Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Jeremy England's vision about life

We had an intensive discussion with my son-in-law Mikko about the work of Jeremy England. The article of the link is probably the most aggressive hyping I have ever seen but this should not lead to think that a mere hype is in question. There is also another, not so heavily hyped popular article. The material at england lab homepage gives a good view about the work of England for those who cannot tolerate hyping.

England's work is indeed very interesting also from TGD point of view although it is based on standard physics.

Basic ideas of England's theory

I try first to summarize England's vision.

  1. Non-equilibrium thermodynamics (NET) is the starting point. NET has been for decades the theoretical framework underlying the attempts to understand living matter using the principles of self-organization theory. Living matter is never an isolated system: dissipation would take it to a totally dead state in this case - nothing would move. Water in the pond when there is no wind, is a good example.

    Self-organization requires an external energy feed - gravitational potential energy liberated in water flow in river or electric power feed to the hot plate below a teapot. This energy feed drives the system to a non-stationary state far from a thermal equilibrium state. Dissipation polishes out all details and leads to an asymptotic spatio-temporal self-organization patterns. The flow in a river and convection in the heated teapot. With high enough energy feed chaos emerges: water fall or boiling of tea pot.

  2. The basic hypothesis of England is that evolution means increase in the ability to dissipate. This looks intuitively rather obvious. The evolving system tends to get to a resonance with the energy feed by oscillating with the same frequency so that energy feed becomes maximal and therefore also dissipation. The basic rule is simple: choose the easy option, ride on the wave rather than fighting against it! For instance, the emergence of photosynthesis means that the systems we call plants become very effective in absorbing the energy of sunlight. In this framework essentially all systems are alive to some degree.

    Dissipation means generation of entropy. Evolution of life and conscious intelligence would mean maximal effectivenes in the art of producing disorder. Now I am perhaps exaggerating. One should speak about "system's maximal ability to transfer entropy out of it": life is not possible without paper baskets. One could argue that the development of civilization durig last decades demonstrates convincingly that evolution indeed generates systems generating disorder with a maximal rate.

    One could argue that the definition is too negative. Living matter is conscious and there is genuine conscious information present. The fact is that evolution involves a continual increase of conscious information: the exponential explosion of science is the best proof for this. England's vision says nothing about it. Something is missing.

    It is however quite possible to imagine that the principle of maximal entropy generation is true and that the increase of the ability to produce entropy is implied by some deeper principle allowing to speak about living matter as something tending to increase conscious information resources. To formulate this idea one needs a theory of consciousness, thermodynamics is not enough.

  3. England has a further idea. The evolution life is not climbing to Mount Everest but coming down from it. Life emerges spontaneously. This is definitely in conflict with the standard wisdom, in particular with the thermodynamical belief on thermal death of the Universe as all gradients disappear. Darwinian evolution would be a special case of a more general phenomenon, which could be called dissipation driven adaptation (DDA). I made a head-on-collision with this principle in totally different framework by starting from quantum criticality of TGD: if took time to fully realize that indeed: evolution could be seen as a sequence of phase transitions breaking in which certain infinite-dimensional symmetry was spontaneously broken to become just the same symmetry but in longer scale!

    Standard thermodynamics predicts the heat death of the Universe as all gradients gradually disappear. This prediction is problematic for England's argument suggesting that differentiation occurs instead of homogenization. Here the standard view about space-time might be quite too simplistic to overcome the objection. In TGD many-sheeted space-time comes in rescue.

    Here is an example about England's argumentation. It seems intuitively clear that replication increases entropy (it is not however clear whether just the splitting into pieces is even more effective manner to increase entropy!). This would suggest that DDA forces the emergence of replication. Very effective dissipators able to replicate, would increase the total effectiveness in dissipation and be the winners. The proposal to be tested is that bacterial mutations , which are best replicators are also best dissipators.

What is missing from England's theory?

What is missing from England's theory? The answer is same as the answer to the question what is missing from standard physics.

  1. What is conscious observer - self?

    Observer, which remains outsider to the physical world in the recent day physics - both classical and quantum. Hence one does not have a theory of consciousness and cannot speak about conscious information. Thermodynamics gives only the notion of entropy as a measure for the ignorance.

