Gosta Ehrensvard

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In existographies, Gosta Ehrensvard (45 BE-25 AE) (1910-1980 ACM) (IQ:#|#) (CR:3) (LH:5) (TL:8) was a Swedish biochemist, physiologist, and count, noted for his 1960 postulate that: "life is older than organisms".


In 1960, Ehrensvard, in his Life: Origin and Development, §5: Life, Overview, begins by talking about the ‘potentialities of matter’, ‘chemical alertness’ (or sensitivity to intervals), and how humans, as evolved things, have developed ‘time-consciousness’, then describes (pg. 56) the problem of the origin of life as follows:

“The question has a certain weightiness. Are we seeking a way to reconstruct a moment of dramatic force, to see before us and accumulation of inorganic material and primitive carbon compounds, the raw material of life, in a limited region, all prepared for a sublime transformation into the first living premortal cell, the descendants of which shall populate the earth? A moment when a balanced combination of the proper ingredients happens to be subjected to the proper ‘pressure’, the proper temperature, the appropriate circumstances for the spontaneous formation of a primitive cellular material with the ability to reproduce itself in a world of simple and uncomplicated substrates ? Such an attempt to see the origin of life as something fixed to a particular occurrence puts us in a difficult situation.”

Then after dismissing the ‘divine power’ origin of life theory, he talks about the interplanetary spore theory origin of life of Svante Arrhenius, then jumps (pgs. 57-59) to the following:

“The more we think about the consequences of life on earth starting at a ‘certain point’, at a certain ‘moment’, the more we begin to realize that we must resort to help from outside, so to speak, to get anywhere, which means that the problem is no longer one problem. We simply put the question completely aside, accept the consequences of a cosmic intervention or an infection from goodness knows where, and with that settle don in peace. At the same time, we have a definite feeling that the obstacle to the formation of the problem is that we unconsciously introduced into the whole an idea of a ‘beginning’, a starting ‘point’, a ‘lifting’ of the curtain.

How could it be if we, only as an experiment, ventured upon an utterly opposite conception namely that life has ALWAYS existed on earth, ever since the formation of the planet about 5-billion-years ago? At first we might dismiss the whole idea. We can, as a matter of fact, postulate with a certain probability that the surface of the earth 5-billion-years ago was composed of mainly inorganic compounds of a lower degree of complexity plus some 2-atom, perhaps 3-atom carbon compounds of relatively simple structure. Three of four billion years later, we suddenly find fully developed organisms, floating in the seas, slowly crawling in the lagoons along the shore, searching, irritable, pulsating with ‘life’. Is the contrast too great?

As we perhaps so bound by our conception of life as something connected only with ‘organisms in motion’, and activity, that we cannot grasp another aspect, that the manifold activities of the organisms are a ‘reflex reaction’ to something that has existed since the beginning of time, something that gives us a common denominator for planetary material of a couple of billion years ago and the same material in our own time?

If we pursue this idea, we find that it is not at all some kind of metaphysical speculation, but instead a very realistic starting point for further analysis. This is what we had in mind, perhaps unconsciously, since we began to observe life both from a distance as a system and in detail as living cells. The path that leads to the origin of cells in our meaning, via something involving a ‘moment’ and their development, seems to be closed. The other path is open for analysis. It involves reconstructing the transformations of the earliest carbon material between separate loci of destruction and recombination, later leading to a flux of more complicated material between chemically opposite poles, from which something is gradually formed which gradually becomes what today we recognize as cells—in other words, as analysis that is based on the postulate that: ‘life is older than organisms’.

We can formulate a working hypothesis something like this: the system we see today of carbon compounds and constant turnover between the depots of inorganic carbon dioxide, plant life, animal life, and back again existed much earlier in another form, long before organisms entered the picture further, the opposite poles in the process were other than they are now; the ‘process’ is the primary factor. The development and the structure of the participating units are secondary, something that evolved during the course of the process and lead gradually to a flux of participating units, where we recognize cells in our meaning.

An investigation along these lines has some possibilities worth utilizing. We can start with a discussion of life an organisms in the Cambrian., about 500-million-years before our own time . Further back, we shall see how far we can push an analysis of conditions at the more remote time when organisms actually existed, morphologic characteristics that we now recognize in fossils from the Cambrian . Then we can start a reconstruction of the transformations of the organic carbon material during the eons that passed after the planet was formed out of dust and fire until the time when we against the organisms in the Cambrian seas. It is a reconstruction with many weak features, but undoubtedly with the same positive points.”

This notion that the "manifold activities of the organisms are a ‘reflex reaction’ to something [?] that has existed since the beginning of time", is interesting.

C12:C13 | Life ratio theory?

