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Davies and Walker: Life not reducible to known physical principles

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The “hard problem” of life

From Arxiv:

Chalmer’s famously identified pinpointing an explanation for our subjective experience as the “hard problem of consciousness”. He argued that subjective experience constitutes a “hard problem” in the sense that its explanation will ultimately require new physical laws or principles. Here, we propose a corresponding “hard problem of life” as the problem of how `information’ can affect the world. In this essay we motivate both why the problem of information as a causal agent is central to explaining life, and why it is hard – that is, why we suspect that a full resolution of the hard problem of life will, similar to as has been proposed for the hard problem of consciousness, ultimately not be reducible to known physical principles. More. (public access)

This is what the Royal Society rethinking evolution meet should be about, not about protecting Darwinism’s, um, generous behind.

See also: Data basic

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4 Replies to “Davies and Walker: Life not reducible to known physical principles

  1. 1
    Dionisio says:

    gpuccio has pointed to this interesting OP from his own thread (

  2. 2
    Dionisio says:

    There are few open problems in science as perplexing as the nature of life and consciousness. At present, we do not have many scientific windows into either.

    [Emphasis mine].

    I believe they are so perplexing because they transcend the domain of science.

    Complete true knowledge to all that doesn’t come from what we call ‘science’ these days, which is based mostly on reductionist bottom-up research.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    Basically Walker and Davies are just providing some context and detail for the irreconcilable ‘bottom up’ materialism vs. the ‘top down’ information problem

    The “Hard Problem” of Life – Sara Imari Walker and Paul C.W. Davies = June 23, 2016
    Excerpt: ,,,in the same way that Chalmers identified qualia as central to the hard problem of consciousness. To that end we propose that the hard problem of life is the problem of how ‘information’ can affect the world. In this essay we motivate both why the problem of information is central to explaining life and why it is hard, that is, why we suspect that a full resolution of the hard problem will not ultimately be reducible to known physical principles.,,,
    ,,, There are some indications for a potentially deep connection between information theory (which is not cast as a physical theory and instead quantifies the efficacy of communication through noisy channels), and thermodynamics, which is a branch of physics(5) due to the mathematical relationship between Shannon and Boltzmann entropies. Substantial work over the last decade has attempted to make this connection explicit, we point the reader to [22, 20] for recent reviews. Schrodinger was aware of this link in his deliberations on biology, and famously coined the term “negentropy” to describe life’s ability to seemingly violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics(6) . Yet he felt that something was missing, and that thermodynamic considerations alone are insufficient to explain life [26]:

    “. . .living matter, while not eluding the ”laws of physics” as established up to date, is likely to involve ”other laws of physics” hitherto unknown . . . ”
    – Erwin Schrodinger

    We suggest one approach to get at these “other laws” is to focus on the connection between the concept of “information” and the equally ill-defined concept of “causation” [34, 17, 9]. Both concepts are implicated in the failure of our current physical theories to account for complex states of the world without resorting to very special initial conditions. In particular, we posit that
    the manner in which biological systems implement state-dependent dynamics is by utilizing information encoded locally in the current state of the system, that is, by attributing causal efficacy to information. It is widely recognized that coarse-graining (which would define the relevant ‘informational’ degrees of freedom) plays a foundational role in how biological systems are structured [12], by defining the biologically relevant macrovariables (see e.g. Chapters by Flack, Dedeo and by Wolpert et al. in this volume). However, it is not clear how those macrostates arise, if they are objective or subjective [27], or whether they are in fact a fundamental aspect of biological organization – intrinsic to the dynamics (i.e. such that macrostates are causal) rather than merely a useful phenomenological descriptor. A framework in which coarse-grained information-encoding macrostates are causal holds promise for resolving many of the problems discussed herein. This is the key aspect of the hard problem of life.
    There are many difficult open problems in understanding the origin of life – such as the ‘tar paradox’ [2] and the fact that prebiotic chemistry is just plain hard to do. These problems differ qualitatively from the ‘hard problem of life’ as identified here. Most open problems associated with life’s origin such as these, while challenging right now, will likely ultimately reduce to known principles of physics and chemistry and therefore constitute by our definition “easy problems”. Here we have attempted to identify a core feature of life that won’t similarly be solved based on current paradigms – namely, that life seems distinct from other physical systems in how information affects the world (that is, that macrostates are causal).,,,
    To quote Einstein, ‘One can best feel in dealing with living things how primitive physics still is.’
    ( A. Einstein, letter to L. Szilard quoted in [25]).

