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    Changing Ideas About The Origin Of Life
    By Enrico Uva | August 6th 2012 02:00 AM | 30 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Enrico

    I majored in chemistry, worked briefly in the food industry and at Fisheries and Oceans. I then obtained a degree in education. Since then I have...

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    For life to begin, a combination of inorganic and organic substances need to evolve biochemistry. When 20th century scientists accepted and elaborated on J.B.S Haldane's primordial soup hypothesis, their guesses and suggestive experiments centered mostly around the mature field of organic chemistry. But biochemistry as a science was still in its infancy. Their hunches were like those of aliens trying to account for our transition from hunter gatherer-groups to civilization without understanding the roles of agriculture, division of labor and writing.

    What major biochemical insights then-- related to the origin of life --- have we gained since Nobel Laureate Melvin Calvin's 1969 book Chemical Evolution summarized the fashionable ideas of that decade?

    (1) Primordial Catalysts Were Probably Not Proteins
    In the 1960's, RNA's role as a catalyst and replicator was greatly underestimated. Unaware of retroviruses, or at least of their reproductive mechanism, biochemists believed that information only flowed from DNA to RNA, and they perceived proteins to be the only biological catalysts. After the discovery of ribozymes revealed that tertiary RNA molecules could speed up their own production, it was hypothesized that these were life's first catalysts because they could have evolved from single-stranded RNA molecules, which are structurally simpler than both DNA and proteins.

    But the current popular notion that RNA was essentially the sole primeval replicator and catalyst has also come under attack. As an alternative, the first catalysts may have also included inorganic ions. Hydrothermal vents are rich in  iron (II) sulfide (FeS) and nickel (II) sulfide, both of which can speed up biochemical reactions. In existing hydrothermal bacteria and archaebacteria, these compounds are part of protein complexes, but the ions are the reactive catalytic centers for a remarkable exergonic reaction. Hydrogen gas from the vents combines with dissolved carbon dioxide in the sea (and an acetyl-less CoA ) to produce water and acetylCoA (a key molecule involved in releasing energy from sugars; in fatty acid synthesis etc). The overall reaction releases 59 kJ of free energy for every 2 moles of fixed CO2,  enough to drive the synthesis of ATP.

    Another argument against RNA exclusivity from Lane, Allen and Martin is that each time RNA makes a copy of itself in a "primordial soup" its concentration drops so the rate of reaction can only be maintained if nucleotides are continuously replenished. This brings us to the issue of energy.

    (2) First Energy Source Likely Involved Proton Gradients

    In the same way that a room only remains tidy and dustless with continuous effort, life forms are capable of maintaining order only in the presence of a continuous energy supply. Even before life arises, the required conversions of small molecules to larger ones are endothermic. Whereas the original hypotheses were careful enough to exclude oxygen from the original mix because an oxidizing atmosphere would break up newly made molecules, the irony is that the proposed energy sources, ultraviolet and lightning, would also destroy newly synthesized molecules. The excessive heat and low pH's from deep, volcanic hydrothermal vents do not lead to a viable energy alternative.  But Lane, Miller and Allen point out that there is another hydrothermal vent which gets its heat from the mid Atlantic's tectonic boundaries, known as the Lost City, where olivine mineral (a combination of magnesium and iron silicates) turns to serpentine (hydroxylated iron and magnesium silicates).



    This is the source of hydrogen gas used by the previously mentioned bacteria to "fix" carbon dioxide into acetyl, a part of a vital metabolite. The hydroxides formed are not inconsequential because, with the help of simple membranes, they provide a natural pH-gradient, essentially a voltage, one that was more pronounced in ancient seas due to CO2 concentrations that were 1000 times higher than their modern counterpart. Remarkably that gradient is comparable to the one created by the biochemical processes in today's cells.

