Saturday, July 30, 2016

The most important thing about nature according to Bill Martin

My friend and colleague, Alex Palazzo, alerted me to an interview of Bill Martin published in the July 11, 2016 issue of Current Biology [Bill Martin]. I loved all his answers—Bill Martin is one of my scientific heroes—but his answer to the last question was particularly insightful. The question was, "What’s the single most important thing that you have come to realize about nature?"

His answer was ....
Life is an exergonic chemical reaction. It’s the energy releasing redox reaction at the core of metabolism that makes life run, and throughout all of life’s history it is one and the same reaction that has been running in uninterrupted continuity from life’s onset. Everything else is secondary, manifestations of what is possible when the energy is harnessed to make genes that pass the torch.
I'm a biochemist so you might think I'm a little bit biased but let me tell you why this answer is so important.

First, it emphasizes the point that "life" is just a bunch of chemical reactions. As we say in the textbooks, "Living things obey the standard laws of physics and chemistry. No "vitalistic" force is required to explain life at the molecular level."1 This is an extremely important concept but, unfortunately, one that is ignored in most undergraduate courses. Most teachers will probably agree with the concept but they often assume their students accept it as well. Consequently, teachers don't emphasize it in class and don't explain the evidence that supports the concept. That's a mistake, especially if we are teaching biochemistry.

Every single student who takes a biochemistry or molecular biology course should be taught that cells obey the laws of physics and chemistry. They should be given the evidence and they should be given the opportunity to discuss and debate the concept until they are convinced it is true. This is far more important than memorizing the structures of the nucleotides and the common amino acids.

Bill Martin's second point is that cellular energy is derived from redox reactions. This is important for understanding how modern living cells work. It's also important for understanding the best explanations for how life arose in the first place. (Bill Martin has some very good ideas about this [Metabolism first and the origin of life].) We do our students a great disservice if we fail to teach biochemistry from an evolutionary perspective, including the best ideas on how life began. That's important knowledge that promotes critical thinking and a big picture understanding of biology.

My test for whether biochemistry students really understand the fundamental concepts of biochemistry is how they answer the following question on an exam; "Explain how chemoautotrophs2 get the energy to make carbohydrates, proteins, and nucleic acids." I don't think most of our students could answer this question correctly. I don't think most biochemistry professors could answer the question!

I rewrote the metabolism chapters in my textbook back in 2002 because I realized we were not putting enough emphasis on oxidation-reduction (redox) reactions. We now have a thorough explanation of redox reactions and how Gibbs free energy change is related to reduction potential. For those of you who haven't yet bought my textbook and read it from cover-to-cover , the key concept is, "The standard Gibbs free energy change of an oxidation-reduction reaction is calculated from the reduction potentials of the two half-reactions." (p. 320)

An oxidation-reduction reaction is one where electrons are passed from one molecule to another. Here's the description I wrote on page 164 of Principles of Biochemstry.
Oxidation–reduction reactions are central to the supply of biological energy. In an oxidation–reduction (redox) reaction, electrons from one molecule are transferred to another. The terminology here can be a bit confusing so it’s important to master the meaning of the words oxidation and reduction—they will come up repeatedly in the rest of the book. Oxidation is the loss of electrons: a substance that is oxidized will have fewer electrons when the reaction is complete. Reduction is the gain of electrons: a substance that gains electrons in a reaction is reduced. Oxidation and reduction reactions always occur together. One substrate is oxidized and the other is reduced.
Recall that Bill Martin's most important lesson is that, "It’s the energy releasing redox reaction at the core of metabolism that makes life run ..." The answer to the exam question is that chemoautotrophs couple the energy of oxidation-reduction reactions to fixation of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, phosphorus, etc., leading to the biosynthesis of the complex chemicals required for complex life. The electrons in the initial redox reaction are derived from oxidizing compounds like hydrogen, ammonia, nitrite, hydrogen sulfide, or iron. These were all present and abundant when life first arose.

Thank-you Bill Martin for emphasizing the importance of fundamental concepts in biochemistry. I only wish everyone appreciated your answer.


