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Robert Beddingfield: on 2/12/15 at 5:21am UTC, wrote Greetings. Though it is difficult to address much of your essay here, I...

Ullrich Fischer: on 1/6/13 at 1:58am UTC, wrote Interesting thesis. I can see why the Discovery Institute is jumping on...

Eckard Blumschein: on 12/13/12 at 19:58pm UTC, wrote What speculations-provoking essay! Perhaps it indicates the direction for...

Pentcho Valev: on 11/5/12 at 6:07am UTC, wrote You are right about that, anonymous. At that time I thought that votes were...

Anonymous: on 11/5/12 at 2:00am UTC, wrote Pentcho and whoever else that is trying to find cats where there are none, ...

Louis Brassard: on 11/4/12 at 8:34am UTC, wrote Dear Sara, I completely enjoyed your essay. It is a refreshing point of...

Domenico Oricchio: on 10/22/12 at 12:57pm UTC, wrote Is virus life? I think that is possible to try to make a continuing mixing...

Domenico Oricchio: on 10/16/12 at 15:07pm UTC, wrote I read the Strulson experiment with cell-like structure, but I have a...

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FQXi FORUM
September 21, 2019

CATEGORY: Questioning the Foundations Essay Contest (2012) [back]
TOPIC: Is Life Fundamental? by Sara Imari Walker [refresh]

Author Sara Imari Walker wrote on Sep. 5, 2012 @ 12:41 GMT
Essay Abstract

A central challenge in studies of the origin of life is that we don’t know whether life is 'just' very complex chemistry, or if there is something fundamentally distinct about living matter. What’s at stake here is not merely an issue of complexification; the question of whether life is fully reducible to just the rules chemistry and physics (albeit in a very complicated manner) or is perhaps something different, forces us to assess precisely what it is that we mean by the very nature of the question of the emergence of life. I argue that if we are going to treat the origin of life as a solvable scientific inquiry (which we certainly can and should), we must assume, at least on phenomenological grounds, that life is nontrivially different from nonlife. As such, a fully reductionist picture may be inadequate to address the emergence of life. The essay focuses on how treating the unique informational narrative of living systems as more than just complex chemistry may open up new avenues for research in investigations of the origin of life. I conclude with a discussion of the potential implications of such a phenomenological framework – if successful in elucidating the emergence of life as a well-defined transition – on our interpretation of life as a fundamental natural phenomenon.

Author Bio

Sara Imari Walker is a NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Fellow working in the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University. She received her Ph.D. in Physics and Astronomy from Dartmouth College. She then worked as postdoctoral fellow in the NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution and the NASA Astrobiology Institute Center for Ribosomal Origins and Evolution based at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is also member of the leadership council for the space science research and education nonprofit Blue Marble Space and a researcher at the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science.

Pentcho Valev wrote on Sep. 5, 2012 @ 18:02 GMT
Sara,

A good philosophical or biological essay but... "which of our basic physical assumptions are wrong?"

By the way, how did you get top community rating only a few seconds after your essay appeared?

Pentcho Valev pvalev@yahoo.com

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 6, 2012 @ 06:09 GMT
Hi Pentcho,

The physical assumption challenged is that life is only trivially distinguishable from nonlife and that there is no new physics to be understood by studying the origin of life.

I have no idea how the community rating happened! But it looks like its been sorted-out.

Pentcho Valev replied on Sep. 6, 2012 @ 09:09 GMT
You got top community rating from the very beginning but then my reaction prompted some prudent administrator to sort things out? I should have reacted earlier when other favorites instantly occupied top positions (and are still there). What a fair contest!

Pentcho Valev pvalev@yahoo.com

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Anonymous replied on Nov. 5, 2012 @ 02:00 GMT
Pentcho and whoever else that is trying to find cats where there are none,

I think you are missing the basic math. If someone is not yet ranked, for example because they just submitted their paper, and they get a single good mark from someone, it will jump to the top. Say a single member liked it and marked with 10, it will reach the very top. Then things don't get sorted out by any administrator, simply the paper starts converging to its final average over time.

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Steve Dufourny wrote on Sep. 5, 2012 @ 18:27 GMT
Hello Ms.Walker,

You have chance to work at the Nasa astrobilogy institute. It is my passion with piano and guitar. The anthropical principle is fascinating in fact.

The origin of life is fascinating, in fact the mass and its evolution is fascinating. adenin, guanin, cytosin and thymin ....fascinating.the acids are really inetresting when we insert the serie of uniqueness for the quantization.

The electromagnetism seems with the themrodynamics showing the road of stabilities. The diversity due to the number of combinations become very very incredible at the universal scale.a small human can have a small h in cm or a big h in meter, with all the colors of the light. The thermodynamics is universal in fact. The combinations imply a complexity of combinations implying lifes.

Good luck in this contest

Regards

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 6, 2012 @ 06:15 GMT
Steve,

I agree that the origin of life is fascinating. And, thanks for the well wishes!

The Spherical Jedi replied on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 12:10 GMT
You are welcome,

Ps do you know the works of Oparine about the amino acids in a kind of primordial mixture ?

Regards

Steve D.

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 16, 2012 @ 18:38 GMT
Steve, I am familiar with the early pioneering work of Oparin. Very interesting stuff, especially from a historical perspective.

Best,

Sara

Frank Makinson wrote on Sep. 5, 2012 @ 22:09 GMT
Sara,

Pg 3 "We must therefore assume, right at the outset, that the "all life is chemistry" picture is inadequate to address the question at hand. We must ask, if life is not just complex chemistry, then what is it?"

One of my mentors, a Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering, since deceased, stated that "everything" is a specialized form of "energy."

Pg. 3 "As we now learn it in school, the central dogma of molecular biology states that information flows from DNA - RNA - protein. In reality the situation is much more complicated than this simple picture suggests."

I realize your essay is not about the specific structure of biological organisms, but about "information" the structure contains. (74 instances of the term "information" in the essay)

It is the form the information takes that is important when referring to "Shannon information," and in the context of biological DNA "information", it is in part its helical structure, and it is very efficient. DNA Digital Encoding

I wonder how an intelligent species would encode information, and transfer it in some manner, such that it would be understood by another intelligent species that they did not have prior contact? Perhaps you could ask Paul Davies.

Top-down causation may not be appropriate, perhaps mutual causation. It has been demonstrated that a pair of geometric structures, if properly paired, mutually define their dimensional sizes. See the IEEE paper referenced in topic 1294.

Then there is the issue of, "why helical?" A somewhat dated article covers the issue. Chirality What possible influence in the universe is responsible for all the helicity and spin, with a left hand bias?

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Edwin Eugene Klingman replied on Sep. 5, 2012 @ 22:18 GMT
Frank, I have postulated that it is the C-field or gravito-magnetic field that is responsible for the left-handed-only neutrinos, W and Z bosons, and even the left-handed biological molecules. This is maintained in all of my FQXi essays, but for the relevance of the C-field to quantum mechanics, see my current essay,

The Nature of the Wave Function

Sara, I apologize for posting about an off-topic, but it seemed relevant. I have printed out your essay and will comment after I have studied it.