    Forty years ago, this idea that chemiosmosis was the energy-provider for earth life's first cells could not be put forth because no one understood how the universal reaction-facilitator, ATP(adenosine triphosphate), was made from ADP(adenosine diphosphate). But given that proton gradients power ATP production in all kingdoms of life: in respiration, photosynthesis and in rotating motors of bacterial flagella, the hypothesis is now plausible. The enzyme ATP synthase is a molecular machine whose "blades" are rotated by H+ that are put in motion by coulombic repulsion. The enzyme-portion attracts and combines ADP with a phosphate group and the spinning nanomachine releases the ATP.
    DiMauro has spent 10 years working on the chemistry of  1-carbon amide formamide (H2NCOH), subjecting it to a variety of conditions and mineral catalysts. He has produced all four nucleic acids and a variety of carboxylic acids. What works best is when he uses a pH of 9 to 10 and temperatures in the 80–160 ◦C range, conditions that are found in non-volcanic hydrothermal vents.

    (3) Knowledge of New Bacterial Kingdoms Downplays Role of Fermentation In First Cells


    The authors of How did LUCA make a living? Chemiosmosis in the origin of life. BioEssays. January 2010 refute the popular notion that fermentation was used by the first cells to release chemical energy from food molecules. Aside from the idea that fermentation seems to be a derived chemical process,  when comparing bacteria to archaea, there are also major differences in the gene sequences of fermentation enzymes. On the surface they seem like similar processes, but in reality the release of energy in oxygen's absence evolved separately and independently.  It's essentially convergent evolution, the way Old World Euphorbia and New World cacti have similar adaptations but are not related.

    Clostridia-type fermentations (Clostridia are sulfite reducing bacteria that include tetanus-producing bacteria), which represent ancient lineages, actually involve chemiosmosis, which of course exploits ion gradients across the cytoplasmic membrane and rotor–stator type ATPases (enzymes that cleave ATP to place a good leaving group on otherwise nonreactive molecules). The same is true of fermentation in most free-living anaerobic bacteria.

    Conclusion

    Writing in 1969, Calvin wrote:
    As long as we are limited to biology as it is on the earth, it is going to be difficult for us to be sure that such a system occurred in the way described in this book. We shall have to find other places in the universe, preferably nearby, in which this process is going on and has not gone all the way, so that we can observe it at some other stage of its development. this is why I am interested in lunar and planetary exploration.
    In four decades no such places have been found yet, but at least something esoteric has been discovered at the bottom of our own oceans. It's far from direct evidence, which of course eludes everyone because the molecular precursors to primordial life left no traces. But along with more detailed knowledge of biochemistry, the Lost City has inspired hypotheses that bring us closer to a non-fictitious narrative of our chemical history.

    SOURCES:

    Comments

    vongehr
    Great post - I was looking for something like this.
    UvaE
    Thanks.  That paper by Lane, Martin and Allen was crystal clear, so it was easy to explore and connect from there onward.
    Thor Russell
    Interesting article, and the Lane paper.
    Thor Russell
    Amazing..:) Thanks Enrico

    ** Serpentine, not surpentine.

    UvaE
    Thx. How did the "u" find its way there?
    "For life to begin, a combination of inorganic and organic substances need to evolve biochemistry." That sounds kind-of redundant. I probably couldn't think of a better way to begin such an article, but it still sounds goofy to me.

    Gerhard Adam
    Well, part of the problem with the terminology is that "biochemistry" clearly already indicates life, as do "organic" substances.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Yes, "biochemistry" certainly clearly indicates life by definition. As for "organic", I was taught it just means "has carbon". I think the opening sentence meant to say something more like: "Evolution of biochemistry required a combination of inorganic and organic substances." If so, the unstated alternatives are 1) only inorganic (without carbon), or 2) only organic (only with carbon). 1 makes no sense, since all known biochemistry has carbon. If the opening sentence really meant to say something more like: "Evolution of biochemistry required a combination of inorganic and organic substances," it sounds like a claim that life couldn't have evolved from organic chemistry alone - inorganic chemistry was also required. Theoretically at some point in the past, everything was just hydrogen. If my interpretation of the opening sentence is proper, then it could be expanded to; "hydrogen evolved into distinct systems of organic and inorganic chemistry; then the two interacted to evolve biochemistry; and without each other, biochemistry wasn't possible."

