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"The Origins of Life" --Radical New Theory Says Origin is Algorithmic vs Chemical





A radical new approach to the question of life's origin has been proposed by two Arizona State University scientists that attempts to dramatically redefine the problem. The researchers – Paul Davies, an ASU Regents' Professor and director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, and Sara Walker, a NASA post-doctoral fellow at the Beyond Center. "We propose that the transition from non-life to life is unique and definable," added Davies. "We suggest that life may be characterized by its distinctive and active use of information, thus providing a roadmap to identify rigorous criteria for the emergence of life. This is in sharp contrast to a century of thought in which the transition to life has been cast as a problem of chemistry, with the goal of identifying a plausible reaction pathway from chemical mixtures to a living entity."

In a nutshell, the authors shift attention from the "hardware" – the chemical basis of life – to the "software" – its information content. To use a computer analogy, chemistry explains the material substance of the machine, but it won't function without a program and data. Davies and Walker suggest that the crucial distinction between non-life and life is the way that living organisms manage the information flowing through the system.

"When we describe biological processes we typically use informational narratives – cells send out signals, developmental programs are run, coded instructions are read, genomic data are transmitted between generations and so forth," Walker said. "So identifying life's origin in the way information is processed and managed can open up new avenues for research."

One of the great mysteries of life is how it began. What physical process transformed a nonliving mix of chemicals into something as complex as a living cell? For more than a century, scientists have struggled to reconstruct the key first steps on the road to life. Until recently, their focus has been trained on how the simple building blocks of life might have been synthesized on the early Earth, or perhaps in space. But because it happened so long ago, all chemical traces have long been obliterated, leaving plenty of scope for speculation and disagreement. Focusing on informational development helps move away from some of the inherent disadvantages of trying to pin down the beginnings of chemical life.

"Chemical based approaches," Walker said, "have stalled at a very early stage of chemical complexity – very far from anything we would consider 'alive.' More seriously they suffer from conceptual shortcomings in that they fail to distinguish between chemistry and biology."

"To a physicist or chemist life seems like 'magic matter,'" Davies explained. "It behaves in extraordinary ways that are unmatched in any other complex physical or chemical system. Such lifelike properties include autonomy, adaptability and goal-oriented behavior – the ability to harness chemical reactions to enact a pre-programmed agenda, rather than being a slave to those reactions."

"We believe the transition in the informational architecture of chemical networks is akin to a phase transition in physics, and we place special emphasis on the top-down information flow in which the system as a whole gains causal purchase over its components," Davies added. "This approach will reveal how the logical organization of biological replicators differs crucially from trivial replication associated with crystals (non-life). By addressing the causal role of information directly, many of the baffling qualities of life are explained."

The authors expect that, by re-shaping the conceptual landscape in this fundamental way, not just the origin of life, but other major transitions will be explained, for example, the leap from single cells to multi-cellularity.*In addition to being a post-doctoral Fellow at the Beyond Center, Walker is affiliated with the NASA Astrobiology Institute in Mountain View, Calif., and the Blue Marble Space Institute, Seattle.

The Daily Galaxy via Arizona State University


There are just so darn many questions left unanswered in existing scientific models.

I'm not sure what Drs. Davies and Walker expect to get from this approach. I'm not saying the reasoning is wrong; I'm just not sure how they'd follow it. Following an information trail seems to me to support an intelligent-design model, and even mentioning that in most contemporary scientific circles is like tattooing a target on one's forehead with the words RIDICULE ME.

I see no reason why the idea of intelligent design should be a problem for any scientist. With regards to the formation of our universe. Many of the worlds most prominent scientists have been devout believers in a supreme being or state of being. A being that by its very nature can control and manipulate the universe at will. When humanity is capable of technology sufficient enough to control matter and energy at will. We will be as gods to any lower life forms. Whether or not a sentient life form can simply be born with this ability outright or must gain the ability threw advancements in technology is a interesting question.

People can never grasp the full concept of God, just because we were born does not necessarily mean He was.

This point of view has merit as an exercise but the question is, still, whether information content is an analysis outcome or a true, a priori driving force for bringing forth what we call life. I’d like to hear if Shannon’s information-energetics (entropy) actually makes information organization thermodynamically favorable - a first guess is that “life’s information organization structure is NOT energy favored because, of course, we so far know that entropy runs one way - towards the big fade-way - and all life forms with a few very curious exceptions, Die... either because someone either forgot to “feed” itself (hunt, forage, etc) or because the information-CONTAINING and renewing structures degraded terminally from cosmic ray or bad environmental-caused damage to the replicating mechanisms, or other randomness-inducing factors. So far, no one life form has been able to escape these considerations and live an unlimited time…unless it is also believed a sheltered environment can lead to perfect information replication and renewal, hence to live forever. In summary, I do not believe spontaneous information formation is thermodynamically a driving life factor.

@ Matthew - you couldn't be more wrong in so many ways ...

1) you said this, "I see no reason why the idea of intelligent design should be a problem for any scientist.' - well, any scientist who can simply accept nature without following the scientific process is not a scientist, just a person who claims to be. The absence of fact does not infer anything factual.

