2016-10-31

Reflections on the entropy of Life


If we look at layers of matter organization, from elementary particles (electrons, protons or lower) up to Life, we found an interesting steady progress in complexity and a decrease in physical durability.

For example atoms are very hard to break. We can do fission on Uranium and other unstable atoms, but generally it requires a huge amount of energy to break an atom's nucleus structure. Even harder and rare is to break a neutron in his components, this happens only in very high energy nuclear reactions.

When we go up on the complexity scale, we have molecules that are pretty stable by our norms, however most of them are easily broke by chemical reactions. Some molecules are very stable, however most of them can relatively easily lose their structure by chemical reactions.

Complex molecules, like organic amino-acids are even more fragile. Enzymes could modify them. Even ultraviolet Sun rays could easily damage their structure. However, such molecules could have their information replicated in other molecules, like in genetic chains of RNA and DNA.

Cellular life is basically even more fragile, the cell does not survive usually as long as the genetic information survives by replication. Simple molecules (like water) will survive a much longer time. One way to see it is that the cell is not even the same one moment after the other. However, there is a certain level of "identity" that we humans are recognizing that is preserved as long as the cell "lives" by our standards. It is tricky to clearly define what is such identity that remains the same as the cell evolves. It might be continuity of the cell's function. It might be also a simplification that we make, like we see the hammer touching the anvil while actually the atoms does not touch each other because electron's electromagnetic rejection.

Even the simplest life forms faces continuous destruction forces that will ultimately destroy it's structure. The "natural" direction that we see in the Universe is toward disorganization, toward a random soup of elements (high entropy) - the heat death of the universe. However, we say that life goes against this flow by consuming negentropy from it's surroundings in order to delay the inevitable decay. Humans eat plants and animals, animals eat plants. But what is the source of this "negative entropy" (negentropy)?

The negentropy source

At the beginning of the food chain, the plats are incorporating energy from the Sun rays, by photosynthesis. But how is this energy different from the energy that is pushing to higher disorganization, to higher entropy? Actually, the Sun could be seen as a highly disorganized soup of matter (high entropy), how can this be used to create a lower entropy ("negentropy")?











We see for example that a windmill functions best if there is a steady flow of wind in a certain direction, so the windmill could rotate toward it. If the wind direction would change randomly at very high speed, the windmill would not be able to extract much energy from it, the forces would cancel each other. But how can we extract energy from a highly disorganized energy soup that is the Sun?

Even if the Sun is highly disorganized on average, in his huge mass it is likely to have "coherent" components, even by statistical chance. For example some "coherent" components might be photons that have parallel trajectories. The trick is to select this "coherent" components and use them to lower the entropy of living organisms. And this can be easily made by just... being far enough from this huge mass of disorganization that is the Sun. Being at enough distance, only a "coherent" mass of photons will reach the Earth and this organized (almost parallel) rays can be used to fight the natural tendency of mater to go to disorganization (higher entropy).

Therefore,  even if the average tendency of matter is to go toward disorganization and structure decay, a big enough matter mass is still a source of coherent patterns, that can be selected by taking a bit of distance from the source. This explains how life on Earth can be fed by a very disorganized mass as our Sun. This also highlights that it's not enough to have energy to fuel highly organized structures like life, you need a kind of energy that is somehow coherent (organized) in order to fight decay.

Philosophical questions

We could ask if Life would be still possible if we would receive the same amount of light in a non-coherent way, with random sources. We might discover that this would have a too high entropy to fuel life endurance in the face of random damaging forces.

We could also ask if the physical laws that we observe on Earth are the same in other corners of the Universe. As Earth receives a very "coherent" light beam from the Sun, it is possible that all Earth physics to be "contaminated" with this "coherency" that springs from our Sun. On an even higher scale, this might be an explanation for the absolute prevalence of matter over antimatter in our Galaxy. There might be a coherency source somewhere...

If such coherency exists at a high enough level, even electrons and protons could have a level of "coherence" between them. This could make possible that electric forces between electrons and protons could behave differently on very low scales and very large scales (think strong nucleus force and gravitation). This might be if the electrons and protons are synchronized in a certain phase and interact differently based on phase delta.

What about the electrons coherence (without quotes)? Well, it might have a link with a higher coherency. But take it all with a big stone of coherent salt, it's just a blog of wild speculation ;) I don't have enough Physics background to know when such speculations are clearly wrong. It's just some (hopefully "coherent") food for thought.

P.S. Actually "negentropy" is a kind of outdated term, a preferred term seems to be "free energy". I like "negentropy" better for this argument. Free energy is an even loosely defined term, it might also depend on the level of "coherency" of the involved matter & energy.



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