    Gerhard Adam
    My point is that the distinction of "organic" only occurs because we are carbon-based life forms.  Without life as the criteria, there would be no reason to separate these molecules in that manner.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Yes, "organic" (meaning "has carbon") is quite arbitrary, as is the term "carbon-based" life. I agree, life as a criterion is independent of the substrate that supports it, even though we only know of "carbon-based" life. I don't think "life" can really be defined or captured by scientific results, conjectures, etc. Once, I killed a butterfly by sweeping near it by lifting my front bicycle wheel - after it was dead, I couldn't detect any physical damage at all. All the chemistry was still in place (at least shortly after its demise), yet its life was obviously gone. There was precious little difference, chemically speaking, between the living insect and the resulting husk. The distinction between life and its substrate is pretty clear when you look for it and recognize it, but trivial compared to the consequence of separation. I doubt science will ever understand fully how a mere localization of substrate can be a vehicle for life, or how they are joined.

    UvaE
    My point is that the distinction of "organic" only occurs because we are carbon-based life forms.  Without life as the criteria, there would be no reason to separate these molecules in that manner. 

    Your thought regarding "biochemistry" crossed my mind as I wrestled with the opening sentence. 

    But recall that an organic compound, which by definition, contains at least both carbon and hydrogen, can easily form in the absence of life--in interstellar dust, in comets etc. 

    Gerhard Adam
    But recall that an organic compound, which by definition, contains at least both carbon and hydrogen, can easily form in the absence of life--in interstellar dust, in comets etc.
    No doubt, but the point is that calling it "organic" is a direct result of us finding such compounds in living organisms.  If that were not the case, it is unlikely that we would have ever constructed such a differentiation.
    Mundus vult decipi
    UvaE
    That sounds kind-of redundant. 
    Admittedly, as stated elsewhere, I wrestled with the opening sentence, and although it may not be the best, it's not redundant because a combination of inorganic and organic substances is not necessarily biochemistry.

    Gerhard Adam
    That's true, but it provides an endless supply of "fuel" with which to harass you about it.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Mr. Adam,

    Once again, you isolate with precision the subtle (but profound) misdirection often woven into the fabric of such articles or explanatory 'narratives'. I do not suggest this is intentional; nonetheless, the use of incorrect or imprecise language generates a 'meaning' that is not in accordance with the facts as they are. Thank you for bringing focus to this newest instance of what is an ongoing linguistic obfuscation of proper understanding. As you mention, the very term 'organic' presupposes life; to invoke the term (in such 'origin' accounts) suggests an 'inevitability' about this particular molecule's eventual 'giving rise' to life. Irrespective of whatever we may come to discover about this Singular event, and even IF what is suggested in this -or any article- should happen to resemble exactly what we (in our hypothetical future) learn DID occur, this abuse of language (whether through neglect or bias) would still be unjustified.

    Best regards,

    Brian G.

    Well said - In that light, the opening sentence makes better sense. I don't envy you your wrestling, I am certain I couldn't have done any better.

    Anonymous,

    Don't sell yourself short! I have no doubt if you devoted perhaps 30 or 40 seconds you might arrive at an utterance more sensible than the one mentioned. In the first place, what does it mean 'come together' and how does the verb 'evolve' pertain to any compound within a system explicitly required to achieve (trend toward) equilibrium. 'Evolution' within any strictly chemical system is synonymous and may not be divorced from equilibrium. Until such time we are provided anything resembling a theoretical framework -- that is grounded in principle -- expressing why (using the precise language of those domains relevant to the process) a Universal process should bring about a Particular that is opposite to the entailment of Natural laws, then such narratives do not belong to scientific inquiry, but mere conjecture. They are 'notions' and nothing more; theoretics must always be grounded in Principles.

    A reasonable person might argue it would be more sensible for researchers in this field to first consider what it actually means for ANY system with universal laws to generate particulars who may deviate in every way from the behavior of the rest of the system. Think: Cellular Automata, once you establish the rule set, and if it is fixed, such systems or explicitly forbidden from 'giving rise' to a rogue cell whose behavior is not the entailment of the rules themselves.

