Monday 5 March 2007

Life- Why the spark in the first place?

It is often been a quandry that has interested me that ultimately all the laws of biology must be collapsible into physical ones.
Of necessity, the basic laws of evolutionary biology must have a root explanation in the laws of physics.
It is easy to explain the arrival of adaptions in terms of survival of the fittest, but as we return to the source, what advantage did organic compounds have over inorganic ones?

Part of the problem is in finding a satisfactory definition of life, to which most biologists will say that there isn't one. There are the famous seven signs of life we learnt at school, but no biologist would actually stand by them. Partly, this is because they sometimes overlap, are not universal nor always exclusive.
Until we look closely.
Most of the facets of the so-called seven signs (Eating, respiration, etc) can simply be accounted for by the fact that Life is a chemical process and chemical processes need to carry on reacting, or they will cease. Each life is in this sense simply a series of chemical reactions.
But there is one thing that distinguishes life from other chemical processes.
We Reproduce.

Am I being overoptimistic in saying that a good description of life would be;
'Any series of chemical processes which, simply by virtue of their own existance are ultimately capable of intiitiating one or more series of chemical processes, to the degree that in the long term the total amount of such chemical processes will be increased'.

This in essence reduces the whole history of life on earth to a chemical chain reaction. This implies that the advantage of organic over inorganic matter, from the point of view of the universe, is that it allows chain reaction to develop for their own ends.

But what advantage would that be? I submit that there is obviously a preference for chain reactions in the universe. We find them wherever they can possibly develop- all stars are nuclear chain reactions. The universe itself is kind of a series of chain reactions.
But to what ultimate purpose?

I think the answer to this- as in everything- is in the Laws of Thermodynamics. Chain reactions are good because they release increasing amounts of energy. They are a way of speeding the universe up and allowing it to reach heat death with maximum efficiency.
Put bluntly, we exist as a way for the universe to waste energy.


Anonymous said...

Your description of life seems to include fire. (It also grows, moves, eats/consumes, there is respiration and reproduction.)

I think life is defined by something outside of physical matter and energy. I call it, 'life'.

Free will, humour and determination may be strongly affected by (and even dependant upon) chemicals and currents. But those physicals will never fully account for life.

Anonymous said...

I would settle for just getting a life. Your definition, CBI, strikes me as something that would fit nicely into my Graham Greene-esque worldview, but it's even more bleak than standard random evolution. I remember reading somewhere (Paul Davies?) that it was for the universe to begin to understand itself- we are steps in the universe's own appreciation of its own genius. Or something. Not quite as crap as that. It was a nice idea. I was struggling to imagine non-existence yesterday; I found it extremely hard as a thought experiment, even though I failed to exist for a miserable 15 billion years before 1976. I can't remember what that was like. I can't remember the 23rd February 1982 either, but I know I did exist then. So what's the difference? I understand the logic but not the feeling of it. "Intellectually there is very little wrong with you. Only emotionally have you failed to make progress" (O Brien to Winston)

Anonymous said...

There is a quid pro quo to the idea, though. If we, simple chemical constructs are conscious entities- ones who have been here a mere instant in the grand scheme of things, is it not plausible to say that a universe that has been here for fifteen billion here has evolved in a conscious direction, as in the universe has evolved consciousness- as in my interpretation, it necessarily would- somewhat of a pantheistic interpretation, true.

Anonymous said...

Put bluntly, we exist as a way for the universe to waste energy.

How inspiring! Why is it we don't hear more songs about this on the radio? We like to sing about purpose and meaning do we not? If this is our meaning why not put it to song?

Not sure if you actually believe this or not, I just breifly scanned your blog and happened across this post. It struck a chord with the current metaphysical debate we have going over at Matt & I's blog.

Anonymous said...

I do actually believe it Alex, because I believe that ultimately the driving force of the universe and therefore everything will pan out to be contained in the laws of thermodynamics.
I think the fundamental law of any universe will be 'All energy moves to zero point by the shortest available route'.
This holds even in a singularity.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I'd have no problem with what you are saying if you would include in your equation the presence of a law giver in relation to these laws of thermodynamics. But then again I'm a theist so of course I'd say that.

Anonymous said...

I think, Alex you will find my answer that in your own debate with Matt.
'The one thing you can say for sure is that energy exists'.
Am I being too esoteric there?