Intelligent Design News Origin Of Life

Origin of life: A problem in the origin of information

Spread the love

In February, at the NASA Astrobiology NPP seminar series Sara Walker, assistant professor at Arizona State University gave a talk, covered here by Astrobiology: :

A hallmark of life is the way information flows between different levels of organization. In non-living systems, information flows from the bottom up–the properties of the individual parts determine the fate of the system.

But with living systems, that flow goes both ways. Not only genes dictate the nature of proteins which in turn affect the functioning of cells, tissues and organisms, but the behavior of proteins, cells, and organisms also control gene expression. This is what Walker calls “top-down control” or “top-down causation.”

And to Walker, this transition–from information seeping upward only to information flowing both up and down–is the key to understanding life’s origins. Put differently, the blueprint for building an organism isn’t stored in its DNA only, but it’s distributed in the state of the entire system.

And when it comes to basic chemical networks, Walker thinks, that distribution is something we could potentially measure.

She is looking at “integrated information,” a measure University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Giulio Tononi thinks can calculate how much integrated information a network carries, a quantity he calls “phi.”

All this is as much as to say that the problem of the origin of life is a problem in the origin of information. Software engineer Arminius Mignea’s specifications for a simplest self-replicator in Engineering and the Ultimate would be a useful read, to get some sense of what is required (a brief introduction here).

See also: With Enceladus the toast of the solar system, here’s a wrap-up of the origin-of-life problem

and

The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (origin of life)

Follow UD News at Twitter!

6 Replies to “Origin of life: A problem in the origin of information

  1. 1
    Dionisio says:

    Interesting topic for exciting discussions.

    In software development for engineering systems, the main engineers directing the projects usually see the future product in their minds long before the first beta version comes out for testing.

    An important part of the process of developing such systems is the accurate and efficient passing of complete information describing the final product and the steps to develop, test, deliver and implement it in a timely fashion.

    All that information must be well documented using established protocols and conventions, so that all the participants in the protect can understand what is to be done and how.
    The information given to the analysts is not exactly the same as the information passed down to the programmers or to the testing group or to the implementation team or to the sales and delivery personnel.
    The programmers also follow an established convention (a.k.a. programming language), in order to pass the information they receive from the analyst down to the computer that will process user-provided information in order to produce user-requested results.
    In a way or another all this has to do with information that still relates to the original image of the product that existed in the mind of the persons who came up with the idea to begin with.

    Now, can we relate this to what we observe in the biological systems? Yes, no, maybe?

  2. 2
    Dionisio says:

    Correction:

    participants in the protect

    Sorry, I meant ‘project’

  3. 3
    Mung says:

    Well, if information is just out there, everywhere, I don’t see the problem. The earth has a moon? There must have been innumerable alternative possibilities, thus the information content of that alone must be unimaginable.

  4. 4
    Dionisio says:

    That’s why we should look forward with great anticipation to the results coming out of research 🙂
    Because we should expect more details of the beautiful biological systems to get revealed to us.
    That’s why we should support good serious scientific research and enjoy friendly discussions.

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    as to this comment from Sara Walker:

    But with living systems, that flow goes both ways. Not only genes dictate the nature of proteins which in turn affect the functioning of cells, tissues and organisms, but the behavior of proteins, cells, and organisms also control gene expression. This is what Walker calls “top-down control” or “top-down causation.”
    And to Walker, this transition–from information seeping upward only to information flowing both up and down–is the key to understanding life’s origins. Put differently, the blueprint for building an organism isn’t stored in its DNA only, but it’s distributed in the state of the entire system.

    That comment from Dr. Walker reminds me of this comment from Dr. Hameroff:

    “Now the world appears to be divided into two realms, described by two different sets of physical laws. The quantum (world),, which is immaterial, coexisting possibilities, non-local, unified, connected, has some ultimate truth although we don’t know what it is yet, deeper levels of reality, and in many senses ‘spirit-like’. The classical world, the (illusory) billiard ball universe that we (appear to) live in right now, but not so, is material, Newtonian, definite, macroscopic, local, predictable, disconnected, post-modern, and somewhat boring actually. Now, what is life? If you approach life from classical physics, you see that biology is a set of self-organizing functions. There is no secret to life. Brain activities are equivalent to computers, consciousness is a epi-phenomenal illusion with no causal power. That’s the party line in standard neuroscience and philosophy. Accordingly, Thomas Huxley said years ago, ‘We are merely conscious automaton,’ helpless spectators., That’s the story we get from classical physics approach to the brain. Now,, applying quantum physics to biology, first by Erwin Schrodinger,,, quantum features (of biology include), non-local entanglement, super-position, unity, quantum coherence, quantum information. A kind of quantum vitalism, may play key roles in biological function.,,,”
    Stuart Hameroff – Does Quantum Biology Support A Quantum Soul? – video
    https://vimeo.com/29895068

  6. 6
    Dionisio says:

    bornagain77 @ 5
    Excellent commentary! Thank you.

Leave a Reply