1. Moran, L.A., Horton, H.R., Scrimgeour, K.G., and Perry, M.D. (2012) Principles of Biochemistry 5th ed., Pearson Education Inc. page 175 [Pearson: Principles of Biochemistry 5/E] p. 4

2. Chemoautotrophs are organisms—all of them are bacteria—that don't capture light energy by photosynthesis and don't require any organic molecules as food sources. They are the best examples of what metabolism in the earliest life forms must have looked like.

82 comments :

  1. "Living things obey the standard laws of physics and chemistry. No "vitalistic" force is required to explain life at the molecular level."

    Q1. Which standard law described the information processing system?

    Q2. Did the complexity of information processing system increase over time or was it complex to begin with?

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    1. Q1. Which standard law described the information processing system?

      All information processing systems obey the standard laws of physics and chemistry.

      Q2. Did the complexity of information processing system increase over time or was it complex to begin with?

      It became more complex over time.

      HTH, HAND

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    2. Regarding standard laws of physics in Q1, are we talking about quantum electrodynamics, statistical mechanics and gravitation?

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    3. On Q2, which law of physics makes a self-organizing machine increasingly complex?

      Also, where does consciousness come from? I am not aware of any law of physics that explains consciousness.

      https://arxiv.org/abs/1407.3737

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    4. Regarding standard laws of physics in Q1, are we talking about quantum electrodynamics, statistical mechanics and gravitation?

      Yep, all of those, and more. None of the laws are violated by living things.

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    5. On Q2, which law of physics makes a self-organizing machine increasingly complex?

      The short answer is "none of them." Evolution is responsible for increasing complexity. Evolution doesn't violate any of the laws of physics and chemistry.

      Also, where does consciousness come from? I am not aware of any law of physics that explains consciousness.

      Consciousness is an epiphenomenon. It doesn't actually exist. You might be referring to the activity of neurons in your brain—activity that includes things like perception, memory, and the ability to reason. None of those biochemical activities violate any of the laws of physics and chemistry.

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    6. Oh Greenie what big names ("quantum electrodynamics, statistical mechanics and gravitation") you know! You do understand that a process which obeys the laws of nature need not itself be a law of nature? Of course you do, anyone who can say "quantum electrodynamics" is privy to all the secrets of the universe!

      As an example, consider the sun, a complex entity which is not a law but nonetheless obeys them all. Just think: the sun uses all four fundamental forces, and relies on subtle processes like barrier penetration, the gas laws, and so much more to keep from collapsing or exploding. But you know all that, don't you?

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    7. Ted, I am not sure whether you are trying to mock my question or have a genuine comment. Quantum electrodynamics is not big word, but is the fundamental law of physics encompassing quantum mechanics and electromagnetism. Apart from it, the only other fundamental laws are gravitation, statistical mechanics and small/weak forces. I did not include the last one, because it applies for subatomic particles.

      Larry threw in another one (law of evolution), but I have no idea what he is talking about. I know about the law of evolution presented by Darwin (for large visible living organisms) , modern synthesis, law of molecular evolution (Zuckerlandl/Pauling), but what is the law of evolution in the early world prior to genetic code? I presume that is the domain Martin is talking about.

      Just to be clear, I am not trying to promote intelligent design or any other alternate pseudo-theory. My questions are simply to find out whether Martin's (and also Larry's) claims are as strong as they appear here.

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    8. Just to be clear, I am not trying to promote intelligent design or any other alternate pseudo-theory.

      LOL

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    9. Just to be clear, I am not trying to promote intelligent design or any other alternate pseudo-theory.

      LOL

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    10. Evolution is responsible for increasing complexity.

      ...and "lateral" movement with respect to complexity (i.e., evolution from one species to an equally but not more complex species), and decreasing complexity (evolution from one species to a less complex species). I've always liked Gould's image of evolution's branches as a bush against a house. In the direction of less complexity there's a "hard stop," i.e., non-life. In the direction of more complexity, so far we don't know of a limitation. So the "bush" spreads out in all directions (more, equal, and less complexity), except where it's limited by the "house" (non-life).

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    11. No "vitalistic" force is required to explain life at the molecular level.

      Can please you be more specific? I'm into this stuff.

