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Thread: where does all this "stuff" keep coming from?

  1. #1 where does all this "stuff" keep coming from? 
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    How is there enough stuff present and left over from the big bang to enable species to continue to reproduce? Genes are so tiny, but they turn into things like elephants and whales, that go on to make more elephants and whales. When does the matter run out? Did we start with a given amount of matter and that's all we've got to work with? If not, how is it that matter continues to be added?

    I just always thought that there was a specific amount of stuff in the universe, and we are part of that stuff, but we and all of it just keep making more and more bodies, more people...It seems endless.


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    Quote Originally Posted by angelstrings View Post
    How is there enough stuff present and left over from the big bang to enable species to continue to reproduce? Genes are so tiny, but they turn into things like elephants and whales, that go on to make more elephants and whales. When does the matter run out? Did we start with a given amount of matter and that's all we've got to work with? If not, how is it that matter continues to be added?

    I just always thought that there was a specific amount of stuff in the universe, and we are part of that stuff, but we and all of it just keep making more and more bodies, more people...It seems endless.
    Welcome to the forum.

    You seem to be confusing the processes of creating elements from the Big Bang and stars creating heavy elements, with biological systems creating complex molecules of life. Two very different things. Also, creating more people is not is not endless. That only happens as long as we can keep on feeding the new humans. As soon as we can't do that we will have a population crash that will make any past die off of humans pale by comparison.


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    Thanks for the quick reply! So, we have a set number of elements. There is a certain amount of available elemental matter to keep making "life." Life "is" those elements that came out of the Big Bang. We are it. Right? Why wouldn't either the life run out, or the stuff around the life run out? Is stuff just being recycled? Something dies, nourishes something else, becomes a rock, whatever. Maybe I just don't see the full picture. But it seems like since only a certain amount of matter came from Big Bang, then the world can't keep reproducing itself with trees and insects and mammals indefinitely. And it seems strange that there are more people on the planet today than in years past. Where did all the extra elements come from to make the millions of extra people? Are there less trees? Less water? All the energy has to remain the same since the beginning. I'm not understanding this.
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    Is stuff just being recycled? Something dies, nourishes something else, becomes a rock, whatever.
    That's pretty well it.

    And remember, "becoming a rock" doesn't take material entirely out of the life cycle. It just gets recycled on geological timescales rather than biological timescales. Biological life to death cycles range from minutes to decades to millennia for the longest living trees and, apparently, some fungi. Geological recycling (let's exclude soils from this) start at centuries and extend to billions of years.
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    Quote Originally Posted by angelstrings View Post
    Thanks for the quick reply! So, we have a set number of elements. There is a certain amount of available elemental matter to keep making "life." Life "is" those elements that came out of the Big Bang. We are it. Right? Why wouldn't either the life run out, or the stuff around the life run out? Is stuff just being recycled? Something dies, nourishes something else, becomes a rock, whatever. Maybe I just don't see the full picture. But it seems like since only a certain amount of matter came from Big Bang, then the world can't keep reproducing itself with trees and insects and mammals indefinitely. And it seems strange that there are more people on the planet today than in years past. Where did all the extra elements come from to make the millions of extra people? Are there less trees? Less water? All the energy has to remain the same since the beginning. I'm not understanding this.
    Below is a chart that shows the major elements that make up a human. We are in no danger of runing out of any of them now or anytime in the future.

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    Well that makes me feel better. So, the amount of "stuff" is the same. It's just changing form. I can live with that. I'd kind of gotten stuck on the thought of each persons reproductive capabilities and the number of people that will be coming down the line over the next 500 years or so. It seemed like too much for our current supply of elements to 'host.' But if everything that's dying today is reforming the whales and elephants and people of tomorrow, then that all makes sense. Thanks!!
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    Angel, the amount of "new" matter in the universe, if there is any at all, is tiny and does not impact Earth's biosphere at all. The biosphere constantly recycles organic chemicals. Every atom in your body has been part of countless other living things before it got to be part of you. You are made of 100% post consumer recycled material. (So when we occasionally feel like shit, there is good reason. )
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    The Sun.

    It's very, very, very big and emits an unimaginable amount of energy every single second, and has been doing this for hundreds of millions of years.

    Not only that, but all the material on Earth that goes into making up life - carbon, oxygen, calcium, iron, etc, etc. were themselves created inside an even older star that exploded.

    Our solar system, and therefore Earth and every living thing on it, is made up of recycled star corpses and is fueled by star poop.
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    It may also be worth noting that the mass of all life on Earth is a tiny fraction of the total mass of the planet. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but it is probably about 1/10,000,000,000th of the mass of the Earth (give or take a factor of 10 or more either way!) Although it would be more meaningful to compare the mass of carbon, for example, tied up in organisms compared to the total.

    Quote Originally Posted by Daecon View Post
    Not only that, but all the material on Earth that goes into making up life - carbon, oxygen, calcium, iron, etc, etc. were themselves created inside an even older star that exploded.
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    Generally speaking, everything is an arrangement or configuration of elements, shaped by the environment, which the thing is itself a part of.

    Life rearranges molecules, the tree rearranges molecules within reach and transforms it into a tree, the elephant rearranges the trees/plant molecules he eats into an elephant, some of the elephants molecules are rearranged by bacterias or virus and all of the elephant is rearranged/recycled when it dies, some of which will be rearranged by plants, which eventually might provide food for a new elephant.

    We are fortunate to be on earth, because we have a rich array of possible complex organized configurations of matter, if we were asteroid molecules in space, there would be not much variety in molecular configurations, and we would not be even wondering about it, since we would be relatively inert and unable to perceive the environment like animals can.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daecon View Post
    Not only that, but all the material on Earth that goes into making up life - carbon, oxygen, calcium, iron, etc, etc. were themselves created inside an even older star that exploded.

    Our solar system, and therefore Earth and every living thing on it, is made up of recycled star corpses and is fueled by star poop.

    Technical jargon, carbon is created from the special triple alpha process... Discovered by the late Fred Hoyle.
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