Filed under: Connections, Fermi's Paradox, General Musings, MIT, Reproduction, Science, Space, Survival | Tags: biology, evolution, Jeremy England, jim downey, MIT, Natalie Wolchover, physics, Quanta Magazine, science, space, thermodynamics
This is a really interesting idea: that fundamental thermodynamic forces lead very naturally to the the beginning and evolution of life. From the start of the article:
Why does life exist?
Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”
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.
It’s important to note that this is not in any way in conflict with current understanding of evolution — rather, as the article says: “England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations.”
Take a few minutes to read the article; it’s well written and non-technical but assumes a basic scientific understanding of both evolution and thermodynamics.
And if proven true, implies that the universe should be full of biological life as a manifestation of basic physical processes.
*Very* interesting, indeed.
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