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  2. Yep. Greenie, good questions, but i don't know if Larry avoided to give the right answer because of a)ignorance ( which i hardly believe) based on his academic background, or b) willfullingly, in order to avoid the implicance of the outcome. The paper "Structural analyses of a hypothetical minimal metabolism" proposes a minimal gene set comprising 206 protein-coding genes for a hypothetical minimal cell. The paper lists 50 enzymes/proteins required to create a metabolic network implemented by a hypothetical minimal genome for the hypothetical minimal cell. The 50 enzymes/proteins , and the metabolic network, must be fully implemented to permit a cell to keep its basic functions. The operation of analog electronic devices maps very closely to the flow of information in chemical reactions of metabolic pathways (McAdams and Shapiro, 1995). A proposed mechanism to make metabolical networks must be capable of construct de novo, not merely modifying, a minimal set of 50 enzymes, and complex integrated metabolic circuits with the end goal to create life. A metabolic network that is not fully operational, will not permit life. We know in our experience that intelligence is able to setup circuit boards, and is the only known cause of irreducibly complex machines. Since evolution depends on metabolic circuits fully setup, its excluded as possible mechanism. The only two alternatives, chance/luck or physical necessity have never been observed to be able to setup circuit boards and irreducible complex systems. The origin of the basic metabolical network of the first cells is therefore best explained through the action of a intelligent agency.

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  3. Q1. Which standard law described the information processing system?

    There is no law that constrains the the deliberate arrangement of nucleotides that code for functional proteins/enzymes. Any arrangement is possible, but in chemistry space, only a small number of sequerences will generate functional proteins. When someone can show me a natural mechanism that produces instructed complex information as stored in the genome to produce functional proteins, one of the two main tenets of ID Theory will be falsified. I suspect, i will NEVER see that day come, when this will happen.

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    1. "When someone can show me a natural mechanism that produces instructed complex information as stored in the genome to produce functional proteins, one of the two main tenets of ID Theory will be falsified. I suspect, i will NEVER see that day come, when this will happen."

      Experimental Rugged Fitness Landscape in Protein Sequence Space. Turns out your suspicions were unwarranted.

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  4. This is a subject that has long fascinated me, and at times I have tried to come up with non-living examples of things that are like life. One is fire, which like a living thing is a persisting structure that maintains its organization by redox reactions. If one were a little bit generous, it must be admitted that like life, fire grows, reproduces, is organized, has homeostasis, and behavior (it reacts to changes in its environment). Is fire alive? Well, I am hard pressed to prove that it isn't! Sure, it is not based on cells, and has no use for nucleic acids, but those criteria seem unnecessarily narrow.
    Can anyone think of other examples of non-living things that have some of the properties of life? I had come up with weather systems and maybe growing crystals. What would really be cool is to have examples of things that are not alive, but have a sort of 'metabolic pathway' where products of one redox reaction are passed on to another redox reaction.

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  5. More questions -

    1. Is mimivirus alive?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mimivirus

    Is prion alive? Where do we draw the line between living and dead in the new world of giant viruses?

    2. Now that we know about CRISPR (adaptive immune system in bacteria) and quorum sensing in bacteria, is it correct to call bacteria complex? Does that change the claim about increasing complexity over time?

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    1. 1. I think living organisms have to survive and reproduce independently of other organisms. Viruses and prions are not alive.

      2. Modern bacteria are much more complex than their primitive ancestors.

      You don't know much about evolution or modern science, do you?

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    2. 1. I think living organisms have to survive and reproduce independently of other organisms. Viruses and prions are not alive.

      2. Modern bacteria are much more complex than their primitive ancestors.

      You don't know much about evolution or modern science, do you?

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    3. On 1. How about Nanoarchaeum equitans? Do they reproduce 'independently' of other organisms or dependently? Its genome is half the size of mimivirus and lacks almost all metabolic genes.

      On 2. Are you arguing that CRISPR (adaptive immune system) is modern feature that primitive ancestors of bacteria did not have? How did all bacteria and archaea end up having such a system?

      > You don't know much about evolution or modern science, do you?


