New theory could explain how life began on Earth; puts God ‘on the ropes’

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Jeremy England, a young researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has put forward a new physics theory that could hold the key to answering the question of how life began on our planet. The theory holds the potential of putting God ‘on the ropes’ as it claims that life began out of a necessity and wasn’t accidental.

Jeremy has essentially derived a mathematical formula that he believes holds the key to answering the essential difference between living and non-living objects. Jeremy derived the formula from already established physics – the second law of thermodynamics.

The new formula indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This, he claims, could mean that under certain conditions matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said.

England says that his theory doesn’t defy or replace Darwin’s theory but is more like a general form of it and underlines the famous and well established theory of evolution.

“I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong,” he explained. “On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.”

So how does England’s idea translate into something that supports life? England has derived his formula from the second law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of increasing entropy or the “arrow of time”. This law of thermodynamics dictates that 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, which is a measure of this particular tendency, quantifies how dispersed the energy is among the particles in a system, and how diffuse those particles are throughout space.

Entropy of a system increases as a simple matter of probability and as already established, there are more ways for energy to be spread out than for it to be concentrated. Thus, as particles in a system move around and interact, they will adopt configurations in which the energy is spread out eventually arriving at a state of maximum entropy aka “thermodynamic equilibrium” wherein the energy is uniformly distributed.

Generalizing the work of Chris Jarzynski, now at the University of Maryland, and Gavin Crooks, now at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which states that systems are strongly driven by an external energy source such as an electromagnetic wave, and they can dump heat into a surrounding bath, England determined how such systems tend to evolve over time as they increase their irreversibility.

“We can show very simply from the formula that the more likely evolutionary outcomes are going to be the ones that absorbed and dissipated more energy from the environment’s external drives on the way to getting there,” he said.

The finding makes intuitive sense: Particles tend to dissipate more energy when they resonate with a driving force, or move in the direction it is pushing them, and they are more likely to move in that direction than any other at any given moment.

“This means clumps of atoms surrounded by a bath at some temperature, like the atmosphere or the ocean, should tend over time to arrange themselves to resonate better and better with the sources of mechanical, electromagnetic or chemical work in their environments,” England explained.

Self-replication (or reproduction, in biological terms), the process that drives the evolution of life on Earth, is one such mechanism by which a system might dissipate an increasing amount of energy over time.

As England put it, “A great way of dissipating more is to make more copies of yourself.” England has detailed his research in a paper here.