by Robert DePaolo
This article discusses a possible connection between the origin of life and the origin of the universe. The point is made that in both instances regulatory processes might have resulted from the advent of membranes (not “branes” in the context of string theory) that by their constraining nature forced interactions within the atom and, in biological terms, within the cell until such time as a level of cooperation occurred, thereby creating the organizational structure and functions of both the atom and the cell. Speculation is provided regarding the disagreement between classical physics and quantum physics with regard to phenomena such as quantum fluctuations, isomorphism and non-locality.
Origins and Boundaries…
It might be interesting to discuss the structural and functional connections between the origins of life and of the universe; not in a metaphorical sense but in terms of how all systems in nature seem to operate. The assumption of a common template between life and the cosmos is not an original idea. Pribram (1969), Bohm (1986) and Talbot (1991) proposed possible connections between how organic life (particularly brains) operate and the essential nature of the cosmos. The holographic theory they espoused presumed that everything within the biotic and cosmic domains is part of a gross singularity – not in the sense of a black hole but as fractional components of a whole to which everything responds and in which everything is structurally and functionally entangled.
That idea has met with both excitement and criticism – the latter because it is a model that is difficult not only to prove empirically but to conceptualize. For example, one could ask what “connective tissue” is involved and what exactly are the wave functions that turn parts into wholes via interference patterns. Although some research and theory have raised optimism that such wave patterns exist (Pietsch 1981) the idea lacks proof.
Despite such criticism an argument can be made in its favor. For one thing, almost all of theoretical physics is based on speculation. While Newton, Einstein, Planck and Heisenberg provided insights and proofs regarding the “what” of physics they have not been able to provide a “why,” that is, a concrete explanation of why gravity operates differently from the other forces, why the universe became so thermally and materially isomorphic and why subatomic particles are able to sidestep the classical laws of physics requiring that all things must align in a specific location in order to move from point A to point B, i.e. have both position and momentum.* Even quantum mechanics, which has as its central principle that all phenomena consist of discrete packets of energy and matter (separate items rather than continuous, all-inclusive waves) entails a paradox, because it appears some types of matter act like particles in some instances, waves in others. Strangely the form it takes depends on whether an observer is measuring these qualities.
Although quantum theorists (actually, adherents, since its operations seem pretty solid) believe wave functions and particles are both quantum phenomena, this seems to beg the question with regard to waves, which have a continuous nature and can veer off in various directions. Without a boundary how can anything truly be defined as a discrete packet?
“Quantizing” nature would seem to mandate that location and momentum are a given, rather than a vaguely dualistic, probabilistic process. In a sense a quantum interpretation arguably appears more consistent with a local, rather than a non-local universe – even at the subatomic level. Yet it has been shown not only that particle interactions are not local but also that they can interact in concert with other particles with which they had initial contact across distances even beyond light speed…what Einstein referred to as at a “spooky distance.”
Einstein was one of the more vocal critics of quantum non locality, which he felt virtually obviated the need to study physics. * While his criticism was itself criticized by Neils Bohr, he was certainly justified in complaining about things operating beyond physical causation. Had he been around a bit longer he might have taken his criticism even further, not just because of the myriad, as yet un-proved (and possibly untestable) theories out there such as superstring theory, loop gravity theory, Hologram theory, Brane theory (which derives from string theory) and numerous others, but also because no one has yet observed an atom, nor have they observed an electron or photon. Indeed the terms “particle” and “atom” are defined variously as energy packets or circumscribed, material phenomena. No one knows what they are.
What this tells us is that when one takes away all the byzantine equations written on blackboards to prove that some theory “coincides with the math,”….shouldn’t it be the other way around?… physicists are still like blind men trying to determine the shape of the elephant.
One of the more interesting questions arising in theoretical physics is based on the anthropic principle. This is an intriguing if somewhat metaphysical attempt to explain why observations change the outcome of an experiment. More specifically it appears that by measuring/observing the path and location of particles we change one or the other. It suggests we are in effect barred from discovery; almost as if God, consistent with his admonition to Adam and Eve, did not want mankind to examine to eat from the tree of knowledge, and in an ironic twist gave the most elementary components of nature the capacity to outwit the most complex of his creations.
That, of course, is a metaphor – pardon the distraction. On the other hand the question implied in anthropic theory is quite relevant. To wit; are living organisms so linked to the cosmic fabric that rather than being outside, empirical observers, we are simply another causative agent, no different than gravity, the strong, weak or electro-magnetic forces – ourselves enclosed in a relativity of the sensorium?
