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Rob Sheldon on new origin of life theory: Testimony to power of self-promotion?

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Thumbnail for version as of 16:09, 29 March 2006 Further to “New theory sees origin of life as inevitable, and Darwinian evolution a special case, physicist Rob Sheldon offers some thoughts on MIT prof Jeremy England’s theory:

This is simply “Maximum Entropy Production Principle” or MEPP theory that was developed in the 80’s and 90’s. It appears–though of course I haven’t got the peer-reviewed paper to check–that this MIT assistant prof needs tenure. Oops, I meant to say that this fellow has made some small incremental improvement on the MEPP model, and the news release is acting as if he has invented the entire discipline from scratch. It is not certain that the American approach to universities produces the best research, but it surely is beyond doubt that it produces the best self-promotion.

So what is MEPP, and why the hoopla about life?

The problem, as physicists will only tell you behind a closed and locked door, is that life violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics. If you throw some water and amino acids and sugar on the stove and simmer it for a few days, you might get great soup, but you surely will not get a single ounce of help writing your next research grant. The reason is that the soup uses all that heat and water and convection to find the highest entropy possible at the given energy. In the reductionist “ideal gas” model, this is a Gaussian distribution of velocities known as a Maxwellian, and it is about as boring as it gets.

But put in one bacterium, and that great soup turns into an acidic, cloudy mess. It no longer is in its maximum entropy state, but highly organized into these little micelles of neutral pH surrounded by low pH excretions and lots of polysaccharide goo. In the reductionist “non-ideal gas” model, this corresponds to non-Gaussian distribution of velocities with a “fat tail” of really energetic fellows who succeed at the expense of lots of lazy atoms populating the lower strata of physics society. One science historian referred to it as “the Matthew principle”, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

It so totally violates the 2nd law, how do physicists explain it?

The MEPP principle suggests that energy is flowing through the system–it is hotter on the bottom of the soup pot, and cooler at the top, and steam is constantly coming out from under the lid. So we don’t have to conserve energy, instead, we have to conserve energy flow. MEPP suggests that the soup is trying to keep from boiling over by increasing its ability to transfer heat through the soup. All those bubbling spots are doing a marvellous job carrying heat from the bottom to the top, and in the process, creating a structure in the soup known as convection cells. If the soup is thick, you get a few cells that go from the bottom to the top, if it is thin, you get more cells that only span a portion of the soup. Why? Because the big cells carry heat better, but they are also more organized, so they are entropically expensive and only arrive when the little guys can’t do the job. Then the soup is optimizing the structure of its convection cells to provide the best flow of energy–or in MEPP terminology, it is maximizing the entropy production rate.

Ahhh! says the reductionist physicist, then bacteria are just like convection cells. They arise spontaneously in the soup in order to maximize the entropy production rate. Life is just a law of physics!

Ummm, this is more a case of English homonyms than a case of scientific discovery. And in fact, it isn’t at all obvious that life actually wants maximum entropy production. For example, it may take a week for bacteria to munch through all the sugar in the soup, perhaps months to munch through the oil, but it is a matter of seconds to set fire to the oil and sugar once the water is evaporated. To keep that from happening, the bacteria secrete scum and goo to keep the water from evaporating. So life actually tries to avoid catastrophic entropy production and violates MEPP!

But don’t tell them that until after you get them a dictionary.

