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Davies and Walker on Origin of life: Life as information


A reader sends in this quotation from Sara Walker & Paul Davies, The Algorithmic Origins of Life, 10 J. Royal Society Interface 1 (2013):

Right at the outset, we therefore face a deep conceptual problem, one asked long ago by the physicist Erwin Schrödinger [2], namely, What is life? Without a definition for life, the problem of how life began is not well posed…

Although it is notoriously hard to identify precisely what makes life so distinctive and remarkable [6–8], there is general agreement that its informational aspect is one key property, and perhaps the key property [9–12]. The manner in which information flows through and between cells and sub-cellular structures is quite unlike anything else observed in nature. If life is more than just complex chemistry, its unique informational management properties may be the crucial indicator of this distinction [13]. Unfortunately, the way that information operates in biology is not easily characterized [10,14]. While standard information-theoretic measures, such as Shannon information [15], have proved useful, biological information has an additional quality which may roughly be called ‘functionality’—or ‘contextuality’—that sets it apart from a collection of mere bits as characterized by its Shannon information content. The information content of DNA, for example, is usually defined by the Shannon (sequential) measure. However, the genome is only a small part of the story. DNA is not a blueprint for an organism:1 no information is actively processed by DNA alone [17]. Rather, DNA is a (mostly) passive repository for transcription of stored data into RNA, some (but by no means all) of which goes on to be translated into proteins. The biologically relevant information stored in DNA therefore has very little to do with its specific chemical nature (beyond the fact that it is a digital linear polymer). The genetic material could just as easily be a different variety of nucleic acid (or a different molecule altogether), as recently experimentally confirmed [18]. It is the functionality of the expressed RNAs and proteins—not the bits—that is biologically important.

The paper is open access.

The general failure of genomics to produce the world that Darwinism and scientism need is becoming more obvious all the time. It’s just not Correct to mention the problem.

See also: The Science Fictions series at your fingertips – origin of life What we do and don’t know about the origin of life.

Aarceng @4: Valid reminder. Thanks jawa
So called Shannon Information is actually a measure of the entropy of the message and as such provides information ABOUT the message but it's not a measure of the information IN the message. aarceng
2016: Cronin and Walker coauthored this Beyond prebiotic chemistry https://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6290/1174 jawa
Same authors The informational architecture of the cell https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsta.2015.0057 jawa
In 2016 they published this: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsta.2015.0057 jawa

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