Edwin Eugene Klingman

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 6, 2012 @ 07:02 GMT
Hello Frank,

Thanks for the interesting points.

I agree helicity is fascinating, and definitely part of the informational narrative of life.

Although I stressed top-down causation in the essay, implicitly it is always a combination of causal factors, and could never be just top-down. So 'mutual causation' is always the case. The interesting thing in biology is that something which is nonphysical or virtual (but must of course be instantiated in physical structures) appears to have causal efficacy.

You ask a very tough question about the possibility of a "universal message encoding" that any sufficiently intelligent beings could understand. I will think on this some - if I have any good insights, I post a follow-up reply.

Best,

Sara

Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 6, 2012 @ 07:05 GMT

Member George F. R. Ellis wrote on Sep. 6, 2012 @ 10:22 GMT
Hi Sarah,

nice essay.

"I stressed top-down causation in the essay, implicitly it is always a combination of causal factors, and could never be just top-down. So 'mutual causation' is always the case. The interesting thing in biology is that something which is nonphysical or virtual (but must of course be instantiated in physical structures) appears to have causal efficacy."

Nicely stated - I agree fully!

best wishes

George

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 7, 2012 @ 15:49 GMT
Thank you George, I very much enjoyed reading your essay as well!

Best,

Sara

Vladimir F. Tamari wrote on Sep. 6, 2012 @ 13:39 GMT
Dear Sara

It is refreshing to leave the world of photons, Relativity and Quantum conundrums for a while, to read your very well written and thought-out essay about a related area of science. It reminded me again that I have not yet read Schrödinger's "What Is Life?" if only for historical reasons. I think I understood your thesis here, but do not agree with it - that studying the origin...

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 7, 2012 @ 16:25 GMT

Thank you for your kind comments. The central thesis is not quite "that studying the origin of life life requires a new physical paradigm to explain the process why some molecules started self-reproducing" as you state it. I completely agree that this particular aspect of the problem doesn't necessitate invoking any new physics. But, I think one much be very careful to...

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Conrad Dale Johnson replied on Sep. 8, 2012 @ 13:28 GMT
Hi Sara,

Your essay presents your case very nicely. I agree that "informational efficacy" identifies something unique about living things, that certainly deserves more thought. But I tend to imagine this as resulting from the evolution of life, rather than as the defining feature of the process.

You distinguish above between "trivial" and "non-trivial" kinds of self-replication,...

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Domenico Oricchio replied on Sep. 9, 2012 @ 01:27 GMT
I am thinking, in this days, to a possible chemical reaction (similar to gene-protein reaction) for a self-replication of the starting structure.

If a complex structure (like a gene) produce a single protein equal to the gene, then this minimal structure (with start, produce and end chemical message) is a self-replication structure.

If the chemical structure is minimal (the simplest chemical structure, with only an RNA-virus gene, with no other function further the replication) then I think that is possible in each environment (in the Universe) the starting of the life (if there is noise like radiaction, there is evolution): is it possible to obtain a minimal self-replicating chemical structure?

If the self-replicating structure is not in organic chemistry, then there are life forms different from Earth life.

Saluti

Domenico

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S Halayka wrote on Sep. 7, 2012 @ 08:24 GMT
What a fascinating essay. I agree with Vladimir that it was a great escape from the low-level reality. Thank you for sharing it.

Another essay here about cosmic engineering might relate to what you are saying. I think their essay is trying to say that living material often doesn't take the path of least resistance like non-living material would (ie. refraction of light by a material, deflection of light in a vacuum by a gravitational field).

So, I guess one question that might be useful is "at what stage does this difference emerge"? My guess is the feeding stage. Living cells feed themselves, but the Voronoi cells that form in rocks do not. Then again, maybe this has nothing to do with finding the answer. I'm not sure.

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 7, 2012 @ 16:29 GMT
Hello S Halayka.

Interesting observation! I am not sure the feeding stage is a satisfactory criteria in of itself though - in some sense certain chemical reactions are capable of "feeding" in the sense that they act like a rudimentary metabolism - catabolizing other chemical species. So you'd have to come up with a rigorous criteria for how feeding by living organisms is different than for these much simpler processes, which could be an interesting question to explore. Perhaps it has something to do with behavior?

Best,

Sara

S Halayka replied on Sep. 10, 2012 @ 19:35 GMT
My guess, in terms of causation, is that in non-life the feeding process (including the gathering) is a matter of bottom-up causation and in life it is a top-down causation. I mean, the photons emitted from a tasty piece of food are hardly enough to make us reach out and eat the food, but this is what happens nonetheless.

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 11, 2012 @ 16:59 GMT
Interesting thought!

Best,

Sara

Ted Erikson wrote on Sep. 7, 2012 @ 17:10 GMT
As I skimmed through your very interesting essay, I thought, "emergentism and panpsychism" are explanations for life to originate where ALL things have a "memory" and an "awareness". Humans are a bit arrogant, to view something as simple as water, H2O, having such properties.. Yet, it would be awful lonely if it did not have a crucial role in nurturing "life".

To Seek Unknown Shores

http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/1409

presents a model in End Notes, that satisfies a 6.25% possibility for any life to originate..

Your essay was good!! Good luck.

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 7, 2012 @ 17:43 GMT
Ted, thank you for your kind note!

M. V. Vasilyeva wrote on Sep. 9, 2012 @ 01:47 GMT
Thank you for a very interesting, thought provoking essay. My background is in computers and for a long time, reading about the developments in biology, genome in particular, I thought that life only appeared similar to information systems. Later on I took on biology and physiology; and the more I studied it, the more I became convinced that life does not just appear but is indeed programmed....

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 9, 2012 @ 18:42 GMT
Dear M.V. Vasilyeva,

Thank you for contributing your though-provoking post to the discussion. While I agree with the validity of your argument, I don't think we have any evidence to draw the strong conclusion you've made. One does not even need to invoke the structure of living systems to make the argument. If simulated realities do in fact exist, which we believe they do (i.e. your example of the internet), the number of simulated realities should vastly outnumber the number of possible physical ones. One could therefore conclude that we are living in a simulation since it is much more probable. This is a standard argument. However, I've never heard a compelling argument that we are definitively living in a simulation.

My question is where would the first intelligent designers come from in your particular example? It just pushes the solving problem to somebody else's reality and therefore doesn't get you very far.

Best,

Sara

M. V. Vasilyeva replied on Sep. 10, 2012 @ 04:38 GMT
Oh Sara, you speak like a scientist and I am a wild visionary in search of entertaining ideas. I try to make sense of the world and the vision above makes perfect sense. More than any other idea I've heard. Especially, the Internet, how it evolved, the viruses and worms... It makes you wonder how did real viruses evolve? They cannot exist, unless there is already in existence a cell (and not just...

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 11, 2012 @ 17:13 GMT
I do think like a scientist, how could you tell? ;-)

I don't think its widely accepted that viruses came first. In fact, Freeman Dyson has a very nice model for the early evolution of life, where self-organized primitive lifeforms based on metabolic cycles became infected with digital sequences that later were integrated as the genetic material (i.e. viruses invaded an already extant biome and eventually transitioned to a symbiotic relationship). The model is outlined in his short book "The Origins of Life" which is a very good read. I highly recommend it.