Dear Colleagues, The origin of life can be understood on the foundations of hierarchical thermodynamics without representations about dissipative structures and any fantastic ideas. Hierarchical thermodynamics was created on the foundation of the theory of Gibbs - the most rigorous physical theory. Nature seeks to the minimum values of the specific Gibbs function (to the specific free energy) of formation of supramolecular structures. The same we can say also about the interactions between atoms. One can also say that these structures are looking for stability. This statement corresponds to the familiar doctrine that nature to strive for the densest packing of interacting supramolecular structures. In other words, nature tends to "the maximum satisfaction." It is looking for a maximum matching of “the key to the lock." We see this situation at the crystallization and the recrystallization of minerals, biological crystals and liquid crystal structures. Biological structures are improved in ontogeny, phylogeny and evolution. The structure of catalytic systems also is improved, which leads to acceleration of biological processes in the evolution. Finding of appropriate structures in nature is associated with cyclical changes of environmental parameters. I am sending you the information. Have a look at it please. Sincerely, Georgi Gladyshev Professor of Physical Chemistry As part of its applicability thermodynamics explains everything that happens in the world. To understand the origin of life and its evolution we should use the hierarchical thermodynamics and principle of substance stability (1977). http://www.mdpi.org/ijms/papers/i7030098.pdf Life: The principle of substance stability establishes the common life code in the universe http://endeav.net/news/19-origin-of-life.html The origin of life can be explained through the study of thermodynamics of universe evolution http://gladyshevevolution.wordpress.com/ Origin of Life (Abiogenesis) - Darwin's selection: the survival of stable supramolecular structures. Why does life originate and exist now? Origin of life and its evolution are the result of action of laws of hierarchical thermodynamics and the principle of substance stability. The criterion of evolution of living system is the change (during evolution) of the specific free energy (Gibbs function, G) of this living system formation. http://endeav.net/news.html The hierarchical thermodynamics has predicted the observed effects many years ago. About the phenomenon of life has been written in many articles and some monographs (for example, see: Gladyshev Georgi P. Thermodynamics Theory of the Evolution of Living Beings.- Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.- 1997.- 142 P., Thermodynamics optimizes the physiology of life http://ru.scribd.com/doc/87069230/Report-Ok-16-11-2011 , Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2006, 7, 98-110 http://www.mdpi.org/ijms/papers/i7030098.pdf , Site in English: Hierarchical thermodynamics solves the puzzle of life. The role of catalysis http://gladyshevevolution.wordpress.com/article/hierarchical-thermodynamics-solves-the-puzzle-of-life/ http://creatacad.org/?id=48&lng=eng http://creatacad.org/?id=57&lng=eng , http://www.eoht.info/page/Georgi+Gladyshev+%28biography%29 http://www.statemaster.com/encyclopedia/Georgi-Pavlovich-Gladyshev )! Thermodynamic evolution http://www.statemaster.com/encyclopedia/Thermodynamic-evolution Misunderstandings in ideas about entropy Many misunderstandings in understanding the problems of life and evolution from the standpoint of physics and physical chemistry are typically associated with misconceptions in understanding entropy. The term "entropy" coined Rudolf Clausius. According to his "model" of the world (universe), he presented a statement: "The energy of the world is constant. The entropy of the world tends to the maximum". Later this statement was chosen by JW Gibbs as an epigraph to the paper "On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances". These scientists have given this statement in relation to their model of the universe. This model corresponds to a simple isolated system of ideal gas, i.e. isolated system of ideal gas, energy and volume of this system are constant and in which only the work of expansion is performed. Entropy of such a system can only increase! It should be noted that when we say on ideal model, which would correspond to the real universe, it would be necessary to accept the unreal assumption that any form of energy real universe will be transformed into thermal energy. Only in this case, also under additional unrealistic assumptions, the real universe "would turn" into the model of ideal system of Clausius - Gibbs. However, lovers of science have applied representations on simple systems to systems of other types, in which the interactions takes place between particles of different nature (interactions of molecules or other objects of different hierarchies) and to systems which interact with the environment. Some scientists, who are not professionals in the relevant fields of knowledge, have not escaped such errors. This has led to unimaginable confusion. This has slowed down the development of science, more than on a century. There are thousands of publications in scientific journals and popular literature containing marked misunderstandings. To