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How did information arise spontaneously from inanimate matter?

Lately I have been pondering the question of the origin of life. Would appreciate feedback on this question and if there are any logical errors in my thought process leading up to it.

In Franklin M. Harold's book: “The Way of the Cell,” I read the following quote:
“Life arose here on earth from inanimate matter, by some kind of evolutionary process, about four billion years ago. ” This may be expressed more generically as:
“Life arose here on earth from inanimate matter spontaneously about four billion years ago.”
Later I read an article by Paul Davies, Professor at Arizona State University, in an online article called: "OriginsOfLife_II" that contained the following condensed quote “The revolution in the biological sciences ... has revealed ... that the secret of the cell lies ... with its extraordinary information storing and processing abilities. . ”
If the above 2 statements are true, then one could rewrite Harold's statement as:
“Information arose here on earth spontaneously about four billion years ago.”

As there can be many uses of the word “information,” please limit your responses specifically to its use in molecular biology as “coded chemistry.” That is, the sequence of the amino acids in protein are “encoded” in the sequence of the DNA molecule. To “decode” the meaning, one needs to use the “Codon” table.

Has anyone read any hypotheses on how this kind of information can arise spontaneously from inanimate matter?

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    Nov 18 2012: basic carbon structures are formed threw chemical properties basic formations gradually turn to RNA threw which some think proteins were originally made. And if your asking why all information can be decoded from the same table, perhaps all life on this planet stems from one kind of "information".
    I do not know if that is what your asking.
  • Nov 19 2012: To some extent, your question is a matter of semantics.

    Information is a perception. Without someone to perceive this coded chemistry as information, the information does not exist, it is just complexity.
    • Nov 20 2012: I see your point, however, from what I have read, the "coded chemistry" in the DNA is unlike the "complexity" of the non-living world. There is something quantifiably different between the two. How can we account for this difference?
      • Nov 20 2012: At what quantity of complexity does this difference occur?

        Consider the following complex systems: planets with volcanoes and continental drift, stars, solar systems, galaxies, weather systems that continually reproduce river systems. Our solar system was produced, at least in part, from the remains of a supernova; so reproduction is not limited to living organisms. Rather than looking for some point where living systems become completely different from other natural phenomena, we might view it as part of a wide spectrum of complexity.

        I am not really trying to argue this point; it seems clear that living organisms are different from nonliving phenomena. I am trying to offer a different perspective. How we use words, especially words like information, can limit our ability to see the whole truth. Science has yet to find good definitions for the words "life" and "information."

        David Deutsch says that information is physical, here:

        http://edge.org/conversation/constructor-theory

        Thank you for a very interesting conversation.
  • Nov 19 2012: "How did information arise spontaneously from inanimate matter?"

    In physics information is equivalent to "order" and the term "entropy" is used to describe it (or rather some inverse function of it). Perhaps a bit counter intuitively "order" refers to a messy room and "disorder" refers to a cleaned up room, this is because a messy room is a more likely result of random processes (and therefore closer to a natural equilibrium state), obviously there's no informaton stored in randomness, while a cleaned up room requires deliberate actions and therefore a directed use of energy, looking at the cleaned up room can tell you a little about its history (you can deduce how the room was cleaned up) and you can use neat patterns of objects to store information, for example by spelling out letters and numbers). Lately the word "order" and "disorder" tends to be replaced by "chaos", which is a lot more intuitive. Low entropy means a lot of disorder (lots of information), high entropy means few disorder (few information), maximum entropy is complete disorder. Mathematically entropy is proportional to the natural logarithm of the number of ways you can shuffle around the pieces of a system.

    Tiny quantum fluctuations (there are always quantum fluctuations) in the very early universe produced local differences in density which resulted in local differences in gravitational pull and temperature in the later universe, it is these local differences that, after billions of years, are still trying to get into equilibrium, that cause stars and planets to form and everything that comes with that, including life, because as long as the universe is not in complete equilibrium there will be directed flows of energy that life (and nature) can harvest (such as sunlight) and use to "clean up" systems and hence store information. So you see, information is nothing special, it's just what you get when two regions of space are not yet in physical equilibrium with each other.
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      Nov 19 2012: Information is special to some folks because it is the basis of knowledge. Others find information too limiting, too restraining. Long live information!
  • Nov 19 2012: The question is a bit of a mismatch. DNA to protein is but one form of information in living cells, but not necessarily the first form of information to exist in the primordial life forms. How did this happen? By a combination of factors such as chemical behaviours (clays, crystals, organic molecules), energy of some sort (maybe sun, maybe hydrothermal vents, maybe electricity), and lots of time.

    But we do not know the exact path, the exact process, the exact chemicals involved, the exact atmospheric conditions (consider that this happened billions of years ago, thus evidence might be completely obliterated). But we understand natural phenomena enough to know that for information to arise there is a need for energy, and that there's plenty of energy for such a task, and that our understanding of chemicals is showing time and again that many, at exposure to energy, tend to self-organize, form self-replicating, if primitive structures, et cetera.

    Not enough of an answer. But that should do for now. I have little time, but I expect that the few key-words that my comment provides might guide you through your search for answers.
    • Nov 19 2012: Thank you for this reply. At this point I am trying to understand how much literature there is out there on this subject as I find the concept of information in nature very fascinating. But my focus is specifically with the codon table and how it might have evolved. If anyone has any reference or websites it would be greatly appreciated.
      • Nov 19 2012: How the codon table evolved is still an open question Claudio. But if you are searching for answers about information and how it can come from "inanimate" matter you have to understand information first.