Best,

Sara

Anonymous wrote on Sep. 10, 2012 @ 12:37 GMT
Hi Sara,

Having had the advantage (and pleasure) of reading your preprint "The Algorithmic Origins of Life," that George Ellis kindly linked on his site, I would like to reproduce here part of my reaction, as it applies to your current essay:

"Take the statement, "To say that information is 'instructional' (or algorithmic) and 'coded' represents a crucial conceptual leap --...

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Thomas Howard Ray replied on Sep. 10, 2012 @ 12:39 GMT
Sorry, lost my log-in. The above is mine.

Tom

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 18:52 GMT
Thomas, thank you for the thoughtful comments!

I don't think that there is anything in our assessment that precludes the possibility of the evolutionary continuum that you suggest. It is entirely possible that there exists a gradation of states somewhere between what we might call 'living' and what we would call definitely 'not living'. The primary point is that somewhere in that potential continuum a major shift in the way information is handled and processed does occur and that this is a constructive way of thinking about life's origins because it gives you a guidepost beyond just looking at the evolutionary continuum (which doesn't exactly give you any intuition about whether you can expect the kind of information processing we see in biology to emerge or not - in some sense the continuum should be defined by a shift in informational efficacy).

You've brought up some nice points about analog systems. I agree they can be much more robust than digital in complex networks, but ultimately this robustness requires some level of information control. In modern biology control is dominated by digitization (usually associated with sequence recognition, but also with concentration dependent binary control switches that enable orthogonality between potentially antagonistic sets of chemical reactions), so digitization seems critically important to the story of the emergence of information control. I am not yet convinced that information control would be nearly as robust in a purely analog chemical system, and therefore its capacity for reliable network switching should be limited as compared to an analog + digital chemical system. I'd be very interested in any examples to the contrary.

Best,

Sara

Thomas Howard Ray replied on Sep. 15, 2012 @ 15:56 GMT
Hi Sara,

"I am not yet convinced that information control would be nearly as robust in a purely analog chemical system, and therefore its capacity for reliable network switching should be limited as compared to an analog + digital chemical system. I'd be very interested in any examples to the contrary."

I see any self organized system as fundamentally analog, because it must be...

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Domenico Oricchio wrote on Sep. 11, 2012 @ 15:10 GMT
I start to think a chemical reaction to obtain a self-replicating rna.

The chemical composition of the rna is a trace of the creation zone: I wish to obtain a zone on the Earth where we had concurrently sulfur, phosphorous, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen.

I think that only hydrothermal vent can transport in a zone all these element, from the inner layers of the Earth (I read a similar idea of Wachtershauser): only a transport phenomenon can melt different molecules.

The hot hydrothermal vent in deep see, with high temperature, can form chaotic toroidal flux (close flux of water, enriched with chemical component), that cook the chemical soup, breaking the weak covalent bond, and recombining (cold phases far away from the hydrothermal vent) the break molecule in a complex way (hot stage, cold stage) in a chaotic way (the path of each molecule is different for chaotic vortex, so that each reaction time is obtained casually): the chemical deposition is a proof of the close path (that can be slow).

It is an idea similar to Miller-Urey, using thermal energy instead of lightining, this can be simulated for high pressure and temperatue (I don’t know, when I write, what is the critical thermodynamical point for the life, and if this point exist).

The rna far away the hydrothermal vent have not feeding, the rna near the hot zone is favorite, but it is necessary a more complex life form (for a robust hot environment life), then the evolution start.

Saluti

Domenico

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Domenico Oricchio replied on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 16:13 GMT
I am not an expert in organic chemistry, but at first sight these remember me the cracking process.

In the cracking process (600 kpa or 7000 kpa, a column of water of 60m or 700m, and less of 900°C) there are obtained aromatic intermediate product (I think to the rna nucleobases), and a vast class of intermediate chemical compound.

The interesting thing is that the cracking in the hydrothermal vent (if it is true) work like the crossing over, deletions and translocation (a thermal evolution before a genetic evolution): if this is true, the genes learned the method from the environment!

Saluti

Domenico

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Domenico Oricchio replied on Sep. 16, 2012 @ 13:41 GMT
Semantic of the life

I think that the life can have had the evolution from self-replicating rna, viroid, virus with capsid (the simplest membrane), macrovirus and bacteria.

The passage from a low level life to high level is identified by closed system (capsid membrane): the chemical reaction chains must be in a closed system (no dispersion of the chemical products), so that multiple chemical process are possible.

The chemical reaction are equivalent to a logic, where the word are the chemical compound, and the rna is the logic program (A +B=C is equivalent to: if A and B then C ): the chemical reaction in a closed system are a language (logic, programming or brain), this remember me the De Arte Combinatoria of Leibniz.

The self-replicating rna is a semantic "I" (existence : the egocentricest being), there are not information processes.

The simplest virus is "I think", where there is a chemical process that from two inner word produce a sentence: this is the life start, the consciousness.

A colony of virus is a complex slow thought (years for a complete sentence): there are logical chemical sentences, where only the more intelligent (in the environment) virus is the winning idea (is it a brain thought a chemical process?).

Saluti

Domenico

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 16, 2012 @ 19:19 GMT
Domenico,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. There is a problem with the scenario of naked RNA molecules in a hydrothermal setting - RNA is very unstable under aqueous conditions and it is difficult even to form dinucleotides abiotically. I don't think that this is the best way to start the whole process. However, there has been some work done in the direction you suggest that may be of interest to you http://www.pnas.org/content/104/22/9105.full

One must be careful in identifying a possible ancestral phase of RNA-based life with modern viruses. Modern viruses are highly-evolved and survive by co-opting the machinery of cellular organisms. It is entirely possibly that viruses evolved with cellular life (or possibly came later), and that they enhanced the capacity for early populations of cells to undergo rapid information transfer and therefore increased their evolvability.

I agree that a single self-replicating molecule has no information processing in the manner we've discussed here. To me the most interesting question in origins is a what level this comes in.

Best,

Sara

Steve Jedi Dufourny wrote on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 17:14 GMT
Hello,

I have several ideas, I like this topic :)

If the serie of uniqueness is inserted, so we can have a specific spherical architecture with the volumes.

The amino acids and their combinations of HCNO are incredible.The ionic links can be correlated with the number for the quantization, the volumes are essential at my humble opinion considering a good taxonomy for the exchange of informations. The atomic links and the hydrogen bridge also are under this logic. Like the interactions of London that I find very relevant personally.

The ARN this acid ribonucleic is so an interesting link for the encoding.If the bosonic fields and the gravitational stabilities are analyzed with the serie of uniqueness, and its number of spheres, finite.So it is relevant considering the rule of H and its serie of uniqueness. This quantum number is the same than our cosmological number.So the volumes of this serie are important.If the light is differenciated of the mass with a different sense of rotation, so we see the links with the singularities. The two roads are far of us, The informations and their complexity are there in the two senses.

