The social network of the gods – The primordial soup of carbon atoms and water

carbon element in the primordial soup

Creating a dense social network by having the capacity to form connections is one thing and having a sustaining environment for those connections is quite another. The primordial soup (a mixture of carbon atoms, water, and other small elements) has both in equal measure.

According to many management thinkers and scientists, for social networks to be innovative and dense they need to lie at the edge of chaos between too much order and no order at all.

For collaborations and/or innovations to occur in social networks, we need two things. The first one is the capacity to make new connections and the second one is the randomizing environment, which encourages the collisions or the connections to happen.

Fortunately, for the primordial innovation engine (Our mother earth) has both the capacity and the randomizing environment to sustain stable connections over a long period.  The abundant existence of the uniquely talented carbon atoms, the so-called ‘great connector’ and water, the so-called “high-density network liquid” both need to act together for the connections to happen and sustain. This has made life and evolution possible on earth.

We have much to learn about social networks from mother earth and the very origins of life in this Universe. I drew inspiration from Steven Johnson’s book, “Where good ideas come from” to write about the connection between the primordial soup and social networks. You can find the book here.

Life would not have existed if there were no carbon atoms. Even if we had to search for life on distant galaxies, they too would be carbon based.

There is so much confidence in the carbon element in making life happen on earth and elsewhere. Essentially, it is because of its unique connection properties. Its four valence electrons in the outermost shell of the atom are very uniquely talented in forming connections with others – particularly not just with its own carbon atoms but also with nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, phosphorous and sulfur.

The four valence bonds of carbon have a great combinatorial power that they have the capacity to form long chains of polymers. They form everything from the genetic information stored in the nucleic acids, building blocks of protein to the storage of carbohydrates and fats.

Carbon atoms compose nearly 20% of the human body. It is a great connector, forming strong bonds. It would be impossible to imagine life without carbon.

The talented nature of carbon atoms with its high connecting properties is what makes the day to day functioning of our life happen. Chains of nucleic acids instructing amino acids to assemble into long strings of protein and making use of the stored carbohydrates and fats.

The connective nature of carbon atoms with its four valence electrons connects with other elements to form numerous combinations for millions of years. They connect and reconnect for stable chemical reactions to occur and finally to form living organisms.

Some researchers and scientists have speculated on an alternate scenario based on the Silicon element and life emerging out of the silicon atom.

Silicon is also abundantly available on earth and has four valence electrons. Then the silicon atom lacks the versatility of the carbon atom.  It does not have the ability to form long chains of nucleic acids and polymers, which are so essential to life. Carbon is a rare item whereas Silicon is found hundred times more than carbon on earth. The talented nature of quickly forming stable connections of the carbon atom is what Mother Nature has chosen over the silicon atom.

A famous experiment was conducted in 1953, by two University of Chicago professors, Stanley L Miller and Harold C Urey.  It was called the Miller and Urey experiment. Miller and Urey used a set of flasks and test tubes to simulate the environment of the very early Earth. They used methane, hydrogen, ammonia, and water as in a soup. Only methane contained carbon. They also simulated the lightning effects with sparks lit inside the flasks.

After straight seven days of the experiment, they found the carbon atoms have spontaneously combined with other atoms to form life’s essential ingredients – sugars, lipids and nucleic acids.  The carbon atom is a great combinator.

They say ‘life originated in a warm pond’. The primordial soup, with its essential ingredient of carbon atoms has made life possible.

Read about “ How the Internet makes us smarter” from our blog.

Water, a high-density liquid medium

Creating dense networks for numerous connections to happen requires a flowing medium. There could be no better flowing medium than water. Like carbon, water has unique impressive properties as well.

The hydrogen bonds that water forms, is ten times stronger than in other liquids. The boiling point of water is also higher than the other liquids, which has actually prevented the water from evaporating away when the earth was still hot.

The strength of the hydrogen bonds also makes the bonds with other elements quite stable. Above all, the fluidity of water enables it to form new connections on the go, as it swirls to form new networks.

Thus, life begins on earth with this primordial soup, a social network of sorts with a high-density fluid network of innumerable connections.

Further, with regards to the innovations thriving on edge of chaos, it is how Christopher Langton, the computer scientist imagined several years ago- the gas, solid and liquid states of nature.

New connections cannot thrive on in a gaseous state. There are too much chaos and movement.  Connections form, but are quickly torn apart.  In the solid state, there is too much order and it is very rigid. It hampers the growth of new connections. It is only in the liquid state, that the connections are fluid. New configurations form at random and they remain stable as well for a long period.

My experiences of sharing information and participating in the online community at Myblogu , resonates that a social network needs to be fluid and people should be free to make their own bonds with others. Raelyntan, a fellow community member says that ” A successful social network allows a user to gain trust and engage his network by showcasing his fabulous life, without looking like he is trying very hard”. I agree with this statement.

Just as we learned from the primordial soup, the capacity to make connections and the environment to sustain those connections and collisions are the two most important things for new forms of collaboration and the flowering of innovation to happen in social networks.

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Ramkumar Yaragarla

I am 43 years old. Founder, Loving dad and Husband. Worked as an IT Business analyst and program manager in several Fortune 100 companies.Alumnus at the University of Warwick, UK. I love the WWW and write on Social aspects of information, Social collaboration, Digital Sociology, Digital Humanities and Work life balance. I enjoy playing on the beach with my 9 year old daughter. I am open to your suggestions and comments.
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