The paradox of life

Life: a Defunct Scientific Theory?

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Abstract

Any attempt to describe life within the scope of physical laws will lead to precarious positions that life has no purpose or we are not alive in the same way as water molecules are not alive. Let us consider an experiment where a jar of water and a conscious man were placed on two hot plates of two feet by two feet size and let us switch on the hot plates. What we will observe is that in the first case the jar remains on the hot plate and the water will become hot. In the second case the man will jump out of the hot plate trying to preserve himself and hence he is alive unlike the water molecules.

 

Introduction 

Hanawalt wrote 1, ”The phenomenon of life may be traced to the coordinated behavior of molecules within cells. The cell is the self- contained and self –reproducing fundamental unit of life…… The molecules in the cells are guided by the same basic laws of chemistry and physics that apply through out the universe…… The mystery lies rather in the programmed coordination of the myriad of chemical reactions necessary for the metabolic activities of the cells.” The mystery remains a mystery till date despite the advances of science. For some unknown reasons science stopped probing this mystery.

 
 

Libb Thims view 

Libb Thims an American Chemical Engineer known for his deeper knowledge in thermodynamics writes 2, “I am under the view that the term ‘life’ is a defunct scientific theory. You agree with me that the single atom is not alive. What about two atoms? ……….It is very obvious one atom is not alive. It is very obvious that two atoms are not alive………. If we continue this logic onward, it should be very obvious that no matter how many atoms one adds to the argument that an atom or a structure made of two or more atoms cannot be alive……. Because of our anthropocentric biases, we continue to believe that we are unique among molecular structures…… It is a grave mistake to believe in this fallacy…….. I am not quite sure what the alternative theory is; but from the point of view of atoms, molecules, and the logic of the chemistry text book, the theory of the conception an atom, or two or more attached atoms, being alive is absurd. This is my view”. Libb further says that we are not alive in the same way/ sense that water molecules are not alive.

 

 

A matter of state 

We know that water molecules in steam behave like any other atoms/ molecules in gaseous state. Water molecules in the state of liquid water show properties of liquids such as viscosity, surface tension etc where as water when cooled goes into the solid state [say ice-1] with well defined structure and behaves differently from liquid water. That is the same material shows different properties as the state of the matter changes. According to Grunwald 3 water molecules in liquid water at ordinary temperatures may still maintain two different loosely held networks as sub states one four coordinated [as in ordinary ice designated as ice-1] and the other five coordinated (hence denser) with a bifurcated hydrogen bond which are responsible for the schizophrenic behavior of water such ordinary ice floating on water instead of sinking. A liquid if cooled to solid state should be of higher density than its liquid form. This may be observed by cooling ghee (clarified butter).Thus the properties of matter are related to the state or sub states of the matter.

 

 

Life and death 

 What happens when some one dies of heart attack? The blood circulation stops as the heart which pumps the blood as a self controlled process stops. Breathing another self controlled physiological process stops. As a result oxygen supply to the brain stops leading to the failure of the brain. Brain failure switches off “brain based consciousness”. The patient in this state can no more decide on any thing that is he no more has the free will.
Let us suppose that we can describe the state of this man before the heart attack that is when he is in the state of life as f (L) and his state after he is just dead as f(D). Let us suppose that,
f(L) – f(D) = f(g) where f(g) may have values from 0 to x. Libb Thims position is correct if f(g)=0 and if f(g) is not 0 then the states of  ‘life’ and ‘death’ of the man are different. If the states of ‘life’ and ‘death’ are different then the body [matter] in these states must have properties that can describe the states.
What we observe when some one dies is the stoppage of programmed coordination of several self controlled physiological processes (that is self programmability), loss of consciousness and free will. Hence the properties “self programmability”, “consciousness” and “free will” distinguish the state of ‘life’ from the state of ‘death’. Once the body shifts its state from life to death, entropy over powers in the absence of self programmability and the body starts getting degenerated.  
 