Regards

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 16, 2012 @ 19:23 GMT
Hello again Steve,

I am not sure what you mean by a "series of uniqueness" and that we have a "specific spherical architecture". But I do think hierarchical organization is important in living systems - it allows information to be coarse-grained and processed on multiple levels in structural hierarchies.

Best,

Sara

Steve Dufourny replied on Sep. 16, 2012 @ 20:55 GMT
Hello Ms Walker,

The number of cosmological spheres for example or an atom of H for example, see that this number is the same.Finte and precise, it permits to quantize the mass. The volumes of this entanglement are relevant when the central spheres,the singularities are the most important volumes. So the stabilities of evolution appears considering the polarization spherization between m and hv. The mass polarises this light in fact Ms Walker.

The spheres inside the sphere are the answer.

Best Regards

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Frank Martin DiMeglio wrote on Sep. 15, 2012 @ 23:38 GMT
Sara, the typical/ordinary, simple, shared, natural, and common experiences of OUR life/living FUNDAMENTALLY apply to physics -- including our growth, our bodies, thought in general, our being, and our natural experience of gravity. There is no ultimate or true difference between what is animate and inanimate. In the absence of gravity, we are literally out of touch with reality and life. Do you agree please?

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 16, 2012 @ 19:26 GMT
Hi Frank, I agree to an extent - science cannot be disentangled from the presence of an observer/measurer. This is especially interesting of course for quantum mechanics. I am not sure about the gravity bit - why is gravity singled out from the other forces?

Best,

Sara

Frank Martin DiMeglio replied on Sep. 18, 2012 @ 21:06 GMT
Sara, very importantly, gravity enjoins and balances visible and invisible space.

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Frank Martin DiMeglio replied on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 01:29 GMT
Hi Sara. Both gravity and electromagnetism enjoin and balance invisible and visible space in conjunction with balanced and equivalent inertia and gravity. We can thus understand instantaneity and the balance/equilibrium involved with the fact that gravity cannot be shielded.

Huge idea. What do you think?

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Helmut Hansen wrote on Sep. 18, 2012 @ 05:09 GMT
Dear Sara,

I've no doubt that life cannot completely be reduced to physical and chemical terms. There is something beyond of that. But it seems highly difficult to get in touch with this entity whatever it may be.

Some people are calling it consciousness, other mind etc.

In the past the scientific inquiry of this entity was simply a taboo, but now a paradigm shift is taken...

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 21, 2012 @ 21:37 GMT
Dear Helmut,

Thank you for the well wishes and your interest in the paper. I had not heard of the work of Dr. Pim van Lommel previously, but I've just pulled up the Lancet paper and it does look interesting. Thank you for sharing the reference.

Best,

Sara

Karl Coryat wrote on Sep. 18, 2012 @ 23:28 GMT
Hi Sara, I read your essay with great interest. You've done a fantastic job challenging an assumption that reductionists would likely consider untouchable. I was delighted that you stressed the role of information, and particularly information-in-context -- this is the focus of my essay "Toward an Informational Mechanics", and I would love to get your thoughts on it.

The main assumption I challenge is that information is underlain by objects. I argue that matter and spacetime may emerge out of information content, which can only arise in the relational context of other information. This is where the possible fundamental nature of life comes in: If we consider living organisms (and their technology) to be complex fundamentally informational systems, whose complexity has evolved in the context of other evolving informational complexity, then informational complexity *in the universe* may be a function of the informational complexity of the observer -- the biological or technological system doing the observing. I suspect that this or some other purely relational picture is what's keeping us from seeing the big picture, and how life fits into it.

A purely chemical conception of life is deeply problematic, as you point out so clearly; but I go further by hypothesizing that the chemistry itself emerges from information-in-context (which may be where I lost some readers!).

Thanks for the great read and best of luck.

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 21, 2012 @ 22:34 GMT
Hello Karl,

The idea of all of reality emerging from "information-in-context" is intriguing, and I agree it definitely puts the phenomenon of life in a new perspective! I've just downloaded your essay and look forward to reading it.

Best,

Sara

Jin He wrote on Sep. 22, 2012 @ 16:30 GMT
Heaven Breasts and Heaven Calculus

http://vixra.org/abs/1209.0072

Since the birth of mankind, human beings have been looking for the origin of life. The fact that human history is the history of warfare and cannibalism proves that humans have not identified their origin. Humanity is still in the dark phase of lower animals. Humans can see the phenomenon of life only on Earth, and humans' vision does not exceed the one of lower animals. However, it is a fact that human beings have inherited the most advanced gene of life. Humans should be able to answer the following questions: Is the Universe hierarchical? What is Heaven? Is Heaven the origin of life? Is Heaven a higher order of life? For more than a decade, I have done an in-depth study on barred galaxy structure. Today (September 17, 2012) I suddenly discovered that the characteristic structure of barred spiral galaxies resembles the breasts of human female essentially. If the rational structure conjecture presented in the article is proved then Sun must be a mirror of the universe, and mankind is exactly the image on earth of the Heaven.

http://galaxyanatomy.com

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Juan Ramón González Álvarez wrote on Sep. 22, 2012 @ 18:45 GMT
Dear Sara Imari Walker

Your essay provided me a fresh reading on biology in a contest virtually devoted only to pure physical questions, including mine!

My own position on the main theme of your essay is somehow in the middle betwen the vitalist and the reductionist. This is what the Nobel winner Jean Marie Lehn calls integrationism: the integration of upper levels with lower levels.

Integrationism is at the very foundation of the observed hierarchical structure of matter and is the main paradigm used in supramolecular chemistry for the study of the frontier between living and non-living matter.

The answer to your question is "yes". A theory of life is so fundamental as general relativity or quantum field theory in their respective fields, because none of those (neither highly speculative approaches as superstring theory) can explain the rich phenomena observed in living systems. The limits of physics have been debated in the recent XXI Solvay Conference on Physics. The proceedings have been published in the volume 122 of Advances In Chemical Physics (2002).

You must find interesting the work "From Coupled Dynamical Systems To Biological Irreversibility" (pages 53-75 of the above volume) by Kunihiko Kaneko. You can find in part four, "Extension Of Quantum Theory And Field Theory", of the proceedings several works on generalizations of quantum field theory devoted to explain the fundamental irreversibilities observed in living systems. My own work must be considered a generalization of the dynamics of correlations developed by the Brussels-Austin School (pages 261-276).

Regards

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 26, 2012 @ 04:21 GMT
Dear Juan, thank you very much for sharing the references!

Best,

Sara

Lawrence B Crowell wrote on Sep. 23, 2012 @ 01:31 GMT
Sara,

I read your essay quite a while ago. I found myself not able at first to respond particularly, because I have pondered much the same issue. My undergraduate specialization with physics was biophysics, and correspondingly I had biochemistry and molecular biology. I cloned genes and the whole thing. My doctoral work was with quantum fields and gravity though. This matter to me is...