2) you also said this, "Many of the worlds most prominent scientists have been devout believers in a supreme being or state of being" - not since 1960 really, you must be thinking of all those guys experienceing the Renaissance; Darwin, DesCartes, etc have been quoted saying they really could never experience nature as they wanted out of fear of persecution from the Vatican. If you mean a supreme being as in more evolved then humans ... maybe ... but not the one in the Bible.

3)you said this, "When humanity is capable of technology sufficient enough to control matter and energy at will. We will be as gods to any lower life forms" - that statement goes against everything i ever learned growing up about Christianity and you would be argued with by Preists till they were blue in the teeth. if fact its against the Commandment regarding worshipping false idols which makes it inherently incorrect in terms of religion.

4)and you finished off with this satement (my favorite), "Whether or not a sentient life form can simply be born with this ability outright or must gain the ability threw advancements in technology is a interesting question." - Amalgomating technology with the human being is directly against the prementioned Commandment in #3. Any being using technology to control matter at will would be an offense to most religions.

I had fun here. Good times.

Ok ill play along even though you clearly just cannot comprehend what i was saying at all.
1. This is simple Google search that took me 1 second to find. I think you'll notice some very important names on that list. So ill just leave that argument a mute point as you clearly have no grasp of history.
2. Oh wait that simple google search also destroys this argument, so onto...
3. So then clearly you do not believe in genetic engineering? Something humanity is already doing. Playing God threw technology. I would love to see any priest argue that point.
4. You really are a smart guy. Let me you show everyone how smart. Quote "Any being using technology to control matter at will would be an offense to most religions." Then explain what a God is, if not a being able to control matter and energy at will? Omnipotence implies this ability does it not?

@ Resonanz -
I would think that it seems somewhat obvious that the organising of information and development of complexity within the universe as we experience it shows overwhelmingly that there is a 'tendency' for it to happen - we are all familiar with the second law of thermodynamics which describes entropy, but the first law of thermodynamics, which will one day describe the inherent drive for complexity, has yet to be fully understood despite being constantly confirmed by our very existence, and our own ongoing development which continues unabated.
Spontaneous information formation is not the issue, it is its ability to refine and increase in useful complexity, for which purpose the abilty to 'die' having reproduced has created enormous evolutionary potential.
There is an implication of 'intent' in the term intelligent design, and it is quite difficult to comprehend the beauty of the universe and the emergence and tenacity of life without it. It may also be necessary for it to be included in the first law of thermodynamics, which could be partly why it is taking such a ling time to formulate...

Say what you will, (and there are quite a few well thought out comments here)the first thing that crossed my mind when I read:

-In a nutshell, the authors shift attention from the hardware – the chemical basis of life – to the software – its information content."-

The first thing that crossed my mind was some form of I.D. But not the Intelligent Design most religious types would embrace.

I mean something deeper that seems to be working behind the scene at a very basic level....., if that makes any sense!

It makes perfect sense to look at the majestic order in the universe and contemplate how something so amazing could have come into being by random chance or by design. Both questions have merit. This is the very question mankind has been trying to answer since we first looked up to the stars. This question goes to both science and religion.

Allan, it has absolutely nothing to do with religion. Philosophy and science is what you should have said. Spirituality and science are opposite ends of the spectrum because spirituality is voodoo untestable unproven unfalsifiable nonsense.

Instead of baggin opposing views, let's just accept that the more we learn the less we know and until we know we're just monkeying around in the dark. If we keep our minds open to other possibilities (no matter how they may seem) we may actually learn somethng as opposed to living in a knowledge silo. I recommend reading the 'God Delusion' by Dawkins and for balance, the 'Science Delusion' by Sheldrake.

I wish to take issue with Patrick because of the very nature of religion and spirituality compared to science. Science asks "How," but religion,/spirituality/philosophy asks "Why," -and both have merit.
It is when religion/spirituality is used for earthly purposes (which it ALWATS is) that we get into problems. I discuss this -in depth- in my book "A Brief History of Western Religion!"

By the way, if anyone wants a free PDF copy just E-mail me at

Matthew is right. Noochy is wrong. Life is a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and self-sustaining processes from those that do not. It evolves. The optimum outome for life is a supreme state of being able to create on a universal scale, a being no different than the Pope's understanding of God.

I strongly recommend watching/reading Nassim Haramein( , David Wilcock(The Source Field Investigations) and Michael Talbot (the holographic universe).

Using information flows as a guide for models of life is interesting, especially since it bootstraps the viewpoint from the "trees" of individual chemical reactions, hopefully far enough to see the "forest" of what's essential for life.

Another interesting thing about information flow as a model for life is that it's open to finding life in other substrates... at other time scales. Up until now, non-carbon-based life has been the realm of speculative fiction. If we model life in flows of information, we may be able to find life at stellar (or galactic) scales of time and space.

Much speculative fiction centers around whether we could communicate with non-human INTELLIGENCE; but if we had a broader definition of life, we might be able to discern viable but non-communicative life... the non-carbon equivalent of million-fold slowed, star-sized blue algae.

"Intelligent Design" is crypto-Christian, theological nonsense. You don't need any such mumbo-jumbo to try modeling life with information flow... talk about intellectual non sequitur.

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