PZ takes on Jordan Peterson and Richard Dawkins!

I made a video about that recent conversation between Jordan Peterson and Richard Dawkins. I skip right over the blatant transphobia to tear into Peterson’s inane comments about pharmaceuticals, entwined snakes, and his ability to view molecules with his mind.

Transcript below the fold.

Hey, friends…

Jordan Peterson is rising up in the public experience once again. I noticed because, strangely, comments have been increasing on some of my old videos about Peterson…people are searching on his name on YouTube, finding me, and taking a moment to tell me I’m an idiot. Apparently, he’s on a speaking tour again, not that I care, and he’s reaching out to engage familiar public figures, most of whom I despise. But he also had a conversation with Richard Dawkins, whose contributions to the public understanding of science I can respect, despite our deep disagreements on matters of social justice. I had to listen to that.

It was painful. It begins with Peterson and Dawkins patting each other on the back, congratulating themselves on their efforts to smack down the uppity transgender folks, and Peterson once again claiming that he opposed Canadian bill C16 because it “compelled speech”, which it did not. I’ll just note that it passed 5 years ago, in 2017, and so far nobody has been arrested and imprisoned for using the incorrect pronoun. I would have thought that kind of empirical evidence would matter to two scientists, but no…

If you get past that horrible opening, and I wouldn’t blame you if you cannot, you enter Peterson’s world, in which his is the only voice that matters. It’s remarkable because here he is in a conversation with Richard Dawkins, a scientist with far greater prestige than he has, and he completely dominates the discussion. Dawkins can hardly get a word in edgewise, and Peterson dictates the topics and goes on long, wordy excursions. It rarely approaches the level of a conversation because Peterson is manic and weirdly discursive. One of the problems with that, for Peterson, is that he exposes his own weird vision of reality. It confirms for me the fact that Peterson is totally demented, an obscure pedant with a distorted version of reality so extreme that he tends to vanish up his own butt at times.

I’ve pulled out a short segment of that discussion to illustrate that point. It’s pretty much a verbatim excerpt taken from the video I’ll link to below, starting at about the 38 minute mark. Did I tell you this is from an hour and a half long video?


P: The world tree is a vision of the microcosm to the macrocosm. The tree is used as a metaphor for that and so a proto-scientific idea, intuition of the idea that there’s a a kind of dimension that constitutes zooming in on things right to the smallest possible level of apprehension and zooming out to the most general level of apprehension, dust particles to cosmos let’s say, well, psychedelics seem to expand that capacity so that consciousness can move up and down layers of apprehension that aren’t available to consciousness under its normal conditions and there there are good accounts of shamanic experiences. They’re very strange. They’re very well documented. The shamanic experience involves a death and then past the death the capacity to move up and down this microcosmic to macrocosmic realm in a way that doesn’t seem possible under conditions of normal consciousness and so…

D: We’re raveling around again…

I want to make a few comments about this section of the video.

First, boy, Peterson is a motor mouth. You can tell Dawkins is getting a bit exasperated when he points out that they’re “raveling around again”. You have to understand that Dawkins is extremely polite and reserved, and for him to make that mild objection is equivalent to me pulling out a cricket bat to pummel Peterson into silence.

Second, a Petersonian theme emerges. “Consciousness can move up and down layers of apprehension”, he says, that psychedelics enable you to view a greater range of the universe, from dust particles to cosmos. This could be a metaphor, I suppose, because it’s is definitely not literally true. But as we’ll see, Peterson takes this entirely literal. Psychedelic drugs equip your mind with an electron microscope and a radio telescope.

Third, he has a surprising, for someone who calls himself a scientist, disregard for what constitutes evidence. He claims shamanic experiences are well documented; sure, if what you mean is that it has been documented that shaman can take drugs and report unusual mental states. What is not well documented at all is that those states correspond to any kind of measurable reality.

So listen what happens after Dawkins suggests that he get back on track…

P: Well, the question is how far down the levels of analysis can consciousness go under extreme conditions and so and i said –this was speculation — but i’ve seen these dual, they’re often dual entwined serpents. They’re very common. In fact I have one made by an Indian carver, Canadian native carver in Maya. It’s so cool. it’s called a sea soodle [?]. I have it up in my third floor. It’s set on two totem poles. There’s a man in the middle. There’s a serpent on both side of him and I asked him what this image meant to his people because he’s still part of an unbroken tradition. He said they had a myth that something alien landed on the earth. It was this sea soodle object and that when it was rolling down the mountain that it landed on, it took the form of all the things that it encountered and so well like i said — this is in the realm of wild speculation, but i know what Crick thought about the origin of DNA. Well, he thought he thought it was too complex to have evolved…

