Presenter: Nathaniel Comfort (NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology)
When: October 3, 2016 1PM PDT

At the beginning, so runs the Zen saying, one sees mountains as mountains, and rivers as rivers. In 2015, it seemed a straightforward task to document the impact of recent developments such as genomics on origin-of-life research. It was to be—and will be—the first part of a book project on the biological, scientific, and cultural history of DNA. But then, a local conference attended by many luminaries in disparate fields provided a disconcerting revelation. In three days’ time, mountains were no longer mountains, rivers no longer rivers. The origin of life turns out to be vastly complex, contentious, and colorful.

There followed ten months of opportunities strange and rare: making chemical gardens and discussing jazz and dissipation at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; being intellectually fire-hosed in Düsseldorf; talking bio-philosophy while strolling the melancholy coast of Nova Scotia; bushwhacking to remote pools of boiling acid at Yellowstone; and bowling at the White House. As the year concludes, one sees mountains once again as mountains, and rivers once again as rivers. There remains much to process, but a few principles—and perhaps a little clarity—have emerged.

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