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Does the answer to the origin of life lie in quantum mechanics?


A friend notes that physicist Paul Davies considered the possibility that quantum mechanics (QM) might solve the origin of life by exploring search space much quicker than a classical system could and by using quantum superposition. But he was afraid it might be “teleological”:

Though it is easy to believe that quantum superpositions might accelerate the “discovery” of a specific, special, physical state (e.g., the ‘living’ state), there is an element of teleology creeping into this mode of thought. We might be familiar with what it takes for a system to be living, but a molecular mixture isn’t. The concept of a ‘target sequence’ or ‘goal’ at the end of a search is meaningless for molecules. Nevertheless, a quantum search could speed up the “discovery” of life if there is some way in which the system ‘knows when it is getting hot,’ i.e., if there is some sort of feedback that senses the proximity to life, and focuses or canalizes the search toward it. Sometimes it is claimed (Fox and Dose, 1977) that ‘life is built into the laws of physics,’ i.e., that there is an inbuilt bias or directionality in physical processes that guide them toward ‘life.’ Expressed more neutrally, ‘life’ constitutes an attractor in chemical sequence space. But to suppose that such an attractor is conveniently built into the laws of nature is just too contrived to be believable (Davies, 2003).

More recently, from Life on the Edge,

The proposition we have outlined above is, of course, speculative. But if the search for the first self-replicator was performed in the quantum rather than the classical world, it does at least potentially solve the self-replicator search problem.

In order for this scenario to work, the primordial biomolecule – the proto-self-replicator – must have been capable of exploring lots of different structures by the quantum tunnelling of its particles into different positions. Do we know what kind of molecules would be capable of such a trick? Well, to a certain extent we do. As we have already discovered, the electrons and protons in enzymes are held relatively loosely, which enables them to tunnel into different positions with ease. The protons in DNA and RNA are also capable of tunnelling, at least across the hydrogen bond. So we might imagine our primordial self-replicator to be something like a protein or RNA molecule that was loosely held together by hydrogen bonds and weak electronic bonds that allowed its particles – both protons and electrons – to travel freely through its structure to form a superposition of its trillions of different configurations.

Our physics color commentator, Rob Sheldon, who knows somewhat of quantum mechanics, offers some thoughts:

QM has a reputation for being somewhat mysterious and capable of feats denied ordinary material particles. In other words, when materialism fails us, call for the super-QM! In no particular order, here’s what is wrong with that view:

a) QM simply says that particles and atoms are not dots, but distributed waves. Waves have exact mathematical descriptions too. That’s what makes “quantum mechanics” such an exact science. So QM has no super-power over material points. They are both mathematical models with well-defined solutions.

b) The reason so many think QM has spiritual properties, is because since high school, they have been fed a diet of Newtonian particles in Laplacian deterministic orbits. And why has this been their diet? Because it supports an atheistic worldview without God, without mind, without responsibility, and above all, without guilt. And for those that found this diet less than filling, a Kantian wall was erected between materialism and morals/values, so as to protect whatever we wanted to cherish from Darwin’s universal acid. But as the Kantian wall has succumbed in the 21st century, drowning all and sundry in a flood of corrosive materialism, even physicists are floundering about for escape, Paul Davies included.

The Long Ascent: Genesis 1–11 in Science & Myth, Volume 1 by [Robert Sheldon, David Mackie]

c) It is true that the distributed nature of waves allows “spooky action at a distance” to occur. Again, such non-local forces are mathematically well-defined, but ever since Epicurus and Democritus, we have been told that particles can only interact by contact, making non-local “action at a distance” the antithesis of materialism. Even in antiquity this was challenged, so for example, Lucretius (50BC) comes up with a quite imaginative way to explain magnetic “spooky action at a distance” by invoking invisible particles rapidly bouncing between the two magnets and evacuating the air, so that “nature abhors a vacuum” and pushes the magnets together. Which is to say, there’s nothing spooky about non-local forces, what is spooky is the materialist devotion to particles.

d) The fact that a wave can incorporate a large number of entities by being spread out means that it can solve jigsaw puzzles by moving all 500 pieces at the same time. This “speed-up” of parallel processing, through an algorithm proved by Peter Shor, would allow the cracking of large-prime-number-encryption, which is why NSA has been desperately trying to build quantum computers for the past 30 years. The speedup is somewhat illusory, however, because the 500-piece-puzzle wavefunction has to be constructed in a serial fashion. What time is gained in solving the puzzle in parallel, is lost in loading the various components one at a time into the quantum computer. Believe me when I say, that after 30 years of QM computing, we are still awaiting a product that works faster than simply using “the cloud”.