      Please help this ignorant reader of your blog. Would you please explain the theory of evolution applicable to the period prior to the establishment of genetic code, where Bill Martin's theories apply?

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    4. http://www.nature.com/nrmicro/journal/v6/n4/abs/nrmicro1858.html

      Dr Moran, is it safe to claim that the authors of the above paper do not know what they are talking about? They claim -

      "The general consensus of what constitutes life can be sampled by consulting a global resource such as Wikipedia (the largest
      free online encyclopaedia; see Further information), which defines life as ‘‘a condition that distinguishes organisms
      from inorganic objects’’. However, there is no universal definition of life. The frequently used ‘reproduction’ criterion does not apply to sterile organisms. The distinction between parasites (replicators) and free-living organisms cannot be used to distinguish between organisms. There is now no clear-cut limit between mitochondria, small symbionts, intracellular bacteria (such as Rickettsia spp. and Candidatus
      Carsonella spp.) and free-living bacteria in size or phylogenetically31. Some recent definitions of life, such as another from Wikipedia — “life is a characteristic of self
      organizing, self recycling systems consisting of populations of replicators that are capable of mutation, around most of which homeostatic, metabolizing organisms evolve” — clearly include viruses. We can also paraphrase Engels32 and define life as “the mode of existence of living organisms”, which brings us to the problem of organism definition."

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    5. Would you please explain the theory of evolution applicable to the period prior to the establishment of genetic code, where Bill Martin's theories apply?

      Modern evolutionary theory doesn't say anything about the period before the formation of the first population of living organisms. Some of the same principles such as selection and accident are relevant but they presemably happened in a very different context. With regard to the formation of life, we're dealing with a unique historical event that happened more than three billion years ago. You can't construct a general theory of abiogenesis based on a single example.

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    6. Greenie asks,

      Dr Moran, is it safe to claim that the authors of the above paper do not know what they are talking about?

      No. They seem to be pretty well-informed about the difficulties of defining life. Like most things in biology, it's impossible to come up with definitions that satisfy all known examples. Biology is messy.

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    7. I think living organisms have to survive and reproduce independently of other organisms. Viruses and prions are not alive.

      But the fact they don't do it now doesn't necessarily mean they never did. I believe you've mentioned in the past that Koonin has said virii may originally have been able to reproduce using chemicals from the environment, and later, when living cells came on the scene, evolved to exclusively use this much richer source. So though virii may not meet your definition of "life" currently, a path through viriii perhaps ought not to be dismissed when discussing life's origins.

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    8. To help answer some of these questions:
      I think that obligate parasites are still alive so long as they still carry out some metabolic pathways which contribute to their replication.
      Virsues may have once been alive but it is best to describe them as not being alive. Perhaps they once were. I see no philisophical problem with that. Lots of things were once alive and now no longer live.

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  6. creationists and others would not agree life is a bunch of chemical reactions at its center.
    In fact this is why ID stresses information. The chemicals are united by information and so thats what life is made of.
    The bible teaches life is based on gods breath and power. the rest is just operation machinery.

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    1. Would you please explain what you mean by 'chemicals are united by information'?

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    2. Greenie and Byers are going to try have a conversation? Get out the popcorn, this should be fun.

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    3. Greenie
      At any time in a chemicals life and reaction to anything its in a state of information. It has a memory of how to act or react in nature.
      A chemical is not just a bunch of chemicals bunched up together.
      What maintains its nature is the information within it.
      so the information is king. not the 'chemicals"

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    4. Thanks Robert. How do we connect that information held by chemicals to complexity? Did the amount of information stay the same over time? If so, does that invalidate Bill Martin's claim? In other words, would it be safe to say that overwhelming amount of information present in chemicals dictated the origin of life?

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    5. Greenie
      I'm not talking about origin of life or complexity.
      I'm just saying chemicals must be about information holding, controling, the chemical.
      So life is not just chemicals but is information which is not seen by a microscope. Yet its there.
      Whatever the contents of a chemical it is organized or in a state of memory. It is information.

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    6. I love it so! Maybe Byers and Greenie could do a blog together.

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  7. What is life ?