        Best in your search.

        A rather technical review on the origin of the codon table:
        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3293468/
        • Nov 20 2012: I did some digging and have found some good articles in PMC. One is called "Origin and evolution of the genetic code: the universal enigma"
          States that there are 3 proposed hypotheses:
          The stereochemical theory
          The adaptive theory
          The coevolution theory
          However is states: " despite a long history of research and accumulation of considerable circumstantial evidence, none of the three major theories on the nature and evolution of the genetic code is unequivocally supported by the currently available data. "Then explores a combination of all 3, but concludes thus:
          The writing of this review coincides with the 40th anniversary of Crick’s seminal paper on the evolution of the genetic code (6) that synthesized the preceding research in this area and presciently outlined the principal lines of thinking on this difficult subject. In our opinion, despite extensive and, in many cases, elaborate attempts to model code optimization, ingenious theorizing along the lines of the coevolution theory, and considerable experimentation, very little definitive progress has been made..
      • Nov 20 2012: That's what I said too Claudio, that there's no definitive answer yet. But I also say that if you really want to understand you need to start by understanding information.
        • Nov 20 2012: When you say I need to start by understanding information, do you have something specific in mind? Example a book or a website that I can reference? Thanks.
      • Nov 20 2012: There's a book that was recommended to me: The Information by James Gleick. But there must be plenty on the web too.
  • Nov 29 2012: The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. You get parts that form a network of interactions that self organize and show collective intelligence - examples ant colonies, our brains, ecosystems ... But don't ask me - I only "read the book" - there is a center for this emerging "complex systems" science in Santa Fe New Mexico.
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    Nov 19 2012: Information does not have weight, nor does it take-up space. Those are the two requirements for Matter. Information is not matter. Information is not material in substance so it is illogical to say it spontaneously came into existence from other matter because that would necessitate an act of mutation from material to immaterial. The answer to your question is, it didn't. Thank you!
    • Nov 19 2012: Information may or may not have weight, that does not make it any less physical. A common problem with people who believe in the "immaterial" is that they mistake "immaterial" with "non-physical." Whether you want to concede that information is material or not (which is similar to conceding or not that potential energy is material because it can exists and be measured by mere position of objects with respect to each other), information is still very physical (like potential energy). Otherwise we would not be able to store it in hard drives and such. Abstractions are physical. Otherwise we would not be able to count with abacuses, or have computers make calculations.
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        Nov 19 2012: I am uncertain as to exactly what you are saying sir. 1) Do I understand you to be saying that because the beads on an abacus have weight and take-up space then information is matter? 2) Do I understand you to be saying information may have weight and may not have weight? 3) Do I understand you to be saying that when information does not have weight it can still be matter? 4) Are you saying that we could not store the mutiplication tables in a calculator's memory chip if the data (information) was not material? 5) Do you think information is affected by gravitational force, the weak force, the strong force, or electromagnetic force? 6) Are you saying that only physical, measurable, observable phenomena act upon our universe? 7) Are you sure you want to declare that abstractions are physical? 8) Are you pulling my leg?
    • Nov 19 2012: Hello Edward,

      1. No, I am saying that because the beads on an abacus have weight and take up space, and have a spatial configuration, information is physical. Physical reality is not matter alone Edward. It's also energy and positions and time and dimensions and ...
      2. Yes.
      3. No, I am saying that even if/when it has no weight it is still physical.
      4. No, I am saying that we would not be able to store information if it was not physical.
      5. I do not just think so. I know so.
      6. I was about to say yes, but there might be physical phenomena/stuff that can't be measured, or observable. At least not yet.
      7. 100% certain.
      8. No. You are a pal. I like you. I would thus not pull your leg on matters that I understand to be of utmost importance to you.

      Do you think that potential energy is immaterial? Would it still be physical? Does it have weight? If information can be expressed as energy is it still "immaterial"? Is it non-physical? Is it some kind of spirit?
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        Nov 20 2012: Thank you for the clarification. I was not as confused as I thought. You actually are saying most of that stuff. Enjoy the journey!
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    Nov 19 2012: I think that your question can be better articulated by asking:
    Did matter create consciousness or did consciousness create matter.

    I am an atheist who believes that consciousness creates matter.

    Paul Davies is one of those whose books lead to this conclusion. Quantum mechanics has found abundant evidence for the existence of a unified/morphic/quantum/energy field of which all that is, is a part. This energy field is probably self-aware. More recent studies into the nature of "mind" amplify and support these findings.

    Life is an evolutionary experience. As we learn, we evolve - on every level - be it through changes in DNA or in social structures. As we fail to adapt, we learn about what is unworkable or inefficient and the unworkable is discarded.
    • Nov 20 2012: How do you reconcile your statement that you are an atheist with your belief that the underlying "field" of the universe has a consciousness? Doesn't consciousness imply "mind"? Doesn't that sound like some kind of "god"?
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        Nov 20 2012: A "god", in my lexicon, is a transcendent or greater being. If all that is IS the universal consciousness, then it is not greater than me. I am it and it is me. We are one. If there is a "god", then I am a god and you are a god and we are a god, but no other god has power over me. So does it qualify as a god?

        Paul Tillich, the great 19th century theologian said: "God is "being". God is not "a" being. The God of Christianity does not exist.