Monday, January 30, 2017

Death is the ultimate equilibrium

Philip Ball writes in Quanta mag:
Once we regard living things as agents performing a computation — collecting and storing information about an unpredictable environment — capacities and considerations such as replication, adaptation, agency, purpose and meaning can be understood as arising not from evolutionary improvisation, but as inevitable corollaries of physical laws. In other words, there appears to be a kind of physics of things doing stuff, and evolving to do stuff. Meaning and intention — thought to be the defining characteristics of living systems — may then emerge naturally through the laws of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics.
I wonder if this inspired the current FQXi essay contest.
Biological systems don’t defy physical laws, of course — but neither do they seem to be predicted by them. In contrast, they are goal-directed: survive and reproduce. We can say that they have a purpose — or what philosophers have traditionally called a teleology — that guides their behavior.

By the same token, physics now lets us predict, starting from the state of the universe a billionth of a second after the Big Bang, what it looks like today. But no one imagines that the appearance of the first primitive cells on Earth led predictably to the human race. Laws do not, it seems, dictate the course of evolution.

The teleology and historical contingency of biology, said the evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, make it unique among the sciences. Both of these features stem from perhaps biology’s only general guiding principle: evolution. It depends on chance and randomness, but natural selection gives it the appearance of intention and purpose. Animals are drawn to water not by some magnetic attraction, but because of their instinct, their intention, to survive. Legs serve the purpose of, among other things, taking us to the water.

Mayr claimed that these features make biology exceptional — a law unto itself. But recent developments in nonequilibrium physics, complex systems science and information theory are challenging that view. ...

So living organisms can be regarded as entities that attune to their environment by using information to harvest energy and evade equilibrium. Sure, it’s a bit of a mouthful.
Lumo says string theory can explain everything but the purpose of life, so there cannot be any scientific theory for that. But he is intrigued by some of the quotes:
Death is the ultimate equilibrium. Life is the effort to escape this equilibrium. ...

Organisms want to maximize their distance from the equilibrium which is equivalent to maximizing their freedom in the future.
Meanwhile, I see that Peter Woit has gone full Nazi:
While the US has never seen the likes of this situation, Europe has, with Trump following a playbook familiar from the history of the 1930s. At this point the US may be one terrorist attack away from full-blown Fascism, this time with nuclear weapons. This needs to be stopped, now.

The Constitution does provide two ways to deal with something like this: either the impeachment process or removal under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment as “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Many of Trump’s recent statements are clearly the product of delusional mind that is incapable of dealing with reality, and these delusions are now reflected in his actions.
And Lumo calls out him and other Trump-haters.

I don't want to get too political here, but this Trump hatred is bizarre. Supposedly smart ppl in universities and Si Valley are ranting against him, but their arguments are at about a 5-year-old level. Surely they could find some coherent argument if Trump were only 1% as bad as they say he is.

If Trump were really Hitler, then why do so many refugees and immigrants want to come here?

1 comment:

  1. I have been posting notice of Peter's comments on other science sites I visit, people need to see that lunacy is running rampant at the highest levels of Columbia and other universities, as Peter Woit has admitted the president of his University has given the go ahead for political protest.
    I have had enough of leftist academic bigotry running off at the mouth without consequence. Some of the last comments on 'Not even Wrong' are of some of his blog followers mentioning they should be organizing 'extra legal' methods of protesting President Trump, but somewhere else less visible.