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Physicist: Laws of thermodynamics can account for origin of life


“The cliché that life transcends the laws of thermodynamics is completely wrong. The truth is almost exactly the opposite,” physicist Jeremy England tells us:

Living things are so impressive that they’ve earned their own branch of the natural sciences, called biology. From the perspective of a physicist, though, life isn’t different from non-life in any fundamental sense. Rocks and trees, cities and jungles, are all just collections of matter that move and change shape over time while exchanging energy with their surroundings. Does that mean physics has nothing to tell us about what life is and when it will appear? Or should we look forward to the day that an equation will finally leap off the page like a mathematical Frankenstein’s monster, and say, once and for all, that this is what it takes to make something live and breathe?

As a physicist, I prefer to chart a course between reductionism and defeat by thinking about the probability of matter becoming more life-like. The starting point is to see that there are many separate behaviours that seem to distinguish living things. They harvest energy from their surroundings and use it as fuel to make copies of themselves, for example. They also sense, and even predict things about the world they live in. Each of these behaviours is distinctive, yes, but also limited enough to be able to conceive of a non-living thing that accomplishes the same task. Although fire is not alive, it might be called a primitive self-replicator that ‘copies’ itself by spreading. Now the question becomes: can physics improve our understanding of these life-like behaviours? And, more intriguingly, can it tell us when and under what conditions we should expect them to emerge?

Increasingly, there’s reason to hope the answer might be yes. The theoretical research I do with my colleagues tries to comprehend a new aspect of life’s evolution by thinking of it in thermodynamic terms. When we conceive of an organism as just a bunch of molecules, which energy flows into, through and out of, we can use this information to build a probabilistic model of its behaviour. From this perspective, the extraordinary abilities of living things might turn out to be extreme outcomes of a much more widespread process going on all over the place, from turbulent fluids to vibrating crystals – a process by which dynamic, energy-consuming structures become fine-tuned or adapted to their environments. Far from being a freak event, finding something akin to evolving lifeforms might be quite likely in the kind of universe we inhabit – especially if we know how to look for it.

Jeremy England, “Why trees don’t ungrow” at Aeon (November 1, 2017 — but republished quite recently)

But if life could just evolve via thermodynamic processes, it ought to be evolving all the time. Yet it is not. All current life, so far as we know, dates back to live that began to exist three billion years ago or so.

Reader Jorge Fernandez writes to say, “I’ve been running into England’s writings for years. The ‘trees’ prevent England from seeing the ‘forest’. England is a Materialist Faithful that arrived at his conclusion long ago. Now he uses his smarts to try to ‘justify’ that conclusion. He employs the familiar tactic of mixing scientific facts (e.g., the laws of thermodynamics and material properties) with ideological assertions (e.g., ‘abiogenesis must have happened because, after all, here we are!’). For instance, England came up with the idea of ‘dissipative adaptation’ as a mechanism for self-organization. To test that idea he constructed computer simulations that — would you believe it — yielded ‘positive’ results. And so, predictably, England concluded: “This process might explain how evolution can get going in inert matter.” Yeah, computer simulations can yield just about anything.”

Well, no sale there.

Eric Anderson writes to point out that physicist Brian Miller has discussed England’s work in two podcasts: Here and here. He adds, “Brian is, as always, incredibly good natured and polite about England’s work and his interactions with him. To England’s credit, he has also interacted positively and politely with Brian. But, yes, at the end of the day, England’s proposal and conclusions are completely wrong as it relates to OOL and what is needed for living systems. He’s gotten a lot of press (and is very good at self-promotion), but his is another flash-in-the-pan idea that will fade as more people examine it closely and see it for the nonsense it is.”

Another reader writes to note that most of the ideas England presents are found in the work of Nobelist Ilya Prigogine (1917–2003), “whose work evidently has been forgotten by the physics community.”

Well, England certainly has a knack for starting a discussion.

