What Is Life? Why does life exist? "How a living thing might make sense as the outcome of a physical process"

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    Feb 04, 2016 6:17 AM GMT
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    https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140122-a-new-physics-theory-of-life/
    Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

    From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremy_England
    England has received a lot of publicity for his mathematical explanation of the origins of life known as dissipation-driven adaptation.[13][14][15][16][17][18] The theory holds that random groups of molecules can self-organize to more "efficiently use energy in their environment. Over time, the system could improve its ability to absorb energy, becoming increasingly lifelike." His theory states that such self-organizing systems are an inherent part of the physical world.[19]

    Pulitzer-Prize winning science historian Edward J. Larson said that if England can demonstrate his theory to be true, "he could be the next Darwin."
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    Feb 04, 2016 6:39 AM GMT
    Meh. Whoever wrote that is 70 years out of date. Miller-Urey was very, very cool, but long recognized as not directly relevant. Lots of people have good working theories for neogenesis. Nobody has demonstrated more than a few simple reactions. Very tantalizing ones, though. This guy hasn't demonstrated anything at all. I used to go to those conferences. Drank a lot of beer with some of those guys. Even have a few ideas myself. But it's very, very difficult to get anybody to pay for that work. Haven't paid my ISSOL dues for years. They keep sending me bills for all the years that I've missed. Fuck that.
  • badbug

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    Feb 04, 2016 9:40 AM GMT
    "How a living thing might make sense as the outcome of a physical process


    As opposed to?

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    Feb 04, 2016 2:24 PM GMT
    badbug said"How a living thing might make sense as the outcome of a physical process


    As opposed to?



    I've just started to look at this. But I suppose it would be as opposed to either magic or even seeding from elsewhere.

    It seems to be saying, and as I said I've not given the theory in this guy's terms much thought yet, that life is endemic to the physical (which a mystic might think) not something endowed to the physical (which religion might think--breath of God, et al), that, as in the example the guy gives: don't be surprised if you shine enough light at a clump of rocks that a plant might arise. That the non living will arrange itself to produce life.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-new-physics-theory-of-life/
    ...life exists because the law of increasing entropy drives matter to acquire life-like physical properties


    mindgarden saidMeh. Whoever wrote that is 70 years out of date. Miller-Urey was very, very cool, but long recognized as not directly relevant. Lots of people have good working theories for neogenesis. Nobody has demonstrated more than a few simple reactions. Very tantalizing ones, though. This guy hasn't demonstrated anything at all. I used to go to those conferences. Drank a lot of beer with some of those guys. Even have a few ideas myself. But it's very, very difficult to get anybody to pay for that work. Haven't paid my ISSOL dues for years. They keep sending me bills for all the years that I've missed. Fuck that.


    Speaking layman, not sure what you meant by neogenesis. Looking up Miller-Urey just now--real interesting--I find abiogenesis. Is that what you meant? Splain please.
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    Feb 04, 2016 7:38 PM GMT
    Oh, everybody has their favorite (sometimes self-coined) term for similar things. Sometimes it leads to people talking right past each other. (And it's one of the reasons that it's sometimes hard to plow through, for example, Lynn Margulis's otherwise excellently provocative books.)

    Neogenesis (a "new" origin of life) differs slightly from abiogenesis (origin of life from lifelessness.) One of the conundrums here is that if life is an inevitable result of geochemistry, then "new" life ought to be springing up around us all the time! Why don't we see it? Leading contenders in the arm-waving explanation derby:

    1. Well, life has changed the atmosphere so much that those chemical reactions no longer happen in nature. At least not any place that we can easily observe.

    2. Neogenesis happens all the time, but we just don't know how to recognize it.

    3. Neogenesis happens all the time, but "old" life gobbles it up the minute it hits the ground and consumes it. icon_twisted.gif

    4. Abiogenesis is so rare that it may only happen once or twice in the lifetime of a planet.

    5. That planet might not be Earth

    6. Deus ex machina
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    Feb 05, 2016 12:05 AM GMT
    Interesting, thanx. I'll look further into this. I'd already read comments on whatever pages I've hit so far questioning as you just did why we don't witness the event. Wouldn't that make for a messy planet!