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 26, 2012 @ 04:39 GMT
Dear Lawrence,

It is interesting to think that there might be some extensive variables we could associate with a 'phase change' from non-life to life. The challenge is always to identify what precisely these might be. I like your notion of associating them with information/complexity in biochemical networks. This sounds very much in line with attempting to identify parameters associated with informational and causal architecture that I present in the essay. The difficulty is trying to identify the relevant parameters - is it information flow? network topology? algorithmic compressibility? I think this is the challenge to look to with moving forward trying to identify if a 'bio-state' exists. But, I agree - I don't think we know nearly enough at this stage to say whether this physical distinction between life and non-life actually exists or not - there is lots of work to be done!

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Best,

Sara

Lawrence B. Crowell replied on Sep. 26, 2012 @ 15:45 GMT
I am not sure if research has been done with phase structure in Progogine's open thermodynamics. Open thermodynamics is not on the same solid foundation thermodynamics of closed systems is on. There might be some research on this however which one could search out. If this has not been seriously looked at it could represent a considerable challenge.

Cheers LC

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Oct. 5, 2012 @ 16:48 GMT
I am not sure how much work has been done in this area ... but great suggestion to seek it out!

Sara

Hoang cao Hai wrote on Sep. 24, 2012 @ 07:15 GMT
Dear Sara

A very interesting suggestion! I think that :

We observe with the eye but found and recognize by the mind of knowledge.

Kind Regards !

Hải.Caohoàng of THE INCORRECT ASSUMPTIONS AND A CORRECT THEORY

August 23, 2012 - 11:51 GMT on this essay contest.

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 26, 2012 @ 04:45 GMT
Dear Hoang Cao Hai,

Thank you for your interest in my essay.

Best,

Sara

Jayakar Johnson Joseph wrote on Sep. 24, 2012 @ 17:45 GMT
Dear Sara Imari Walker,

Big Bang nucleosynthesis is not expressional with this paradigm of Coherently-cyclic cluster-matter universe that describes the universe as eternal, in that the nucleus of a chemical element is described as a dense region of tetrahedral-branes within a domain that represents that element itself. In this paradigm, distribution of chemical elements in universe differs for the holarchial segments as per the gravitational potentials of these segments in that the nuclear transmutation and reverse transmutation of the elements are in correlation with the fluctuations of gravitational potentials of these holarchial segments.

Excessive energy in a holarchial segment that is not proportional with the gravitational potential of that segment is causal for the evolution of life in that specific holarchial segment that has favourable conditions. Increase of chemical potential by the evolution of organic compounds, sustains the continuous evolution of complex organic compounds in that holarchial segment, that have life and continues with the evolution of higher order of species in that segment. Thus the homeomorphic segmental-fluctuation cycle of the universe is imperative for the evolution and extinction of life in a specific holarchial segment, in that the physical causality of homeomorphic segmental-fluctuation is the collective effect of the entirety of universe.

With best wishes

Jayakar

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 26, 2012 @ 04:51 GMT
Dear Jayakar,

Thank you kindly for your well-wishes and interest in my essay.

Best,

Sara

Peter Jackson wrote on Sep. 24, 2012 @ 18:40 GMT
Sarah

Wonderfully written and fascinating essay on an important subject poorly covered here. I also agree it's not 'either/or' between top down and bottom up causation but both. In Architecture the design process is certainly mainly top down but component relations are bottom up. Construction can of course be both (the 'Shard' was both at once!).

I find a multiple circle or dipole, commonly forming a torus, or when translating through space, interestingly not only derives the strong force (found in Vladimir Tamari's work) but also gives the form of DNA. Of course the spiral re-ionizing jets of quasars (from a toroid/AGN axis) does the same, and electron spin can be analogous. Quite a universal morphology perhaps? (literally - as CMB anisotropies match the pattern!)

Would you agree the big question is not just about 'life' or 'not life' but whether one day intelligent life may evolve. Perhaps then we may understand universes, (or at least my essay!) And on to that. I think I find a massively important bottom up causality derived from to down analysis. Please do read it if you can and give me your views.

Very best wishes

Peter

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 26, 2012 @ 05:07 GMT
Dear Peter,

I do very much agree that the big question here is not just about the emergence of life, but of intelligence as well. I am particularly interested in whether intelligent life will always (eventually) evolve given sufficient time (however long that actually may be!) once life has emerged, or if it is the case that the evolution of intelligence is exceedingly rare. I don't think we are in the position yet to answer this one way or the other, and I am very curious about whether similar physical mechanisms underly both processes (which I suspect is the case).

I've found your essay and will plan to read it - excellent title!

Best,

Sara

Member Hector Zenil wrote on Sep. 25, 2012 @ 04:41 GMT
Dear Sara,

Interesting point of view. To put it in your terms I would find much more remarkable if life actually can be reduced to chemistry and physics (or information) than requiring anything not known to science today. I enjoyed the way you explain that Darwinian evolution is actually more general than the processes involved only in life itself. Isn't the appearance of the field of complex systems (greatly also influencing other areas such as artificial life) the acknowledge of the notion that even if life is reducible one cannot study it but at a higher level of description? A level of description where interactions between the parts can be accounted for.

The main downside of your approach is the overlooking (as various other essays do) the cutting-edge theories of complexity and information content, which is not Shannon's communication theory developed 60 years ago, but Algorithmic Information Theory (Kolmogorov complexity, variations of it and related measures). This would easily provide a possible explanation of the difference in genome length between a plant such as Paris Japonica compared to the relatively small human genome length by number of base pairs. From the Kolmogorov complexity perspective you would need to compare compressed genomes, from Bennett's logical depth you would need to compare uncompressing times from near compressed genomes, etc. to mention but 2 examples. This is a common straw man fallacy practice committed ignoring the current state of a field and substituting it with a misrepresented version of it (Shannon). In all other respects I think it is a well-written fine essay with very interesting suggestions.

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 26, 2012 @ 05:37 GMT
Dear Hector,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I agree that the field of complex systems definitely suggests that higher-level descriptions are necessary in many areas of science!

You bring up some interesting points on AIT complexity measures. Although I did not include a discussion of algorithmic information theory in my essay, I completely agree that it is central to the story and in retrospect it is a big omission in my discussion. It certainly provides a much better measure of genomic complexity than Shannon information as you point out. A challenge however is that not all the information is stored in the DNA. So even if we do calculate, for example, the kolmogorov complexity of two genomes from two distinct organisms, I am not convinced that this would provide a true comparison of their complexity (although it is a great place to start!). There seems to be a lot of algorithmic information content not stored directly in DNA, but instead stored in distributed biochemical networks (e.g. information that dictates self-assembly processes). I think AIT could still capture this, and is probably the most fruitful direction to take, but its not at all straightforward to determine where the algorithms are physically represented. In lieu of being able to precisely define these more distributed parts of biological information, I think exploring causality in biology is one interesting and possibly productive way of understanding how information operates in biology. I'd be very interesting to see development of connections between the two approaches.

Best,

Sara

Steve Dufourny Jedi replied on Sep. 28, 2012 @ 23:23 GMT
Hello Ms Walker and Mr Zenil,

I like these kind of discussions.Thanks for that :)

I beleive strongly that the evolution is a main part of the puzzle. The cybernetic seems very relevant when we consider the transfert of informations with the energy and its entropical arrow of times. The encoding is very complex, I return about the importance of the serie of spherical volumes...

