January 11, 2009

Could life be a random miracle

"The anthropic principle tries to understand how a random universe could evolve to produce DNA, and ultimately human intelligence. To say the DNA happened randomly is like saying that a hurricane could blow through a junk yard and produce a jet plane".
Deepak Chopra


Alan said...

I have to disagree. It is possible to arrive at vastly complex structures (like DNA) by taking small steps in a Fuzzy universe. The idea that DNA had to be completed in one step is wrong. DNA could easily be a collection of tiny bits that promote survival. A FUZZY collection of these bits could result in an evolutionarily stable construct that persisted and evolved over the millennia. The complexity of DNA or other structures doesn't require intelligent design.

anne said...

Hi Alan,

I can't profess to know. Although I think there are dilemnas that serious scientific inquiry have gapped on - epigenetics, symbiosis, genetic instinct, how inert molecules organized into information. How life is fired up into that dna recipe. Chopra doesn't suggest DNA was created in a step, he suggests there are mysteries unexplored - the unfortunately fundamental christian hijacking of the concept of intelligent design has made it almost heretical to suggest that life, that nature has a syncronising organisation.

island said...

Hi, I've studied this subject in some depth, and I might be able to help:

The anthropic principle tries to understand how a random universe could evolve to produce DNA and ultimately human intelligence.

Well, that's one interpretation of the physics, and it requires that you assume that there are an infinite number of universes. This is actually known as "anthropic selection", because it really isn't a physics principle.

An Anthropic Cosmological *Principle* is actually quite different, because it explains from first physics principles why the universe is configured in the unexpected manner that it is, and in a way that is pointed at carbon-based life, rather than what we most naturally expect it to look like, which is nothing like what we see.

The latter is more in-line with anne's desire for a better answer:

- the unfortunately fundamental christian hijacking of the concept of intelligent design has made it almost heretical to suggest that life, that nature has a syncronising organisation.

An Anthropic Cosmological Principle includes a "life-principle" as a reason for the observed structure of the universe, and an intelligent designer is not even necessary when this principle is one of necessity.

In other words, there may be some very good reason why carbon based life is necessary to the thermodynamic process of the universe, so we are literally *needed into existence* by this function.

This is just one example, although it is a good one because the hypothesis is directly observed to be true.

anne said...

Hi Island, that looks to be an interesting but difficult read...
Its really over my wee head.

Intuition, common sense or just that feel it in my bones sense says that whatever artifice can be assempled with molecules...it won't be life - it will have to be inserted into life - to boot it up into "existence". Existence, "livingness" is still a mystery (what will life be like with no mystery!) Thats why I like to think about symbiosis and the role it has in evolution (see Lynn Margulis). There is organization within the biosphere and cooperation...I don't think its all about survival.

island said...

Hi anne,

I agree with your instinct and Margulis/Lovelock's observation as well.

Biospheres are a "self-regulating" feature of the Goldilocks Enigma, which is also the name of an easy-to-read book that is written by Physicist, Paul Davies on the anthropic principle:

The content of the following is kind of technical but there are some illustrations here that show how these "ecospheres" extend to the whole universe, so your instinct is stronger than you even know... ;)

The Goldilocks Enigma

anne said...

Very cool. Found a BBC video interview with the Author and a summary of the concept here

island said...

Great, you're on your way into the field of cosmology and I would recommend any of Davies' books because he has a way of making it understandable.

You may have already talked about it in the past, but if not, then you should look up the wikipedia on the gaia hypothesis/theory, and you will see what I meant by "self-regulating" systems and that will give you an idea of how they relate to this on a local level.

Paul Davies was exactly correct in the linked interview:

Scientific breakthroughs have brought us to the brink of comprehending the underlying structure of nature or "a final 'theory of everything'".

And you are hovering dangerously close to the answer, anne... ;)

Take care.

anne said...

Hi Island,

there will always be night and day: sitting in the dark in the night we might imagine and make a theory about what the light of day will illuminate and reveal for us. If we look and see only what we expected in the morning, we would miss many things- there will always be surprises.
If life is not a thing , but rather an ever changing process, our capacity to understand it has to change...as soon as we have a theory, we'd need another.

island said...

Not to be mean, but that's just so much bla bla bla to someone who actually knows something about the subject.

Either the universe is comprehensible or it is not, and Davies' statement is factual in context with what we expect a theory of everything to look like, which is not to be confused with a theory of every single thing.

anne said...

"In practice, many string theorists take a more down-to-earth approach and think of a T.O.E. in the more limited sense of a theory that can explain the properties of the fundamental particles and the properties of the forces by which they interact and influence one another. A staunch reductionist would claim that this is no limitation at all, and that in principle absolutely everything, from the big bang to daydreams, can be described in terms of underlying microscopic physical processes involving the fundamental constituents of matter. If you understand everything about the ingredients, the reductionist argues, you understand everything.

The reductionist philosophy easily ignites heated debate. Many find it fatuous and downright repugnant to claim that the wonders of life and the universe are mere reflections of microscopic particles engaged in a pointless dance fully choreographed by the laws of physics. Is it really the case that feelings of joy, sorrow, or boredom are nothing but chemical reactions in the brain—reactions between molecules and atoms that, even more microscopically, are reactions between some of the fundamental particles, which are really just vibrating strings?"

Its a beautiful theory Island. I'm just wary of reductionist thinking. I'll read the book

island said...

Well, the distinction between which version is correct will be determined by the cosmological model that ends up being the right one, and frankly, I don't think that string theory has a chance in hell.

james said...

Hi Anne,
great blog. I hope you keep them coming.
You are confusing your theories of everything" (there are many) You're right Anne: when one question is answered (within the context of a particular moment) another will arise. long live mystery!

anne said...

Hi...here is another "theory of everything" the surfer dude's beautiful geometry: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/science/sciencenews/3315489/Surfer-Dude%27s-Theory-of-Everything---The-Movie.html

My fundamentalist Christian neighbour also has one (a unifying theory, not a surfer dude)

island said...

But there is a big difference between "Anybodys' Theory of Everything", and The Necessarily Preferred Theory, which is dictated by the scientific method.

In other more philosophical terms; A theory is a necessarily flawed reflection of nature. It is necessarily flawed, or less than absolute, due to the subjective nature of the human interface with nature.

But the necessarily preferred theory is the one that gives the most accurate reflection of nature in the least possible number of steps.

While it is true that no arrow flies perfectly straight, it is also a fact that one is more true than the rest, to put it another way.

This theory is always subject to be usurped by a more accurate theory, or an equally accurate but less complex theory, although that becomes exponentially more difficult as you asymptotically approach the absolute.

Fist and foremost somebody has to produce a valid theory of quantum gravity, and my understanding is that this will never happen as long as scientists willfully ignore the life-principle in order to rationalize that we're here by some "random miracle".

And that's where I came in...

anne said...

We share the realization of that gap Island: that "scientists willfully ignore the life-principle in order to rationalize that we're here by some "random miracle". It is a remarkably intelligent miracle. I'm weary of our societies "faith" in science and sceptical of its facility to nail down an absolute truth.
That search for it has hurt our biosphere more than its helped. The costs of our Science, the theories proved wrong, the industrial and military applications that have ripped open the biosphere. If our humanity was balanced and we valued the creative, the spiritual, the compassionate/heart parts of our beings (the parts that bloody well exist but no math will prove)then improving the quality of the experience of life on this fragile biosphere, we might learn from nature, might be more receptive to the cosmos ...might be able to know that life is sacred.