The daunting, yet obvious implication of that point is that if we are part of a cosmic holograph we cannot, by definition, be empirical, scientific or even in a sense extant. Instead we would have to consider ourselves mere threads in a very large fabric, stretching, curling up, heading toward entropy in the same way as trees, rocks and atoms.
At the risk of appearing anthropocentric this writer would prefer to assign mankind and life in general a more distinct role in the natural world. After all, we not only created automobiles, airplanes, rockets, x ray machines and computers, but, in concert with flora, created the earth’s atmosphere – a distinct accomplishment if ever there was one.
Yet if we are detached from nature why the non-local phenomena? Why, in accord with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle are a particle’s (photon’s) properties altered just by observing it? Here one can provide a possible explanation, not only of uncertainty but of the reason why there are distinct parallels to be drawn between life and the cosmos. It is an explanation that derives from principles of Information Theory.
The Organic Borderline…
Scientists have argued over time about the initial biological entity, the primordial seed, that set in motion the origin of life. One school of thought proposes that the first macromolecules had to be either RNA or DNA since only those molecules can replicate and, absent that capacity, evolution, organic complexity and adaptations could not have occurred (Marshall 2012). The other school of thought holds that proteins came first, via the gradual accumulation of amino acids (the string of building blocks that comprise proteins) because while DNA can replicate it cannot construct tissues needed to build organ structures. This debate has a chicken-egg feel to it, which can lead to endless questions. For instance one might ask what good a copying machine is with no body to copy? Conversely, what good a body is without a capacity to create a line of descent? Even though some research has shown that proteins, under certain controlled conditions show replicating tendencies, (Ikehara 2014) the evidence that this could have occurred on a grand enough scale to foment life is inconclusive. In some ways this argument is reminiscent of the universal origins conundrum and it is equally hard to resolve.
In the domain of theoretical physics the aforementioned David Bohm tried to resolve the non local vs. classical physics argument by proposing that if one eliminated distance as a variable, it would be possible for two disparate particles to interact even beyond the constraints of light speed and gravitational pull. In other words he was saying one doesn’t need to explain spooky distance or non locality if distance itself (which implies a spatial separation between objects) is a misconception. Bohm clearly thought out of the box in a way that could be applied in a biological context. While Bohm eliminates distance, let us de-prioritize DNA, RNA and proteins with respect to life’s origin.
The Origin of Identity…
Although DNA, RNA and proteins are necessary in creating, sustaining and refining life forms, they might not have been the engine of life’s origin. Macromolecules like DNA, RNA and protein probably arose frequently in the primordial soup. Yet in the early stages of the earth’s formation, climatic conditions were extreme – as was true of most of the solar system before pan-gravitational influence led to systemic smoothing and more permanent planetary interactions. Day times were extremely hot, night times extremely cold. As a result of exposure to extreme conditions macromolecules would have cropped up and in most instances dissolved. Life was only a potential, mere raw material without an organizing machine to turn it into a distinct, “quantized” homeostatic entity. At one point a new substance came on the scene; a kind of shield providing shelter and insulation against the climatic vicissitudes. The substance was a lipid.
Lipids are essentially fats and they have three unique bio-insular and systemic properties. First, they can protect against environmental intrusion due to their thickness – like water off a duck’s back. Second, they are semi-permeable, which means that they allow some flow of energy to break through to prevent molecules from becoming so closed off as to undergo rapid entropy. The third component has to do with the fact that they provide partial enclosure of molecules within the lipid membrane. As a result of enclosure molecular “drift” is precluded. That forces interactions within the bio-packet and creates the potential for reciprocal feedback within that enclosure… sort of like having a talkative house guest who won’t leave and with whom you are obliged to interact.
Eventually one of two things can occur within a semi-enclosed system; either internal chaotic bombardment/noise will lead to disassembly of the parts or interactive agreement will evolve, leading to the creation of a homeostatic, regulated system. Once that system is created the gauge is set.
In the primordial soup there still would have been free, non-systemic molecules outside the lipid boundary. Absent a membrane they would have cropped up and been destroyed at some level of probability. Since they were not semi-enclosed and systematized they would tend to float freely and exhibit disorganized, possibly random (non-grammatical) interactive behavior patterns. Such states would have precluded the possibility of evolution. In effect the laws inherent in the biological world would not pertain, despite the fact that in their essence they possessed the basic components of life forms. This argument can now be extended to the realm of the universe.
