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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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III. Ecosmos: A Revolutionary Organic Habitable UniVerse

E. A Thermodynamics of Life

Williams, R. J. P. and J. J. R. Fausto da Silva. Evolution Revisited by Inorganic Chemists. Barrow, John, et al, eds. Fitness of the Cosmos for Life: Biochemistry and Fine-Tuning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Flows of informed energy along thermal gradients are seen to inexorably spawn complex multicellularity spanning progressive levels of self-organization. The two quotes give a good gist. By whatever sufficiency could a natural universe to human genesis finally be admitted?

We can now answer the two parts of the question posed by the initiators of this Book. (1) Was life destined to happen in this universe? (2) Was life destined to lead inexorably to greater and greater complexity? Probably, life was destined to happen because it is an effective (and efficient) way to degrade available energy. Once it started, we believe evolution was also inevitable, as an ecosystem would of necessity develop with greater and increasing complexity; but this development is of the ecosystem of organisms plus the environment, not just a development of organisms. The ecosystem evolved in the way it did because of the required chemistry of effective energy capture. (487)

But one species is now different, for its development is due to rational thought, not gene changes, to the degree that it is a separate chemotype. Human activity represents a logical end-point of exploitation of the material elements, of energy, and of life, while remaining dependent on a multitude of other species. However, humankind must be careful. The human species is interventionist in that, through understanding, it can to a large extent dictate ecological evolution with little left to chance, at least in principle. However, restraint in uses of resources must be accepted to sustain a favorable environment for survival of the present ecosystem. (489)

Witting, Lars. Inevitable Evolution: Back to The Origin and Beyond the 20th Century Paradigm of Contingent Evolution by Historical Natural Selection. Biological Reviews. 83/3, 2008. A Greenland Institute of Natural Resources scientist who studies walrus welfare provides an extended document on his theory, considered for over a decade, that an emphasis on selected variety alone misses life’s innate convergent arrow of time, an a priori lawfulness, since open biological systems are ultimately impelled and advanced by thermodynamic energies. With some 300 references, a good summary of how to engage this conceptual shift now underway so as to appreciate an abiding genesis.

For phenotypic characters that are closely linked to fitness I argue that we need a new paradigm of inevitable evolution based on a universal natural selection that unfolds inevitably and a priori from deterministic laws of self-replication, encompasses historical processes, and defines general directions of biotic evolution. A proposed model of selection by energetic state and density-dependent competitive interactions illustrates that the evolutionary unfolding of life-history organization in species on Earth can be explained as arising from first principles of self-replication, predicting that large-scale evolution will follow similar routes on similar planets. (260)

Wolchover, Natalie. First Support for a Physics Theory of Life. Quanta Magazine. Online July, 2017. An update of Jeremy England’s project (search) at MIT (search), with colleagues, to quantify how thermodynamic phenomena might possess an innate propensity for the formation of living, evolutionary systems. The occasion was two new papers: 1. Spontaneous Fine-Tuning to Environment in Many-Species Chemical Reaction Networks with Jordan Horowitz (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114/7565, 2017), and 2. Self-Organized Resonance during Search of a Diverse Chemical Space with Tai Kachman and Jeremy Owen (Physical Review Letters (119/038001, 2017), which have links in this report. We thus seem to be getting warmer as physical nature becomes more animate via these sophisticated explanations. But there is much to do, Sara Walker comments that an informational quality needs to be factored in for a full survey.

A qualitatively more diverse range of possible behaviors emerge in many-particle systems once external drives are allowed to push the system far from equilibrium; nonetheless, general thermodynamic principles governing nonequilibrium pattern formation and self-assembly have remained elusive, despite intense interest from researchers across disciplines. Here, we use the example of a randomly wired driven chemical reaction network to identify a key thermodynamic feature of a complex, driven system that characterizes the “specialness” of its dynamical attractor behavior. We show that the network’s fixed points are biased toward the extremization of external forcing, causing them to become kinetically stabilized in rare corners of chemical space that are either atypically weakly or strongly coupled to external environmental drives. (1. Significance)

Recent studies of active matter have stimulated interest in the driven self-assembly of complex structures. Phenomenological modeling of particular examples has yielded insight, but general thermodynamic principles unifying the rich diversity of behaviors observed have been elusive. Here, we study the stochastic search of a toy chemical space by a collection of reacting Brownian particles subject to periodic forcing. We observe the emergence of an adaptive resonance in the system matched to the drive frequency, and show that the increased work absorption by these resonant structures is key to their stabilization. Our findings are consistent with a recently proposed thermodynamic mechanism for far-from-equilibrium self-organization. (2. Abstract)

Zenil, Hector, et al. The Thermodynamics of Network Coding, and an Algorithmic Refinement of the Principle of Maximum Entropy. Entropy. 21/6, 2019. This paper by the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm computational theorists HZ, Narsis Kiani and Jesper Tegner is noted by the voluminous online journal site as among its most popular, because readers (like me) sense the authors are indeed closing on brilliant insights, however couched in technicalities, as the Abstract conveys. Something is really going on by itself as we ever try to get a good read and bead upon it, which may well be our cosmic purpose.

The principle of maximum entropy (Maxent) is often used to obtain prior probability distributions as a method to obtain a Gibbs measure under some restriction giving the probability that a system will be in a certain state compared to the rest of the elements. Here we take advantage of a causal algorithmic calculus to derive a thermodynamic-like result based on how difficult it is to reprogram a computer code. Using the distinction between computable and algorithmic randomness, we quantify the cost in information loss associated with reprogramming. To illustrate this, we apply the algorithmic refinement to Maxent on graphs and introduce a generalized Maximal Algorithmic Randomness Preferential Attachment (MARPA) Algorithm. Our study motivates further analysis of the origin and consequences of the aforementioned asymmetries, reprogrammability, and computation. (Abstract excerpt)

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