A New Physical Theory for the Emergence of Life?

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A New Physical Theory for the Emergence of Life?

Post by pErvinalia » Thu Dec 11, 2014 1:31 am

Wow, very interesting read. What do you think?
Why does life exist?

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.

.......

Besides self-replication, greater structural organization is another means by which strongly driven systems ramp up their ability to dissipate energy. A plant, for example, is much better at capturing and routing solar energy through itself than an unstructured heap of carbon atoms. Thus, England argues that under certain conditions, matter will spontaneously self-organize. This tendency could account for the internal order of living things and of many inanimate structures as well. “Snowflakes, sand dunes and turbulent vortices all have in common that they are strikingly patterned structures that emerge in many-particle systems driven by some dissipative process,” he said. Condensation, wind and viscous drag are the relevant processes in these particular cases.

“He is making me think that the distinction between living and nonliving matter is not sharp,” said Carl Franck, a biological physicist at Cornell University, in an email. “I’m particularly impressed by this notion when one considers systems as small as chemical circuits involving a few biomolecules.”

Read more: http://www.quantamagazine.org/20140122- ... z3LY4MhN8A
http://www.businessinsider.com/groundbr ... 14-12?IR=T
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Re: A New Physical Theory for the Emergence of Life?

Post by JimC » Thu Dec 11, 2014 1:53 am

Besides self-replication, greater structural organization is another means by which strongly driven systems ramp up their ability to dissipate energy. A plant, for example, is much better at capturing and routing solar energy through itself than an unstructured heap of carbon atoms.
I'll enter Dawkins mode here. To me, the primary criteria for life is replication with a low but non-zero error rate. The ability of a plant to be efficient at capturing solar energy does't come from a drive to dissipate energy more effectively, but via many generations of natural selection which have the effect of optimising functions which increase a given variant's replication ability.

Physicists should stick to their last...
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Re: A New Physical Theory for the Emergence of Life?

Post by pErvinalia » Thu Dec 11, 2014 2:24 am

Good point, Jim. But does his theory still hold for the organisational beginnings of life?
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Re: A New Physical Theory for the Emergence of Life?

Post by Xamonas Chegwé » Thu Dec 11, 2014 2:54 am

JimC wrote:
Besides self-replication, greater structural organization is another means by which strongly driven systems ramp up their ability to dissipate energy. A plant, for example, is much better at capturing and routing solar energy through itself than an unstructured heap of carbon atoms.
I'll enter Dawkins mode here. To me, the primary criteria for life is replication with a low but non-zero error rate. The ability of a plant to be efficient at capturing solar energy does't come from a drive to dissipate energy more effectively, but via many generations of natural selection which have the effect of optimising functions which increase a given variant's replication ability.

Physicists should stick to their last...
I think his theory vastly pre-dates anything that could be considered a plant - or even an organism, Jim. He has come up with an hypothesis that attempts to establish why the precursor building-blocks of life might be predisposed to arise from simpler, organic molecules. My biochem is way too rusty to attempt to refute it but it looks like something that could be tested in a lab to me...
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Re: A New Physical Theory for the Emergence of Life?

Post by pErvinalia » Thu Dec 11, 2014 2:54 am

Just to add, I think his essential point is that "replication" is an entropy positive process. It's not diversity of life he is so interested in (i.e. natural selection via mutation), but the concept of life itself (i.e. replication). That is, life formation is inevitable. I don't know if he is right, but I do enjoy it when people look at a problem from a slightly different perspective. As someone in the article said, (paraphrashing) "even if he is wrong, these are experiments worth doing".
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Re: A New Physical Theory for the Emergence of Life?