    Therefore there is a long list of questions that England's theory does not address. What are the physical correlates of attention, sensory perception, cognition, emotions relating closely to information, etc.? Is there some variational principle behing concious existence, and does it imply evolution? Could second law and DDA be seen as consequences of this variational principle ?

    England does not say much about quantum theory since he talks only about thermodynamics but his hypothesis is consistent with quantum theory. The restriction to thermodynamics allows only statistical description and notions like
    macroscopic quantum coherence are left outside.

  2. What is life?

    Again one has a long list of questions.

    What it is to be alive? What distinguishes between living and inanimate systems. What it is to die? How general phenomenon evolution is: does it apply to all matter? Also notions like self-preservation and death are present only implicitly in an example about a population of wine glasses whose members might gradually evolve to survive in an environment populated by opera sopranos.

    One can make also other kinds of questions. What really happens in replication? What is behind genetic code? Etc...

    England is a spiritual person and has made clear that the gulf between science and spirituality is something which bothers him . England even has the courage to use the word "God". Therefore it sounds somewhat paradoxical that England avoids using the concepts related to consciousness and life. This is however the only option if one does not want to lose academic respectability.

How England's theory relates to TGD?

It is interesting to see whether England's vision is consistent with TGD inspired theory of consciousness, which can be also seen as a generalization of quantum measurement theory achieved by bringing the observer part of the quantum physical world. In TGD framework several new principles are introduced and they relate to the new physics implied by the new view about space-time.

  1. The new physics involves a generalization of quantum theory by introducing a hierarchy of Planck constants heff =n×h with various quantal length and time scales are proportional to heff. heff hierarchy predicts a hierarchy of quantum coherent systems with increasing size scale and time span of memory and planned action. heff defining a kind of intelligence quotient labels the levels of a hierarchy of conscious entities.

    heff hierachy labels actually a fractal hierarchy of quantum criticalities: a convenient analogy is a ball at a top of ball at the top..... The quantum phase transitions inreasing heff occur spontaneously: this
    is the TGD counterpart for the spontaneous evolution in England's theory. Dark matter is what makes system alive and intelligent and thermodynamical approach can describe only what we see at the level of visible matter.

  2. Second key notion is zero energy ontology (ZEO). Physical states are replaced by events, one might say. Event
    is a pair of states: initial state and final state. In ZEO these states correspond to states with opposite total
    conserved quantum numbers: positive and negative energy states. This guarantees that ZEO based quantum theory is consistent with the fundamental conservation laws and laws of physics as we understand them although it allows non-determinism and free will. Positive and negative energy states are localized at opposite boundaries of a causal diamond (CD). Penrose diagram - diamond symbol - is a good visualization and enough for getting the idea.

    State function reduction (SFR) is what happens in quantum measurement. The first SFR leads to a state which is one in a set of states determined once measurement is characterized. One can only predict the probabilities of various outcomes. Repeated quantum measurements leave the state as such. This is Zeno effect - watched kettle does not boil.

    In ZEO something new emerges. The SFR can be performed at either boundary of CD. SFR can occur several times at the same boundary so that the state at it does not change. The state at the opposite boundary however changes - one can speak of the analog of unitary time evolution - and the second boundary also moves farther away. CD therefore increases and the temporal distance between its tips does so also.

    The interpretation is as follows. The sequence of reductions at fixed bounary corresponds to a conscious entity, self. Self experiences the sequence of state function reductions as a flow of time. Sensory experience and thoughts, emotions, etc.. induced by it come from the moving boundary of CD. The constant unchanging part of self which meditators try to experience corresponds to the static boundary - the kettle that does not boil.

    Self dies in the first reduction to the opposite boundary of CD. Self however re-incarnates. The boundaries of self change their roles and the geometric time identified as distance between the tips of CD increases now in opposite direction. Time-reversed self is generated.

  3. Negentropy Maximization Principle (NMP) stating roughly that the information content of consciousness is maximal. Weak form of NMP states that self has free will and can choose also non-maximal negentropy gain. The basic principle of ethics would be "Increase negentropy". p-Adic mathematics is needed to construct a measure for conscious information and the notion of negentropic entanglement (NE) emerges naturally as algebraic entanglement.

