The Rise of Biological Life

Presented at 19th World Congress of Philosophy
Copyright © 1993, Dr. Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

  1. I: What is life?
  2. II: Conway's Life Game
  3. III: Proton is a glider
  4. IV: Rise to complexity
  5. Frequently asked questions

Any physics or philosophy which cannot give rise to biological life cannot be the final theory. Those who ignore this simple fact are simply become irrelevant.

Although life does obey physics laws after it has arisen, there is no way to give rise to life by physics laws while quarks are viewed as the rock bottom building blocks.

Life is supported by lifeless material. Photosynthesis combines water, carbon dioxide and the energy of sunlight into life substance and oxygen. The basic molecules of life (such as: amino acids, sugars, nucleotides, etc.) could all have been formed on the primitive Earth from simple molecules, for example: hydrogen cyanide molecules join together to make adenine, and formaldehyde molecules join together to make sugar molecules of all sorts. Seemingly, the difference between life substance and lifeless material is very superficial because photosynthesis can transform lifeless material into life substances.

DNA stores, transmits and processes all kinds of bio-information, and it controls and gives rise to all kinds of bio-processes, such as morphogenesis, metabolism, and reproduction, etc.. The essence of life is the information processing. The search for the origin of biological life is in fact the search for a Bio-CPU.

Where and what is this Bio-CPU?

Although there are millions different kinds of biological life on Earth, there is only one set of molecules of life. They are all left-handed. In short, there is only one tree of life.

Why is there only one (not two) tree of life, while left- and right-handed molecules are symmetrical and can be produced by nature equally?

This bio-symmetry breaking is not for the sake of life's metabolism system (that right-handed species cannot digest the left-handed molecules of life) but is caused by laws of physics (expressed by K- and B-meson decay). The symmetry breaking is the fundamental principle of physics. The search for the linkage between the symmetry breaking of elementary particle physics and this bio-symmetry breaking.

I: What is life?

There are many attributes for life, such as: birth, death, growth, evolution, metabolism, reproduction, etc.. There are some unique attributes for higher form of life, such as: emotion, consciousness, intelligence, spiritual craving, etc.. Many of these attributes are shared by non-life in a lesser degree.
Every machine was born and will die. But, the birth and death of a machine is quite different from the birth or death of a life. A machine can be born one piece at a time, but a life is generally born as a whole simultaneously. In other words, life intertwines with space-time in a much closer fashion than a machine does.

Some machines even have some sort of intelligence, such as intelligent robots, but they receive their intelligence from an external source while a life acquires it seemingly spontaneously. Perhaps, the spontaneity can be the yardstick to distinguish life from lifelessness, but some theologians may object this by saying that robots receive intelligence from human and human receives intelligence from God. In short, there is no true spontaneity.
Then, there is the 2nd law of thermodynamics. All lifeless processes increase entropy, but all life processes reduce entropy for lives themselves with the expense of the environment. Although the globe entropy is forever in the increasing, a life always creates a small pocket (inside its skin) with the ever decreasing entropy and the ever increasing order. So, the increasing or reduction of entropy of a process could be used as a yardstick to determine whether any given process is alive or not, at least in principle. A society also creates more orderliness, but it is not truly a biological life which we want to define. So, we must find some alternative yardsticks to define the biological life.

All entropy increasing processes are taking place spontaneously, but all entropy reduction processes (life processes) can only happen with very complicated information processing. This is another reason that spontaneity is not a good yardstick for liveliness. Today, all biologists view any biological entity or system as a Turing (universal) computer. Perhaps, the computing power of an entity or system can be used as the yardstick for liveliness.

Obviously, the computing power alone is not enough to define liveliness because the most powerful supercomputer in the world is not yet alive. Furthermore, there is a special life process standing out from the rest. It is the reproduction.

After all these discussion, I will not try to define what life is but outline the minimum requirements for any entity or system to be alive. I list only two requirements.

With this new definition, a bodiless life (such as: Artificial Life, soul and spirit) becomes possible. Nonetheless, for any biological life the third requirement is needed. A biological life must possess mass.