    Paul Davies:

    http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/d/davies-miracle.html

    Reproduction.
    Metabolism.
    Nutrition.
    Complexity.
    Organization.
    Growth and development.
    Information content.
    Hardware/software entanglement.
    Permanence and change.

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    Replies
    1. Paul Davies is not a biologist (he is a physicist and broadcaster), and as he was up to his neck in the arsenic-life nonsense that was being hyped a few years ago one should be cautious about paying any attention to his view of what life is.

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  8. An epic, concise definition.

    Thanks for posting.

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  9. I think living organisms have to survive and reproduce independently of other organisms. Viruses and prions are not alive.

    I agree (for essentially same reason as those you give), but there are some respectable scientists who don’t. If you look at the answers to the article by Purificación López-García and David Moreira (2009) “Yet viruses cannot be included in the tree of life” Nature Rev. Microbiol., 7, doi:10.1038/nrmicro2108-c7, you’ll find no shortage of people (for example Patrick Forterre) who argue that viruses are alive.

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    1. I know about the controversies. I don't see any reason to exclude viral genomes from phylogenetic analyses whether or not they meet the definition of life.

      Actually it's rather pointless to quibble about the exact definition but for the sake of clarity it IS important to make sure people understand what I am using as a definition.

      I used to work a lot with bacteriophage T4. I had bottles full of various stocks of these viruses at concentrations of a billion viruses per milliliter. Those stocks used to just sit there on the cold-room shelf for years never doing anything that remotely resembled life.

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    2. It's a bit of a silly debate really, dependent on some definition of life that is never really devoid of qualifications and caveats.

      As for me, in classes I introduce the term "biological entities" that include mobile genetic elements, viruses, and all cellular forms of life including by the way, obligate endosymbionts. I make clear why viruses are considered non-living vs independently replicating cellular life forms... but I think of replicating things in terms of a continuum of complexity and the term "biological entities" covers this continuum.

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    3. "Actually it's rather pointless to quibble about the exact definition but for the sake of clarity it IS important to make sure people understand what I am using as a definition" [SNIP]

      If a virus isn't alive, what about a 10,000 year old bacterial spore-that germinates later when cultivated in the 'right' environment?

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    4. If a virus isn't alive, what about a 10,000 year old bacterial spore-that germinates later when cultivated in the 'right' environment?

      Your question is kind of an easy one to address but I'm not going to because many years ago as an undergrad in a microbiology program I grew tired of the debate.

      Instead of such questions, it is best to simply understand what a virus is and what it does whether floating throught the air or in a host cell, what a bacterium is whether existing as a vegetative cell or an endospore, and what a human is whether he is walking down the street, or frozen in a cryoprotectant for 100 years hoping some day they will find a cure for his death.

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  10. Thanks for (another) interesting post, Larry. I hadn't heard of Bill Martin until last week, but he was interviewed on the radio a few days ago (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07lfktd) talikng about his latest research (http://www.nature.com/articles/nmicrobiol2016116).

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  11. If I can summarize the main article and subsequent arguments -

    (i) Bill Martin is proposing a theory of origin of life based on his phylogenetic reconstruction of LUCA. Viruses are excluded from his definition of life. Only bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes are included.

    (ii) CRISPR is present in all bacteria and archaea, and therefore it was likely present in LUCA. CRISPR is adaptive immune system of bacteria/archaea to fight against viruses and most likely served the same function in LUCA.


    Is that roughly what everyone agrees with?

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    1. First major conception: that LUCA has anything to do with the origin of life.

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    2. It does not have to, but if I understand Bill Martin's method correctly, he is using the common sets of proteins in sequenced organisms and going backward in time. Can he go prior to the origin of genetic code using that method? At most he can talk about the time between origin of genetic code and LUCA, isn't it?

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    3. "Can he go prior to the origin of genetic code using that method?"

      Of course not. While I doubt that they can go back to a LUCA, even if they could, the LUCA could be quite far from the origin of life and of the genetic code, since the presumed LUCA had to have pretty much the very same genetic code, as the organisms whose proteins are been used for the analyses. Otherwise the analyses would not make sense. There's no way out of this one.

      "At most he can talk about the time between origin of genetic code and LUCA, isn't it?"