these were added incorrect ideas on the negentropy and on the dissipative structures in the living world. The origin of life and its evolution can be easily explained from the standpoint of hierarchical near equilibrium thermodynamics of complex dynamic systems. This thermodynamics established on a solid foundation of equilibrium thermodynamics - thermodynamics of Rudolf Clausius, JW Gibbs and other great scientists. http://www.membrana.ru/particle/17266 http://www.eoht.info/page/Entropy+%28misinterpretations%29 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYr1G5TZO50 Detailing theories about the origin of life and evolution is presented in the new sites (Knol moved to Wordpress): Some work: http://gladyshevevolution.wordpress.com/ http://creatacad.org/?id=48&lng=eng http://ru.scribd.com/doc/87069230/Report-Ok-16-11-2011 http://creatacad.org/?id=48&lng=eng http://ru.scribd.com/doc/87069230/Report-Ok-16-11-2011 Georgi Gladyshev
This is a good example of the kind of reasoning, logic, and faith that evolved monkey brains produce. It may not make sense to us, but then, what can you expect from evolved monkey brains? This is not surprising. Life is inevitable? They can shamelessly believe anything without evidence as long as it sounds halfway credible to them and upholds their precious worldview. tjguy
Correction @5: Only morons with an ax to grind believe there is a hard problem of the origin of life. Mapou
Only morons with an ax to grind believe there is a hard problem of the original of life. The solution to the OOL problem is the same for that of any complex mechanism. It's called design and engineering. Jeremy England has conjured up yet another cockamamie dirt-did-it pseudo-solution because he's a clueless dirt worshiper, that's all. Mapou
@LP, I agree with Sheldon. My response to England is "piffle". Until you can show that every single step in the process going from non-life to life maximizes entropy, you're grasping at straws. England's theory is self-defeating, in that a self-replicating molecule is less entropic than its component parts. An analogy using my brand new theory of Minimum Potential Energy Principle (MPEP): "an object will seek to minimize its potential energy". A ball at the top of a small hill will roll down, lowering its PE. MPEP. A ball being pushed down a small hill will lower its PE even faster. Greater efficiency than the MPEP, without violating it. England has studied both cases, and concluded that the Law of Gravity will, under certain conditions, create a man to push the ball. Rob rightly responds that a) he's comparing apples to oranges, and b) a man could also push the ball uphill, violating the MPEP. drc466
So this "physicist" hasn't seemed to have read the paper (which is most likely this one - http://www.englandlab.com/uploads/7/8/0/3/7803054/2013jcpsrep.pdf - which has been out since August last year). Perhaps Rob Sheldon should read the paper and reply in public to the journal rather than hiding behind Uncommon Descent ? Time is precious commodity but it seems Sheldon has time enough to knock up some trashtalk. Starting with the fallacies of poisoning the well Sheldon does his best to belittle the work of Jeremy England's lab by intimating that it is derivative and adds little to the problem of the origin of life. Sheldon then wanders off discussing 2nd law of thermodynamics and soup. It is ridiculous to think that the origin of life would be solved on the back of an envelope after a liquid lunch. Sheldon thinks it's all over in the 80's and 90's and that no one can add much more. The work with thermodynamics and energy paths goes back much further than the 1980's and we can go back to the 1922 paper by Alfred James Lotka 'Contribution to the Energetics of Evolution' in the Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1922 June; 8(6): 147–151. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1085052/ and you could go back even further but Lotka is a good place to start and go forward. Sheldon should know that science is advanced by small incremental changes in knowledge. If he is expecting people to solve science problems on their own and to some train schedule then Sheldon has misunderstood his own business. Lincoln Phipps
MEPP says that matter will always try to find the way to maximize the rate at which entropy gets produced. The classic example is a warm cabin on a cold mountain. If you open the cabin window, cold air will rush in and displace the warm air (supposedly) in the most efficient way possible. In more technical speak, MEPP says that energy gradients will try to relieve themselves in the fastest way they can, only subject to physical constraints. But if life is just another ordinary form of matter, then life must also obey MEPP. So evolution must be matter's way of maximizing the rate at which entropy gets produced. Except that it can't be, because life does all sorts of things to avoid producing entropy at the maximum rate--in other words to avoid death. EDTA
Interesting. So you're saying that life is not trying to maximize entropy but to slow it down and, in the process, violating the 2nd law of thermodynamics? And so, MEPP cannot be the cause of self-organization which means that Jeremy England’s theory is just more hogwash? Just asking. Mapou

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