I agree that stating that the second law of thermo is the cause of evolution is about as boneheaded as you can get. Actually, the second law is fighting the advancement of evolution every step of the way - assuming there is a step! kllrDogThermo
Just a few of the many complex molecular machines that enable living cells to exist (from Wiki):
....(These) include kinesin, which moves cargo inside cells away from the nucleus along microtubules, and dynein, which moves cargo inside cells towards the nucleus and produces the axonemal beating of motile cilia and flagella. In effect, the [motile cilium] is a nanomachine composed of perhaps over 600 proteins in molecular complexes, many of which also function independently as nanomachines ... Flexible linkers allow the mobile protein domains connected by them to recruit their binding partners and induce long-range allostery via protein domain dynamics. Other biological machines are responsible for energy production, for example ATP synthase which harnesses energy from proton gradients across membranes to drive a turbine-like motion used to synthesise ATP, the energy currency of a cell. Still other machines are responsible for gene expression, including DNA polymerases for replicating DNA, RNA polymerases for producing mRNA, the spliceosome for removing introns, and the ribosome for synthesising proteins. These machines and their nanoscale dynamics are far more complex than any molecular machines that have yet been artificially designed and constructed by humans.
And this says nothing about the obvious extreme need for deep coordination between these subsystems of the cellular system, and it says nothing about the replication manufacturing machinery which also needs to be finely coordinated. It boggles the mind how England can suggest that the laws of thermodynamics can be responsible for building this. Sheer idiocy on the surface, but of course he isn't an idiot, just a committed materialist. doubter
:) Ha, ha, ha bornagain77
ET@12 What next? Physics can account for Stonehenge? Well yeah! The four fundamental forces account for everything... computers, the internet (well no, we get to thank Al Gore for that but the fundamental forces gave us Al Gore so maybe indirectly...)";^) Latemarch
You have to be a desperate fool to say the laws of thermodynamics can account for the OoL. What next? Physics can account for Stonehenge? ET
Throwing shit at a wall and hoping something will stick is not science AaronS1978
Speaking as a person interested in Theology, I admire the insight of President Reagan, who got it right when he stated "the closest thing to immortality in this life is. ..........a federal program. Origin of Life Research is a classic example. Citizens are forced to pay for this program that has produced NOTHING for almost 100 years.. Whatever. But sniping? Outrageous!!! Okay, to be fair, the top scientists have produced lies and coverups. Check out any science textbook. Look at what is written about the Miller Urey experiment. They never mention the fatal stumbling block of chirality, which has no prospect of solution (as long as the very Second Law of Thermodynamics remains valid). Thus Miller and Urey didn't make the building blocks of life, as is falsely claimed in virtually every textbook. Milking it, covering up failure, deceiving the public. Origin of Life, Global Warming, Origin of the Wuhan Virus Its how Science works TAMMIE LEE HAYNES
The origin of life is a fundamental mystery, so is the origin of the laws which govern the Universe or the physical constants without which this Universe could not exists as it is. To have something to test empirically you first need a hypothesis to test and hypotheses are testable forms of what start out originally as Ideas, speculations, hunches and intuitions. Science needs as many of those as it can get. Yes, a lot of them will turn out to be wrong. England's ideas may be way off base but at least he is trying to come up with something rather than just sniping at others who do. Seversky
Well first we have the designed / created laws of Thermodynamics that were used to create advance life here, with no motive to have created life elsewhere. Then the deeper the time one holds the longer one has to fight uphill against entropy. including genetic entropy. So even if one holds by the far higher probability ID AND and YeC creation science, not only has there been no time for any NDT type Neo-Darwin evolution here or out there, for advanced life, but even if there is/are additional designed/created civilizations out there for no good reason, the best case scenario is they have to be within 5781 LY, year to date, less the number of years it took them to send data toward us, and that assumes the data sent at light speed! reference Pearlman YeC SPIRAL cosmological redshift hypothesis and model in series volume II 'creation science and big bang cosmology'. Pearlman
“Nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked by world-famous scientists.” (John Lennox) Sandy
As to England's claim "From the perspective of a physicist, though, life isn’t different from non-life in any fundamental sense." Erwin Schrodinger disagrees with England.