    Since the following article gets the point across much more clearly, I like the way Davies puts the ‘top down’ problem in this following article better than he currently does in the present article:

    How we could create life – Paul Davies – 11 December 2002
    Excerpt: Instead, the living cell is best thought of as a supercomputer – an information processing and replicating system of astonishing complexity. DNA is not a special life-giving molecule, but a genetic databank that transmits its information using a mathematical code. Most of the workings of the cell are best described, not in terms of material stuff – hardware – but as information, or software. Trying to make life by mixing chemicals in a test tube is like soldering switches and wires in an attempt to produce Windows 98. It won’t work because it addresses the problem at the wrong conceptual level.

    The approach pioneered by Miller is bottom-up, synthesising the building blocks of life from inorganic substances and then trying to assemble them into more complex structures. Meanwhile, molecular biologists have been making strides with a top-down approach,

    In regards to this irreconcilable ‘top down’ vs. ‘bottom up’ problem, George Ellis added his considerable two cents here in this article:

    Recognising Top-Down Causation – George Ellis
    Excerpt: ,,,However there are many topics that one cannot understand by assuming this one-way flow of causation. The flourishing subject of social neuroscience makes clear how social influences act down on individual brain structure[2]; studies in physiology demonstrate that downward causation is necessary in understanding the heart, where this form of causation can be represented as the influences of initial and boundary conditions on the solutions of the differential equations used to represent the lower level processes[3]; epigenetic studies demonstrate that biological development is crucially shaped by the environment[4]
    What about physics? In this essay I will make the case that top-down causation is also prevalent in physics, even though this is not often recognised as such. This does not occur by violating physical laws; on the contrary, it occurs through the laws of physics, by setting constraints on lower level interactions.
    Excerpt: page 5: A:
    Causal Efficacy of Non Physical entities:
    Both the program and the data are non-physical entities, indeed so is all software. A program is not a physical thing you can point to, but by Definition 2 it certainly exists. You can point to a CD or flashdrive where it is stored, but that is not the thing in itself: it is a medium in which it is stored.
    The program itself is an abstract entity, shaped by abstract logic. Is the software “nothing but” its realisation through a specific set of stored electronic states in the computer memory banks? No it is not because it is the precise pattern in those states that matters: a higher level relation that is not apparent at the scale of the electrons themselves. It’s a relational thing (and if you get the relations between the symbols wrong, so you have a syntax error, it will all come to a grinding halt). This abstract nature of software is realised in the concept of virtual machines, which occur at every level in the computer hierarchy except the bottom one [17]. But this tower of virtual machines causes physical effects in the real world, for example when a computer controls a robot in an assembly line to create physical artefacts.
    Excerpt page 7: The assumption that causation is bottom up only is wrong in biology, in computers, and even in many cases in physics, for example state vector preparation, where top-down constraints allow non-unitary behaviour at the lower levels. It may well play a key role in the quantum measurement problem (the dual of state vector preparation) [5]. One can bear in mind here that wherever equivalence classes of entities play a key role, such as in Crutchfield’s computational mechanics [29], this is an indication that top-down causation is at play.,,,
    Life and the brain: living systems are highly structured modular hierarchical systems, and there are many similarities to the digital computer case, even though they are not digital computers. The lower level interactions are constrained by network connections, thereby creating possibilities of truly complex behaviour. Top-down causation is prevalent at all levels in the brain: for example it is crucial to vision [24,25] as well as the relation of the individual brain to society [2]. The hardware (the brain) can do nothing without the excitations that animate it: indeed this is the difference between life and death. The mind is not a physical entity, but it certainly is causally effective: proof is the existence of the computer on which you are reading this text. It could not exist if it had not been designed and manufactured according to someone’s plans, thereby proving the causal efficacy of thoughts, which like computer programs and data are not physical entities.

    In the following paper, Dr Andy C. McIntosh, who is professor of thermodynamics and combustion theory at the University of Leeds, holds that it is non-material information that is constraining the cell to be so far out of thermodynamic equilibrium. Moreover, Dr. McIntosh holds that regarding information as independent of energy and matter ‘resolves the thermodynamic issues and invokes the correct paradigm for understanding the vital area of thermodynamic/organisational interactions’.

