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EdEarl

A New Physics Theory of Life

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simmonsfoundation.org/quanta

 

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. 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.

England's hypothesis now needs to be tested. If it is valid, then life should be common in the Universe. However, IMO it says very little about the probability of technological cultures occurring.

Edited by EdEarl

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In the late 1970s, on some occasion after a university lesson on Entropy, a friend who was taking the same thermodynamics class as me noted that:

 

"Life is just Nature's Way of turning Light into Heat."

 

He looked at me, waiting a couple of seconds to see if I understood, until I burst into laughter and he could tell that I got his point ...and we both laughed hard, and kept laughing even more as we realized more about the implications!

 

I always happily remember that peak moment, when the sublime truth underlying so much of reality became clarified for me by such a ridiculously simple statement.

I'm glad to see somebody has quantified, and can now test, this truth hypothesis.

===

 

Years later it occurred to me how a more humorously accessible form at the same statement might be:

 

Life is just God's Way to maximize Entropy.

 

...but that might only be funny to atheistic scientists.

 

~ ;)

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"Life is just Nature's Way of turning Light into Heat."

 

Deep sea microorganisms never saw Sun or light.

They are utilizing heat coming from Volcano, and natural heat of Earth.

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I think the oragnisms around hydrothermal vents exists on chemical energy.

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England's hypothesis now needs to be tested. If it is valid, then life should be common in the Universe. However, IMO it says very little about the probability of technological cultures occurring.

I agree.

 

As far as I see it, which is from a very limited view point, life seems to be everywhere we would expect it and almost everywhere else as well. That is it's wandering about inside glaciers, sitting on top of lava lakes and doing it's thing in rocks miles below ground.

 

The path of evolution which has resulted in us is, however, massively flukey. There are many points where just the right size asteroid hit or the world went snowball at just the right time.

 

Even when apes started wandering around the plains they were hardly a spectacular success. Their populations seem to have been very low. Even those still in the trees are hardly there in plague numbers. Early man was never as common as lion or elephant.

 

Even after that our civilization did not happen at all for most of the time of humanity. We seem to have wandered all over the planet as hunter gatherers for a lot longer than seems decent if we were supposed to make more of the place.

 

Eventually some of us started to build villages. And there it stopped for many thousands of years again.

 

Lots later, like 9 thousand years or so, we started creating larger political units. Having armies. Trading.

 

The big shift came in North Western Europe 500 years ago. We finally got into gear and looked at the world with the view to use the understanding of it to solve problems.

 

In the 1400's the Chinese sailed around lots of the world bringing back giraffe to China as zoo animals. They decided the rest of the world was rubbish and shut up shop.

 

The early explores who made it back from India had a significant difference beyond the fat that they did it in what we today, and the Chinese would consider a medium size yacht suitable for calm weather on a river day trip, is that they showed a profit.

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Deep sea microorganisms never saw Sun or light.

They are utilizing heat coming from Volcano, and natural heat of Earth.

Excellent point! I want to stretch my notion to include the light of the supernova that forged the elements of that volcanic deep-sea environment, but that still does not account for all the gravitational (heating) energy that is generated by the formation of the planet.

 

 

I think the oragnisms around hydrothermal vents exists on chemical energy.

Though wherever the energy is coming from, life seems to be the best way to dissipate that energy; taking high energy and converting it into lower energy (longer wavelengths), hence the "light into heat" metaphor allusion. Life is acting like an enzyme, within its vast chemical universe.

And the net, or balance, of all living processes yields an increase in entropy; so living creatures are like little entropy generators.

 

ISTM....

Life, including its creation, growth, and development, is hard work; but the extra entropy generated makes it all worthwhile, thermodynamically speaking, in the long run.

 

~ :unsure:

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England's hypothesis now needs to be tested. If it is valid, then life should be common in the Universe. However, IMO it says very little about the probability of technological cultures occurring.

 

 

This discovery sounds like it might need to alter our life definition. Is that acting towards self preservation?

 

Imagine it was or is life by all definitions though. Then this would mean life is practically everywhere in the Universe even at microscopic levels. As Tim The Plumber seems to state, the odds of intelligent civilizations coming to communicate with us having duplicated our own multi million year evolution is scarce. This discovery should make it much less scarce (if true), as it would put the building blocks in so many more locations.

 

@ Timtheplumber,

 

A civilization does not need to have space travel for us to locate them and study them. If ways exist to travel via space I would think many intelligent species could be detected. It would depend upon our speed of exploration. If travel was instant for example we could easily map out millions of galaxies.

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