D: oh obviously what do you mean you mean the idea of it coming from from elsewhere

Yeah, Peterson often goes off on these tangents about entwined snakes, a common symbol in human mythology, seen in many places around the world. It’s an interesting topic in art and mythology, except that Peterson poisons any conversation by ramping it right up to claiming it’s all about DNA. The double helix model of DNA was not discovered until the 1950s. The idea that DNA was a chemical that encoded patterns of inheritance was not recognized until the 1890s. Mendelian inheritance was not identified until the 1860s, and even then, it was ignored until 1900. You can’t claim that the shamans of the world, who have existed for at least tens of thousands of years, had some deep insight into these concepts — Mendel and Miescher and Watson and Crick were not led to their discoveries by psychedelic visions.

Another thing I want to point out is that word “speculation”. Peterson uses it a lot. Whenever he drifts off into credulous nonsense, he covers his butt by declaring that it’s “speculation”. Speculation is his get-out-of-jail-free card. He’s going to play it a lot.

Also, a bit of my own pedantry: the Crick and Orgel paper he’s mentioning did not claim that DNA was too complex to have evolved. They argued that DNA may have originated from elsewhere because of one, the universal genetic code implied a common origin for all life on earth, and two, that some enzymes require molybdenum, a relatively rare element, to function implied that they must have arisen on a planet with that element more common. Both of these are bad arguments, and I consider that a very bad paper that only got published because on of the authors had a Nobel prize. That doesn’t matter here, because clearly, Peterson never read it.

P:now i mean i know that’s an infinite regression

D: okay that’s what was…

P: okay so that was all

P: that was behind that you know bit of speculation which i normally would do

D: these coiling serpents…

OK, Dawkins got to say a few sentence fragments, Peterson tried to hide behind the “speculation” word, and then Dawkins gets to bring us back to Peterson’s snake fetish. Will we get any progress?

P: I think that under some conditions people can vision can expand to the point where they can see down into the micro level they can apprehend the micro level consciously.

D: You think that our consciousness can extend down to the micro level to the level…

P: I do.

D: …micro the micro micro micro level of DNA? Okay.

This is a key exchange. Peterson comes right out and says it, without calling it speculation, that he thinks people can “apprehend” the microsopic world at the level of DNA. “I do,” he says, without waffling. Does he appreciate that this is an insane claim? Dawkins accepts that Peterson believes this, but he really doesn’t believe it, as we’ll see.

Right here, Peterson has exposed himself as a nut, and a bad scientist, and a weird believer in supernatural powers that he cannot demonstrate. If I were Dawkins, I would have shut this down at this point, and said goodbye.

(Actually, if I were me, I would have shut it down in the first three minutes when Peterson made excuses for his transphobia.)

Let’s push on a little deeper, though…

P: Well, since we’re on this topic I have taken extremely high doses of psilocybin like four doses is enough basically to knock you out of your body. I wouldn’t recommend it casually. I took seven grams three times and I had this shamanic experience. It was unbelievable and i don’t even know…how I have no idea how to make sense…

D: Well, I believe that I could quite understand you have a most extraordinary experience. I’ve never taken such a drug but I could imagine the most remarkable experience, but you’ve just said that you think that your consciousness can see into your cells and see this, the structure of DNA. That has got to be utter nonsense. I’m sorry…

P: Well, it like I said I…I’m perfectly reasonable willing to admit forthrightly that that is a highly speculative idea…

D: Well, it is speculative, but it’s also got to be false.

P: Why?

Peterson tries to recover by bragging about his experiences with psilocybin. No. This doesn’t help his case. The question is whether the “shamanic experience” reveals anything about the nature of the universe, other than something about the sensitivity of brain function to exogenous chemicals. I’ve never taken psilocybin, but I still vividly remember getting a massive dose of ketamine in a clinic (I had a massive knee injury, and I think the doctor wanted to stop my screaming), and seeing the walls and ceiling melt. I don’t think think I discovered a deeper reality, that plaster and tile were actually liquid.

Dawkins gets strongly dismissive here. Peterson’s claim is “utter nonsense”. It’s false. Peterson tries to duck behind his magic shield of “speculation”, but has to ask why it’s false.

Unfortunately, Peterson is going to throw up a wall of word salad in a moment, so they don’t explore why it’s false. The reason it’s false is that there is no known mechanism for the operation of the normal brain, let alone a brain disrupted by excessive use of psychotropic drugs, to acquire new sensory processes. There is no evidence that drugs improve the ability of biochemists to perceive the structure of the materials they work with. Peterson doesn’t understand this, which is more evidence that he’s a clueless unscientific twit. He should at least understand that subjective experience is not good evidence of material knowledge at a molecular level.

