TED Conversations

This conversation is closed.

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?


Showing single comment thread. View the full 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.
    • thumb
      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!

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.