Here's an interesting article that many of you sent to me (and as always, my gratitude to all of you sending so many articles). This is an important one because it indicates how dramatically cosmological physics and the life sciences are converging, and how eventually, both are butting up against some significant metaphysical questions, which will be the subject of today's "high octane speculation." Here's the article:
This Physicist Has A Groundbreaking Idea About Why Life Exists
Notwithstanding the current reservations among some scientists about Mr. England's ideas, it's worth point out the central characteristic:
"At the heart of England’s idea is the second law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of increasing entropy or the “arrow of time.” Hot things cool down, gas diffuses through air, eggs scramble but never spontaneously unscramble; in short, energy tends to disperse or spread out as time progresses. Entropy is a measure of this tendency, quantifying how dispersed the energy is among the particles in a system, and how diffuse those particles are throughout space. It increases as a simple matter of probability: There are more ways for energy to be spread out than for it to be concentrated.
"Life does not violate the second law of thermodynamics, but until recently, physicists were unable to use thermodynamics to explain why it should arise in the first place. In Schrödinger’s day, they could solve the equations of thermodynamics only for closed systems in equilibrium. In the 1960s, the Belgian physicist Ilya Prigogine made progress on predicting the behavior of open systems weakly driven by external energy sources (for which he won the 1977 Nobel Prize in chemistry). But the behavior of systems that are far from equilibrium, which are connected to the outside environment and strongly driven by external sources of energy, could not be predicted."
This is the fundamental problem, for if one thinks about it a bit, the question can be extended from life to the universe in general, for its very existence would seem to be, under the conditions outlined in these two paragraphs, testimony of a fundamental far-from-equilibrium state shared by all existence, leaving the question of how all of this "self-organized" into such a state. And that means that at the cosmological scale, the universe is an open, rather than a closed, system.
So here comes high octane speculation number one:
For those paying attention, this raises some rather uncomfortable metaphysical questions, both for philosophers and theologians on the one side, and for scientists on the other. For the latter, the challenge will be to find "that one equation" that would explain why such a state of existence arises in the first place; the challenge, in other words, is to find a formally explicit way to express a fundamentally metaphysical concern. Should scientists find or invent such a language (topology comes about as close as anything else, but with significant reservations), then the flip side of this discovery would be that it would then be applicable as formal expressions or notations within philosophical metaphysics, and, for that matter,conceivably within theology in the formal dogmatic or systematic sense. Theologians might find themselves having to deal not with essences, operations, and hypostases, but with interiors, regions, functions, and surfaces or higher and lower order derivatives. The implication of these trends would seem to be that they are acid drips on all current systems of metaphysical classification, for how would one classify such things, if they were true? Is it pantheism? Atheism? Theism? Monism? Panentheism? Monotheism? Polytheism? Careful consideration of the implications would seem to indicate that aspects of all types of classical metaphysical taxonomies are in play. In my various books, I have entertained precisely this type of speculation with what I have called "the topological metaphor of the medium," by pointing out that certain classical metaphysical systems are capable of a kind of formal mathematical expression.
There's something else going on(and here comes high octane speculation number two), if you've been following biophysics lately, and that is that life processes themselves seem to rely on various phenomena of quantum mechanics to process all this energy, using quantum tunneling and quantum coherence, and some even speculate that complex living organisms might also use the phenomenon of entanglement - with all of its non-locality ramifications - in order to hold themselves together. For the ancients, the universe was not a mechanism or a machine, but an organism. And this seems to be the ultimate implication of Mr. England's and others' work. So with that in mind, might one pose the question: if all the above considerations should eventually prove to be true, then does life itself somehow transduce or interact with the quantum vacuum flux - or to use other words, the fabric of space-time, or to use the nineteenth century term, the aether lumeniferous, or even more medieval terms, the materia prima or physical medium or substrate - directly? Are we looking in effect at a huge cosmic hologram of Life?
Obviously, we're a long way off from any sort of scientific confirmation - or for that matter, refutation - of such questions and "high octane speculations," but it's interesting to ponder the implications of where it seems to be currently headed.
See you on the flip side...