The Meaning of Life
Chapter Five: Power
All life on Earth runs on a chemical that very few people learn about or understand. It is called ‘adenosine triphosphate’ or ‘ATP.’ ATP is an electrolyte, which means it is capable of producing electricity. Our bodies have many processes that work off of electricity (muscles, for example, are electrical). They also have many electro-chemical processes (the process of ‘thinking’ and transmission of nerve impulses are electro-chemical) and many pure endothermic (energy using) chemical processes. Every single one of them uses ATP to provide the energy.
ATP is called the ‘energy currency’ of living things on Earth. It is the thing our bodies run on; it is the same energy source that all Earth life—from the simplest algae to the most intelligent humans—run on.
Living organisms manufacture their own ATP. There are several different ways of making it. If oxygen is available, mitochondria can turn glucose (a simple sugar that comes from food) into energy-containing ATP with amazing efficiency. In fact, the ‘Krebs cycle’ that turns glucose into electricity is one of the most efficient electricity producing processes known, turning the latent energy in the glucose into electricity at an efficiency rate of more than 98%. (By contrast, nuclear and coal fired power plants have efficiency rates of about 25%.)
Living things that don’t utilize oxygen still use ATP to generate the electricity and power the chemical processes that their lives depend on. However, the ATP processes for non-oxygen using beings are far less efficient, allowing the being to utilize only about 3% of the latent energy content of whatever food they consume.
The energy-generating and utilization processes of life are truly amazing. Few doctors learn about them, however, because they are basically foolproof: for practical purposes, they never fail. Because of this, there is no reason for doctors to learn about them. These processes power all life on Earth, from the simplest blue-green algae, to the most intelligent human beings. They are so incredibly well organized and synergistic that I don’t see how anyone who understands them could believe they came from random processes. The ATP/energy processes positively reek of intelligent design, and imply that intelligent beings worked out the principles of energy transfer within living things, and then built the best energy transfer systems they could devise. In my mind, some of the strongest evidence for panspermia comes from an understanding of this process.
Electricity and the Body
In the video to the right, you can see what happens to the muscles in a frog’s leg when electricity is applied: they contract. The higher the voltage (the more energy supplied) the more force the contractions have. Muscles are electrical devices that do mechanical work. The more electricity they have, the more work they will do.
You can see by the video that the electricity can’t possibly be stimulating the frog’s body to do something that causes the muscle to contract, because there is no frog’s body, just the leg. You can find many videos where the outer covering of the muscles are removed and the muscles are stimulated directly with electricity. The muscles contract. The frog doesn’t have to be alive for this to happen. It is very clear that muscles are electrical devices. There is no magic essence that causes frog muscles to move; science can explain everything that happens.
This is not just true for frogs. It is true for all living things, including you. When you move your arm, your body is sending electricity to the muscles, causing them to contract. When you breathe, your body is sending electricity to the lung muscles, causing them to change their shape in ways that make your lungs larger and smaller. When your heart beats, electricity goes to a variable-speed electrical pump that is capable of reacting within seconds to any additional need for energy or oxygen.
Where does the electricity come from?
This is where ATP comes in. Let’s trace the process from beginning to end:
It starts when you eat food. I want to start with the simplest possible case, so let’s say you are eating something which the body breaks down into basically pure glucose, white bread. Say you eat 100 grams of white bread, introducing 100 grams of glucose into your system. Glucose is a tiny, tiny molecule and can easily go through the walls of the intestine into the bloodstream. (It gets some help from an enzyme called amalyze, which causes it to move into the blood faster than anything else that you eat.) A few minutes after you swallow the bread, your blood glucose level will increase. (You can check this with a blood glucose meter that you can get from any drug store.)