P: Right no no and ferret[?]… look in all probability you’re right. Right? I mean we both wise enough to use Occam’s Razor, right? And so and I said that it’s funny that that particular statement got picked up because I think that was the most, what would you say…

D: …speculative…

P: intuit… idea that I’d ever uttered to my students.

Yes, well, fair enough. I mean I…I understand that…

P: …and so it’s strange to be in a position to defend it. I’m telling you why I was…why I made that but there was more to it than that, you know, because in this visionary experience I could feel my consciousness go down these levels of analysis and I could see things that they appeared to me in my field of imagination and I looked at them and I thought that looks a lot like DNA…

D: But you’re an educated man…

Peterson tries to have it both ways. He’s probably wrong. It was speculative (thank you, Dawkins, for providing the word). He knows he’s defending a strange position. But he also knows there is “more to it”, that he could feel these “levels of analysis”, and he saw these things in his imagination and it looked like DNA. But stop. Is this legitimate analysis? Can I scientist just take his subjective feelings, conditioned by prior experience, and insist that this is a legitimate position to take? Peterson is unable to look at his preconceptions and admit that his drug-addled experiences are not any kind of reasonable scientific analysis.

D: But you’re an educated man…

P: Yes.

D: who already knows about DNA.

P: Yes. These people didn’t know it was DNA.

D: It doesn’t surprise me in the least that you could have a visionary experience and think you see your DNA in your cells that of course is highly plausible, well…

P: Yes, because i already know about it.

D: Yes. What is not plausible is it somebody who does not know about it an…an ancient chinese sculptor whatever it was…

P: Yes.

D: …who who working long before watson and crick discovered the structure of dna…

P: …could possibly apprehend…

D: …that just isn’t…

P: Fair enough.

Dawkins makes the rational interpretation. His hallucinations were shaped by his prior knowledge. He learned nothing new, there was no novel knowledge about molecules from his experience, and people who didn’t have that prior knowledge didn’t have any real molecular revelations.

Peterson is in hasty retreat here. He knows that Dawkins is speaking sense, but he’s not going to change his mind. See where he says, “Fair enough” at the end? I think that’s Canadian for “agree to disagree.” It’s a coward’s way out, because, no, he doesn’t accept the rational explanation.

Time to deploy the salad shooter!

P: I guess i would only say in in in defense of that idea is that it is the case that consciousness can travel up and down levels of analysis in a real sense.

D: Yeeess…

P: It is not inconceivable that that’s not an expandable capacity under some circumstances, you know, because you’ve got to ask yourself like… I do yoga in the morning, a kundalini yoga exercise, and I… I’ve done it for about 20 years and I learned a long while back that when yogis are practicing their asanas, these positions, that’s not yoga. They practice the asanas because they’re postures that stretch you and then once they get to master them they basically do an exploration of their body for places of discomfort and use the asanas to heal, and you might say, well, what do you mean, heal, and well my experience is that if I move my head, for example down like this, I can…I’ll have a pain manifest itself in my back where I’m tight and then I can pay attention to that and loosen the musculature and then the pain will disappear and as I’ve been recovering from my last illness I’ve been doing this quite a bit because my body is full of knots and pain of all sorts and I can explore them and do something with them and I actually think we can also do that to each other to some degree we do that…massage therapists are very good at that. I think it’s part of an elaborated grooming knowledge, but what that means is that internally at least whatever my consciousness is can apprehend these places of trouble that are physiological and…

Fair enough, he says. But his final word on this topic is to announce that “consciousness can travel up and down levels of analysis in a real sense”. WHAT REAL SENSE? We can analyze abstractions at various levels, but that is an entirely different thing from doing detailed biochemical analyses at the level of atoms and molecules entirely with our mind. He gets a tentative, cautious word of agreement from Dawkins, but before anyone can question his claims further, he goes off on another long-winded tangent.

Look, this is why it’s not worthwhile to engage with Peterson. He’s a glue trap. He’s got nothing of substance to say, but he can say it for hours and hours, and he’s got these transparent rhetorical games he plays to get out of any objections anyone might propose, and most importantly, that he can use to avoid thinking critically about his own wacky ideas. He’s a theologian with delusions of grandeur who has conjured up his own mythos that he defends with slippery logic claims and an avoidance of any kind of empirical, objective evaluation.

Sadly, if you look at the comments on his videos, you’ll see he has a devout audience that ignores any of his idiocies and contradictions to worship him as a wise man. It’s dismaying. They’ve been fooled. It’s more evidence that he’s a religious con man dressed up as a scholar.