    Information and Thermodynamics in Living Systems – Andy C. McIntosh – 2013
    Excerpt: ,,, information is in fact non-material and that the coded information systems (such as, but not restricted to the coding of DNA in all living systems) is not defined at all by the biochemistry or physics of the molecules used to store the data. Rather than matter and energy defining the information sitting on the polymers of life, this approach posits that the reverse is in fact the case. Information has its definition outside the matter and energy on which it sits, and furthermore constrains it to operate in a highly non-equilibrium thermodynamic environment. This proposal resolves the thermodynamic issues and invokes the correct paradigm for understanding the vital area of thermodynamic/organisational interactions, which despite the efforts from alternative paradigms has not given a satisfactory explanation of the way information in systems operates.,,,

    Of related note to Dr. McIntosh’s (and Davies’s) contention that it must be information which is constraining life to be so far out of thermodynamic equilibrium, information has now been experimentally shown to have a ‘thermodynamic content’

    Maxwell’s demon demonstration (knowledge of a particle’s position) turns information into energy – November 2010
    Excerpt: Scientists in Japan are the first to have succeeded in converting information into free energy in an experiment that verifies the “Maxwell demon” thought experiment devised in 1867.,,, In Maxwell’s thought experiment the demon creates a temperature difference simply from information about the gas molecule temperatures and without transferring any energy directly to them.,,, Until now, demonstrating the conversion of information to energy has been elusive, but University of Tokyo physicist Masaki Sano and colleagues have succeeded in demonstrating it in a nano-scale experiment. In a paper published in Nature Physics they describe how they coaxed a Brownian particle to travel upwards on a “spiral-staircase-like” potential energy created by an electric field solely on the basis of information on its location. As the particle traveled up the staircase it gained energy from moving to an area of higher potential, and the team was able to measure precisely how much energy had been converted from information.

    Demonic device converts information to energy – 2010
    Excerpt: “This is a beautiful experimental demonstration that information has a thermodynamic content,” says Christopher Jarzynski, a statistical chemist at the University of Maryland in College Park. In 1997, Jarzynski formulated an equation to define the amount of energy that could theoretically be converted from a unit of information2; the work by Sano and his team has now confirmed this equation. “This tells us something new about how the laws of thermodynamics work on the microscopic scale,” says Jarzynski.

    As well, it is now found that ‘non-local’, beyond space-time matter-energy, Quantum entanglement/information ‘holds’ DNA (and proteins) together:

    Quantum entanglement holds together life’s blueprint – 2010
    Excerpt: When the researchers analysed the DNA without its helical structure, they found that the electron clouds were not entangled. But when they incorporated DNA’s helical structure into the model, they saw that the electron clouds of each base pair became entangled with those of its neighbours. “If you didn’t have entanglement, then DNA would have a simple flat structure, and you would never get the twist that seems to be important to the functioning of DNA,” says team member Vlatko Vedral of the University of Oxford.

    “What happens is this classical information (of DNA) is embedded, sandwiched, into the quantum information (of DNA). And most likely this classical information is never accessed because it is inside all the quantum information. You can only access the quantum information or the electron clouds and the protons. So mathematically you can describe that as a quantum/classical state.”
    Elisabeth Rieper – Classical and Quantum Information in DNA – video (Longitudinal Quantum Information resides along the entire length of DNA discussed at the 19:30 minute mark; at 24:00 minute mark Dr. Rieper remarks that practically the whole DNA molecule can be viewed as quantum information with classical information embedded within it)

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    The DNA Mystery: Scientists Stumped By “Telepathic” Abilities – Sept, 2009
    Scientists are reporting evidence that contrary to our current beliefs about what is possible, intact double-stranded DNA has the “amazing” ability to recognize similarities in other DNA strands from a distance. Somehow they are able to identify one another, and the tiny bits of genetic material tend to congregate with similar DNA. The recognition of similar sequences in DNA’s chemical subunits, occurs in a way unrecognized by science. There is no known reason why the DNA is able to combine the way it does, and from a current theoretical standpoint this feat should be chemically impossible.