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BASILEIOS GRISPOS wrote on Sep. 25, 2012 @ 13:28 GMT
Dear Sara Imari Walker

It seems to me that we have divided nature in two completely different worlds, the one that is made of carbon compounds, which consist mainly the annimate matter and the other with all the rest known elements, the inanimate matter.

There is strong evidence that the behavior of inanimate and animated matter may have some common characteristics and that nature does not make any distinction between them. This common behavior is manifested better in huge agglomeration of matter, like galaxy clusters and equally well in the behavior of primitive life like bacteria, virus, prion.

Maybe The Universe has been evolved as a self-organized system given the initial condition. It has the ability of reproduction and the power of multiplication.

In that case life in our Univers is not an accidental phenomenon but it is closely related with the structure of the universe.

But if the definition of life, is: a complex self-sustaining chemical network based on carbon biochemistry capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution, then what difference does it make from the definition of the inanimate matter.

Best wishes

B. Grispos

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 26, 2012 @ 05:52 GMT
Dear B. Grispos,

You have hit on one of the primary challenges in identifying any sort of rigorous definition for life - it is notoriously difficult to come up with a well-defined criteria that distinguishes living from nonliving. It certainly makes the task of identifying life's origins very difficult without a proper definition!

I am not particularly satisfied with the definition of life as "a complex self-sustaining chemical network based on carbon biochemistry capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution" either. I don't think it makes a clear distinction between animate and inanimate matter. I discuss why Darwinian evolution may not be a sufficient (although it could certainly be necessary) condition in the essay, but what about for example that carbon is necessary? Carbon is certainly a very special element, but silicon is not completely ruled out as a possible alternative. And "complex self-sustaining chemical network" could describe just about any geochemical cycle. So I agree this definition is not adequate - it can certainly be used to describe a great number of systems, many of which we would not be willing to call alive and worse it may not include systems which are alive! This is why I think more fundamental distinctions may be necessary.

Best,

Sara

Domenico Oricchio wrote on Sep. 25, 2012 @ 16:15 GMT
I am thinking to an hypothetical measure of the life presence in a top-down approach.

If an organic life exist in the space (on comets, or ice in the deep space), then I hypothesize that the metabolite molecules can be chiral; so that there is a difference in the absorption spectrum.

If there is a percentage - in the deep space - of chirality spectrum in some luminous hot cloud, then I can suppose the presence of life.

Saluti

Domenico

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 30, 2012 @ 19:03 GMT
Hi Domenico,

This is an interesting suggestion that I believe some researchers are exploring at present. It is very challenging though! Technically it is very difficult to detect any kind of chiral signature remotely, particularly if it is a weak signal. Chirality as a remote biosignature has even been proposed as a possible biosignature in exoplanet atmospheres (an area of inquiry in its infancy) - this abstract may be of interest to you: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2011AGUFM.P14C..08S

Best,

Sara

Member Benjamin F. Dribus wrote on Sep. 25, 2012 @ 20:42 GMT
Dear Sara,

Your submission is surely one of the best-written and deepest entries in the contest. Any one of a number of topics you discuss (self-reference, distributed causation, causal efficacy of information, evolving dynamical laws, etc.) is worthy of more comment and discussion than can be accomplished in a forum such as this; hence, I can only choose a few points to remark on....

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 30, 2012 @ 20:40 GMT
Hi Ben,

Thank you for your very thoughtful comments! My rejection of the fully reductionist picture does apply at the classical level (although I also have not ruled out the possibility that life is intrinsically quantum-mechanical). That being said, if I understand what you mean correctly, I don't "really mean it" as you state it, i.e. I don't mean "that subsets of spacetime exert influence on other subsets independent of the influences between their respective events". To put in perspective of your very nice essay - top-down causation as used here would only occur for causally-related events that are timelike-separated (such that standard bottom-up causation is always part of the story). So mutual causation between "lower" levels and "higher" levels is always the case. In this regard I very much agree with the how George Ellis has framed this in his essay - that is, that top-down causation occurs by higher levels setting contraints on lower level relations (which is what opens the possibility of nonphysical entities being causally efficacious).

In living systems this becomes particularly interesting because nonphysical (or virtual) entities appear to have causal efficacy. I am not sure if this argument could be made for other areas of physics in quite the same way. For example, in this regard I would consider computers or any artificial systems to be derivative of our biosphere and therefore not be separate physical phenomena since they only arise in nature (as far as we know) from living systems.

With regards to your point 4, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on specific physical instances of causally efficacious information outside of biology in classical physics. Perhaps you are viewing this as one opportunity to possibly uncover an intrinsic quantum mechanical foundation for biological systems?

Thanks again for the well-wishes and engaging discussion!

Best,

Sara

Member Benjamin F. Dribus replied on Oct. 1, 2012 @ 20:54 GMT
Dear Sara,

Thanks for the detailed response! Regarding the possibility that life may be inherently quantum-mechanical, I expect at least that this is the case with consciousness. This is principally because of the need to escape determinism on self-referential grounds. In particular, I am not much a believer in classical digital strong AI.

With regard to the causal efficacy of information in fundamental physics, I realize now that I was probably using the word "information" in a different sense than you. What I was referring to was the prevalence in the field of quantum gravity of models involving a fundamental scale with irreducible, indistinguishable elements. The usual distinction between "information" and the physical system used to encode it is no longer clear at this level. Ordinarily, this distinction is justified by the fact that there are many different ways to encode information physically, with no particular method preferable to the others. At the fundamental scale, however, there is a unique "preferred" physical encoding of the "information" in a system: namely the system itself.

This is related to entropy; you've probably heard the example involving a deck of playing cards: you can associated an entropy to the deck ignoring everything except that there are 52 distinguishable objects. However, if you consider the thermodynamic entropy of all the molecules in the deck, it is vastly greater. Relating entropy to information, the point is that the existence of a fundamental scale would provide a bottom to this kind of consideration; you could associate a measure called THE entropy to any system. Mathematically, this is related to things like compression and Kolmogorov complexity. Maybe this justifies the "it-from-bit" view in a sense. Take care,

Ben

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Oct. 5, 2012 @ 17:03 GMT
Ben, thanks for the clarification. And again, thanks for the great discussion!

Best,

Sara

Yuri Danoyan wrote on Sep. 26, 2012 @ 13:03 GMT
Giovanni wrote:

"In quantum-gravity research there is a long-standing effort

of understanding how spacetime should be described when both

Planck’s constant ~ and Newton’s constant GN are nonnegligible.

We cannot claim much success addressing this issue."

Giovanni,

what mean "nonnegligible"?

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Anthony DiCarlo wrote on Sep. 27, 2012 @ 14:43 GMT
Sara Imari Walker,

The human race may have been forced to become Reductionists simply to stay alive. One way to assure command over the elements that one must face for survival is to become a “Reductionist” and absorb all the physical knowledge required for assuring one’s survival. A total “Holistic” approach to life may suffer extinction if the basic Reductionist manifestos...

