Spark of life theory

Galvani frog legs 1971
An illustration, from the 2011 Time Magazine article section "Electricity Crackles to Life", showing Italian Luigi Galvani conducting 1791 experiments of the ability of sparks or electricity to produce movement in dead matter (what he termed as "animal electricity"); a further perusal of his 1771 discovery that dead frog legs can be made to twitch when connected to an metal-junction type of electrochemical circuit (frog legs suspended by copper hooks on an iron rail, the arc or switch made by touching a scalpel of the foot to the rail). [6]
In life theories, spark of life theory refers to the premise that one particular second in past history of the formation of the solar system, in the context of the nebular hypothesis, an electrical spark put into, engendered, or created in some type of primordial matter brought about the first life form.

There seems to be two distinct versions of the spark of life theory, one holding that the first form of life came into existence following “one spark” or on one particular "spark day"; the other holding that life came into existence or rather emerged as some would to label things, following prolonged sparking.

The spark of life theory is nearly similar to the lightening origin of life theory, except that the latter holds that life was created following a long period of electrical activity due to atmospheric lightening. A precursor to the spark theory of life was the gunpowder theory of life.

In 1771 (or 1776), as the story goes, Italian physician-physicist Luigi Galvani (1737-1789) was slowly skinning a frog at a table where he had been conducting experiments with static electricity by rubbing frog skin. Galvani's assistant touched an exposed sciatic nerve of the frog with a metal scalpel, which picked up a charge. At that moment, they saw sparks and the dead frog's leg kick as if in life. The observation made Galvani the first investigator, supposedly, to make an experimental connection between electricity and animation (or life). This finding provided the basis for the new understanding that electrical energy (carried by ions), and not air or fluid as in earlier balloonist theories, is the impetus behind muscle movement.

In more detail, a series of experiments, Galvani, working at the University of Bologna, found that the electric current delivered by a Leyden jar or a rotating static electricity generator would cause the contraction of the muscles in the leg of a frog and many other animals, either by applying the charge to the muscle or to the nerve. In the strange case of Galvani's frog, this twitching happened even when its legs were not in a direct circuit with the machine. Galvani had placed the lower section of a dissected frog on a table near a plate-type electrical machine.

Then two things occurred simultaneously causing Galvani to stop and wonder. An assistant was drawing a spark from the brass conductor of the electrical machine when a knife held in his hand touched the crural or sciatic nerve passing through the lower part of the spine into the frog's legs. There was an immediate twitch of the muscles and a kick of the legs as if a severe cramp had set in. Galvani wrote: [5]

"While one of those who were assisting me touched lightly, and by chance, the point of his scalpel to the internal crural nerves of the frog, suddenly all the muscles of its limbs were seen to be so contracted that they seemed to have fallen into tonic convulsions."
Frankenstein (Berni Wrightson)
The 1983 Berni Wrightson depiction of frankenstein: a body brought to life (reanimated) via electricity. [12]

Galvani’s so-called animal electricity theory and experiments, as they came to be known, later served as the basis to Mary Shelley's famous 1818 story of Frankenstein, about a deanimated-body-part assembled human brought to life by electricity, the decisive moment of life creation by spark being as follows: [8]

"I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. … By the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs."

Shelley’s story emerged amid heated disputes among London physicians over the nature of life itself. Against the view of mechanists and materialists, who argued life could be reduced to the complex organization of physiology, vitalists asserted that some other force or spirit must be superadded to bodies to achieve living animation. [9]

Vitalist John Abernethy thus declared, "The phaenomena of electricity and of life correspond." [10]

To support their case, vitalists often pointed to the "animal electricity" of Galvani. Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, however, rejected Galvani’s claim that such animal electricity was a distinctive form of electricity, and simulated it by bringing different metals into contact in moisture, thus contributing to his invention of the "voltaic pile" or battery. Volta’s experiments troubled vitalist accounts, but dramatic experiments supported them. [9]

