and the environment by their own poor choices given that the specific arrangement of the unique composition and ratio of the elements in the human body and the unique composition of the earth’s atmosphere is optimal for the present and future survival of our species.
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