A New Physics Theory of Life


#1

quantamagazine.org/20140122-a-new-physics-theory-of-life/


#2

Soooooo… this is telling us that everything “science” has taught us about the origins of life until now has been hogwash. What a shock! :wink:


#3

I’m not a scientist but maybe if one posts here they can tell me if this quote is as ridiculous as it sounds:

“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said.

Why not try testing this instead of claiming it’s so obvious? Why hasn’t the grand canyon turned into a plant yet? It’s had a lot of light shining on it for a long time. Maybe I’m being too simple?


#4

This is not a “theory”. It is not a hypothesis. It is just speculation and hardly deserves a news story.


#5

Agreed. But so is the primordial soup idea just a theory, and a silly one at that. But it’s been taught in textbooks in high schools. :slight_smile:


#6

From article:

England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations. “I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong,” he explained. “On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.”

So why don’t we have many parallel forms of life with fundamentally different DNA using totally different building blocks?

Instead all life uses the same building blocks from the DNA strand on up. If this was a general phenomenon instead of some unique event, then why is there this basic similarity that seems to suggest ONE point of origin for all life?


#7

The point of the article was to introduce a new idea in physics to a broad audience. I wouldn’t read too much into the quotes about primedial soup becoming a plant, as it is an attempt to illustrate the idea for a layman audience.

I’m sure Professor England and his colleagues are working out ways to test the hypotheses experimentally.


#8

Don’t go lambasting this theory. It’s a legitimate theoretical framework for interpreting the complex emergence from simple collections of particles (e.g. atoms, molecules, etc.) under an externally-supplied source of energy. This is from the paper itself:

“…we are able to argue for a general tendency in driven many-particle systems towards self-organization into states formed through exceptionally reliable absorption and dissipation of work energy from the surrounding environment.”

I’d say that that’s too simple. You can’t just take any type of matter and shine a light on it. You need to look at how different chemicals. The Grand Canyon is mostly made of rocks, not organic molecules, the things of which life is mostly made.

To me, this theory isn’t scary. God designed the universe in a way that is teleological. And we can use science to understand how very blessed we are. Why did matter survive its coming into being near the beginning of the universe, as opposed to being annihilated by an equal amount of antimatter? An atheist would just claim random chance. Objective theoretical considerations like quantum mechanics would support that, because it science only represents the mechanisms by which the universe works. However, I think a more parsimonious explanation is God. Same thing goes for the fundamental forces of the universe, the slight variability found in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation (which illustrates early processes that allowed the formation of galaxies), and even the question of why our planet just happened to be found in a place where our star (the sun) didn’t fry us, supplied with organic molecules and water, with enough mass to have just enough gravity to keep the important components of our atmosphere present, etc., etc.

Of course we’re special! We are the ONLY life of which we know in the universe. Fermi’s Paradox makes it look as though we ARE special, even to atheists, but we didn’t need science to tell us that. We are the sons and daughters of God, in whose image and likeness we are made. The Son of God was incarnated in the form of a human, died like us, and rose to new life in a glorious body that St. Paul tells us will be ours someday (God willing we die in a state of sanctifying grace).


#9

This will all depend on which atoms constitute the clump, what kind of light is shined on it, how long “long enough” is, and most importantly, the constitution of the surroundings. The article mentions needing a sufficient “cooling bath” such as an ocean or atmosphere into which the system (the primordial life molecules) can dump heat into in order to decrease their own entropies and lower internal energy. This is basic thermodynamics and isn’t really all that surprising. What isn’t mentioned in the article is the need for a non-reducing environment in that “cooling bath”, such that oxygen radicals do not compromise the integrity of the nascent molecules. Given the relatively high levels of oxygen in our atmosphere now (which lend to the need for membranes to insulate biochemical reactions from the environment) compared to what is believed to have existed when life first began on our planet, we shouldn’t expect plants (or any other life for that matter) to suddenly pop into existence.


#10

Interesting article. I am a scientist, but thermodynamics was never my strong subject and I am not quite sure what to make of the article. However, it appears that a respected young scientist has an interesting idea, and I think he should explore it further. It might turn out to be something big!


#11

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