In London in 1803, and again in Scotland in 1818, experimenters charged the bodies of dead criminals with electricity to witness astonishing convulsions and spasms, suggesting electricity was essential to life: "[E]very muscle in his countenance was simultaneously thrown into fearful action: fear, horror, despair, and ghastly smiles, united their expression in the murderer’s face, surpassing far the wildest representations of a Fuseli or a Kean." [11]

The dominate version of the spark of life theory, however, seems to have been first put forward in an 1871 letter from Englishman naturalist Charles Darwin to botanist Joseph Hooker, wherein Darwin made the suggestion that: [1]

“The original spark of life may have begun in a warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, lights, heat, electricity, etc. present, so that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes.”
Miller-Urey experiment
The 1952 warm pond experiment of American chemists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey, according to which the so-called "components" of life can be synthesized from simple inorganic components, following several days of "sparking". [7]

The 1952 Urey-Miller experiment famously tested the spark of life theory, the results of which showed that sparks ignited in a chemical broth, over several days, could make amino acids.

The 2000 book The Spark of Life: Darwin and the Primeval Soup, by Christopher Willis and Jeffrey Bada, which originated from a 1998 origin of life symposium, seems to give a cogent history of the spark of life theory. [2]

In the 2010 book The Universe, God, and Us, American writer Provident Peterson outlines a real screwy theory—a mixture of God, the periodic table, with focus on a special type of God-infused carbon atom, which he calls the alpha—in which hydrogen reacted with other hydrogen atoms, following the Big Bang, forming all the elements of the periodic table and various other larger molecules, such as water, and that eventually, through the interactions of heat and gravity, a chemical soup of all known elements and water, in the state of chaotic reactions, had formed on the surface of the earth, after which “one specific element resulted in the first spark of life” to eventually evolve to create the “human molecule”. [3]

The central difficulty with the so-called "spark" theory is that it implies perpetual motion or rather perpetual motion of the living kind in the sense that once the spark kicks the one specific primeval reaction past the activation energy point that the so-called "organic reaction" takes off on its own, no longer needing the spark or electricity to keep it going, jumps into the phase of Darwinian evolution, and acquires a form of "self drive" or "self motion", all of which is incongruent and hence resultantly, following prolonged introspection, a defunct theory (see: defunct theory of life).

1. Darwin, Charles. (1871). “Letter to Joseph Hooker”, in: The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Including an Autobiographical Chapter, Vol 3. (pg. 18). John Murray.
2. Willis, Christopher and Bada, Jeffrey. (2000). The Spark of Life: Darwin and the Primeval Soup. Oxford University Press.
3. Peterson Jr., Provident G. (2010). The Universe, God, and Us (human molecule, pgs. 38, 55). Dorrance Publishing Co.
4. (a) Thims, Libb. (2007). Human Chemistry (Volume One) (pgs. 214, 248). Morrisville, NC: LuLu.
(b) Luigi Galvani – Wikipedia.
5. Luigi Galvani –
6. Staff. (2011). Time: 100 Ideas that Changed the World: Histories Greatest Breakthroughs, Inventions, and Theories (#45: Electricity Crackles to Life, pgs. 64-65). Time, Inc.
7. Miller-Urey experiment – Wikipedia.
8. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, ed. J. Paul Hunter (New York & London: Norton, 1996), p. 34.
9. Werrett, Simon. (2008/09). “Sparks of Life”, Cabinet Magazine Online, Winter.
10. John Abernethy, An Enquiry into the Probability and Rationality of Mr. Hunter’s Theory of Life (London: Longman et al.,1814), p. 42.
11. Andrew Ure, quoted in Iwan Rhys Morus, "Galvanic Cultures: Electricity and Life in the Early Nineteenth Century," Endeavour, 1998, vol. 22, no. 1, p. 8.
12. Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein – Wikipedia.

TDics icon ns

More pages