To: Brian D. Harper:
I have been lurking in this newsgroup for some time. You have understood
my articles and my book. Congratulations. I directed the book to molecular
biologists, applied mathematicians and theoretical physicists. It is nice
to have someone from Applied Mechanics. Has there been any conversation
about this at the faculty club?
"Your book gets discussed here every now and then. I am hoping
that people will take this opportunity to pose their questions
to the author himself, rather than get second-hand interpretations.
I will list below what I feel are some of your more controversial
views that should be of interest to this group. Please feel free
to modify these if I mis-represent your views in any way ;-)"
You asked three questions:
a) the primeval soup probably never existed
b) even if it did, the various self-organizational schemes
proposed to "explain" the origin of life still don't
c) life must be accepted as an axiom
You get an A!
Response to a) The correct way to pose that statement is: There is no
evidence that a primeval soup ever existed. If one looks for geological
evidence that a primeval soup existed one comes up empty. See discussion
in Information in Bits and Bytes in BioEssays v17 85-88 1995.
There is a more thorough discussion in Information Theory and Molecular
Biology. Dialectical materialists are atheists. Their belief in a primeval
soup without evidence puts them in bed with theologians. In science the
"Absence of evidence IS evidence of absence." One does not believe unless
and until one has overwhelming evidence. You will note of course that this
is a twist from the usual declaration of faith by SETI disciples. Forgive
me if I think this incongruous situation is very funny.
Response to b) All dialectical materialist origin of life scenarios
require in extremis a primeval soup. There is no path from this mythical
soup to the generation of a genome and a genetic code. John von Neumann
showed that fact in his Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata U of Ill.
Press 1966. One must begin with a genetic message of a rather large
information content. Manfred Eigen and his disciples argue that all it
takes is one self-catalytic molecule to generate a genome. This
self-catalytic molecule must have a very small information content. By
that token, there must be very few of them [Section 2.4.1] As they
self-reproduce and evolve the descendants get lost in the enormous number
of possible sequences in which the specific messages of biological are
buried. From the Shannon-McMillan theorem I have shown that a small
protein, cytochrome c is only 2 x 10^-44 of the possible sequences. It
takes religious faith to believe that would happen. Of course the minimum
information content of the simplest organism is much larger than the
information content of cytochrome c.
c) Niels Bohr in his Light and Life [Nature 1933 v131 p421-423; 457-459]
lecture is the author of the suggestion that life must be taken as an
axiom inasmuch as we take the quantum of action in quantum theory as an
axiom. There are many other examples in relativity and quantum mechanics.
Prominent among these is the wave-particle dualism. How can an electron,
clearly a matter particle, be at once a wave and a particle?
Pose this proposition to your enemies (not your friends): Given any two
theories, an experiment will decide between them and prove one true and
one false. This is the philosophy of Sir Karl Popper. When a physicist
does an experiment to prove that an electron is a particle, it behaves as
a particle. When another physicist does an experiment to show an electron
is a wave, it behaves as a wave. In some diffraction experiments ray
tracing shows the electron or neutron was in two places at once. Thus
these experiments prove the wave-particle dualism. Einstein was extremely
annoyed by this and suggested experiments to explain what he regarded as a
dilemma. He exclaimed: Der lieber Gott wuerfelt nicht mit der Welt! Bohr's
reply was: "Einstein, stop telling God what to do!"
Faced with what physicstis and chemists have had to accept from relativity
and quantum mechanics, taking the origin of life as an axiom seems rather
In the book I discussed other mathematically deeper questions, for example
undecidability. Until the work of Goedel and Turing it was assummed that a
mathematical proposition was either true of false. They proved that some
questions are undecidable. For example, given any computer program it is
undecidable whether it will ever stop. One can check it empirically. But
suppose it doesn't stop in one year, no one can be sure it wouldn't stop
in another five minutes. So it is with the origin of life.
The dialectical materialist lumpen-intelligentsia are extremely annoyed
that God didn't take their advice when He made the universe.
Incidentially my suggestion that biologists follow particle physicsts in
doing enormously expensive experiments was intended as a joke.
This is enough for now. Refer to what I have posted on other newsgroups.
Best regards , Hubert
Brian Harper |
Associate Professor | "It is not certain that all is uncertain,
Applied Mechanics | to the glory of skepticism" -- Pascal
Ohio State University |