As your blood glucose level rises, your body secretes insulin, a hormone. When cells need glucose (when their glucose level is low), they cover their outer shells with an enzyme that attracts the insulin. The insulin attaches to these enzymes and creates a sort of gate that allows the glucose to get through the cell wall into the cell. As your cells soak up glucose, your blood glucose level drops. Once the cells have enough glucose, they signal the insulin to drop off. (A lot of complex chemical things happen to make this all work, but these things are not important to the story here.)
The body stores the glucose in a kind of protein container called ‘glycogen.’ I like to think of glycogen as a tiny, thin net bag like the bag that we get onions in. Each ‘bag’ can hold about 50,000 molecules of glucose. Each of your cells has thousands of these ‘bags of glucose’ in them. These are the stored energy of the cells, to be used when the cells need energy.
Each of your cells also has thousands of mitochondria in them. They also have a tiny amount of stored ATP in them, to use for immediate energy needs. Because ATP molecules are quite large, and take up a lot of space, the cell’s don’t store any more than they will need in the next few seconds. If the ATP levels drop below a certain point, this triggers the mitochondria to start producing more.
They produce electricity through a process called the ‘Krebs Cycle,’ after Thomas Krebs, its discoverer.
The cycle is never ending so we need to pick a random place to eneter it in order to explain it. We will start at the point where the mitochondria manufacture ATP. They basically take resedule of past reactions, which means ADP (adenosine diphosphate, the same molecule with one less phosphate group) and a phosphate group. Then they put them back together to make ATP. (You will see where this ‘residue’ comes from shortly).
Since all of the cells of your body use energy all the time, the mitochondria produce ATP all day long. Each pound of ATP will release roughly 11 watt/hours of electricity when it breaks down into ADP (adenosine diphosphate, the same molecule with one less phosphate group) and a phosphate group. (This is about the same energy content as 20 standard AA batteries.) The mitochondria get the energy to recombine the ADP and phosphate group by breaking glucose down into water and carbon doxide, using oxygen as an oxidizer. The glucose originates from planets, which manufacture it using photosynthesis, starting with the same water and carbon dioxide that your body releases when it metabolizes the glucose.
The ATP is electrically unstable. It wants to release a phosphate group and, in the process, release its electrical energy. But various enzymes in your muscle cells act as insulators and put themselves between the ATP molecule and the working nodules within the muscle cell. This prevents the electricity from flowing and prevents the chemical change. (Basically, this is like turning off the switch of a flashlight: the switch creates an air gap which the electricity can’t pass, so the batteries can’t break down and produce electricity.)
Let’s say we are talking about a leg muscle and you decide to move the leg. Your brain sends an electrical signal down to the leg muscle. This signal tells the enzymes that insulate the ATP to move out of the way, and they do so. This is the same as turning on a switch of a flashlight: if you turn on the switch, a copper bar comes down across the air gap, allowing the electricity to flow. As soon as your muscle nodules get the electricity, they contract, making the muscle shorter. Since the muscle is attached to bones that are jointed, the contraction causes your leg to move.
As the ATP releases its energy, it changes itself to a less-energetic form: it is now one molecule of ADP (adenosine diphosphate) with a phosphate group nearby. The mitochondria now soak up this ADP and phosphate group. The mitochondria take a glucose molecule and some oxygen (which comes to them through the blood from hemoglobin) and use the energy in the glucose to recombine the ADP and phosphate group to form another molecule of ATP. If you want to keep moving your leg (say you are running), this ATP powers the running motion.
Because the manufacture of ATP requires oxygen, as soon as you start moving your muscles your cells will signal your heart and lungs to speed up, to provide the additional oxygen needed to metabolize the glucose. If you operate your muscles for a long time (say you are running a marathon), your cells will go through their stored glycogen in about 20 minutes.
Runners know this and can take steps to make it last longer. One common step is called ‘carbohydrate loading,’ which involves consuming large amounts of glucose-rich food to saturate the cells with glycogen. If you do this, then run until you feel pain, then carbohydrate load again and do it again, and keep doing it, day after day, your cells will start to learn that your normal activities require more than the normal amount of glycogen. They will start to increase the glycogen they store, allowing you to run longer before the pain starts. If you do this long enough (it make take several years) you will eventually be able to run an entire marathon (26 miles), without pusing your muscles so hard you damage them.