e) Paul Davies observes that living things can reverse entropy through multiple interconnecting properties. Life is this incredibly complicated Rube Goldberg machine, where if we remove one element, the whole thing collapses—otherwise known as irreducible complexity. Since there is no chance in Hades of IC happening by serial assembly of a one-at-a-time accidents, Davies wants it to all happen simultaneously through some complicated wavefunction. And now he is between a rock and a hard place. For if we assemble aforethought this 10-zillion-element wavefunction, then it takes design and purpose. But if we ask for the wavefunction to assemble randomly, we have simply compressed billions of years of one-at-a-time lucky assembly into an instantaneous gazillion-to-one-lucky-strike. We’ve exchanged the devil we knew for the devil we didn’t.

The Long Ascent, Volume 2

f) As a way out of this dilemma, many physicists reach into the religion bag and pull out spooky QM-at-a-distance. But it isn’t a solution, it is an admission of failure. For if they had reached a trifle deeper into the bag they would have pulled out Genesis 1. Instead, they have loosed this uncontrollable “dark matter”, “dark energy”, “dark QM” chaos god on the ordered universe of laws and purpose. What little remained of purpose under Newton, will vanish under this 21st-century god of the “dark sector”.

Rob Sheldon is the author of Genesis: The Long Ascent and The Long Ascent, Volume II