    Everyone can understand the 'logic' of what a cell does --i.e. find food/material resources, etc; don't die-- but this has nothing to do with those patterns of motion or transference of energy entailed by law. It seems many are seduced by the implication which in every case is at odds with the known facts -- namely: impartial laws may not generate, ever, partiality or selective behavior. There is no 'search' for evidence to be had until someone reconciles this (apparently) too-obvious first principle: Universal != Particular; Impartial != Partial. Complexity, Time, 'emergence', all of these change nothing.

    Best regards!

    Brian G.

    UvaE
    All the chemistry was still in place  
    You can't conclude that just from looking at it. If its brain was no longer functioning, a fair amount of chemistry had already changed.

    I thought life began with a single cell organism.

    UvaE
    I thought life began with a single cell organism. 
    It does. When the chemistry is such that within a membrane you get something that releases usable energy from other molecules, responds to external molecules, and can reproduce, and so on, you have a single cell organism.
    Gerhard Adam
    You might also indicate, that these criteria represents life as we presently know it.  It certainly doesn't have to be true, in general, and clearly wasn't true for early life.
    Mundus vult decipi
    If I present you a pattern 2,4,6,8,10,12... you would be correct to reject a proposition stating that when the sequence becomes 'really complex' (i.e. an increased value of the number within the sequence) a 'new' pattern emerges. 1,000,001.

    No system with fixed rules, generators or constraints, whether the most simple pattern (2,4,6...), a matrix of 2 or 3 or any dimensions may produce a 'subset' within the UNIVERSAL pattern that is in any way less of an entailment than the entirety of the system itself. In fact, this very distinction (entity vs system, life vs non life) is forbidden because is suggests (and requires we accept) that this specific region is 'unique' -- while Unique may only have meaning in virtue of violating the entailment of the fixed system. A single cell is not a violation of Universal law, but it is plainly not the entailment of the laws themselves, nor can it ever be. Universal means impartial... extrapolating Universal over time multiplied by complexity and serendipity does not alter the core, immutable premise.

    Patterns do not 'give rise' to anything other than what is entailed by the rules that generated them -- even if the system is massively chaotic. Chaos may not bridge the gap between Universal and Autonomous, Impartial and Partial; yet, we cannot say the autonomy of living things is an 'illusion'. It is too stable and regular (within it's own logic, not in the sense that a planet's motion is regular) to be happenstance, and too contrary to all known theoretical outcomes and observational regularities of strict laws to be explained in their terms.

    Deep down we know this: that is, math formulas cannot explain 'where' I want to eat dinner -- the deception is that formulas CAN explain this, except they would be too complex. In fact, there is no basis, within the entirety of the scientific enterprise, that substantiates in principle this to be so. It is a blind assertion. The null hypothesis is that they cannot. Until demonstrated otherwise, the null hypothesis is no system with static generators and constraints may yield a behavior (within the universal) decoupled from the rules themselves (i.e. granted autonomous status).

    It is nothing short of sublime the extent to which we ignore the consequences of our own reason, if only because such entailment presents an 'inconvenient' truth. Yet, no truth is inconvenient should we place evidence over presupposition and reality over assertion. We may recognize these simple facts about the world without being required to explain -- well then 'what'?? So long as we don't know, the answer is 'I don't know'. Conversely, no amount of insisting the impossible 'must' be the case changes the fact that it is not the case. Universal != Particular.

    Lastly, consider the term 'blind causality'... as opposed to what! Blind causality must remain blind always, thus all is simply 'causality'. We do not 'see' metaphorically, we see. Therefore, 'blind' causality cannot by synonymous with the power of sight! Unless sight, too, is a metaphor. But, again, for what? 'Complexity'? 'Emergence'? These words have no meaning when not grounded to the precise and explicit principles we propose to be exclusively motivating the system.

    The distinction exists in our language because it is real -- and without which no inquiry into biological systems would make sense in the first place! Life and death is not a metaphor but refers to stable and regular states of entities in our world; entities that are distinct from their environment in every possible way with the sole exception that materials are necessary for both. Yet the materials of a hard drive have no relation whatsoever to whatever potential information may be held on it, other than in the tangential sense that SOME medium is a prerequisite for the storage of information.