After that, your muscles will send signals to your brain that tell them they are malnourished and you should slow down. Your body interprets these signals as pain, which increases in intensity.
The body is an amazing machine. Your mind can overpower your pain and you can work through it. This appears to be an evolutionary necessity: if you have to stop running from a predator when your body runs out of glycogen, you will be easy prey. If you keep running, your body will look for ATP from other sources to power the movement. Of course, it will begin a transfer of glucose from other cells that don’t need it as badly to the leg muscles. But this transfer takes a lot of time.
Each day, your body produces roughly its own weight in ATP by this method. It doesn’t create new ATP, it recycles it, reattaching the ADP and phosphate group to create the higher-energy ATP. If you weigh 150 pounds, your body produces about 150 pounds of ATP a day. Because each pound can produce 11 watt hours of electricity per day, your body has a maximum potential of about 1,650 watt hours, or 1.65 KWH of electricity per day. (It doesn’t produce this much, of course, because the ATP also powers electro-chemical and pure chemical reactions; if all its energy were used for electricity, your body would have about this capability.)
The energy used to make this ATP comes from the food you eat. If you eat a diet that is high in glucose (lots of potatoes, rice, and bread), your body can get enough glucose for this energy directly from your food, without having to ‘process’ anything you eat. If you eat a diet that does not have a lot of glucose in it, your body must turn whatever you eat into glucose before it can use the Krebs Cycle to produce ATP. For example, if you eat a diet that is high in fructose, the body will convert the fructose to glucose, then use the glucose. (Fructose is a kind of twin to glucose: it has the same number of atoms of each kind and same configuration, bit it spirals the other way, making it a kind of mirror image.)
Each time the mitochondria breaks down a glucose molecule, gets enough energy to manufacture 4 ATP molecules (recombining 4 ADP molecules with phosphates). It needs 6 atoms of oxygen to make this happen. The oxygen comes from the air; you breathe it in, it gets into the hemoglobin and is transported to the cells through the blood system. After the mitochondria is through, it ends up with 6 molecules of water (H20) and 6 molecules of carbon dioxide (CO2). The carbon dioxide is transported back to the lungs through the blood; when you exhale, it goes into the atmosphere. The water gets transported to the kidneys, which remove it as urine.
Not all of your body’s processes are entirely electrical. Some are electro-chemical. For example, nerves use a very complicated system that transfers signals through the interiors of nerve cells electrically, but then between nerve cells chemically. Nerve cells are very long and skinny, so most of the transfer is electricity. The connections, or synapses, often involve connections of many different nerve cells at the same time. Various chemicals block the connection to the neurons where the signal is not supposed to go, and enable the connections where the energy is supposed to go, causing the signal to go the right place.
Here is a link to an article that explains the way this process works. If you want a very detailed description of this process, Francis Crick’s book, the Astonishing Hypothesis,’ describes the workings of the brain and nervous system in electro-mechanical terms, with many details and references.
Some of our processes are entirely chemical. If your body needs heat, it can use the ATP to cause muscles to use energy in opposition to each other. Since the muscles can’t move, but the energy is expended, the result is heat. (Think of shivering, an extreme example of this.)
Your body also has to reproduce. When DNA divides, it needs energy to support the processes. The energy comes from ATP. Here is a link to an article that explains the way the way ATP works to energize the splitting and reproduction of DNA.