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 30, 2012 @ 20:55 GMT
Dear Anthony,

You bring up many interesting points here. I certainly agree that both holistic and reductionist approaches are required for a useful explanatory framework. Do you really think it is the case that it is 50/50? Does this derive from theory/empirical evidence or conjecture? I ask because in thinking on the transition from non-life to life, if you take the idea of a transition causally efficacious information seriously, ideally one would like to identify when this transition can be said to have taken effect (50%, > 50%?) i.e. when can you say true emergence has occurred? I am not sure I have ever come across a rigorous criteria for this kind of measurement.

Thanks very much for your engaging discussion!

Best,

Sara

Anthony DiCarlo replied on Oct. 2, 2012 @ 16:12 GMT
Sara,

The 50% comes from beliefs that I posted in my last essay. Our concious thought is believed centered in the critical strip of Reimann Zeta analytic space, implying, our modeled thoughts may be centered between two information surfaces (as per the visual double Mirror model I had shown). Because I believe that the entire physical universe represents a "life of the 1st kind," every other thing (human life included) would resemble a scaled space and time measure of it ... like brain neurons representing galaxies, stars etc., in a duel representation, etc. This implies that life information is centralized between two reflective surfaces, one converging (quantum surface - reductionist) and one diverging (edge of universe - Holistic). Life measure is believed at the very middle when it comes to our measuring anything at all. Each measure depends on BOTH surfaces.

This also fits the half advanced and half retarded bill set forth by Feynman for relaying causal information (emitter/absorber theory - Feynman-Wheeler theory)

Regards,

Tony DiCarlo

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Oct. 5, 2012 @ 16:45 GMT
Tony, thanks for explaining!

Best,

Sara

Frank Martin DiMeglio wrote on Sep. 29, 2012 @ 03:40 GMT
Hi Sara. There is no true or ultimate difference between what is animate and inanimate because the self represents, forms, and experiences a comprehensive approximation of experience in general by combining conscious and unconscious experience. Accordingly, the fundamental and general unification of physics involves direct bodily experience (seen, felt, AND touched) -- as the ultimate understanding of physics combines, balances, and includes opposites in conjunction with our growth and becoming other than we are. DO YOU AGREE? What are your thoughts on this please?

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 30, 2012 @ 21:00 GMT
Dear Frank, Yes I do agree that the properties of the observer are an important attribute of any interpretation of physical reality.

Best,

Sara

Frank Martin DiMeglio replied on Oct. 5, 2012 @ 04:46 GMT
OK SARA, YOU AGREE. THEN RATE AND REVIEW MY ESSAY. IT PROVES ALL of what is in my prior post. In speaking of living organisms/life, Heisenberg thought that we lack a "stability of form", and that we have a stability of purpose or function (however). He was totally wrong; as we necessarily have/enjoy the fundamental and ultimate ordering of physical experience (including being and thought) -- fundamentally and generally. My essay proves this definitively. My essay generally and fundamentally unifies physics.

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Georgina Parry wrote on Sep. 30, 2012 @ 09:57 GMT
Dear Sara Imari Walker,

I'm not QUITE sure what to make of your essay in the context of this competition.It is eloquently written. You clearly set out a point of view. I am not sure you have said which -basic- physical assumptions are wrong, though you have said that bottom up causation from chemistry to life may be inadequate to account for living things.

I'm not sure you aren't in...

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 30, 2012 @ 21:32 GMT
Hi Georgina,

I certainly appreciate your critique. In fact, the challenges associated with defining life are notoriously difficult, one can just look at various attempts over the history of science (Schrodinger's "What is Life?" is a great example). Your list "movement, excretion, respiration, reproduction, irritability, nutrition and growth" is certainly valid if one seeks a list...

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Georgina Parry replied on Oct. 1, 2012 @ 00:52 GMT

The characteristics of living things pertain to groups of organisms and not necessarily any one individual. So whereas in an ant colony there is only one reproducing female the non fertile females are still considered living things because they are the same type of organism.Viruses on the other hand can never reproduce themselves...

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Oct. 5, 2012 @ 17:16 GMT
Hi Georgina,

This is an important point that you bring up about the level of organization at which we define "organism". It does seem that most definitions of life apply only at the level of populations and not individuals. I suppose this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make it more difficult to identify where we should draw the line for alive v. not alive!

I completely agree that a virus or a mitochondrion is not alive outside of a host. I like your point that they do play a functional role inside a living system, so they are clearly part of living organisms. I think a major challenge is that this could be said of any individual functioning component of living systems - e.g. as another example DNA has a function in biology, but is not alive on its own. So yes, this ties very much in with a central theme of my essay - that an essential feature is the information that enables function, but the information is not intrinsic to the object but instead the system as a whole (context is required).

Thanks again for the engaging discussion!

Best,

Sara

Wilhelmus de Wilde de Wilde wrote on Sep. 30, 2012 @ 17:12 GMT
Dear Sara:

Benjamin Dribus draw my attention on your intriging essay, which after reading I appreceate very much. Indeed reductionism ad infinitum is not working, it is useful upto certain scales.

In "THE CONSCIOUSNESS CONNECTION" I explain the role of consciousness, which of course is a perception of my image of "reality". As Ben said :"if you take these things seriously and put them together with my causal approach, you get a very complex (but interesting) picture of time and consciousness".

I hope you will take the time to read and rate "The Consciousness Connection" and look forward for your comments.

Wilhelmus

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 30, 2012 @ 21:49 GMT
Dear Wilhelmus,

Best,

Sara

Janko Kokosar wrote on Sep. 30, 2012 @ 19:15 GMT
Dear Mrs. Walker

It is a nice presentation of informatics of life. Maybe you should also stress more that top-down causation exists also in inanimate world, but it is much less presented. You also found analogy with quantum physics. I hope that this top-down causation of information can help at simulations of computer life and in simulations of evolution?

But, higher levels which...

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Sep. 30, 2012 @ 21:47 GMT
Dear Janko,

I think it is likely that the nature of consciousness and the nature of life are intimately connected. However, I don't think that present physics is at all sufficient to explain consciousness! I am very sorry if I gave that impression. I like Tononi's measure of integrated information as an interesting way of quantifying causal architecture (which is central to the story of information processing throughout biological hierarchies), but I don't think it nearly captures the full picture with regards to life or consciousness. As far as the possible connection between consciousness and quantum mechanics - I am not sure I agree there is a deep connection, but I will read your essay to see more of your perspective on this.