I hope that Dawkins has come away from this with the understanding that Peterson is no friend of science, that he’s got a skull full of mystical biases and that he, and anyone with any sense, ought to distance themselves from him. I fear, though, that he knows instead that they’ve got common ground in their bigotry and ill-informed dislike of trans people and new ideas and just any ideas about equality and historical inequities, and that that’s sufficient to be allies. Maybe my hopes will outweigh my fears, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Well, that was a depressing excursion into the realm of foolish old men (says an old man himself). I have more hope that these two will disappear into the rubbish bin of history thanks to all these good people who support me on Patreon, and the slow progress of science in better exposing our errors, fallacies, and prejudices. Yeah, we all have better things to do than listen to kooks like Peterson, but sometimes it is necessary to suffer a bit to address wrongs.

I do want to point out that I made it through this entire video without mentioning spiders once…crap. I blew it. Oh well. Really, I just wanted to get through this unpleasant experience so I could get outside and observe the blossoming spider population on this fine summer day anyway. I hope you all have a pleasant time in the natural world yourself, and while a few drugs are nothing objectionable, that you have a grand time without doping yourself with 7 grams of psilocybin. I think if nothing else that Peterson is a great Bad Example.


  1. birgerjohansson says

    Thank you for only showing excerpts. My brain kept trying to tear loose and escape through my ears.

    BTW the bit about viewing molecules directly is an idea he stole from Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen.
    It ocurred to me, listening to Petersen is a karmic punishment for Dawkins.

  2. birgerjohansson says

    Jeff Bezos has launched his Blue Dong again. I wish it would crash on top of Elon Musk. Now back to reading the latest comments about the Peterson/Dawkins video at Youtube.

  3. says

    I did some psychedelics 40-45 years ago, and I can definitely recognize the rant. The more obvious clues are the profound realization that the universe contains both the very big and the very small (all at once!) and convincing oneself that some ancient people understood scientific concepts hundreds or thousands of years ago.
    Oh, and sentence fragments as a way of communicating on some deeper, less literal level.
    Now, all these years later I do feel like I learned some things from my experiences with hallucinogens, just not what I thought I was learning at the time. I have a sense, I think, of the role the brain plays in constructing what we think of as external reality, the way it builds a model of a coherent world from the various sensory information. Drugs (and some other things) can mess with that modeling process and present you with a different world that’s still consistent, because it’s still based on the same input from the same external world. But it’s not a “deeper reality,” it’s just a different way of putting the sensory impressions together. And no, you don’t get freaking superpowers like microscopic vision or telescopic vision that can be tested and used for actual learning.
    As scientists know, that requires being bitten by some sort of radioactive creature, like say a spider, which gives you special spider powers, or a lawyer, which gives you power of attorney. Or so I heard.
    Yeah, I know that rant. I used to be that rant.

  4. Akira MacKenzie says

    Jeebus! For a darling of the Christian conservatives, Peterson sounds like a fricken hippie who is blasted out of his mind on hallucinogens. Besides his fascistic political and social ramblings, how can anyone on the side of the spectrum think this clown is some sort of towering intellect?

  5. robro says

    I too have taken psychedelics in the distant past, both LSD (supposedly) and psilocybin. On LSD, I saw all kinds of snaky patterns in the walls, rugs, curtains, grass, and trees. I chalked it up to the effects the drug has on visual perception, not that I was seeing molecules. I also “saw” the sun goddess on psilocybin in the hills of Oregon. She was beautiful. I was at peace and felt wonderful. It was drugs. What the fuck do you expect, Jordon. Enjoy the trip but don’t try to make more of it than that.

  6. hemidactylus says

    Is it because spider hunting, but you look tan? The Magnum print shirt was nice too. Oh this was about Peterson? Yawn!

  7. nomdeplume says

    Yet another chapter in the assault on science which is coming in many forms these days. Dawkins is a good scientist and recognises this. But being in the same room as Peterson must be as unbearbabke as being in the same room as Donald Trump, or Matt Powell.

  8. microraptor says

    nomdeplume @8: Dawkins used to be a good scientist. As much nonsense as he’s embraced the last decade, I don’t think that you can really say that about him anymore.

  9. Steve Morrison says

    @2: The idea goes way back to the Theosophical Society in 1895. They published a book called Occult Chemistry with their, ah, contributions to science in 1908.

  10. nomdeplume says

    @9 Age has withered his mind. But I meant that fundamentally he is surely still enough of a good scientist to be appalled by the Peterson nonsense.