Books in this series
This book is a part of a series of four books about the important realities of human existence. They are:
1. Forensic History: uses new scientific tools and information sources to reconstruct the series of events that put the human race on the path it is now on. It explains how the realities of human existence came to be as they are. It focuses on the events led to the existence of the power structures that dominate the world today, including the entities called 'nations,' organized religions, and the massive and extremely powerful entities we call 'corporations.' These entities did not appear by magic. They came to exist as a result of decisions people made in the past. If we want to understand the realities of human existence, we have to understand who made these decisions, why they were made, and how the decisions made in the past have led to the realities that we see around us.
2. Possible Societies goes over the capabilities of the human race and the limitations we have for organizing the realities of our existence. It is an attempt to categorize all possible methods of organizing human existence—or all possible societies—in a methodological and organized way. Once we understand the different options we have for organizing societies, we can go over them to determine which of the options are able to meet our needs without constant problems such as war and unnecessary environmental destruction.
3. Reforming Societies: We were born onto a world that was organized in a very dangerous way. It was cut up with imaginary lines into the entities we call 'nations.' Each nation had formed a government which claimed that everything within that nation belonged to the people who were born inside the imaginary lines. Any society built on this foundation necessarily has very serious problems, which include powerful forces these entities surrounded by imaginary lines to engage in activities that are the most horrific destructive within the capability of any physical beings with the power to think on a rational level. The pressure to perform these horrible acts is so powerful that the industries devoted to war and the support of war, combined, make up the largest industries on Earth: More wealth, manpower, effort, skills, talents, capital, and resources are devoted to organized mass murder and destruction than any other activity on the planet. People have gone as far as building weapons that will destroy the planet if used and actually deployed these weapons, making them ready for instant use if certain circumstances arise. Given enough time, these circumstances are certain to arise.
What if we—the current members of the human race—decide we don't like these particular realities of existence? What if we decide we want some other destiny for our race (than extinction)? It is possible to organize the realities of our world in different ways. (Even children should realize this: humans need food, water, air, sleep, and protection from the elements; the imaginary lines that cut the world into 'nations' don't give us any of these things.)
But is it possible to actually build them?
If we know other methods of organizing the realities of human existence are possible, we can work out the exact structural differences between the realities of these other societies and the current realities of human existence.
We can figure out practical steps to take to change the form of ('reform') other societies. It explains the exact practical steps that ordinary people like you and I can take to put the human race on a path to one of these societies, if we should decide we want to do this.
4. The Meaning of Life explains why this matters. The societies we were born into must raise children to think a certain way so they will be willing to sacrifice for and participate in the wars that are an inherent part of societies built on the division of the world into 'nations.' To make them willing to participate, they must raise children to believe that there is a higher purpose behind the wars and behind the existence of the nations: They must make children believe that they were born to and exist to protect their nations, to respect the claimed founding principles, to honor the nation and, through ceremonies that all children are taught in schools, to even worship the nation, in the same way they are taught to worship the higher power that they were told created the nation. To make them do the horrible things that people must do to have wars, they must make children believe that this is the meaning of life and the reason they were born.
New scientific evidence is allowing us to put together messages that are encoded in our DNA and evident from the structures that are necessary for the process we call 'life' to exist in ways that can show us that there are scientifically acceptable and mathematically likely explanations for the existence of life on Earth that totally conflict with the premises taught to keep people willing to fight, kill, maim, cripple, destroy, risk and accept death for the benefits of the entities called 'nations.' If we accept science, logic, and reason, we can put together a picture of the meaning of existence that can help us see that the claimed reasons for existence that have been taught in schools and accepted for thousands of years are basically propaganda, created for the express purpose of allowing rationalization of horrific acts. If they could put together some rational picture of the reason we are here, people would not be willing to do the things that they spend their lives doing today.
What if we find there is a real meaning to our existence and it has nothing whatever to do with worshiping invisible superbeings or protecting nations? The entire rationalization for dividing the world into 'nations' and making war basically disappears. We must accept that the realities of existence on Earth are as they are because people made certain decisions. These people are no longer alive. We are here. We can make our own decisions. We can decide where we want to go from here and begin going there.