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

Ed Lantz

Duane: “I’d like to clear up what seems to be a misunderstanding. Earlier you wrote that I “believe that some special guidance is needed to form anything we see (life, trees, bugs, us) from the materials we have (carbon, other atoms, sunshine).” I do not believe that “special guidance” is required from some external (supernatural?) force. Rather, I was referring to the “self-organizing” capacity of natural systems. To me this implies there is some level of consciousness (or “knowing capacity”) that is fitting to the form and function of the system. In other words, I’m suggesting that self-organizing systems have an internal guidance process enabling them to cohere and persist as a dynamic system. Importantly, I am not suggesting that trees and bugs, etc., have the same consciousness as a human being but I am suggesting there is a “knowing process” at work that fits the form and function of these living systems enabling them to “self-organize.” Is this congruent with your views?”  


Ursula: “Why invoke a “knowing process”? Why not just say that, given the thermodynamic and molecular-shape constraints of the constituents, they self-organize? ”  


Duane, I think it is best not to anthropomorphize effects seen in nature. The modern concept of God is an anthropomorphization of nature – attributing human-like attributes to something that is clearly not human at all. Scientists are going to reject this sort of description out-of-hand.   


The real question here, it seems, is whether nature operates – at all times – according to observed stochastic probabilities and nothing more. If so, then known (and perhaps some unknown) physical laws govern everything, with quantum effects being nature’s “rolling of the dice” as it were, introducing an element of randomness into every interaction. That is the commonly held view, I believe.  


What you are suggesting, Duane, is that there might be another effect at work that skews natural probabilities, perhaps slightly, towards a particular outcome. In all of our observations we find that, on average, the universe does indeed follow consistent stochastic probability characteristics. Any instances of “outliers” – local anomalies – average out over time. This is what we see.  At an atomic level, the universe is very “noisy” and there are no consistent “patterns” or “biases” to be found in this noise. Mix two chemicals together uniformly and you can predict the reaction to a high degree of accuracy and plot the reaction speed versus temperature and such. Watch a crystal form and it looks like magic, but once you understand molecular bonding, it becomes obvious why crystals take on their unique shapes and properties. We do not attribute crystal formation to “intelligence,” we attribute it to the known properties of molecules and atoms. In chemical reactions or crystal formation we do not see a predilection towards particular outcomes that might favor life.   


Such an effect has not been ruled out by any stretch – it’s just not been found in nature, or if it is operant, it “looks” like ordinary “statistical outliers.” It could be that it is a small effect that operates in nature over long time spans, or it could be at work in biological systems.   Questions such as this do not get answered unless they are asked…