    No, I can't meet you for dinner tonight. I have to stay home and housetrain my Encyclopedia Britannica.
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    Feb 05, 2016 1:34 AM GMT
    Well, remember, this would occur on a microscopic scale. Perhaps just a two-dimensional pre-cellular film on the surface of a rock. Somewhat less frequently, bacteria-like cells might form. Even less frequently, some might be capable of forming colonies in a petri dish. Even less frequently than that, someone might select one for chemical analysis. Even less frequently than that, someone would have to recognize that the experiment failed because that bug was really different. It took until the 1980's to recognize that archaea are fundamentally different from the rest of life, and they were right here in plain sight all the time.

    There were dozens of PopSci books written about the origin of life back in the late 90's, early 00's, due to Mars Meteorite Mania and the novelty of Mars Rovers. And of course, Murdoch hadn't yet turned "The Science Channel" into "WrassleMania II." I've got a few of them, but can't think of one that's particularly better than the rest. I bought them mostly because I knew the author, or my Mom bought them because they mention my name icon_rolleyes.gif
  • badbug

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    Feb 05, 2016 6:36 AM GMT
    then "new" life ought to be springing up around us all the time! Why don't we see it?


    Sounds like the argument against evolution. "well why don't we see things evolving now?"

    But I suppose it would be as opposed to either magic or even seeding from elsewhere


    Yeah, i just meant the absurdity of the question. Of course life came through a physical process, everything comes through a physical process. We just don't quite have the ability to measure every level of reality, infact we don't consider it a level of reality if we can't imagine it, in order to test out how to measure it. Gravity was working well before the 16 hundreds!

    So, magic, or seeding, would just mean that life came from some other place through some other physical process we as of yet don't understand.

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    Feb 05, 2016 4:53 PM GMT
    badbug saidthen "new" life ought to be springing up around us all the time! Why don't we see it?

    Sounds like the argument against evolution. "well why don't we see things evolving now?"

    But I suppose it would be as opposed to either magic or even seeding from elsewhere

    Yeah, i just meant the absurdity of the question. Of course life came through a physical process, everything comes through a physical process. We just don't quite have the ability to measure every level of reality, infact we don't consider it a level of reality if we can't imagine it, in order to test out how to measure it. Gravity was working well before the 16 hundreds!

    So, magic, or seeding, would just mean that life came from some other place through some other physical process we as of yet don't understand.


    But we do see evolution now. And not just by vestigiality but just in gardening. Evolution is why weeding is so difficult. You get the big ones that pull out easy, but that leaves the little fuckers to reproduce with abandon and out of that springs more big ones again. Or just look at an xray of your own tailbone. So we witness maybe not often the movie but at least snap shots of evolution. How anyone denies evolution--and not that you did, but--to me, as a gardener who happens to have an x-ray of his own spine, is just bizarre.

    Otherwise, yeah, it is that same unfounded complaint.

    I think though that the distinction this argument explores is not simply that life is physical because not all of physical is living or at least as we so far seek to define it; rather, if I understand it right in its Frankensteinian sense, it seeks to model a mechanism of how does the physical animate.

    It could show that life doesn't come from somewhere.
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    Feb 05, 2016 5:03 PM GMT
    mindgarden saidWell, remember, this would occur on a microscopic scale. Perhaps just a two-dimensional pre-cellular film on the surface of a rock. Somewhat less frequently, bacteria-like cells might form. Even less frequently, some might be capable of forming colonies in a petri dish. Even less frequently than that, someone might select one for chemical analysis. Even less frequently than that, someone would have to recognize that the experiment failed because that bug was really different. It took until the 1980's to recognize that archaea are fundamentally different from the rest of life, and they were right here in plain sight all the time.