Ehrensvard, in his §6: Beyond the Horizon chapter, attempts a semi-interesting "carbon-that-has-been-alive" vs "carbon-that-has-never-been-alive" theory to explain life, origin of life, or pre-origin of life, based on the fact that measured C12:C13 isotope ratios differ depending upon what structure the carbon has been part of, as seen from the big picture of carbon cycles in the long-term geologic cycles of the elements of the earth. Ehrensvard says that the average C12:C13 ratio is 90-91, and gives the following table:

C12 : C13
Carbon Meteorite 89.0 91.8
Inorganic 88.0 89.8 Carbonate from marine organisms
Organic 90.0 94.0 Land plants, marine organisms, and fossil non-carbonate carbon
The basic animated[1] structure of the C12 isotope of the element carbon, an atom comprised of 6 protons and 6 neutrons, confined to a central region called the nucleus, surrounded by 6 electrons, with 2 electrons rotating in an inner orbital (s orbital), and 4 electrons rotating in an outer orbital (p orbital); which, when combined, form a four-pronged so-called sp3 orbital hybridization. The C13 isotope of carbon, is the same, only with it has 7 neutrons in the nucleus.

He then says the following:

“The criterion for carbon material having been involved in life at some time, in our day or earlier, should thus be that its C12:C13 ratio deviates somewhat from the average, which seems to lie around 90-91. This latter ratio should thus actually be exhibited only by carbon material that has never passed through one or more revolutions in the carbon dioxide cycle. An ingenious way of proving this is to analyze the C12:C13 ratio in carbon material from meteorites, the material from our planetary systems stock of pebbles circling around in definite orbits, occasionally being swept up by the earth's for subtraction. since one has good grounds for believing that the carbon of meteorite material has never been involved in any vital process, it's C12:C13 ratio should be able to serve as a norm for ‘carbon-that-has-never-been-alive’. Here we have a standard.”
— Gosta Ehrensvard (1960), Life: Origin and Development (pg. 81)

He continues:

“Thus, we should have a chance of discerning something of life in pre-Cambrian times. Carbon material from this epoch, isotopically-dated as to its environment, should, with the aid of the isotopic ratio C12:C13, be able to yield information on its previous history: whether it represents carbon that was in circulation in the cycle of life in that far distant., or whether it was outside this cycle. In the latter case, the ratio should be around 90; And the former, either in the region of 91-93 or 88-90.”
— Gosta Ehrensvard (1960), Life: Origin and Development (pg. 81)

Here, the notion of a "carbon" atom, which is but a spacetime geometry of 6 protons, 6 neutrons, and 6 electrons, that HAS been "alive", vs a carbon atom, of presumably the same spacetime geometry of protons, neutrons, and electrons, that has NEVER been alive, regardless of whether or not we are talking about the C12 isotope or the C13 isotope (which differs by one neutron), is very hilarious, to say the least!

We might well classify this Ehrensvard C12:C13 ratio origin of life theory, with the 1990s "chirality origin of life theory"[2], the latter of which holds that because proteins today exclusively implement the left-handed form of amino acids, that some time in the past, "life formed" and either co-terminally, shortly before or after, left-handed molecules were selected for its architecture.[3]


Ehrensvard completed his PhD in physiological chemistry in 1942, with a thesis on “A Physico-Chemical Overview of the Primary Processes involved in influencing Chemoreceptors”, at Stockholm University College.[4] Thereafter, he was a professor of biochemistry and or medicinal chemistry at Karolinska Institute (1948), Stockholm University College (1950), and Lund University (1956).



Ehrensvard was influenced by: Alexander Oparin, John Bernal, and Harold Blum.


Ehrensvard influenced: Klaus Mosbach, his student, and Dean Wooldridge, who cites him.


Quotes | By

The following are quotes by Ehrensvard:

“Even the most unpretentious demands for completeness and exactness in a comprehensive treatment of the concept of life and its origin would result in a handbook of innumerable volumes.”
— Gosta Ehrensvard (1960), Life: Origin and Development (pg. v)
Life is older than organisms.”
— Gosta Ehrensvard (1960), Life: Origin and Development (pg. 59) [5]

End matter


  1. Carbon – Giphy.com.
  2. Bailey, Jeremy. (2000). “Chirality and the Origin of Life” (abs), Acta Astronautica, 46(10-12):627-31, Jun.
  3. Meierhenrich, Uwe. (2008). Amino Acids and the Asymmetry of Life: Caught in the Act of Formation (GB). Springer.
  4. Ehrensvard, Gosta. (1942). “A Physico-Chemical Overview of the Primary Processes involved in influencing Chemoreceptors. Some Experimental Contributions. Attempt a Theory” (Über die primärvorgänge bei chemozeptorenbeeinflussung, eine physikalisch-chemische übersicht. Einige experimentelle beiträge. Versuch einer theorie). Stockholm.
  5. Ehrensvard, Gosta. (1960). Life: Origin and Development (Liv: Ursprung och utformning) (pg. 59). University of Chicago Press, 1962.

Further reading

  • Gosta, Ehrensvard. (1965). Man on Another World. Chicago.
  • Ehrensvard, Gosta. (1971). We and They: Molecules and Life in the Cosmos (Vi och de: molekyler och liv i kosmos) (editors: Gosta Ehrensvard and Jan Stenflo). Publisher.
  • Ehrensvard, Gosta. (1973). Living Matter: What is Life? What is Biochemistry? (Levande materia: vad är liv? vad är biokemi?) Publisher.

External links

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