      Nope. The most they can say is that maybe these proteins were in the LUCA. That's it. They can say nothing about the origin of the genetic code with these kinds of analyses.

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  12. Here is the summary of the other part of argument (using an analogy). Silicon-based computer chips follow the laws of chemistry. Therefore, a computer is nothing more than silicon, and the knowledge of chemistry is enough to understand how computers work.

    Is that roughly what everyone agrees with, in the context of living objects?

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    1. No. The position against which you are arguing is that biological processes require something other than physics and chemistry in order to occur. In order for your analogy to be valid, semiconductors would have to operate thru processes that are beyond physics and chemistry.

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    2. lutesuite is pulling aside the curtains from your question and therefore answers succinctly.

      But aside from that, the answer to your question is actually yes, so long as you don't limit the computer to merely silicon. Should we suspect there is some magic substance/force embedded within either the structure or function of the computer that is not subject to universal physical laws?

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    3. "The position against which you are arguing is that biological processes require something other than physics and chemistry..."

      ITYM *for* which you are arguing?

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  13. Semiconductors are silicon plus trace impurities.

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    1. ...and that's all, right? Wouldn't you argue that everything about standard gates, logic design, DRAM, etc. are unnecessary and can be understood from the knowledge of silicon, boron, arsenic and phosphorus chemistry?

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    2. At a certain scale it makes sense to discuss the fabrication of semiconductors in terms of their underlying physics and chemistry, and in fact as fab sizes continue to shrink we see quantum effects begin to dominate as the number of atomic particles in individual gates fall below the threshold where they can be modelled using a stoicastic thermodynamic treatment.

      But you would have to be a complete IDiot to describe the behaviour of a working computer in terms of the underlying physics instead of using boolean logic and higher level computer languages.

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    3. ...and this is precisely why Steve Oberski is an ....IDiot! He does really want you to think computers can really be described in terms of their underlying phyics.

      Just like Bill Martin wanting to reduce the explanation of life to "an exergonic chemical reaction".

      Bill "wittingly" left out the explanation of just how this chemical reaction came to be AND just how life built upon that reaction.

      Pesky f*&^% little details.

      ..but Bill already know its "all about dat bass".

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    4. How odd, Steve, that you would attribute to steve oberski something that is the direct opposite of what he wrote, when his post is readily visible immediately above yours. Need new reading glasses?

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  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  15. I have a question for most of the Darwin-based-ideology-believers here.

    How did Darwin's statement: "...here is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one has changed into no originator of the breath of life at all???

    What scientific evidence has come forward that has changed this essential issue from the unknown "source of the breath of life" to known to Darwinists and the like? Larry? Harshaman? Scientific, experimental evidence can cover that and we can more on.

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    1. Crullers: You take Darwin's brief, poetic reference for some kind of scientific statement? Best look up "warm little pond" in his correspondence. There is no "breath of life". Whatever do you think you're arguing about?

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    2. I doubt that anybody here is a "Darwin-based-ideology-believer." If you care to understand that, then you'll understand that we don't hold to Darwin's every word as if they were spoken by some god, or son of gods. That alone should tell you that your question is misinformed at best.

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    3. Hmm, so Darwin wasn't fully up on origin-of-life research that occurred long after his death.

      In other astonishing news, the sun rose this morning.

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  16. Usually the scientists not familiar with physics do believe that the laws of physics are fundamental and ultimate knowledge about nature. I`m not certain about that.

    As well the information is problematic. Because current physics is based on information, physics can not explain information.

    Finally I would introduce the thoughts of a Finnish biophysics professor

    https://www.google.fi/#q=arto+annila

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  17. http://www.helsinki.fi/tsc2015/

    We had in Finland an international conference about consciousness. Nobody of the participants claimed that they understood consciousness..

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    1. Was everybody claiming that consciousness was a magical soul floating around their brains?

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    2. photosynthesis,

      My opinion is that most promising viewpoints discussed in the consciousness-conference in Helsinki are

      a) integrated information theory (iit) of consciousness (Giulio Tononi), and

      b)neutral monism:

      https://www.google.fi/#q=neutral+monism+panpsychism

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    3. physics can not explain information.