Davies' thesis seems absurd in the extreme. Scientists and engineers are working very hard to produce quantum computers, based on identical "qubits" in superposition. They are having problems getting even 40 qubits to entangle together properly and stay that way long enough to do even simple computations, and that under precisely-controlled lab conditions, with many very clever people involved. To pretend that thousands of different atoms or simple molecules could naturally and randomly become entangled in such a way and then remain so until "life" pops out is ridiculous. Moreover, even if they did entangle somehow, they would represent all the trillions of states possible among so many components, so what (or who?) would select the one or very few that the system collapses to when the entanglement fades? i.e. the whole shebang would have to be carefully programmed to select for something that looks like "life". ID by any other name or description is still ID. Fasteddious
Querius @4: “At this point, it seems we’re simply grasping at straws.” At best. :) jawa
Both OoL and QM pose the question of where did all the information that underlies them both come from? For example, why are there conjugate variables in QM? Is there a fixed limit on the information that can be extracted? While we can demonstrate QM in lab experiments, we cannot create life in the lab for some reason, let alone simple life--even though we can duplicate various components and have complete control over the environment for that life. Assuming that someone is finally able to find a recipe for simple life, we still don't know why any life should be "conscious." Some people have suggested that consciousness is a property of mass-energy that emerges under special conditions. Others talk to plants and rocks. Still others deny that we're conscious, which is a problematic position. Some argue that the brain is a meat computer while others claim that through QM effects, the brain is actually a communication device to our consciousness. At this point, it seems we're simply grasping at straws. -Q Querius
James Tour, who is considered one of the top synthetic Chemists in the world, put the elephant in the living room problem facing Origin of Life (OOL) researchers this way.
(July 2019) “We have no idea how to put this structure (a simple cell) together.,, So, not only do we not know how to make the basic components, we do not know how to build the structure even if we were given the basic components. So the gedanken (thought) experiment is this. Even if I gave you all the components. Even if I gave you all the amino acids. All the protein structures from those amino acids that you wanted. All the lipids in the purity that you wanted. The DNA. The RNA. Even in the sequence you wanted. I’ve even given you the code. And all the nucleic acids. So now I say, “Can you now assemble a cell, not in a prebiotic cesspool but in your nice laboratory?”. And the answer is a resounding NO! And if anybody claims otherwise they do not know this area (of research).” – James Tour: The Origin of Life Has Not Been Explained – 4:20 minute mark (The more we know, the worse the problem gets for materialists) https://youtu.be/r4sP1E1Jd_Y?t=255
What Dr. Tour touched upon in that preceding comment is the fact that having the correct sequential information in DNA is not nearly enough. Besides the sequential information in DNA there is also a vast amount of ‘positional information’, (i.e. information that tells the molecules exactly where to be in the ‘simple cell’), that must be accounted for as well. The positional information that is found to be in a ‘simple’ one cell bacterium, when working from the thermodynamic perspective, is found to be immense. On the order 10 to the 12 bits,,, which is several orders of magnitude more information than the amount of sequential information that is encoded on the DNA of a ‘simple’ bacterium.
Biophysics – Information theory. Relation between information and entropy: – Setlow-Pollard, Ed. Addison Wesley Excerpt: Linschitz gave the figure 9.3 x 10^12 cal/deg or 9.3 x 10^12 x 4.2 joules/deg for the entropy of a bacterial cell. Using the relation H = S/(k In 2), we find that the information content is 4 x 10^12 bits. Morowitz’ deduction from the work of Bayne-Jones and Rhees gives the lower value of 5.6 x 10^11 bits, which is still in the neighborhood of 10^12 bits. Thus two quite different approaches give rather concordant figures. http://www.astroscu.unam.mx/~angel/tsb/molecular.htm
,,, Which is the equivalent of 100 million pages of Encyclopedia Britannica. ‘In comparison,,, the largest libraries in the world,, have about 10 million volumes or 10^12 bits.”
“a one-celled bacterium, e. coli, is estimated to contain the equivalent of 100 million pages of Encyclopedia Britannica. Expressed in information in science jargon, this would be the same as 10^12 bits of information. In comparison, the total writings from classical Greek Civilization is only 10^9 bits, and the largest libraries in the world – The British Museum, Oxford Bodleian Library, New York Public Library, Harvard Widenier Library, and the Moscow Lenin Library – have about 10 million volumes or 10^12 bits.” – R. C. Wysong – The Creation-evolution Controversy ‘The information content of a simple cell has been estimated as around 10^12 bits, comparable to about a hundred million pages of the Encyclopedia Britannica.” Carl Sagan, “Life” in Encyclopedia Britannica: Macropaedia (1974 ed.), pp. 893-894
Moreover, classical “sequential’ information is now shown to be a subset of quantum 'positional' information by the following method. Specifically, in the following 2011 paper. "researchers ,,, show that when the bits (in a computer) to be deleted are quantum-mechanically entangled with the state of an observer, then the observer could even withdraw heat from the system while deleting the bits. Entanglement links the observer’s state to that of the computer in such a way that they know more about the memory than is possible in classical physics.,,, In measuring entropy, one should bear in mind that (in quantum information theory) an object does not have a certain amount of entropy per se, instead an object’s entropy is always dependent on the observer."
Quantum knowledge cools computers: New understanding of entropy – June 1, 2011 Excerpt: Recent research by a team of physicists,,, describe,,, how the deletion of data, under certain conditions, can create a cooling effect instead of generating heat. The cooling effect appears when the strange quantum phenomenon of entanglement is invoked.,,, The new study revisits Landauer’s principle for cases when the values of the bits to be deleted may be known. When the memory content is known, it should be possible to delete the bits in such a manner that it is theoretically possible to re-create them. It has previously been shown that such reversible deletion would generate no heat. In the new paper, the researchers go a step further. They show that when the bits to be deleted are quantum-mechanically entangled with the state of an observer, then the observer could even withdraw heat from the system while deleting the bits. Entanglement links the observer’s state to that of the computer in such a way that they know more about the memory than is possible in classical physics.,,, In measuring entropy, one should bear in mind that an object does not have a certain amount of entropy per se, instead an object’s entropy is always dependent on the observer. Applied to the example of deleting data, this means that if two individuals delete data in a memory and one has more knowledge of this data, she