    The negentropy to which NMP refers is not the negative of thermodynamical entropy describing lack of information of outsider about state of system. This negentropy characterizes the conscious information assignable to
    negentropic entanglement (NE) characterized by algebraic entanglement coefficients with measure identified as a number theoretic variant of Shannon entropy. Hence NMP is consistent with the second law implied by the mere
    non-determinism of SFR.

    NMP demands that self during sequence of reductions at the same boundary generates maximum negentropy gain at the changing CD boundary. If self fails, it dies and re-incarnates (in a reduction to the opposite CD boundary more negentropy is generated). Selves do not want to die and usually they do not believe on re-incarnation, and therefore do their best to avoid what they see as a mere death. This is the origin of self-preservation. Self must collect negentropy somehow: gathering negentropic sub-selves (mental images) is a manner to achieve this. Plants achieve this by photosynthesis, which means generation of negentropy and storage of it to various biomolecules. Animals are not so saintly and simply eat plants and even other animals. We are negentropy thieves all.

    Re-incarnation also means increase of heff and getting to higher level in hierarchy and occurs unavoidably. As in England's theory, evolution occurs spontaneously: it is not climbing to Mount Everest but just dropping down.

  4. England says "Some things we consider inanimate actually may already be 'alive'." This conforms with TGD view. Even elementary particles could have self: it is however not clear whether their SFR sequences contain more that one reduction to a fixed boundary - necessary for having a sense about the flow of time. Elementary particles would even cognize: in adelic physics every system has both real and p-adic space-time surfaces as its correlates. It can even happen that system has only p-adic space-time correlates but not the real one: this kind of systems would be only imaginations of real system! This is one of the most fascinating implications of strong form of holography which follows from strong form of General Coordinate Invariance forced by the new view about space-time.

    Clearly the notion of evolution generalizes from biological context to entire physics in TGD. One can speak about
    p-adic evolution and evolution as increase of heff. The most abstract formulation is number theoretical:
    evolutioncorresponds to the increase of the complexity of extension of rationals to which the parameters characterizing space-time surfaces belong to.

  5. Does DDA emerge in TGD framework? NMP demands a lot of SFRs - also at the level of visible matter. The non-determimism of SFR alone means a loss of knowledge about the state of system and an increase of thermodynamical entropy so that living systems would generate entropy very effectively also in TGD Universe at the level of visible matter. If one believes that second law and NET imply DDA as England argues, then also TGD implies it at the level of visible matter. For dark matter the situation is different, since the outcome of SFR is not not random anymore. Seen from TGD perspective England's vision misses what is essential for life - the generation of phases of matter identifiable as the mysterious dark matter.

  6. England talks about God. In a theory of consciousness predicting infinite self hierarchy, it is easy to assign the attribute "divine" to the levels of consciousness above given level of hierarchy. Personally I have nothing against calling the Entire Universe "God".

    One could give NMP the role of God. For strong form of NMP SFR would be almost deterministic except for ordinary matter for which entanglement is not algebraic and is therefore entropic: the universe would the best possible one in dark sectors and the worst one in the visible matter sector - Heaven and Hell! Weak form of NMP makes possible even more effective generation of negentropy than its strong form but allows self to make also stupid things and even SFRs with a vanishing negentropy gain: the outcome is state with no entanglement (system is in very literal sense alone in this state). The world in dark matter sectors is not anymore the best possible one but can become better and does so in statistical sense.

  7. Replication is a crucial aspect of being alive. England argues that DDA allows to understand its emergence but does not tell about its mechanism. In TGD framework replication can be understood as an analog of particle decay - say photon emission by electron. This requires however a new notion: magnetic body. In Maxwell's theory one cannot assign any field identity to a physical system but TGD view about space-time forces to assign to a given system its field/magnetic body. The replication occurs primarily at the level of magnetic body carrying dark matter as large heff phases. Magnetic body replicates and ordinary visible matter self-organizates around the resulting copies of it. The dynamics of dark matter would induce also DNA replication, transcription and mRNA translation, and there are some indications that it is indeed "dark DNA" (dark proton sequences having DNA, RNA, amino-acids, and tRNA as biochemical counterparts), which determines what happens in transcription.

For details see the article Jeremy England's vision about life and evolution: comparison with TGD approach.

For a summary of earlier postings see Links to the latest progress in TGD.

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