Best,

Sara

Sergey G Fedosin wrote on Oct. 4, 2012 @ 04:25 GMT
If you do not understand why your rating dropped down. As I found ratings in the contest are calculated in the next way. Suppose your rating is
$R_1$
and
$N_1$
was the quantity of people which gave you ratings. Then you have
$S_1=R_1 N_1$
of points. After it anyone give you
$dS$
of points so you have
$S_2=S_1+ dS$
of points and
$N_2=N_1+1$
is the common quantity of the people which gave you ratings. At the same time you will have
$S_2=R_2 N_2$
of points. From here, if you want to be R2 > R1 there must be:
$S_2/ N_2>S_1/ N_1$
or
$(S_1+ dS) / (N_1+1) >S_1/ N_1$
or
$dS >S_1/ N_1 =R_1$
In other words if you want to increase rating of anyone you must give him more points
$dS$
then the participant`s rating
$R_1$
was at the moment you rated him. From here it is seen that in the contest are special rules for ratings. And from here there are misunderstanding of some participants what is happened with their ratings. Moreover since community ratings are hided some participants do not sure how increase ratings of others and gives them maximum 10 points. But in the case the scale from 1 to 10 of points do not work, and some essays are overestimated and some essays are drop down. In my opinion it is a bad problem with this Contest rating process.

Sergey Fedosin

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Gene H Barbee wrote on Oct. 4, 2012 @ 20:50 GMT

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Oct. 5, 2012 @ 17:20 GMT
Gene,

Thank you for your kind comments. I will look for your paper on information networks inherent in life. Sounds intriguing!

Best,

Sara

Dan J. Bruiger wrote on Oct. 5, 2012 @ 00:06 GMT
Hi, Sara

Thank you for your well-considered essay, very germane because it challenges the mechanist paradigm where it is most vulnerable.

In your opening paragraph, you say "The central challenge is that we don't know whether life is 'just' very complex chemistry, or if there is something fundamentally distinct about living matter." This frames the...

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Author Sara Imari Walker replied on Oct. 5, 2012 @ 17:33 GMT
Hi Dan,

Thank you for your very constructive feedback! You bring several points that I will consider in more detail, but I'll try to provide a short response here.

I agree with your statement "It might be more productive to frame it in terms of research strategies or epistemology: what other approaches than mechanism might be appropriate?" . I think epistemology might be particularly appropriate, however working in the origin of life field the conversations are almost entirely relegated to ontological discussions so I often find that is the best place to start in engaging new discussions. But I will keep this in mind!

With regards to the language we use in biology and the notion of agency - a formalism that is more appropriate for biology is very badly needed. I think you've identified a very important area for future research with regard to tweezing out which features are imposed due to our biases as humans (and the language we use to describe the natural world) and which are due to an internal agency in an organism which may introduce a very different notion of agency than we are used to. This certainly merits some deep consideration.

Best,

Sara

Avtar Singh wrote on Oct. 5, 2012 @ 19:10 GMT
Dear Sara:

I enjoyed reading your well-written and deeply intuitive essay addressing the most fundamental question – “Is Life Fundamental?” Whether this question is ill-posed and the ensuing questions related to the reductionist or top-down approach can be answered by a comprehensive, consistent, and non-paradoxical understanding of the Cosmos as described in my paper - -“ From...

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Domenico Oricchio wrote on Oct. 16, 2012 @ 15:07 GMT
I read the Strulson experiment with cell-like structure, but I have a problem.

It is necessary the presence of two structure interacting in the same time: dextran and polyethylene glycol; but in a fluid dynamic environment these component must be self-replicant, and if it is complex to obtain a life form, then is more complex to obtain two self-replicating life.

I think that it is more simple that the self-replicating rna acquire some characteristic in the terminal part, like an helical capsid that is connected with the rna (a single structure that compartmentalize the rna, a junk gene that give tertiary structure).

Saluti

Domenico

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Domenico Oricchio replied on Oct. 22, 2012 @ 12:57 GMT
Is virus life?

I think that is possible to try to make a continuing mixing culture broth equal to the cytoplasm, containing all the types of twenty common amino acid, if there is replication then the virus is life (it is not a infectious agent with the right environment to obtain nutrients).

The inner part of the cells have circulating flow (Goldstein-Woodhouse observation is equal to hydrothermal flow), and the Vaidya-Manapat-Chen-Xulvi-Hayden-Lehman experiment can be the test that the rna is able to self-replicating in a right culture broth.

If this is true, since the last ancestor must be the simplest living organism, and since one of the smallest virus have 359 nucleotides (potato spindle tuber virus), and if it is capable of self-replicating (I think that the more simple virus can be an algae virus; so that ebola virus can be a plant virus like anthrax bacterium for algae), then first virus can have a similar form.

If this is true, then exist a simple method to treat each viral infection: a simple culture broth (temperature, pression and nutrient concentrations constant) where the viruses after a while loses the characteristics to infecting cells (complex rna is not more necessary in a simple environment): these neutralized viruses can be injected in an organism to obtain an immune defense, this can be true for each viral infection (it is similar to Pasteur method, if this work).

Saluti

Domenico

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Louis Brassard wrote on Nov. 4, 2012 @ 08:34 GMT
Dear Sara,

I completely enjoyed your essay. It is a refreshing point of view onto an old question. I feel that you are into something by the way the question is frame at a higher level but more fundamental elements need to be added.

IN the whole skim of cosmic evolution it is not a coincidence that the life transition occurs at the mid scale of the universe. There is also the question that is not mentioned of the collective/cooperative character of life. So information is also collectively collected and exchanged. At all level of realities, relations among entities are importants. Life gradually defines the environment for life. Life implicitly embodies some of these relations (culture) in evolving new mechanisms to detect and act on them.

Great essay.

- Louis

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Dec. 13, 2012 @ 19:58 GMT
What speculations-provoking essay! Perhaps it indicates the direction for the next essay contest. Of course, Sara Walker's essay does not answer the question which of our basic assumptions is wrong. In that it resembles the essay by George Ellis.

Certainly, there is a considerable gap between the largely stochastic approach to the half-life of postulated particles and the transfer of self-reproductive genes in biology. Fortunately I feel not forced by vanity to pretend having a bridging solution.

The only related intention of mine is to clarify that not just in biology but also in the praxis of computing causality in its original and sound meaning is still tacitly assumed.

Eckard

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Ullrich Fischer wrote on Jan. 6, 2013 @ 01:58 GMT
Interesting thesis. I can see why the Discovery Institute is jumping on this with glee. Here's yet another yawning gap into which the Abrahamaic God of the Gaps can be stuffed. There is undeniably something very weird about Quantum mechanics, and so far we've not gotten very much closer to a testable hypothesis along the lines of Einstein's underlying laws of reality beneath QM. I'm still holding out hope for an underlying layer of reality involving objective, identical for all observers laws analogous to how conservation of momentum explains the otherwise mysterious spooky connection of the momentum between two masses being blown apart by an explosion. The trajectory of the advance of human knowledge for the past 400 years or more has been to continually increase the distance between us and our concerns from the (now demonstrably non-existent) centre of the Universe. This article seems to be arguing for a move back toward the centre for consciousness -- to the delight of the reactionary ignorami of the ID movement.

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Robert Beddingfield wrote on Feb. 12, 2015 @ 05:21 GMT
Greetings. Though it is difficult to address much of your essay here, I will hit a few items in cursory manner here:

1. Living systems have a cybernetic organizational structure. Non living systems don't. That is a key.

2. If life evolves by chemical organizational emergence, then it must follow that the lowly Helium atom (from which everything in this universe evolved) has IN...

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