perceives the memory to have lower entropy and can then delete the memory using less energy.,,, No heat, even a cooling effect; In the case of perfect classical knowledge of a computer memory (zero entropy), deletion of the data requires in theory no energy at all. The researchers prove that “more than complete knowledge” from quantum entanglement with the memory (negative entropy) leads to deletion of the data being accompanied by removal of heat from the computer and its release as usable energy. This is the physical meaning of negative entropy. Renner emphasizes, however, “This doesn’t mean that we can develop a perpetual motion machine.” The data can only be deleted once, so there is no possibility to continue to generate energy. The process also destroys the entanglement, and it would take an input of energy to reset the system to its starting state. The equations are consistent with what’s known as the second law of thermodynamics: the idea that the entropy of the universe can never decrease. Vedral says “We’re working on the edge of the second law. If you go any further, you will break it.” http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110601134300.htm
Moreover, in 2010 the Maxwell’s demon thought experiment, which was originally devised by James Clerk Maxwell in 1867, was finally experimentally realized. As the following paper highlights, it has now been experimentally demonstrated that knowledge of a particle’s location and/or position converts information into energy.
Maxwell’s demon demonstration turns information into energy – November 2010 Excerpt: Scientists in Japan are the first to have succeeded in converting information into free energy in an experiment that verifies the “Maxwell demon” thought experiment devised in 1867.,,, In Maxwell’s thought experiment the demon creates a temperature difference simply from information about the gas molecule temperatures and without transferring any energy directly to them.,,, Until now, demonstrating the conversion of information to energy has been elusive, but University of Tokyo physicist Masaki Sano and colleagues have succeeded in demonstrating it in a nano-scale experiment. In a paper published in Nature Physics they describe how they coaxed a Brownian particle to travel upwards on a “spiral-staircase-like” potential energy created by an electric field solely on the basis of information on its location. As the particle traveled up the staircase it gained energy from moving to an area of higher potential, and the team was able to measure precisely how much energy had been converted from information. http://www.physorg.com/news/2010-11-maxwell-demon-energy.html
As the following 2010 article stated about the preceding experiment, “This is a beautiful experimental demonstration that information has a thermodynamic content,”
Demonic device converts information to energy – 2010 Excerpt: “This is a beautiful experimental demonstration that information has a thermodynamic content,” says Christopher Jarzynski, a statistical chemist at the University of Maryland in College Park. In 1997, Jarzynski formulated an equation to define the amount of energy that could theoretically be converted from a unit of information2; the work by Sano and his team has now confirmed this equation. “This tells us something new about how the laws of thermodynamics work on the microscopic scale,” says Jarzynski. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=demonic-device-converts-inform
And as the following 2017 article states: James Clerk Maxwell (said), “The idea of dissipation of energy depends on the extent of our knowledge.”,,, quantum information theory,,, describes the spread of information through quantum systems.,,, Fifteen years ago, “we thought of entropy as a property of a thermodynamic system,” he said. “Now in (quantum) information theory, we wouldn’t say entropy is a property of a system, but a property of an observer who describes a system.”,,,
The Quantum Thermodynamics Revolution – May 2017 Excerpt: the 19th-century physicist James Clerk Maxwell put it, “The idea of dissipation of energy depends on the extent of our knowledge.” In recent years, a revolutionary understanding of thermodynamics has emerged that explains this subjectivity using quantum information theory — “a toddler among physical theories,” as del Rio and co-authors put it, that describes the spread of information through quantum systems. Just as thermodynamics initially grew out of trying to improve steam engines, today’s thermodynamicists are mulling over the workings of quantum machines. Shrinking technology — a single-ion engine and three-atom fridge were both experimentally realized for the first time within the past year — is forcing them to extend thermodynamics to the quantum realm, where notions like temperature and work lose their usual meanings, and the classical laws don’t necessarily apply. They’ve found new, quantum versions of the laws that scale up to the originals. Rewriting the theory from the bottom up has led experts to recast its basic concepts in terms of its subjective nature, and to unravel the deep and often surprising relationship between energy and information — the abstract 1s and 0s by which physical states are distinguished and knowledge is measured.,,, Renato Renner, a professor at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, described this as a radical shift in perspective. Fifteen years ago, “we thought of entropy as a property of a thermodynamic system,” he said. “Now in (quantum) information theory, we wouldn’t say entropy is a property of a system, but a property of an observer who describes a system.”,,, https://www.quantamagazine.org/quantum-thermodynamics-revolution/
Again to repeat that last sentence,“Now in (quantum) information theory, we wouldn’t say entropy is a property of a system, but a property of an observer who describes a system.”,,, That statement about entropy being a property of an observer who describes the system, for anyone involved in the ID vs. Darwinism debate, ought to send chills down their scientific spine. In other words, Intelligent Design, and a fairly direct inference to God as the Intelligence behind life, (via the non-locality of quantum information and/or the non-locality of quantum entanglement ), has, for all intents and purposes, finally achieved experimental confirmation.
John 1:1-4 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. Mark 8:37 Is anything worth more than your soul?
supplemental notes:
How Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness Correlate – video (how consciousness, quantum information theory, and molecular biology correlate – 27 minute mark) https://youtu.be/4f0hL3Nrdas?t=1634 Darwinian Materialism vs. Quantum Biology – Part II – video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSig2CsjKbg
Beautiful writing by Sheldon. But life is actually a bit better than the Rube Goldberg machine. If you remove one piece, it doesn't collapse. Life replaces the piece or wires around it immediately. Life always knows what's missing, what's interfering with the PURPOSE, and always finds a way to restore PURPOSE. polistra
OOL QM? The TF binding sites contain motifs that are associated with the translation regulatory code. The pre-mRNA splicing is associated with another sophisticated code. The spindle assembly checkpoints through kinetochores are associated with the most fundamental cell cycle code. All are mind-blowing beauties of control systems that can make any serious computer scientist or engineer drool like a hungry wolf in front of a juicy beefsteak. jawa

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