    There were dozens of PopSci books written about the origin of life back in the late 90's, early 00's, due to Mars Meteorite Mania and the novelty of Mars Rovers. And of course, Murdoch hadn't yet turned "The Science Channel" into "WrassleMania II." I've got a few of them, but can't think of one that's particularly better than the rest. I bought them mostly because I knew the author, or my Mom bought them because they mention my name icon_rolleyes.gif


    If it's just microscopic then why is my bookshelf chasing around the house after the refrigerator. I'm gonna have to bring in a planter to baby sit them while I go out shopping.

    But yeah, fascinating how much we still don't know with all that we do know. This must have been an incredible few decades to be a scientist. Good on you.
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    Feb 05, 2016 6:42 PM GMT
    theantijock said
    I think though that the distinction this argument explores is not simply that life is physical because not all of physical is living or at least as we so far seek to define it; rather, if I understand it right in its Frankensteinian sense, it seeks to model a mechanism of how does the physical animate.


    No no no. This is just about thermodynamics. One of the simple-minded arguments agains evolution is that if you blindly look at only a part of the system (a living organism) it looks as if entropy is decreasing. Of course, total entropy of the universe always increases. This is a formal analysis showing that entropy increases, and the novel bit is that enthalpy is enhanced in the modeled biomolecule, compared with the starting mineral molecules.

    He's not the first to take this approach. Everett Shock's group, for example, has been working on this for decades, but using actual data from places like deep sea vents to show that biosynthesis can be thermodynamically "downhill" in these special environments. http://geopig.asu.edu In fact, when I first saw this, I figured this England guy must be one of Ev's kids. But maybe he's evolved independently.

    It's weird... just yesterday I intercepted a couple of trespassers doing violence to some of the glacial erratics in my lower pasture. Turned out to be geology/cosmochemistry grad students who know lots of the same people I used to know. Might get some of them to drop by the ranch for a beer this year.

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    Feb 05, 2016 9:51 PM GMT
    mindgarden said
    theantijock said
    I think though that the distinction this argument explores is not simply that life is physical because not all of physical is living or at least as we so far seek to define it; rather, if I understand it right in its Frankensteinian sense, it seeks to model a mechanism of how does the physical animate.


    No no no. This is just about thermodynamics. One of the simple-minded arguments agains evolution is that if you blindly look at only a part of the system (a living organism) it looks as if entropy is decreasing. Of course, total entropy of the universe always increases. This is a formal analysis showing that entropy increases, and the novel bit is that enthalpy is enhanced in the modeled biomolecule, compared with the starting mineral molecules.

    He's not the first to take this approach. Everett Shock's group, for example, has been working on this for decades, but using actual data from places like deep sea vents to show that biosynthesis can be thermodynamically "downhill" in these special environments. http://geopig.asu.edu In fact, when I first saw this, I figured this England guy must be one of Ev's kids. But maybe he's evolved independently.

    It's weird... just yesterday I intercepted a couple of trespassers doing violence to some of the glacial erratics in my lower pasture. Turned out to be geology/cosmochemistry grad students who know lots of the same people I used to know. Might get some of them to drop by the ranch for a beer this year.


    Well, as a layman I might not have described it scientifically but by mechanism I meant the processes which in this case would entail the thermothingy (and how it is that something might, by that, restructure itself--in, I presume, finding efficiency to dissipate energy?) only I wanted to relay that in a way that would relate to other theories of how life might have supposedly originated be that seeding from elsewhere, God's magic wand, whatever.

    I found this real interesting in this article:

    https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140122-a-new-physics-theory-of-life/
    Scientists have already observed self-replication in nonliving systems...vortices in turbulent fluids spontaneously replicate themselves by drawing energy from shear in the surrounding fluid.


    Which seems to me to describe how the inanimate might present itself with at least some properties we'd describe in animate life. I've heard of crystals replicating but not systems (though is that how eddy's work). And if I understand it that all speaks to the propensity (or just potential) of the inanimate to structure itself in whatever certain cases towards being animated, driven there by the thermothingy, which I thought is what this guy is saying.

    To the objects of your guests' desires, have a glacier push some down here please. I bet they'd look wonderful in my garden. We've the opposite geology. Best natural art I could conjure here would be a sinkhole. Not quite as zen as a boulder.