Physical organic chemist Michael Page asks that at The Conversation:
Living systems are chemically based and therefore must obey the laws of science. Life appears to be just a series of chemical reactions – and we now understand how these reactions work at the molecular level. So surely this should tell us how life came about?
But what are the laws of science?
We are still looking for dark matter, and some would wish away the current Higgs boson.
The assumption that early life forms must have been similar to what we see today may be preventing us from answering this question. It’s possible that there were many unsuccessful precursors that bore little resemblance to present-day life. There has been speculation that primitive starting points could even have been based around an element other than carbon (the substance at the heart of all life today). Some researchers suggest that life may have originally evolved in liquids other than water. These alternatives are fascinating, but it’s difficult to find a starting point for researching them because they are so unfamiliar.
It’s the same problem as with intelligent non-carbon-based life forms or alternative universes that don’t obey our laws of physics. It may be true but… then how does one research it?
A key trait that sets life apart from inanimate matter is its reliance on organisation. Molecules must be arranged in a specific way and replicate according to a detailed pattern. But the natural tendency of the whole universe is towards a state of equilibrium, or balance – where everything is spread out and nothing is ordered. Maintaining an ordered structure means life is constantly off-balance and this requires energy, which organisms must extract from their surroundings. More.
Which is why some think that the answer lies not in chemistry but in a better understanding of information (Page calls it “organisation” above).
See also: What we know and don’t, about the origin of life
What is information anyway? Some proposed answers
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