    BTW, why do we suppose that the material cell (for the sake of argument, completely operational with motors, etc.), upon 'arising' from the chemical soup, should BEHAVE in any way whatsoever, let alone that specific way required to obtain the material resources for it's preservation? Out of all possible things this cell can do (swim in circles forever, for instance), why would it perform the specific action out of an infinity of alternatives that 'benefits' and sustains it? We can build an airplane; If we are sane we don't expect it to fly around on a mission to gain fuel; or we can build a drone, with the specific and designated imperatives we deem appropriate and, after much trial and error, we are LUCKY if it performs autonomously (without destroying itself) within the relatively simple mandate we have provided. Program (behavior) and Material Body (function, necessity) can not evolve in parallel, forever, at random. We know this and are right to reject it. To reject the impossible in no way entails mysticism, but instead basic adherence to fundamental principles, without which we are as blind as the mythical 'blind forces' that behave 'as if' they see.

    Programming that unique and complex behavior is an affair wholly apart from the engineering of material pre-requisites. This reflects the single (though prevalent) flaw in this line of though-- Because to us it is obvious 'why' a cell would get food it needs (as a matter of reason), we associate this behavior with the materially necessary pre-conditions; yet they have categorically nothing whatsoever to do with one another. Thus we must 'imagine' a two fold 'evolution' where machinery and 'logic' engine co-evolve without direction or mandate and are synthesized into a singular entity who is now free to mock the entirety of the known universe, as it's 'law' transcends the universal.

    Laws are defined by regularity -- a universe with unbroken regularity that contains, circumscribed in the single cell, an 'irregular' entity requires a new law. A singularity of kind, form, and behavior, acting contrary to all existence, MUST be a new type of law, lest the term itself forfeit all meaning and explanatory value.

    Anonymous,

    I am sincerely humbled and in awe of the accomplishments of the scientific endeavor an present scientific community. Their feats are incredible beyond measure or words. It is in light of the near-miraculous achievements, (see also, Curiosity, the Internet, etc.) that one might take pause in the presence of those who so whimsically propose the 'inevitable' or 'highly likely' outcome that we should produce something of a singular class (i.e. replica of living cell).

    Imagine a pyramid that represents the whole of scientific accomplishment, where the crown jewels of modern science are at the top. Now ask, why are the pinnacle of achievements "beneath" the most basic unit of living things? i.e. the cell. It seems we might allow, if only for a moment, the possibility that this 'thing' is a distinction of kind.

    Do we even wonder why 21st Century technology cannot produce the outcome of -3.6 Billion years 'technology'.

    Re: your links. It is not clear what you wish us to take away from this, however:

    [From "Origin and Synthesis of Life"
    there is plenty of controversy ahead since scientists are predicting a protocell will likely become reality within the decade able to reproduce and interact with the environment (nobody knows how exactly until it’s developed)

    It is this kind of language (and in equal measure, the corrupted logic of it's form) that serves to miseducate the public (and delude otherwise legitimate scientists who accept such propositions). It has nothing to do with whether we will or will not achieve what is being proposed, rather, the explicit reference to "likelihood" in a context devoid of any probabilistic structure. There is neither precedent nor theoretic justification that would warrant any confidence (for or against), this proposal in any way. How does one simultaneously 'not know how' a process that has 'never been witnessed' nor ever expressed in the precise language of a coherent theory, come to believe, and worse insist to the their peers and the public(!) that such an event is 'likely'?... that it's 'just over the horizon'? What, literally, does this even mean?

    Again, I am specifically NOT discussing whether this is or isn't achievable, or even "soon" to be achieved -- if only for the simple reason there is no argument to be had. There is positively no evidence that the even described is possible, nor is there any theoretic account suggesting it should or might be possible. Whatever word exists in our language to describe the logical form and (un)reasonability of what is being expressed in this article, it is not science, and certainly not reason. It is unprincipled, blind assertion masked in the 'aura' of science. A layman with no knowledge of nano-engineering, the massive constraints and obstacles faced by engineers when dealing with those scales, etc. would have equal validity if they were to state "Sure, it seems totally possible, technology is advancing, I suspect it's only a matter of time."

