Home Forums Deep Time Journey Forum Is the universe a "living system"? Reply To: Is the universe a "living system"?

Ed Lantz

Hi Duane, I get that you are not a physicist which is fine. I’ve studied physics but am not currently practicing this profession. I think these discussions are extremely helpful. It feels like we’re sharpening our intellectual arguments and points of view by mirroring and reflecting with one another. Jennifer has assembled an amazing and diverse group of subject matter experts on this network and I enjoy the many points of view being expressed. Just now returning from Manila (We were spared from the Typhoon! Yay!) and getting back to the thread.

Duane: “I do not view the universe as a “biological system.” …Turning to Ursula’s list of minimal requirements for a living system, I find it interesting to see if our universe meets these requirements.”

Isn’t this a contradictory statement? What is the difference between a “biological system” and a “living system?”  I thought they were the same thing… If you are positing that the universe is a “non-biological life form” then why is there a need to apply a set of requirements for biological life to a non-biological system?

Duane: “Guy Murchie, in his book Music of the Spheres, writes that if you were to look at a yellow dress for just one second, the electrons in the retinas of your eyes would vibrate with more waves than all the waves that have beaten upon all the shores of all the Earth’s oceans in the last 10 million years. (p. 451). Given the second law of thermodynamics (entropy), how can this level of activity persist for billions of years without drawing upon and utilizing energy from the surrounding or sustaining environment?”

The 1st law of thermodynamics states that energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed. In this sense, the universe is a perpetual motion machine… the spinning of an electron around an atom will never slow down. Its angular momentum can, however, be dissipated when it emits a photon, for instance. In this case the photon is a transformation of some of the electron’s energy into an electromagnetic wave which, in a sense, is a “wiggling” of the electric field of the electron (which is always present and extends to infinity, dropping off as the inverse-square of the distance from the electron) just as wiggling a rope sends waves down the rope. But when this energy goes out as a photon (or, paradoxically, a wave), it can be transferred to other matter but will never “dissipate.”

Entropy (2nd Law of Thermodynamics) indeed says that everything will eventually reach an equilibrium (in this sense the universe is winding down). The heat from a hot cup of tea placed outside in winter will dissipate into the environment. Entropy is not a measure of energy, it is a measure of the ordering of energy, or in a sense, the amount of energy available to do work. If we have one pot of hot water and another pot of cold water, we can use this difference in temperature to drive a heat engine – to do work. Eventually the temperature difference will equalize.

As the story goes (because there is no way of knowing for sure), the entropy of the universe will eventually increase until everything is a uniform temperature. That is not the same as a loss of energy – the 1st Law says the total energy in the universe stays the same. But the manner in which the energy is organized will be uniform, and it will not be possible for energy transfer to take place because everything will be equally random without “higher” or “lower” temperatures or “energy wells” where energy can flow from one system to another.

Duane: “Also, I wonder how the universe can be expanding at an increasing rate without utilizing energy from the surrounding environment?”

Well if the universe itself is expanding, there is no such thing as a “surrounding environment,” right?  The universe is, by definition, “all that is.” While there are various models for this expansion (and still some argument regarding whether the universe really is expanding), none of these models calls for a violation of the 1st Law.  Energy is always conserved. Dark energy is said to be responsible for the expansion, but to my understanding it really is just a “cosmological constant” imposed in the equations to explain our observations.

Duane: “Second, because a toroidal geometry (the simplest geometry of a self-organizing system) can be seen throughout the universe, it suggests that self-organizing systems abound. Because we find this same architecture of self-organization at every scale of the universe, it seems that the universe has the ability to maintain self-organizing systems as coherent structures over time scales of billions of years.”

I am not familiar with any “toroidal geometry” that “can be seen throughout the universe.”  I did not study cosmology. Do you have any references to this?

Duane: “I agree that a materialistic science can find “natural laws” that describe how this is occurring; however, my point was a simpler one; namely, that we see self-organizing systems throughout the universe that have the ability to maintain themselves. “

I do not see how galaxies “maintain themselves.” If two galaxies are on an immanent collision course, one galaxy does not steer away to avoid collision. They neatly follow Newton’s laws of motion as they collide, just as a baseball follows a parabolic arc when you throw it and does not avoid being struck by a baseball bat. We say that matter is “inert” because it has no apparent intelligence and makes no attempt to “maintain itself.” A biological life form, on the other hand, will steer clear of danger and seek to create conditions wherein it can thrive. We do not see this behavior in inert matter.

Duane: “Third, with regard to reproduction, I do not view a universe through the restricted lens of Earth biology, so the increasingly widely held view among cosmologists that we inhabit a multiverse seems to suggest there appears to be the capacity of “reproduction of one’s kind” at the scale of the universe.”

Ok. Well the multiverse is not really an intelligent act as such, it is more like a splitting of all possible outcomes into separate universes as a natural occurrence. It is mind boggling and many physicists disagree with this interpretation… 

Duane: “Fourth, regarding whether a system has “the capacity to evolve,” given that our universe does evolve, it would seem to satisfy that requirement. “

Yes, however the “evolution” of a chemical reaction is not anything like biological evolution. A star evolves over time just as a fire in a fireplace evolves. But it is not improving itself, avoiding toxic situations, or attempting to thrive or reproduce as such.  It is a chemical reaction that unfolds according to simple chemical and physical “laws” or reactions. 

Duane: “When we put these four attributes of our universe together, they seem to point toward “aliveness” rather than non-living systems. I am definitely not saying this proves the universe is a living system; rather, I am saying the evidence seems to point increasingly in that direction.”

Ok, well I am still not seeing it. Sorry. Perhaps there is more here that I am not considering?

Duane: “Looking beyond these four attributes, I agree with you Ed that a more productive notion could be the idea that the universe is imbued or permeated with consciousness. After three years of laboratory experiments to explore this notion, I moved from agnostic curiosity to personal clarity based on scientific experiments, some with thousands of trials. In my view, an ecology of consciousness is an integral aspect of the universe. Based on years of first-hand experience with diverse instrumentation in diverse settings, I agree with your view that there is a “quantum consciousness” and I welcome your educating me in this view. My direct experience with the ecology of consciousness over years in a laboratory setting gives me great confidence that you are exploring a very productive track that has radical implications for understanding how our universe works.”

Your work with SRI was incredible! I presented a paper on quantum consciousness at SSE some years ago and Hal Puthoff patted me on the back and said I was on the right track… More recently we hosted the xTedX with Russel Targ. I have great respect for this pioneering work!  Thank you.