 

Discussion 

Brain based consciousness is well recognized by medical doctors who talk of their patients “losing consciousness”, “coming into consciousness” and going into the state of comatose etc. However, hard science journals even today shy away from discussing consciousness. Despite all this, large groups of scientists today recognize 4-8 the existence of consciousness and there are few science journals on the theme of consciousness. Unfortunately the consciousness researchers could not define consciousness precisely till date. A consensus definition of consciousness is yet to be arrived at.  Consciousness remains nebulous as Buddha 9 thought of it. Any further discussion on consciousness will be slippery and is also not necessary in the context of this article. This author considers the definition of Frederic Peters 4 who concluded that I-ness, Now-ness and Here-ness constitute consciousness.
Self programmability is observable in the case of human state of living. Had Hanawalt wrote “self programmed coordination of the myriad of chemical reactions …. “ instead of “programmed coordination of the myriad of chemical reactions …..” the mystery might have not remained and it is really mysterious as to why he stopped short of that. Indeed the success of differentiating the states of ‘life’ and ‘death’ depends on the development of scales to measure the properties self programmability, consciousness and free will and their inter relation. In the absence of developments in this direction indeed life will remain a paradox! And we will have to think that we are not alive in the same way as a water molecule is not alive.
 

 

Just after Cardiac Death

Hameroff cites 10 the study of Chawla et al 11using electroencephalogram at the time of death. Seven patients were studied who were neurologically intact before the decision was taken to withdraw care due to extensive systemic critical illness. They measured bispectral index or BIS number based on electroencephalogram (EEG). BIS number is dimensionless and the scale is graduated from 0 to 100. EEG silence corresponds to 0 and a fully awake state corresponds to 100. For general anesthesia the manufacturer (Aspect Medical Systems, Newton MA) recommended a BIS number of 40 to 60. The seven patients studied by Chawla et al were on life support, neurologically intact but heavily sedated with a BIS number 40 or higher. Upon withdrawal of life support the BIS number decreased to 20 after several minutes marking the time of cardiac death noted by lack of measurable arterial blood pressure and functional heart beat. Then in all the seven patients a burst of activity noted by abrupt rise of BIS number to above 60 and in most cases 80 or above for a period of 1 to 20 minutes followed by a sudden drop to near 0. It is clear that the patient’s biological system even after the cardiac death fervently tried to revive/survive/self preserve which is an act that can be attributed only to the genome. BIS scale is not precise 12 but can give a good idea of the pre and post cardiac death activities.

 

 

Closing remarks 

It is construed that ‘Life’ is a state of the matter with distinct properties such as self programmability, consciousness and free will. The absence of these properties makes a living system dead. If this is not true then there is nothing called life and we are not alive in the same way as water molecules are not alive.

The problem with Libb’s approach is that he thinks that living beings are just assemblage of atoms where as living beings are “biological systems” or “living systems”. A human being is a “complex living system”. A system is more than the sum of the elements that constitute the system 13 and shows “emergent properties”.

 

 

References 

[1] Philip C Hanawalt, Simple inorganic molecules to complex-free livings, W.H. Freeman and Company, San Francisco, 1980.
[2] Libb Thims, Life: a Defunct Scientific Theory? , Journal of Human Thermodynamics, 5: 20-21. 2009. http://www.humanthermodynamics.com/JHT/Life_-_a_Defunct_Scientific_Theory.pdf
[3] Ernest Grunwald, Thermodynamic properties of non polar solutes in water and structure of hydrophobic hydration shells, J. Am. Chem. Soc. Vol. 108, No. 19, 1986.
[6] Ronald Bryan, Consciousness and Quantum-Mechanical Wavefunctions, Australian Journal of Parapsycholgy, Vol. 9, No.1, 2009.
[7] Steven Sevush, Single-Neuron Theory of Consciousness, presented during the conference, Towards a Science of Consciousness, Tucson, 2002. http://www.societyofrobots.com/robottheory/single-neuron_theory_of_consciousness.html
[8] Gerald M. Edelman, Naturalizing consciousness: A theoretical framework, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0931349100
[9] Sreenivasarao, S., An-atta: On self and Non-self, http://ssubbanna.sulekha.com/blog/post/2010/08/an-atta-on-self-and-non-self.htm
[10] Stuart Hameroff, ‘End-of-life brain activity’ – A sign of soul?http://www.quantumconsciousness.org/
[11] Lakhmir S. Chawla, Seth Akst, Christopher Junker, Barbara Jacobs, R.N., Michael G. Seneff, Surges of Electroencephalogram Activity at the Time of Death: A Case Series. Journal of Palliative Medicine, Vol. 12, issue 12: December 8, 2009.
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