    The proof of concept for what is being attempted (the living cell), is itself not understood -- not just how it works, but what it IS (i.e. the precise architecture of all components) In other words, how can one replicate something whose structure is not known to the degree of precision and fidelity that explains how it works? Additionally, where is the proof of concept for a man-made mechanism that can REPLICATE itself via gathering of raw materials, generating perfect copies and synthesizing the nano-machinery identical to the prototype... whereupon the perfect replica, in turn, performs the same?

    All things being equal, why should reasonable people assume something is possible when it is SINGULAR, has never been witnessed and cannot be expressed in formal language in a coherent theory?

    That it exists is not synonymous with we can make it, however strong one's convictions might be.

    Best,

    Brian

    Brian G,

    All your points are appreciated, but I think you may be getting overly caught up in words and definitions. In this format especially (informal article/aimed at a broad audience, as opposed to, e.g., peer-reviewed journal publication) I see meaning as arising through the whole of the concepts presented, more-so than via any certain choice of phrasing. Whereas one sentence may not be perfectly precise on its own, when taken in context of the paragraph, or the author's greater themes throughout, the shortcomings of language can be mitigated.

    I bring this up because I've spent more time/energy than I'd like to admit trying to reconcile notions like 'discreteness' and (strict) 'definition' with concepts like life, living, organism, etc. One key for me, personally, was discovering that the really (hard-and-fast, black-and-white) problematic distinctions often had spiritual/religious/moral/etc. roots. For example, if the question of whether or not something is 'alive' is (even subconsciously) a proxy for, "Does it have a soul? Is it conscious? Does it feel pain? Have free will? Deserve to be treated with respect?" etc., then IMHO calling the concept-in-question 'dubious' (and the question 'ill-posed') would be an epic understatement!

    On the other hand, if we value concepts like "life" only as far as they serve our purposes, the kinds of questions that arise by them are, in my experience, much more meaningful and straightforward. For example, if I'm using "alive" to denote people in need of food and water, the space for debate has shrunken considerably. The revelation, though, (for me) was that although such_practical_definitions DON'T solve the problem of fuzzy concepts/indefinite boarders/separability/etc., they DO allow for the defining of a BASES by which such issues can be discussed. All of this comes back to a central point I think we both agree upon: definitions (like the ones mentioned above) are invariably_arbitrary_on some level of specificity. The trick is that this is OKAY actually, when, A) you're not dealing with artificial, all-or-nothing concepts like souls or free will; B) we can agree on the gradient in which the 'line in the sand' may lie; and C) if such a line must be drawn, although ultimately ARBITRARY (as in having no substance), we can convey to one another (precisely) the one we're going with!

    Once I was able to come to grips with these factors I've had a much easier time dissecting and dealing with such linguistic controversies.

    elo

    Eloheim,

    You express yourself well, and I am better for reading that which you have shared...

    As a quick side-note... consider for a moment what I am hoping to express, though it is made transparent because it is actually right in front of us... I mean to show (descriptively, not through my 'interpretation') there is a fundamental distinction of Class or Kind pertaining to Living things, vs. the foundational aspects of material form and relation, predicated upon fixed principles or forces determining relation and behavior, form and substance.

    Mathematics (which is real) is to physics as Natural language is to Life. Physics, being rooted in a fundamental way, to stable but no less profound principles (forces/laws) reflects this stability -- regular, cyclical, determined, entailment, arrivable through extrapolation or interpolation, etc. And, most importantly, Universals. Stars are spheres as an entailment of law. Motion is elliptical as an entailment of law. Particulars, singular and autonomous entities, perform in every way the opposite. The form of a Giraffe is not an 'entailment' of any law (though it is Principled according to 'something else' i.e. DNA, information, etc. -- a known fact that is quite non-controversial, yet somehow ignored when asking the fundamental questions.