  11. ealloc says

    The connection he’s making between psychedelics and DNA isn’t even that original, since for decades psychedelic enthusiasts have been spreading the urban legend that Francis Crick first visualized the structure of DNA while taking LSD. (Google “Francis Crick LSD”). I’ve been told it personally, when I once sublet for a month in an undergrad stoner house, in between leases. Seems like Peterson just heard some stoner talk while tripping and adopted it as his own.

  12. DanDare says

    Back when JP was starting out, a friend told me to watch this amazing lecture that would show me JP was brilliant.
    All the video showed was JP wool gathering about men are men and women are something else and mythology shows reality so god. Or something.
    I suggested the video was total cattle poop.
    My friend said I was a closed minded bigot and never spoke to me again, dropping out of all our mutual social circles.

  13. says

    Right here, Peterson has exposed himself as a nut, and a bad scientist, and a weird believer in supernatural powers that he cannot demonstrate.

    Or just a con-artist. The first rule of con-artists is NEVER STOP TALKING.

  14. StevoR says

    @ moarscienceplz : “Is anyone else reminded of Irwin Corey?”

    Who? Wikipedia check :


    Plus on youtube with a, wow, much younger looking David Letterman here plus a brief, comedy interview with him here as well .

    Ah. Thanks for that, something new learnt today and respect to Irwin Corey. A much better human being than JP or RD I’d say from reading that and seeing those.

  15. unclefrogy says

    I did it I listened to another small collection of clips of jordan peterson babbling on . I survived and did not break the computer must be because I am kind of tired and had nothing else to do. PZ was the good part and helped me get through it thanks I guess.
    I did think of The Good Professor when I heard him before but this time well he revealed a side i had not heard before.
    He sounded oh so much like another famous professor of psychology from harvard I think from way back in the day who raved about psychedelics. I would bet if you combed through his talks you could find stuff so similar you might think he plagiarized it.
    it was loopy then and it still is loopy except jp is going for the money mostly as much as he can get . I guess he got tired of getting old giving the same boring lectures to young people all the time instead he can just talk shit all over the world and make a bunch of money.

  16. PaulBC says

    He’s got a sea soodle. It’s on his third floor. And, uh… Aliens!

    I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced.

  17. PaulBC says

    P: It is not inconceivable that that’s not an expandable capacity under some circumstances, you know, because you’ve got to ask yourself like… [blah blah blah]

    I saw a physical therapist recently for shoulder stiffness. To the extent that there’s any meaningful content in what Peterson said, my physical therapist explained it a lot more clearly: here are some stretches that move the stiff joint. Keep doing them and it’ll gradually get more flexible.

  18. bcw bcw says

    I’ve developed technology to image the alternative realities seen by people on drugs without having to take drugs themselves. Well, actually, I dropped a big magnet into my old CRT TV and then spilled a cup of coffee into it, but the images it produces are clearly worlds we are unable to perceive with our ordinary senses. Not sure why they speak with Oprah’s voice in the early afternoon though. The colors are amazing.

  19. Doc Bill says

    The shorter Peterson: Have you ever looked at your hand, man? I mean, really, really looked at your hand, man! It’s awesome!

    The shorter Dawkins (sadly): Is the camera on?

  20. moarscienceplz says

    I’m glad to turn someone onto The World’s Greatest Authority.

  21. moarscienceplz says

    Yeah, that sea soodle thing. Could it be he’s trying to say caduceus and couldn’t be bothered to Google it to get the proper pronunciation?

  22. PaulBC says

    Maybe it’s like “etchings”.

    Come on up to the third floor and I’ll show you my sea soodle.

  23. Owlmirror says


    but i know what Crick thought about the origin of DNA. Well, he thought he thought it was too complex to have evolved…

    Yeah, if what you claim you “know” is provably false, you don’t actually know it.
    (pull up “Directed Panspermia” and actually read it. 6 damn pages!)


    Also, a bit of my own pedantry: the Crick and Orgel paper he’s mentioning did not claim that DNA was too complex to have evolved. They argued that DNA may have originated from elsewhere because of one, the universal genetic code implied a common origin for all life on earth, and two, that some enzymes require molybdenum, a relatively rare element, to function implied that they must have arisen on a planet with that element more common.

    The “must have” in the final clause is not a fair summary. Crick and Orgel were a lot more cautious than that.

    Crick & Orgel, “Directed Panspermia”:

    Molybdenum is an essential trace element that plays an important role in many enzymatic reactions, while chromium and nickel are relatively unimportant in biochemistry. The abundance of chromium, nickel, and molybdenum on the Earth are 0.20, 3.16, and 0.02%, respectively. We cannot conclude anything from this single example, since molybdenum may be irreplaceable in some essential reaction – nitrogen fixation, for example. However, if it could be shown that the elements represented in terrestrial living organisms correlate closely with those that are abundant in some class of star – molybdenum stars, for example – we might look more sympathetically at “infective” theories.

