Entropy Origin Of Life

At Quanta Magazine: A New Physics Theory of Life

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Jeremy England, a 31-year-old physicist at MIT, thinks he has found the underlying physics driving the origin and evolution of life.

Quanta editor, Natalie Wolchover, writes:

Why does life exist?

Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. 

As a physicist, I’ll point out that an inanimate clump of carbon atoms, known as a lump of coal, is nearly ideal at capturing sunlight and dissipating that energy as heat.

 Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said.


From one physicist to another, I would like to ask Dr. England to explain the mechanism that can not just cause atoms to dissipate heat, but to use electromagnetic radiation to bring about the fantastically high level of functional organization required for even the simplest living organism. Apart from speculations promoting abiogenesis, claims that a physics formula demonstrates something remarkable typically require mathematical consistency with established laws of physics. One should be able to use the formula to computationally verify the predicted outcome (“a random clump of atoms” turning into a living plant). Localized reductions in entropy do not equate with living organisms. My refrigerator does that, and it’s hardly alive. Can natural forces even produce a refrigerator? Let’s not suggest that localized reductions in entropy amount to solving the origin of life problem. Surely we know better than that.

15 Replies to “At Quanta Magazine: A New Physics Theory of Life

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    A few notes from Dr. Brian Miller’s run in with Jeremy England

    Inference Article Demonstrates Implausibility of Natural Processes for Explaining the Origin of Life
    Brian Miller – May 5, 2020
    (Brian Miller summarizes the minimal requirements for life) (with video)
    Engines and Information
    Only one solution exists to overcome the thermodynamic challenges, and that is the presence of the following:
    1. Engines that convert some external source of energy into a form useful to power cellular operations.
    2. Information that directs that energy toward driving a highly targeted set of chemical reactions that manufacture, maintain, and direct the cell.,,,

    On the Origin of Life, Here Is My Response to Jeremy England – Brian Miller – May 11, 2020

    Supplemental notes:

    The Science & Faith Podcast – James Tour & Brian Miller: Thermodynamics and Origin of Life – December 2020

    Brian Miller – Thermodynamics, the Origin of Life, and Intelligent Design – Nov 18, 2019

    Synthesizing Life in the Laboratory: Why is it not Happening? –by George T. Javor – July 26, 2021
    Excerpt: Even though in living cells each reaction is pushed toward equilibrium by an enzyme (so as to forestall the possibility of slower, random non-biological chemical events), if any of the hundreds to thousands of chemical processes could actually reach equilibrium, an irreversible metabolic block would result. Multiple such equilibriums would kill the cell. However, in live cells there are no isolated reactions and the problem of equilibrium is avoided. Rather, chemical events are linked into pathways, so that the products of reactions do not accumulate, but immediately react with another substance.
    The end products of metabolic pathways are either utilized immediately or they are secreted from the cell. Moreover, regulatory systems such as “feedback inhibition” help maintain homeostasis.,,,
    Building artificial cells in a modular fashion will inevitably result in the onset of chemical equilibrium within each module. Once equilibrium is reached, the artificial cell, figuratively speaking, “runs into a brick wall”. It is no longer capable of growth or accomplish any net chemical process.,,
    Until the construction of cell-like structures harboring metabolisms in homeostatic non-equilibrium states become reality, the most sophisticated efforts of synthetic biology will come to naught.

    Physicist Brian Miller: Two Conundrums for Strictly Materialist Views of Biology – January 2020
    Excerpt: Nothing in nature will ever simultaneously go to both low entropy and high energy at the same time. It’s a physical impossibility. Yet life had to do that. Life had to take simple chemicals and go to a state of high energy and of low entropy. That’s a physical impossibility.

  2. 2
    Belfast says:

    Not being picky but how long is JE to remain 31? I make him 40 or thereabouts.
    Also he works in Israel now, not MIT.

  3. 3
    PaV says:

    Surely this is taken from the pages of the Babylon Bee.

    It seems to me that a solar cell is good at “capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat.” When will one of them “give birth” as they have light shining upon them all the time making this birthing event as predictable as “as rocks rolling downhill.”

    What inanity! We’re witnessing the ‘death of science.’ And all of us will suffer because of it.

  4. 4
    jerry says:

    A major conference on this mumbo jumbo is ending today in Prague.


    Doug Axe should comment on this guy since he supposedly is an expert on protein folding.

  5. 5
    Seversky says:

    It’s an interesting hypothesis. England may be wrong, of course, but at least he’s trying and that makes it living science. I don’t see ID proponents attempting anything like that in terms of explaining in detail how their preferred designer accomplished its designs.

  6. 6
    ET says:

    LoL! @ seversky! Evolutionism is all about the how and yet no one has a clue how blind and mindless processes produced the diversity of life. Evos are such clueless hypocrites.