    Life, being predicated first and foremost and without qualification, upon Information, a Real entity which is Immaterial, behaves in a way that is ordered (as is language) but dynamic (opposed to fixed physics and mathematics) It is important we realize this is no metaphor, but reflects objective observation --for example, if super intelligent alien race discovered a library, full of books, but with no pictures written only in one language, there is no way they can penetrate, or derive in any 'empirical' way the meaning embedded in the symbols, yet 'it' is there, but requires a compatible mind to interpret. This constitutes no less than positive evidence for the Reality of the Immaterial. Through what corruption of reason may a 'strict' empiricist declare that material substance is the Limit of reality, when he or she cannot demonstrate (as a matter of principle), ever, what is meant by the symbols in this Library. If something is 'there' but cannot be 'seen' or approached materially, then what it 'IS' transcends material -- it is a potential, but no less real for being so, lest we negate particles that exist in a potential state. Again, we are provided proof of concept for the reality of Potential, and a 'thing' that is no-thing, yet is.

    As such, the basis for ALL life, as an objective matter, is Immaterial, a potential that is real, or a real 'no-thing' (and so, we find in the same way a linguistic sequence is both arbitrary (not entailed by fixed law) but principled (internally coherent), we see Life behave according to the principles of cooperation, resource gathering, reproduction, survival, etc. none of which may ever be 'entailed' by Fixed forces alone, rather the Fundamental forces, and Universal Laws are the foundation and constraint but NOT motivating principle)...

    Present research works under the assumption that some 'threshold of complexity' can be reached to cross what is a divide of Kind and not Degree. In the same way you cannot express ideas using only numbers, and no amount of numerical 'expression' may achieve Natural language (i.e. imagine this text written only in numbers, and not numbers Grounded to natural language or a substitution cypher, but literally, only numbers and formulas and nothing else). That we recognize the obvious absurdity of such a proposal, only highlights the way in which we ignore or diminish the evidence, as it is, and what it entails, when it pertains to a phenomenon where the Research is motivated by bias vis a vis the unwarranted assumption that fixed laws in ANY system, virtual, massively parallel, whatever, may produce Autonomous entities within the system, who at all times must behave as entailment of the fixed laws (if we insist no other motivating forces to be available) AND 'autonomously' -- where the two, Universal vs. Autonomous, are manifest opposites, whose very meaning is defined in CONTRAST to the other. i.e. universal is the antithesis of autonomous.

    If (a) and (b) are opposite modalities, we cannot extrapolate (a) --> (b) to reach (b). A program that can simulate the formation of snowflakes (i.e. recursive pattern influenced by chaotic or subtle changes in initial conditions) this program will never produce sequential information or behavior 'for' an outcome. Such terms do not make sense in this context.

    The Capstone of life on earth as it pertains to potency of willful expression via use of selective principles grounded by reason and observation, is Humanity, who is able through mind, and with the these principles of Language and Reason, to express Intentionally, that which he or she Wills to do. Both systems, mathematics (non arbitrary) and natural language (predicated always upon arbitrary materials and formal relations) are internally coherent, and directly analogous to those bodies built upon their architecture. As they RELATE to one another is a quite beautiful thing, when we are willing to see...

    :)

    Hope this helps!

    Brian

    Brain,

    Thanks for replying. Perhaps we disagree on more than I thought, however! =) I think I was reading parts of your posts too much though the lens of my own concerns, but what you said above makes things clearer.

    I guess my viewpoint on the 'specialness' of life/living things is as follows: Either the universe is a system evolving according to certain laws; regardless of which quadrant, or particle, or group of particles, you look at, it's all the same to god's eye. (A proton is a proton is a proton, etc.) OR....Living things are entities which act in accordance with different or extra means, beyond the familiar laws of (cold, hard) physics. I don't think I need to say I side with the former! How is it all not but input-output?

    Now, even if there is some general 'tipping point of complexity' that living things have surpassed (which I would have to be convinced of), I'm not really sure what that gets you beyond tautology (circular definition). If you want to know, say, the cheapest way to seed life on an alien planet, or you're wondering whether you should be worried about the chemical concoction in your petri dish becoming an out-of-control chain reaction, then this definition makes perfect sense, and (if well-founded) I don't doubt it could be a robust and useful tool. My problem is more with, "What do you get beyond that?" (Besides time saved by using a single word ("life") instead of the full definition.) Sure you can segregate living things into some subset of the universe, but how does that allow them to possess properties not present elsewhere?

    cheers
    elo

    Good article but mostly fiction nonetheless. Keep seaching.