    Crick in “Life Itself”:

    Several people pointed out that while molybdenum was rather rare in rocks, it was much more common in sea water. To this Orgel replied that while this was true of today’s oceans, it seemed unlikely that molybdenum was present in such amounts in the prebiotic ocean, since the greater reducing conditions at that time might have made its salts rather soluble. Even if Orgel’s argument is accepted it must be conceded that the support it gives to Directed Panspermia is rather feeble.


    Both of these are bad arguments, and I consider that a very bad paper that only got published because on of the authors had a Nobel prize.

    I don’t think it’s as bad as all that for a speculative notion being aired.
    ( I bet you’re just mad because later kooks have taken the whole “Aliens!” thing and just run even more kookily away with it.)

  24. says

    Prof. Myers,
    I appreciate your lucid analysis of this ‘conversation’. You point out (distasteful) nuances that I would likely have missed. It is evident that one is a blowhard of much greater magnitude than the other. Also (as usual) I appreciate the significant contributions of the commenters here.

    However, we must give peterson his due, for he is indeed a close relative of our national symbol: A BALD EGO!

  25. moarscienceplz says

    Minor criticism, PZ:
    I, and Wikipedia agree that it’s pronounced PED-unt and not PEED-unt.

  26. stochastic says

    The idea that DNA was a chemical that encoded patterns of inheritance was not recognized until the 1890s

    I’m assuming this is a typo? Avery/MacCleod/Mccarty’s paper was in the 1940s.

    Course the 1890s was when much of Boveri’s work with chromosomes took off, and then in 1902 (iirc) Sutton tied this together with mendelian inheritance. Good Times.

    No visions of snakes though…

  27. PaulBC says

    Owlmirror@32 Crick & Orgel’s speculation about molybdenum is interesting and at least follows a chain of inference, unlike most of Peterson’s quotes above. It is still not convincing.

    We cannot conclude anything from this single example, since molybdenum may be irreplaceable in some essential reaction

    Nice concession, but I think the whole argument rests on a false assumption. Abundance isn’t always an advantage. Some quick googling turns up: this:

    Within the plant, Mo is primarily used in the production of “molybdoenzymes” that regulate various plant functions

    and the same source notes that molybdenum is “required in very small amounts.” This makes its role very different from common elements such as carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, etc. or even calcium that are needed for structural components.

    Suppose hypothetically, that plants could have evolved chromium-based enzymes with analogous functions. They would still need only trace amounts of chromium so its abundance does not present any advantage. The “right” amount molybdenum is already present. Maybe the scarcity of molybdenum itself makes it a better choice for these enzymes (I can’t really conclude this, but I can conclude that it has no particular downside).

    Above is just speculation “from this single example” but it strikes me as less of a leap than assuming life on earth was seeded from a molybdenum-rich environment. There may be something to be explained here, however it does not strike me as even slightly supportive of panspermia. It seems entirely irrelevant.

  28. John Morales says

    PaulBC, Owlmirror’s point stands in light of your comment; basically, it’s not an ex recto theory, it’s informed speculation that can yield a tentative hypothesis.

    Not quite as PZ characterised it.

  29. StevoR says

    @32. Owlmirror : Regarding molybdenum stars it seems that elemebnt despite being rare is created in quite a few types of stellar nucleosynthesis :

    We present a brief overview of the molybdenum and ruthenium present-day nucleosynthesis calculations and abundance determinations in stars belonging to different substructures (populations) in the Galaxy. The following sources of Mo, Ru production were considered: the Asymptotic Giant Branch (AGB) stars of different masses (main s-process), massive stars (weak s-process), neutrino-induced winds from the core-collapse supernova CCSNe (weak r-process), merging of neutron stars (main rprocess). Many production sites of the p-nuclei have been proposed: the Type II and Ia supernovae (at the presupernovaphase, during and after the supernova explosion), the rp-process in neutrino-driven winds, the high-entropy wind (HEW), the νp-process; inside in a supercritical accretion disk (SSAD), in the He-accreting CO white dwarfs of sub-Chandrasekhar mass, and in the carbon deflagration model for Type Ia.


    This site :


    :Lists it as the 45th most abundant element in our Cosmos which is isn’t bad I Guess given the number of elements but still not that common really. It doesn’t seem like that likely a choice for panspermia..

  30. StevoR says

    PS. Given it formed in stars Molybdenum was almost certainly much scarcer earlier in the cosmos and has become more so since which means if panspermia needed abundant molybdenum then it arose latre rather than eariler so .. yeah. Same is true of most metallic elements of course.