    Coherent Intrachain energy migration at room temperature – Elisabetta Collini and Gregory Scholes – University of Toronto – Science, 323, (2009), pp. 369-73
    Excerpt: The authors conducted an experiment to observe quantum coherence dynamics in relation to energy transfer. The experiment, conducted at room temperature, examined chain conformations, such as those found in the proteins of living cells. Neighbouring molecules along the backbone of a protein chain were seen to have coherent energy transfer. Where this happens quantum decoherence (the underlying tendency to loss of coherence due to interaction with the environment) is able to be resisted, and the evolution of the system remains entangled as a single quantum state.

    That ‘top down’ causality is the overriding rule in biology, instead of the ‘bottom up’ causality envisioned by Darwinists, is made clear by several lines of evidence. Here are three lines of those several lines of evidence supporting the reality of ‘top down’ causality in life:

    Extreme Genome Repair – 2009
    Excerpt: If its naming had followed, rather than preceded, molecular analyses of its DNA, the extremophile bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans might have been called Lazarus. After shattering of its 3.2 Mb genome into 20–30 kb pieces by desiccation or a high dose of ionizing radiation, D. radiodurans miraculously reassembles its genome such that only 3 hr later fully reconstituted nonrearranged chromosomes are present, and the cells carry on, alive as normal.,,,

    Ask an Embryologist: Genomic Mosaicism – Jonathan Wells – February 23, 2015
    Excerpt: humans have a “few thousand” different cell types. Here is my simple question: Does the DNA sequence in one cell type differ from the sequence in another cell type in the same person?,,,
    The simple answer is: We now know that there is considerable variation in DNA sequences among tissues, and even among cells in the same tissue. It’s called genomic mosaicism.
    In the early days of developmental genetics, some people thought that parts of the embryo became different from each other because they acquired different pieces of the DNA from the fertilized egg. That theory was abandoned,,,
    ,,,(then) “genomic equivalence” — the idea that all the cells of an organism (with a few exceptions, such as cells of the immune system) contain the same DNA — became the accepted view.
    I taught genomic equivalence for many years. A few years ago, however, everything changed. With the development of more sophisticated techniques and the sampling of more tissues and cells, it became clear that genetic mosaicism is common.
    I now know as an embryologist,,,Tissues and cells, as they differentiate, modify their DNA to suit their needs. It’s the organism controlling the DNA, not the DNA controlling the organism.

    What Do Organisms Mean? Stephen L. Talbott – Winter 2011
    Excerpt: Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin once described how you can excise the developing limb bud from an amphibian embryo, shake the cells loose from each other, allow them to reaggregate into a random lump, and then replace the lump in the embryo. A normal leg develops. Somehow the form of the limb as a whole is the ruling factor, redefining the parts according to the larger pattern. Lewontin went on to remark: “Unlike a machine whose totality is created by the juxtaposition of bits and pieces with different functions and properties, the bits and pieces of a developing organism seem to come into existence as a consequence of their spatial position at critical moments in the embryo’s development. Such an object is less like a machine than it is like a language whose elements… take unique meaning from their context.[3]”,,,

    Supplemental notes

    The Unbearable Wholeness of Beings – Stephen L. Talbott – 2010
    Excerpt: Virtually the same collection of molecules exists in the canine cells during the moments immediately before and after death. But after the fateful transition no one will any longer think of genes as being regulated, nor will anyone refer to normal or proper chromosome functioning. No molecules will be said to guide other molecules to specific targets, and no molecules will be carrying signals, which is just as well because there will be no structures recognizing signals. Code, information, and communication, in their biological sense, will have disappeared from the scientist’s vocabulary.
    ,,, the question, rather, is why things don’t fall completely apart — as they do, in fact, at the moment of death. What power holds off that moment — precisely for a lifetime, and not a moment longer?
    Despite the countless processes going on in the cell, and despite the fact that each process might be expected to “go its own way” according to the myriad factors impinging on it from all directions, the actual result is quite different. Rather than becoming progressively disordered in their mutual relations (as indeed happens after death, when the whole dissolves into separate fragments), the processes hold together in a larger unity.
    picture – What power holds off that moment — precisely for a lifetime, and not a moment longer?

    Scientific evidence that we do indeed have an eternal soul (Elaboration on Talbott’s question “What power holds off that moment — precisely for a lifetime, and not a moment longer?”)– video 2016

    “,,and 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 – Quantum biology – 19th Century Materialism meets 21st Century Quantum Mechanics – video

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