WHAT IS LIFE? ERWIN SCHRODINGER - First published 1944 Pg. 28-29 TWO WAYS OF PRODUCING ORDERLINESS Excerpt: "The orderliness encountered in the unfolding of life springs from a different source. It appears that there are two different 'mechanisms' by which orderly events can be produced: the 'statistical mechanism' which produces order from disorder and the new one, producing order from order. To the unprejudiced mind the second principle appears to be much simpler, much more plausible. No (a) doubt it is. That is why physicists were so proud to have fallen in with the other one, the 'order-from-disorder' principle, which is actually followed in Nature and which alone conveys an understanding of the great line of natural events , in the first place of their irreversibility . But we cannot expect that the 'laws of physics' derived from it suffice straight away to explain the behaviour of living matter, whose most striking features are visibly based to a large extent on the 'order-from-order' principle. You would not expect two entirely different mechanisms to bring about the same type of law-you would not expect your latch-key, to open your neighbour's door as well. We must therefore not be discouraged by the difficulty of interpreting life by the ordinary laws of physics. For that is just what is to be expected from the knowledge we have gained of the structure of living matter. http://whatislife.stanford.edu/LoCo_files/What-is-Life.pdf Jim Al-Khalili, at the 2:30 minute mark of the following video states, ",, Physicists and Chemists have had a long time to try and get use to it (Quantum Mechanics). Biologists, on the other hand have got off lightly in my view. They are very happy with their balls and sticks models of molecules. The balls are the atoms. The sticks are the bonds between the atoms. And when they can't build them physically in the lab nowadays they have very powerful computers that will simulate a huge molecule.,, It doesn't really require much in the way of quantum mechanics in the way to explain it." At the 6:52 minute mark of the video, Jim Al-Khalili goes on to state: “To paraphrase, (Erwin Schrödinger in his book “What Is Life”), he says at the molecular level living organisms have a certain order. A structure to them that’s very different from the random thermodynamic jostling of atoms and molecules in inanimate matter of the same complexity. In fact, living matter seems to behave in its order and its structure just like inanimate cooled down to near absolute zero. Where quantum effects play a very important role. There is something special about the structure, about the order, inside a living cell. So Schrodinger speculated that maybe quantum mechanics plays a role in life”. - Jim Al-Khalili - professor of theoretical physics, University of Surrey. – Quantum biology – video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOzCkeTPR3Q
As to the claim that living organisms have a "structure to them that’s very different from the random thermodynamic jostling of atoms and molecules in inanimate matter of the same complexity." and the claim that "living matter seems to behave in its order and its structure just like inanimate cooled down to near absolute zero",,, both of those claims are easily proven by the following experiment,
Study suggests humans can detect even the smallest units of light – July 21, 2016 Excerpt: Research,, has shown that humans can detect the presence of a single photon, the smallest measurable unit of light. Previous studies had established that human subjects acclimated to the dark were capable only of reporting flashes of five to seven photons.,,, it is remarkable: a photon, the smallest physical entity with quantum properties of which light consists, is interacting with a biological system consisting of billions of cells, all in a warm and wet environment,” says Vaziri. “The response that the photon generates survives all the way to the level of our awareness despite the ubiquitous background noise. Any man-made detector would need to be cooled and isolated from noise to behave the same way.”,,, The gathered data from more than 30,000 trials demonstrated that humans can indeed detect a single photon incident on their eye with a probability significantly above chance. “What we want to know next is how does a biological system achieve such sensitivity? How does it achieve this in the presence of noise? http://phys.org/news/2016-07-humans-smallest.html
Supplemental note:
Darwinian Materialism vs. Quantum Biology – Part II - video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSig2CsjKbg
After #3 nothing to add really. Nicely put. How many stupid people there are on the internet! And everyone of them, without exception, is an expert. EugeneS
@3 Couldn’t have put it better AaronS1978
What ever happened to Peer Reviewed Empirical Science, performed by teams of specialists led by the Top Gurus? That was the gold standard! What ever happened? I mean, resally. A dime a dozen guy, named Jeremy England. He claims to know statistical thermodynamics. No accomplishments. But he's, the latest oracle on Origin of Life Research?, Why not go to to the guys who know the field. the Origin Of Life Researchers. who have spearheaded a massive international Origin of Life Rreseach program, for almost 100years. Guys like Like Harvard's very Jack Szostak Nobel Prize Winner, a Biology genius for almost 50 years.. Dr Szostak, what have he and his colleagues discovered about the Origin of Life? Here's what. Nothing nada zilch Every hole they've tried,, its been dry. So when the gurus don't got a clue, you fly with the talk show Scientists. TAMMIE LEE HAYNES
An inanimate structure that resonates doesn't come to life, it breaks apart. Galloping Gertie. Life includes an infinite number of resonances, which are carefully maintained and tuned (far from energy equilibrium!!!) by sensory feedback and glial cells. A bridge or a balanced rock doesn't have feedback loops or glia. polistra
He’s a lot like Lawrence Krause redefining nothing as something Alex Rosenberg has already attempted this crap and it’s been refuted multiple times Edward Fesser did a long review years back on this exact ideology where you confuse life with let’s say the formation of quartz crystals which is what Alex Rosenberg uses in his book Fesser does a pretty good job of cutting it apart but it boils down to Reducto absurdum Here is all of Edward Fesser’s post on this It’s a lot it’s a 10 part series plus multiple post and Alex Rosenbergs naturalism which this exactly what Jeremy England is pushing https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/search?q=Alex+Rosenberg&m=1 AaronS1978

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