  31. StevoR says

    @ ^ later .. vs earlier. I swear this computer switches the order of letters around on me. Sigh.

  32. says

    I’ve been watching a lot of tiktok reels (“research”) and keep detecting the reedy whine of Jordan Peterson. He’s really big out there. #sad.

  33. dangerousbeans says

    the thing about Perterson’s shaman bit is that he believes in Jungian psych, and in that framework if there are shared stories then that gives insight into the shared sub-consciousness. it’s all bullshit, but the reason he mentions it is because he thinks it is evidence.

  34. says

    #35: not a typo. Miescher isolated and characterized the chemical formula for DNA in the 1860s; Bateson was suggesting that DNA, which was associated with nuclei and chromosomes, might have something to do with the mechanism of inheritance in the 1890s. Nobody had the double helix thing until 1953. Linus Pauling had a model that involved a triple helix, clearly he should have consulted a few shamans.

  35. Father Windy Shepherd Henderson says

    Excellent & hilarious analysis. Peterson’s just a re-heated New Age crank from the ’90’s with a dash of fascism tossed in for flavor.

    Peterson reminds me of my 15 year old son… the kid is going through normal teen agonies, questioning the world, questioning himself, perhaps somewhat more intensely than other kids. He feels things very deeply. He also has a tendency to think out loud, to wander from one topic to another as he’s pondering the mysteries of existence … Many times, when there’s something he’s agonizing about, I’ve found that I have to try to reel him in by prodding him for specifics or clearer explanations of things he’s saying. “You said X … what exactly do you mean by that? How does X relate to Y?” and so on. It helps keep him from going off on tangents and getting more and more upset, and helps him verbalize his ideas better.

    Reading this post, I kept thinking Peterson just needs people to do that repeatedly & persistently. Seems like Dawkins gave it a half-hearted attempt, but I’d love to see someone say “Hold on second JBP … let’s go back to that carving in your house, you never finished your thought. What exact point were you trying to make about that?” … and just stop him whenever he tries to throw up the word-salad blockade to cover up the fact that he’s just babbling and has no idea what he’s talking about.

  36. PaulBC says

    @44 Peterson is a little older than I am, and if hasn’t changed by now, it’s because people let him get away with it. I loved his aside that his carving was on the third floor, because I say stuff like that too. Like you can imagine his mind wandering up there, and it’s understandable if he thinks about how it’s on the third floor, but can he try filtering that thought because nobody else cares where he puts his “sea soodle” and it certainly doesn’t strengthen his argument.

    If Peterson was an old stoner who ran a used bookstore, say, it would probably be fun sometimes to hear him ramble on (though as I noted on an earlier thread, the “caduceus = DNA” thing is not even new and Philip K Dick did a better job incorporating it into his science fiction in the late 1970s). But he claims to be a serious public intellectual and still commands a large audience. Does he understand how ridiculous he looks?

  37. Ed Peters says

    Over the many years I’ve been aware of Peterson, his mental state has deteriorated markedly. He used to be mostly lucid (wrong but lucidly so), but since his self-inflicted health crises, he seems permanently addled, or delusional, or both. Now nothing he says is even worth refuting. It’s just gibberish.

  38. says

    Dawkins, Harris, Coyne, even Hitchens to some degree have all been quite disappointing in re politics and social justice. Thank FSM that Dennett has never shown any signs of this sort of regression.

    As for Peterson, he’s a narcissistic rightist wackadoodle and it’s pathetic to see Dawkins enable him.

  39. says

    @43 “Linus Pauling had a model that involved a triple helix, clearly he should have consulted a few shamans.”

    Pauling might well have earned his 3rd Nobel for discovering the structure of DNA if he hadn’t been blocked by the US State department from traveling to meet with the Royal Society … his crime was being for nuclear disarmament and circulating a petition to that effect among scientists. I heard a newscast of him on Meet The Press or some similar program in 1954 where the journalists were extremely hostile to him and accused him of following the Soviet line on disarmament and he joked that it was more a matter of the Soviets following his line and someone actually said “They follow your line, you follow their line, what’s the difference?”

    Years later I saw him on the Bill Donahue show with Jack Lalanne — they were both touting vitamin C, although LaLanne insisted that you had to get it from fresh fruits and vegetables via his mixer, whereas Pauling said it’s the same molecule regardless of where you get it. The audience was enjoying both of them until Donahue asked Pauling about his atheism, at which point the audience groaned with disapproval. Pauling noted that he found the natural world awesome and that goddidit actually diminishes that, giving an easy but empty answer to the world’s mysteries.

  40. Owlmirror says

    Yeah, that sea soodle thing. Could it be he’s trying to say caduceus and couldn’t be bothered to Google it to get the proper pronunciation?

