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Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference Chapter 9—Information and Thermodynamics in Living Systems—Conclusion

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Biological Information

To facilitate discussion, we are publishing the abstracts and conclusions/summaries of the 24 papers from the Cornell Conference on the Origin of Biological Information here at Uncommon Descent, with cumulative links to previous papers at the bottom of each page. You can get from anywhere to anywhere in the system.

Note: A blow-by-blow account of the difficulties that the authors experienced from Darwin lobby attempts to censor the book by denying it publication with Springer are detailed here. Fortunately, the uproar resulted in an opportunity for readers like yourself to read the book online. That said, the hard cover version is now shipping.

The Conclusion for “Information and Thermodynamics in Living Systems” by Andy C. McIntosh:

Three views of informational reality (ontology) are considered in this paper. The first is that matter and energy is all there is. This is the materialistic view of information (Dawkins (Oxford), Jones (University College, London), Atkins (Oxford) and others). Such authors argue that functional non-material information and design are an illusion. In their view matter and energy is all that there is in the Universe. Patterns only have meaning in a reductionist sense and do not carry any non-material ‘value’. The second scenario is a variation of the bottom up approach. In this view information is regarded as non-material but has arisen out of matter and energy. This is the view of Prigogine [17], Yockey [26], Wicken [27] and
Kenneth Miller [2,28,29] and many other authors.

Both these approaches are flawed on two counts. Firstly they ignore the fact that real information systems are not defined by the codes and languages they use and that the arrangement of the physical objects used in the system (for DNA, this would be the nucleotide triplets) has to be in a specified order. So even nonmaterialists such as Prigogine, Yockey, Wicken or Kenneth Miller have insuperable hurdles with such a system. By proposing an evolutionary model of the bottom up approach, they do not have the means to derive the specificity [30] in the ordering arrangement of the nucleotides in DNA. These issues are discussed in the work of Abel and Trevors [31, 32]. Secondly a more subtle point, but a very important one, is that there is an impossible thermodynamic barrier to such an approach. The information in living systems is mounted on molecules with a raised free energy such that the carriers of information would fall apart into equilibrium chemistry were it not for the information present. It is this barrier which shows that a top down approach is the only way to understand information in living systems.

The third view then that we have proposed in this paper is the top down approach. In this paradigm, the information is non-material and constrains the local thermodynamics to be in a non-equilibrium state of raised free energy. It is the information which is the active ingredient, and the matter and energy are passive to the laws of thermodynamics within the system. As a consequence of this approach, we have developed in this paper some suggested principles of information exchange which have some parallels with the laws of thermodynamics which undergird this approach. They also have some profound implications concerning the inevitable decay in genetic material and the uniqueness of information in the beginning.

See also: Origin of Biological Information conference: Its goals

Open Mike: Origin of Biological Information conference: Origin of life studies flatlined

Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference— Can you answer these conundrums about information?

Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference—Is a new definition of information needed for biology? (Chapter 2)

Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference—New definition of information proposed: Universal Information (Chapter 2)

Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference—Chapter Three, Dembski, Ewert, and Marks on the true cost of a successful search

Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference—Chapter Three on the true cost of a successful search—Conservation of information

Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference—Chapter Four: Pragmatic Information

Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference—Chapter Four, Pragmatic information: Conclusion

Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference Chapter Five Abstract

Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference Chapter Five – Basener on limits of chaos – Conclusion

Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference Chapter Six – Ewert et all on the Tierra evolution program – Abstract

Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference Chapter Six – Ewert et all on the Tierra evolution program – Conclusion

Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference Chapter 7—Probability of Beneficial Mutation— Abstract

Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference Chapter 7—Probability of Beneficial Mutation— Conclusion

Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference Chapter 8—Entropy, Evolution and Open Systems—Abstract

Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference Chapter 8—Entropy, Evolution and Open Systems—Conclusion

Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference Chapter 9—Information and Thermodynamics in Living Systems—Abstract

2 Replies to “Open Mike: Cornell OBI Conference Chapter 9—Information and Thermodynamics in Living Systems—Conclusion

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Andy C. McIntosh is Professor of Thermodynamics and Combustion Theory at the University of Leeds. His claim that “the information is non-material and constrains the local thermodynamics to be in a non-equilibrium state of raised free energy. It is the information which is the active ingredient, and the matter and energy are passive to the laws of thermodynamics within the system” has much clout behind it. Talbott, who has a gift for clarity, puts the insurmountable problem for any ‘bottom up’ Darwinian explanations this way:

    HOW BIOLOGISTS LOST SIGHT OF THE MEANING OF LIFE
    — AND ARE NOW STARING IT IN THE FACE – Stephen L. Talbott – May 2012
    Excerpt: “If you think air traffic controllers have a tough job guiding planes into major airports or across a crowded continental airspace, consider the challenge facing a human cell trying to position its proteins”. A given cell, he notes, may make more than 10,000 different proteins, and typically contains more than a billion protein molecules at any one time. “Somehow a cell must get all its proteins to their correct destinations — and equally important, keep these molecules out of the wrong places”. And further: “It’s almost as if every mRNA [an intermediate between a gene and a corresponding protein] coming out of the nucleus knows where it’s going” (Travis 2011),,,
    Further, the billion protein molecules in a cell are virtually all capable of interacting with each other to one degree or another; they are subject to getting misfolded or “all balled up with one another”; they are critically modified through the attachment or detachment of molecular subunits, often in rapid order and with immediate implications for changing function; they can wind up inside large-capacity “transport vehicles” headed in any number of directions; they can be sidetracked by diverse processes of degradation and recycling . . . and so on without end. Yet the coherence of the whole is maintained.
    The question is indeed, then, “How does the organism meaningfully dispose of all its molecules, getting them to the right places and into the right interactions?”
    The same sort of question can be asked of cells, for example in the growing embryo, where literal streams of cells are flowing to their appointed places, differentiating themselves into different types as they go, and adjusting themselves to all sorts of unpredictable perturbations — even to the degree of responding appropriately when a lab technician excises a clump of them from one location in a young embryo and puts them in another, where they may proceed to adapt themselves in an entirely different and proper way to the new environment. It is hard to quibble with the immediate impression that form (which is more idea-like than thing-like) is primary, and the material particulars subsidiary.
    Two systems biologists, one from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Germany and one from Harvard Medical School, frame one part of the problem this way:
    “The human body is formed by trillions of individual cells. These cells work together with remarkable precision, first forming an adult organism out of a single fertilized egg, and then keeping the organism alive and functional for decades. To achieve this precision, one would assume that each individual cell reacts in a reliable, reproducible way to a given input, faithfully executing the required task. However, a growing number of studies investigating cellular processes on the level of single cells revealed large heterogeneity even among genetically identical cells of the same cell type. (Loewer and Lahav 2011)” ,,,
    Tangentially speaking: it would be well for biologists to pull back a little from the religious wars and realize that the truly fundamental problem most people have with much of the biological and evolutionary literature is rather simple and needs respectful addressing. We read accounts of the organism such as those just given — stories whose meaningful intricacies and coherent, eloquent plot lines never cease to surprise us, far outshining the highest literary achievements of a Shakespeare or Goethe or Pushkin.
    And then we hear that all this meaningful activity is, somehow, meaningless or a product of meaninglessness. This, I believe, is the real issue troubling the majority of the American populace when they are asked about their belief in evolution. They see one thing and then are told, more or less directly, that they are really seeing its denial. Yet no one has ever explained to them how you get meaning from meaninglessness — a difficult enough task once you realize that we cannot articulate any knowledge of the world at all except in the language of meaning.
    http://www.netfuture.org/2012/May1012_184.html#2

    Indeed, what is conducting all these trillions upon trillions of molecules to be in breathtaking synchronicity for ‘one body’?

    One Body – animation – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDMLq6eqEM4

    Da Vinci Vitruve Luc Viatour – interactive image
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wi.....iatour.jpg

    There simply must be some type of top down control organizing all these trillions upon trillions of molecules into ‘one body’. And finally, two years ago, a glimpse of this top down control was finally caught in action:

    The face of a frog – Time-lapse video reveals never-before-seen bioelectric pattern
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wi1Qn306IUU

    An Electric Face: A Rendering Worth a Thousand Falsifications – September 2011
    Excerpt: The video suggests that bioelectric signals presage the morphological development of the face. It also, in an instant, gives a peak at the phenomenal processes at work in biology. As the lead researcher said, “It’s a jaw dropper.”
    http://darwins-god.blogspot.co.....usand.html

    Where this information is coming from that ‘presages morphological development’ is an important unanswered question in molecular biology:

    With a Startling Candor, Oxford Scientist Admits a Gaping Hole in Evolutionary Theory – November 2011
    Excerpt: As of now, we have no good theory of how to read [genetic] networks, how to model them mathematically or how one network meshes with another; worse, we have no obvious experimental lines of investigation for studying these areas. There is a great deal for systems biology to do in order to produce a full explanation of how genotypes generate phenotypes,,,
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....52821.html

    The next evolutionary synthesis: Jonathan BL Bard (2011)
    Excerpt: We now know that there are at least 50 possible functions that DNA sequences can fulfill [8], that the networks for traits require many proteins and that they allow for considerable redundancy [9]. The reality is that the evolutionary synthesis says nothing about any of this; for all its claim of being grounded in DNA and mutation, it is actually a theory based on phenotypic traits. This is not to say that the evolutionary synthesis is wrong, but that it is inadequate – it is really only half a theory!
    http://www.biosignaling.com/co.....X-9-30.pdf

    I hold that Darwinists, or anyone who would like to explain how life can form in a bottom up fashion, are simply addressing the question from the completely wrong ‘bottom up’ angle. No less than Denis Nobel, President of the International Union of Physiological Sciences, agrees that that neo-Darwinian paradigm is false:

    Physiology moves back onto centre stage: a new synthesis with evolutionary biology – Denis Nobel – July 2013 – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzD1daWq4ng

    Here is the paper that accompanies the preceding video:

    Physiology is rocking the foundations of evolutionary biology – Denis Noble – 17 MAY 2013
    Excerpt: The ‘Modern Synthesis’ (Neo-Darwinism) is a mid-20th century gene-centric view of evolution, based on random mutations accumulating to produce gradual change through natural selection.,,, We now know that genetic change is far from random and often not gradual.,,,
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.....4/abstract

    “The genome is an ‘organ of the cell’, not its dictator”
    – Denis Nobel – President of the International Union of Physiological Sciences

    Thus I think Professor Andy C. McIntosh contention that ‘information is the active ingredient, and the matter and energy are passive’ in biological organisms has some pretty strong support.

  2. 2
    Mung says:

    Hi Sal, do your significant errors in understanding of physics explain your errors about entropy?

    Maybe a new thread about that is in order as well?

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