      Bzzzt, wrong answer!

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_theory

      Thanks for playing.

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    4. judmarc wrote: wrong answer!

      Perhaps. I don`t fully understand.
      We in Finland have argued much about information. In my mind mainly two points of view have arisen. Information is either a logical description of some phenomena or something real "stuff", which has a crucial influence on all happenings in living and non living materials.

      "Logicl" means not explainable with physics,"real stuff" means "not science yet."

      Different thinking is perhaps possible too..I often will try.

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    5. Why would science not be able to describe and explain "real stuff"?

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    6. I mean that if information were "real stuff" nobody could explain it scientifically yet. Very few scientists think information as stuff.

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    7. OK, I overlooked the "yet."

      You might want to look at that link judmarc provided. Information is most certainly amenable to the scientific method. The very fact that we are having this discussion thru the internet demonstrates that.

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    8. I thought information as two-faced thing:

      "Mainly two points of view have arisen. Information is either a logical description of some phenomena or something real "stuff", which has a crucial influence on all happenings in living and non living materials."

      "Logical" means not explainable with physics,"real stuff" means "not science yet."

      I think judmarc`s link means the theory of information, that is logical description of some phenomena. Without human being no such information exists. Information as real stuff with crucial influence on happenings may be an illusion altogether or, if really existing, not explainable scientifically yet.

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    9. Without human being no such information exists. Information as real stuff with crucial influence on happenings may be an illusion altogether or, if really existing, not explainable scientifically yet.

      Absolutely not so. Black hole entropy and temperature are explainable by information theory, which is very much physics and for which humans are quite unnecessary.

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    10. Maybe you are right.Anyway I can`t stop thinking that the nature without human beings obeys not at all information but only physical laws. On the other hands if information would be real stuff with crucial influence on happenings it could exist without human beings, but that may be an illusion altogether.

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    11. Information is a mathematical (well, actually several somewhat linked) term. There are scientific theories that can be expressed using Information theory as part of the formalisms used. But there's no definite case that any mathematical term in itself refers to something "real" (that would be a metaphysical claim that is not even broadly accepted). Certainly mathematical abstracta are not part of nature and thus not something we can investigate using natural science.

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    12. Here's the (probably overly simplistic) way that I look at the question:

      If you cut down a tree and count the rings in the stump, you can determine the tree's age. That is to say, the stump contains information that communicates the age of the tree.

      This information, however, would be contained within the tree even if no intelligent being ever came into existence. Therefore, information does not depend on the existence of intelligent beings like humans.

      What am I missing?

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    13. I think you are missing nothing. Though the growth rings in the stump transforms to information only by intelligent brains, that is by human beings. If information really could be something (not necessarily stuff) itself, would the biosphere with all its living things develop towards bigger amount to the consciousness or corresponding transformed information. For example bees transform to information the shape, the colour and the electric field of the flowers. Information transfer could be the most important secret of evolution.

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    14. It would seem, then, that your argument is circular. You define "information" as something that requires the participation of consciousness, and then argue that information requires consciousness. That doesn't really clarify or explain anything.

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    15. To hopefully clarify further: Why can we not just say that the information exists in the tree rings alone? A conscious being can then read or interpret this information, but the information exists regardless of whether this happens.

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    16. I must try to explain my precent poin of view that the world without consciousness or something corresponding is full of "latent information" (for example the rings in the stump). The act of evolution is to transform latent to conscious or corresponding processable information. For example bees have developed transforming the shape, the colour and the electric field of the flowers to processable information.

      The thigs could wery well be in a different way too; my knowledge is not enough for certainty..

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    17. So you think trees haven't resulted from evolution?

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    18. Such one odd vision can perhaps result from my wery imperfect presentation. The core of my comment is however trying to stress importance of the influence of information in evolution:

      the world without consciousness or something corresponding is full of "latent information" (for example the rings in the stump). The central act of evolution is to transform latent to processable information.

      I can´t believe that anyone would accept my suggestion. However it was pleasant to discuss in Larry´s column, even though I am anong the "much functional genes" supporter..

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    19. I can´t believe that anyone would accept my suggestion.

      Is this really what you meant to write?

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