Post by JimC » Thu Dec 11, 2014 8:06 am

rEvolutionist wrote:Good point, Jim. But does his theory still hold for the organisational beginnings of life?
Xamonas Chegwé wrote:
JimC wrote:
Besides self-replication, greater structural organization is another means by which strongly driven systems ramp up their ability to dissipate energy. A plant, for example, is much better at capturing and routing solar energy through itself than an unstructured heap of carbon atoms.
I'll enter Dawkins mode here. To me, the primary criteria for life is replication with a low but non-zero error rate. The ability of a plant to be efficient at capturing solar energy does't come from a drive to dissipate energy more effectively, but via many generations of natural selection which have the effect of optimising functions which increase a given variant's replication ability.

Physicists should stick to their last...
I think his theory vastly pre-dates anything that could be considered a plant - or even an organism, Jim. He has come up with an hypothesis that attempts to establish why the precursor building-blocks of life might be predisposed to arise from simpler, organic molecules. My biochem is way too rusty to attempt to refute it but it looks like something that could be tested in a lab to me...
Early processes may well have a component that can be illuminated by some form of thermodynamic argument. However, my post was in reaction to the rather absurd use of the photosynthetic efficiency of modern plants, which simply needs an argument from natural selection. That particular analogy in the OP needed to be shot down in flames...
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Re: A New Physical Theory for the Emergence of Life?

Post by pErvinalia » Thu Dec 11, 2014 8:51 am

Yeah, it's faulty reasoning, as far as I can tell. Unless mutation isn't the most significant driving force behind natural selection. I'm not sure where the thinking is as these days. I could check so as to make myself look less foolish, but I don't care. Someone just tell me, ok? :awesome:
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Re: A New Physical Theory for the Emergence of Life?

Post by rainbow » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:59 pm

Poppycock.
Que?

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Re: A New Physical Theory for the Emergence of Life?

Post by pErvinalia » Thu Dec 11, 2014 1:01 pm

What, not enough God juice in the theory for you?
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Re: A New Physical Theory for the Emergence of Life?

Post by rainbow » Thu Dec 11, 2014 1:05 pm

rEvolutionist wrote:What, not enough God juice in the theory for you?
Heaven Forbid.

It is simply a load of nonsense. :fp:
Que?

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Re: A New Physical Theory for the Emergence of Life?

Post by pErvinalia » Thu Dec 11, 2014 1:07 pm

Of course it is. Don't worry yourself explaining why.

Is that the smell of troll in the air?.... :ask:
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Re: A New Physical Theory for the Emergence of Life?

Post by rainbow » Thu Dec 11, 2014 1:53 pm

rEvolutionist wrote:Of course it is. Don't worry yourself explaining why.
Of course not. Only a complete Tosser would believe that Drivel.

:thinks:
Why do you find it so compelling?
Que?

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Re: A New Physical Theory for the Emergence of Life?

Post by pErvinalia » Fri Dec 12, 2014 1:46 am

Fuck off, troll.
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Re: A New Physical Theory for the Emergence of Life?

Post by Clinton Huxley » Fri Dec 12, 2014 9:10 am

It's a nice enough theory, these things come down the pike every now and then. I wouldn't walk a mile across Lego blocks to have sex with it. Clearly there must have been some kind of chemical precursor to anything you might label "life" but I doubt we'll ever know what that was. As XC says, though, this theory should at least be capable of being tested for viability
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Re: A New Physical Theory for the Emergence of Life?

Post by rainbow » Fri Dec 12, 2014 9:24 am

Clinton Huxley wrote:It's a nice enough theory, these things come down the pike every now and then. I wouldn't walk a mile across Lego blocks to have sex with it. Clearly there must have been some kind of chemical precursor to anything you might label "life" but I doubt we'll ever know what that was. As XC says, though, this theory should at least be capable of being tested for viability
You could test it by sitting on a beach and waiting for the sand dunes to replicate, and become more complex, eventually moving of their own accord, then gulping you up and digesting you.
“Snowflakes, sand dunes and turbulent vortices all have in common that they are strikingly patterned structures that emerge in many-particle systems driven by some dissipative process,” he said. Condensation, wind and viscous drag are the relevant processes in these particular cases.
Que?

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