    Since he did say Canadian Indian, I had the idea that the word was in some First Nations language (maybe transcribed “siisuudl”?) But I don’t know enough about such languages to be sure.

    I checked his podcast page , and as best I can tell, he has no transcripts. So we won’t know until someone tracks him down and confronts him
    (“Dude. Your third floor wood carving. Canadian First Nations. Youtube transcribed it as “sea soodle”. What the actual fuck is it?)

  41. says

    The Mo => panspermia argument doesn’t make much sense. There is, tautologically, enough Mo in the environment for whatever biological functions it’s performing, and such has always been the case. What is needed is some reason to think that there was once a considerably greater need for Mo than the amount of Mo available on Earth, but a more sensible inference is that low concentrations of available Mo in sea water may have restricted eukaryotic development: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature06811

  42. Owlmirror says

    Just in case it was not clear, I did not post the paragraphs about molybdenum because I thought it was a point worth defending. My only point was the PZ wrongly wrote that Crick and Orgel were making a very strong claim based on molybdenum (“must have arisen”), and the texts they actually wrote shows that they were making very tentative suggestions indeed.

    Directed Panspermia. 6 pages!

  43. Rob Grigjanis says

    Regarding “sea soodle”. I think this the actual name: Sisiutl. It’s a legendary sea serpent of the Kwakwakaʼwakw people, who for some reason performed a naming ceremony for Peterson.

  44. PaulBC says

    Owlmirror@52 I wasn’t criticizing your comment at all, just trying to evaluate Crick and Orgel’s statement. It’s the first time I’ve seen that argument.

    Despite their hedging, I don’t think this kind of speculation should have made it past peer review. Though PZ may have mischaracterized it (your point), it strikes me as a weak paper if this passage is representative. It is interesting that molybdenum is an important trace element for living things. It’s relatively rare and has a higher atomic number than all other “useful” elements except selenium and iodine. That’s the sort of thing that could inspire many hypotheses, but panspermia just seems way down on the list.

    My chemistry background is weak, so I’ll avoid over-interpreting its place in the periodic table. At a general level, though, the question isn’t whether there is abundant molybdenum but whether it is the most effective element in the reactions in which its useful and whether there is enough present to support these reactions. It seems weird to me that anyone would consider absolute abundance significant as opposed to abundance relative to its useful applications.

    On the bright side, it got me interested in which elements are used by living things and I spent an hour or so looking up references such as the above.

  45. PaulBC says

    The only thing that stops a bad guy with a sea soodle is a good guy with a sea soodle.

    Sorry, that’s a fatuous comment and in questionable taste, but it has been lodged in my head all morning. Hopefully it will go away soon. At least there is no musical accompaniment*.

    *”A mud crack is a little old case of… soil desiccation. Mud crack, baby. Mud crack.” (long story) (stuck in my head for 8 years running, Oh the pain!)

  46. says

    It is interesting that molybdenum is an important trace element for living things. It’s relatively rare and has a higher atomic number than all other “useful” elements except selenium and iodine. That’s the sort of thing that could inspire many hypotheses, but panspermia just seems way down on the list.

    I’m not sure panspermia can even explain anything here. Even if all early life originally came from a planet with more molybdenum, it would still need sufficient molybdenum on Earth to survive on Earth. So if life has enough molybdenum to survive here, then it could have originated here too. No panspermia necessary.

  47. says

    Relevant. I just found it.
    Bacterial molybdoenzymes: old enzymes for new purposes
    First thought. Are what molybdoenzymes do biochemically unique or just particularly efficient?
    Second thought. What is the impact of the evolution of DNA and this oxygen manipulation on atmospheric O2? The focus is on photosynthesis but there’s lots producing oxygen (I need to revisit the evidence, it could specifically point to carbon fixation).

    “According to the different modifications in the ligand sphere of the molybdenum atom or at the pterin backbone, molybdoenzymes have been classified into three families: the xanthine oxidase (XO) family, the sulfite oxidase (SO) family and the dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) reductase family (Hille, Hall and Basu 2014). While eukaryotes produce only enzymes belonging to the SO and XO families, enzymes of all three families are present in prokaryotes with enzymes of the DMSO reductase family being predominant.”

  48. birgerjohansson says

    I am going to top Jordan Peterson’s rant with some Vogon poetry. (Thank you, Thorium 90 for finding it and posting it at Youtube )
    Oh freddled gruntbuggly
    Thy micturitions are to me
    As pluurdled gabbleblotxhits
    On a lurgid bee,
    that mordioualy hath blurted out
    its earthed jurtles
    into a rancid festering confectious organ