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Is evolution a special case of the 2nd law of thermodynamics?

 
 
Reply Thu 23 Jan, 2014 05:05 am
A New Physics Theory of Life

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.

Read on ...
http://zite.to/1msTD0v via @Zite
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Type: Discussion • Score: 2 • Views: 1,090 • Replies: 15
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rosborne979
 
  2  
Reply Thu 23 Jan, 2014 06:06 am
@hingehead,
Interesting theory. Seems to have more to do with abiogenesis than evolution though.
0 Replies
 
maxdancona
 
  2  
Reply Thu 23 Jan, 2014 06:56 am
@hingehead,
I don't see the article talking about a special case of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. It seems he is making the opposite type of statement. He is saying that evolution is just normal thermodynamics (i.e. the origin of life is no different than then organization of a snowflake).

People who think that evolution (or life in general) contradicts the 2nd law don't underdstand the 2nd law.
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Jan, 2014 09:50 am
@hingehead,
It's a good article and a nice theory. I don't see anything wrong with it at a conceptual level. It'll be interesting to see how the computer simulations come out. This could end up being a very foundational theory relating to several different sciences.
0 Replies
 
hingehead
 
  2  
Reply Thu 23 Jan, 2014 02:18 pm
@maxdancona,
I was looking for a provocative title and joined these quotes together

Quote:
you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon


And

Quote:
At the heart of England’s idea is the second law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of increasing entropy or the “arrow of time.”


Quote:
Life does not violate the second law of thermodynamics, but until recently, physicists were unable to use thermodynamics to explain why it should arise in the first place. In Schrödinger’s day, they could solve the equations of thermodynamics only for closed systems in equilibrium. In the 1960s, the Belgian physicist Ilya Prigogine made progress on predicting the behavior of open systems weakly driven by external energy sources (for which he won the 1977 Nobel Prize in chemistry). But the behavior of systems that are far from equilibrium, which are connected to the outside environment and strongly driven by external sources of energy, could not be predicted.


I just thought it was very interesting. The big implication, if true, is that life in the universe should be common.
hingehead
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Jan, 2014 02:24 pm
A high school physics teacher once said in class 'life is an island in a sea of entropy'

England's theory would suggest that life is actually an agent of entropy.

Pretty cool.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Jan, 2014 03:19 pm
@hingehead,
Neither is of these is correct.

First of all, since entropy is always increasing, the idea of a "sea of entropy" doesn't make sense, does it? A more correct metaphor would be to see the Universe as a "desert of entropy" that is slowly flooding. At the Big bang, the Universe was at low entropy.

Second of all, the article does not at all suggest that life is an agent of entropy. If this were true, then life would be something special. The article suggests the exact opposite... that there is nothing special about life (more than any other physical process).

hingehead
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Jan, 2014 03:37 pm
@maxdancona,
I'm not sure we are reading the same article - pretty sure it's saying life is an almost inevitable consequence of the flow to the heat death of the universe.

Neither I nor it said anything was special about 'life' - and if you are going to take apart a metaphor literally you should do a better job.

Hope you got something out of your system Max.
dalehileman
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Jan, 2014 03:45 pm
@hingehead,
Quote:
The big implication, if true, is that life in the universe should be common
It most certainly must be, according to recent discoveries suggesting there might be more planets than suns
0 Replies
 
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Jan, 2014 03:55 pm
@hingehead,
Hmmm. There are two assertions here.

1. That life is an agent of entropy (this means that life causes entropy)
2. The life is an consequence of the flow [of entropy] (i.e. that the "flow" of entropy causes life.

These two statements are opposites. I think that the second statement is closer to what the article is actually saying.
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Jan, 2014 04:11 pm
@maxdancona,
How about a statement like: both "energy" and "entropy" as merely useful concepts with respect to the attempted control by humans over aspects of their life.
0 Replies
 
hingehead
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Jan, 2014 06:25 pm
@maxdancona,
Oh, I see your issue, I think you've misdefined 'agent'. Agents of the government don't create the government, they do the work of the government. Likewise, life assists the flow toward complete entropy.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Jan, 2014 08:41 pm
@hingehead,
I won't quibble over the definition of the word "agent". If I understand you correctly, I still disagree with the point you are making.

Life is a chemical reaction. And when it comes to entropy, life doesn't "assist" the increase of entropy any more than any other chemical reaction. Things burning increase entropy just fine (with no life involved). Even natural processes that aren't chemical reactions such as ain falling, rocks eroding increase entropy. These things all happen on planets (and solar systems) where there is no life. Entropy would increase just the same whether or not there is life..

Factually the increase of entropy due to life in our Solar system is extremely small. It is not zero, but it is pretty close to zero compared to the biggest source of entropy... the burning of the our Sun.

The article is really talking about how life can be explained by thermodynamic processes.. it's not about the almost completely insignificant impact of life on the increase of entropy.
hingehead
 
  1  
Reply Thu 23 Jan, 2014 09:15 pm
@maxdancona,
Max - it's not my theory, it's England's and I still don't think we are reading the same article.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Fri 24 Jan, 2014 06:15 am
@hingehead,
I suspect you misunderstand England's theory. This may be the fault of the writer of the article.
hingehead
 
  1  
Reply Fri 24 Jan, 2014 10:42 pm
@maxdancona,
You're sweet to let me off the hook, but I don't think I've misinterpreted this:
Quote:
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.
0 Replies
 
 

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