First, an explanatory digression. Since the above concepts as pertaining to biology and cosmology are derived from Information dynamics some discussion of Information Theory would seem appropriate.
A basic component of Information Theory is “noise,” which refers to un-systematized elements without a regulatory code or repeatable, predictable interactive capacity. Information is always defined as a reduction in noise – which is often expressed as “uncertainty.” (Ash, 1990). Once noise is reduced and the structure develops a systematic capacity it will begin to operate by rules, redundancy and predictability, i.e. exhibit poly-stability (which means that some aspects of the system can change without undoing the overall balance in the system. This is tantamount to what physicists call “symmetry).” In order for any system to become internally regulated, it must first be separated from the tumult of the outside world – without so completely losing touch that it forfeits any chance at absorbing new, entropy- preventing energy sources.
The information model appears to affect every aspect of nature. A simple example can be seen in language. Without formal, systemic grammar, idioms, punctuation and other elements enabling people to understand each other’s statements there would be no language per se – and certainly not the kind that could reach a wide variety of people. Yet while language is a kind of enclosed system it needs to be able to absorb new idioms and accents to evolve – such as the French influence on English in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest in 1066, which led to its modern form.
The Universal Membrane…
It seems the classical cosmos might also operate as an information system with two components corresponding to the duality seen in classical and quantum physics. The quantum world, with its mysterious qualities of uncertainty and non locality can be said to be “un-membraned” consisting of particles that have not been encapsulated by borders, therefore not homeostatic, i.e. bound by lawful, systemic interaction patterns and integrative functions seen in atoms.
If such speculation notion has merit, then a question not often asked becomes; what comprises the semi-permeable membrane that insulates the classical from the quantum world and divides the cosmos into two parts?
Since no one has observed an atom or particle it would seem quite difficult to describe a protective, interaction-forcing membrane that systematizes some but not all components of the universe. Since electrons, neutrons, and a nucleus are trapped within the atom’s membrane – their interactions are in part reciprocal and dynamic. One could assume that without a membrane the universe would contain no systemic structure or information and that nothing would exist. By the same token the atomic membrane would have to be semi-permeable – otherwise energy renewal and the emission of radiation would be blocked and it would decay rapidly. In such conditions matter would at best feature a virtual in and out existence.
The membrane argument (not to be confused with the “brane” theory as derived from string theory) brings up the age-old question of what the prototype universe was comprised of, and how it originated. This writer cannot provide a ready answer but one can speculate.
If a “cosmic lipid” made possible the classical world, it would have required an initial component or starting point, simply because in order for any system to develop requires a prior availability of raw materials. Thus one might assume the universe was never “nothing” but rather an initially (eternal?) quantum state featuring constant perturbations typified by non locality. In that state virtual exit/enter particle reactions would have comprised a pre-informed cosmos. Without a membrane there would have been no systems, no redundancy and thus no laws of nature. Consequently there would have been no time, space, locality or redundant interactions. The primordial universe (if indeed one can call it that) would have been nothing more than a probabilistic state of non-systemic noise.
Whatever this pre-temporal, pre-massive, pre-spatial thing was, it was not responsive to laws, even gravity. The essentially para-physical nature of that proto-universe implied here can perhaps explain its isomorphic distribution regarding temperature and matter. If a-systemic particles can be everywhere, why not isomorphism? After all, skewing of matter is at the root a function of distance and time – here there is no time or distance. (Perhaps part of the confusion is based on our assumption that there is a finite quality to the speed of light). To a particle moving at that speed it would seem time would not lapse, thus neither would there be any spatial extension). It might also explain the mysterious things known as dark energy and dark matter, e.g. the reason we cannot see either is because they are non-systemic remnants from a quantum state that cannot be localized with regard to time and place and thus can be anywhere, at any time.
Why would that be true? Possibly because the presence of space and time- which are inherently redundant via lawful movement and topographic sequences – only came to exist with the advent of systemic atomic structures. In other words, no system, no space, no mass, no gravity and no time.
That lends itself to further speculation. For example, when we look out at the cosmos is it possible we are looking at two worlds; not in the form of extra dimensions or multiverses but instead at a dualistic world, one aspect of which has time, space and order, the other having none of those qualities which we can only perceive and measure by chance.