    ID’s science and details are in the determination of intelligent design (or not).

  7. 7
    ET says:

    Jeremy England clearly doesn’t understand biology.

  8. 8
    jerry says:

    I don’t see ID proponents attempting anything like that in terms of explaining in detail how their preferred designer accomplished its designs

    It’s called synthetic biology.

    Discussed here several times. Don’t you read this site for the latest information?

    England uses all the right buzz words such as self-organization and emergent.

  9. 9
    jerry says:

    Has Jeremy found religion?

    He’s now a rabbi in Israel and has a blog.

    Jeremy England
    Former- MIT-physics-prof-turned-rav in Israel

    Jeremy England is physicist, biologist, and machine learning researcher who also has received ordination as an orthodox rabbi. Previously a physics professor at MIT, he now resides in Israel and loves exploring the Torah’s commentaries on scientific reasoning.

    Was also at Georgia Tech till recently.


  10. 10
    relatd says:

    Seversky at 5,

    Being annoying is not a good thing. As you may know, talking about a “preferred designer” is frowned upon here.

  11. 11
    relatd says:

    Jerry at 8,

    Someone can send me a ‘synthetic biology’ kit so I can find out how shining a light on something can grow a plant.

  12. 12
    jerry says:

    It’s called synthetic biology.

    13 1/2 years ago I made what I call a sarcastic remark about people asking how the designer created life.

    I referred them to the concept of synthetic biology which amongst many things is creating a cell from scratch. Granted they are no where near doing it but 13 years ago they were hopeful.

    Here is my sarcastic response on how the “designer” did it?

    Mark Frank and Adel, you people are just too good to be true. Next they will be accusing us of having planted you people here.

    Yes, I make sarcastic remarks because absurdity deserves it. If I hear one more person wanting to know what FSCI is, I will scream. I explained it to my niece in 4th grade and she understood it and thought it was neat. But she is really a bright kid.

    Someone actually wants the laboratory techniques used 3.8 billion years ago. You talk about bizarre. I say a thousand as hyperbole and Mark in all seriousness says there is probably only a dozen. Mark wants the actual technique used a few billion years ago.

    Mark, I got word from the designer a few weeks ago and he said the original lab and blue prints were subducted under what was to become the African plate 3.4 billion years ago but by then they were mostly rubble anyway. The original cells were relatively simple but still very complex. Subsequent plants/labs went the same way and unfortunately all holograph videos of it are now in hyper space and haven’t been looked at for at least 3 million years. So to answer one of your questions, no further work has been done for quite awhile and the designer expects future work to be done by the latest design itself. The designer travels via hyper space between his home and our area of the universe when it is necessary.

    The designer said the techniques used were much more sophisticated than anything dreamed of by current synthetic biologist crowd but in a couple million years they may get up to speed and understand how it was actually done. The designer said it is actually a lot more difficult than people think especially since this was a new technique and he had to invent the DNA/RNA/protein process from scratch but amazingly they had the right chemical properties.

    His comment was “Thank God for that” or else he doesn’t think he wouldn’t have been able to do it. It took him about 200,000 of our years just experimenting with amino acid combinations to get usable proteins. He said it will be easier for current scientists since they will have a template to work off.

    Adel, if you make a negative comment or exhibit a negative attitude then expect the essence of your negative comment to be dealt with in some way. I would not let any of my children make a comment such as yours without being sent to their room. I could think of hundreds of ways for you to have made a cordial comment inquiring what I think on the matter. But why did you choose the way you did which revealed a lot of things. (By the way I am quite clear on what I think and it is all over this blog.)

    But thank you any way for your comments. Your comments and Mark Frank’s comment and those by others here help us immensely. We really appreciate how easy you guys make our job convincing others about the logic and facts behind our position.


  13. 13
    relatd says:

    I guess this means I won’t be building a lab for synthetic biologists with all the chemicals and atmosphere chambers they might need.

  14. 14
    EDTA says:

    Ah, more of this recycled garbage. Get some cool weird idea, and work it up into an explanation for the origin of life. Publish (because it’s publishable.)

    Just a couple of examples from the recent past:

    “Natural Selection for Least Action”, Ville R. I. Kaila and Arto Annila, Proceedings of the Royal Society A (2008) 464, 3055-3070. Just speculated relationships among equations; no empirical tests of any kind made, and no testable predictions. (JVL, here there could be some, but aren’t.)

    “Towards an evolutionary theory of the origin of life based on kinetics and thermodynamics”, Pascal, Pross and Sutherland, 2013. Royal Society Publishing.

    Great science fantasy speculating.

  15. 15
    zweston says:

    I want to know where the author got the atoms and the light? Get your own, man. No stealing.

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