The Odd One Out…
If some series of events did lead to creation of a systematizing cosmic membrane that could explain some aspects of the cosmos including how the central forces originated. But those were mostly close-up forces that had to interact materially to exert mutual influence. Gravity is a different animal. The question is …why?
Use of the principle of parsimony might be helpful here. A simple explanation might be found in its range. Newton demonstrated that gravitational pull is determined by mass, and distance. Einstein demonstrated that the curvature/ indentation of space created by objects depends on their mass and can extend over long distances. (A shot put tossed into a pool of water will create a larger ripple than a golf ball – assuming both are tossed with the same or similar force). Thus by it very nature gravity has extraordinary spatial influence and despite its ostensible mystery it might be exactly what Einstein said it was- a spatial/temporal phenomenon. As such it has great potential contact with a larger swath of the universe as it transfers from one attractive body to the next. That in turn would expose it to more cosmic fields, including both the systemic and quantum (non-systemic) fields. In simpler terms gravity could be considered a hybrid force, influenced by both the systemic and quantum “landscapes” within the cosmos. It might create attractions within the systemic (classical) world but also interact with non-systemic, timeless, not-spatial fields where it would be at least partially, timeless, non-local and so perturbed and non-systemic that it could both push and pull – thus the rapid expansion of the universe. In that context one might assume that in areas of space with the least systemic topography, gravity would have a tendency to behave in quantum, uncertain ways.
Back to the cosmic membrane. What could it have been? A form of matter – perhaps a hydrogen membrane arising from cooling of the particles and energy sources? Or perhaps an energy-capturing mechanism like the Higgs field; creating a wave-like vibratory or magnetic shield around particles by which to house the atom’s components without prohibiting the absorption of renewed energy sources?
Since physicists still have difficulty differentiating between matter and energy, particles and waves the answer to that question seems at least as hard to resolve as the search for the origin of life. In that case this is just another attempt (by an amateur theoretician) to provide conceptual unity between two of the greatest forces and creations in nature; the biosphere and the universe.
Ash, R. (1990) Information Theory. Dover Publications Inc. New York
Bohm, D. (1986) A New Theory of the Relationship of Mind and Matter. Journal of The American Society for Psychical Research. 80 (2) April 1986 p. 128
Ikehara, K. GADV Protein World Hypothesis on the Origin of Life. Origins of Life Evolution of Biospheres. Dec. 2014 Vol. 44 Issue 4 pp. 299-302
Marshall, M. DNA Could have existed long before Life itself. Aug. 2012 New Scientist
Pietsch. P. (1981) The Quest for the Hologramic Mind. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin. p.78
Pribram, K. The Neurophysiology of Remembering, Scientific American, 220 January 1969. pp. 76-78
Talbot, M. (1991) The Holographic Universe. Harper Perennial
*Notes on Einstein and “spooky distance.” Einstein felt the cosmos was lawful, mainly because all his and Newton’s work on gravity, mass, the speed of light and other physical laws (those typically included in the classical physics model demonstrated that this was true. After reviewing the results of quantum mechanics research- which suggested localizing and tracking particles could not be done other than by calculating probabilities he became skeptical; in one instance stating that physics could not operate that way, that distant particles beyond light speed attraction could not communicate across such distances simultaneously. His use of the phrase “spooky distance” reflects that skepticism. He carried on a theoretical rivalry with renowned physicist Neils Bohr over this issue, who took se4veral opportunities to criticize Einstein for his skepticism over what Bohr considered to an experimentally verified model of the particle world.
*Notes; Newton used (actually developed) calculus to determine what he called the law of universal gravitation. He proved that that gravity is a function of mass and distance, i.e. drops off as distance increases (squared) and increases corresponding to the mas and closeness of objects. However he could not determine why – loosely assumed it was due to some sort of constant material (ether) that mediated the force. Einstein discovered that there was no medium per se doing the carrying, but that the mass of objects “caves in” space (creates a curvature) into which smaller objects fall in relation to massive objects. He was able to include the passage of time within his theory or relativity but he could not determine why gravity acted this way, particularly as pertains to the actions of other forces. He was unsuccessful at producing a theory that could umbrella all four of the forces, i.e. electromagnetic, strong, weak force and gravity. Planck and Heisenberg were able to determine that since subatomic particles do not obey the same laws discovered by Newton and Einstein with regard to motion, location and momentum and tend to act in unpredictable ways, but despite the statistical accuracy of quantum mechanics neither of them was able to explain what is often referred to as “quantum weirdness.”