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II: Conway's Life Game

In 1936, Alan Turing invented a Turing machine which is an ideal computer. No super computer of today can reach its capability.

In 1970, John Horton Conway wanted to find a set the simplest rules that could explode into the infinite power of a universal Turing computer. He invented a mathematical game, LIFE.

Life (game) occurs on a virtual Go (checker) board. The squares are called cells. They are in one of two states: alive or dead. Each cell has eight possible neighbors, the cells which touch its sides or its corners. There are only three rules.

  1. Birth rule: A dead cell will come alive in the next generation (step) if and only if exactly three of its eight neighbors are currently alive.
  2. Survive rule: A living cell will survive in the next generation (step) if there are either two or three neighbors also.
  3. Death rule: A living cell will die of over crowding if there are more than three live neighbors, and it will die of exposure if there are fewer than two.
With these three simple rules and a few randomly seeded live cells on the board, many patterns appeared. Most of them quickly settled into stable patterns. Figure 1 shows such a pattern. The generation 0 consists of 4 live cells. Obviously, the two cells at each end must die of exposure in the next generation, and 4 dead cells will be born. So, generation 1 consists of 6 living cells which form a rectangular shape. Then, two middle cells in generation 1 must die of over crowding, and two dead cells will come alive to form a shape roughly resembling a beehive in the next generation. Since each live cell in beehive has exactly two live neighbors, beehive is stable unless perturbed externally.


Figure 1

Since every computer must have counter, a clock, and a memory, all stable patterns will have no use in building a computer. In order to prove that the rules of Life Game do support a universe in which a universal Turing computer could be embedded, it is necessary to show that Life Game can generate some patterns which have a means of locomotion.


Figure 2

Such a walking pattern was indeed found in Life Game, and it was called glider. Figure 2 shows the life cycle of a glider. A glider consists of 5 live cells. From generation 0 to generation 1, it moves down one row. From generation 2 to 3, it moves to right one column. Then the most important of all, it recaptures its original form in the next generation.

Although glider possesses two wonderful attributes (self-reproduction and walking), Conway must find a glider generator which can shoot out a stream of gliders in order to prove that Life Game is, indeed, a universal computer. The glider gun was discovered by R. William Gosper at MIT in December 1970. Using glider streams to represents bits, all logic gates (And- Or-, Not-gates) can be produced.

So, Conway, indeed, succeeded in accomplishing his original goal of trying to prove that the simple rules of Life Game can, indeed, support a universe in which a universal Turing computer is embedded. Furthermore, the glider meets the minimum requirements to be a life according to the outline listed in the previous section. In fact, a new discipline arose, and it was called Artificial Life or the science of dry life.

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III: Proton is a glider

However, Life Game is only a game. It lacks the essence of any biological life, the mass. In fact, Life Game does not even give the slightest hint of how the biological life arose.

But! But! But! If? If? If the glider is a graphic representation of some basic building blocks of matter (such as: proton or neutron), the Life Game will give rise to biological life immediately. When glider captures mass, it turns into a wet stuff. the biological life. According to Prequark Chromodynamics, both proton and neutron are gliders. One of the prequark representation for both proton and neutron is listed in the table below. They are, in fact, gliders.

Comparison of proton, glider and neutron
Proton as quarks Proton as Prequarks Glider Neutron as Prequarks Neutron as quarks
up (red) (V, A, A) ( , * *) - (A, V, V) down (red)
up (yellow) (A, V, A) (* , *) - (V, A, V) down (yellow)
down (blue) - (V, V, A) ( , , *) (A, A, V) up (blue)

With Conway's Life Game and Prequark Model, both proton and neutron are bio-CPUs. Thus, the difference between biological life and lifeless system is not in substance but in processes. There are two very important processes that give rise to biological life.

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IV: Rise to complexity

These is a big gap between the fundamental laws of nature and the complexity of phenomena. While we know all the underlying laws about weather, we still cannot precisely predict the weather, the same as one knows all the rules of chess but cannot play well. Is there a new law to fill this gap?

Yes, it is called Self-Similarity principle, which is the essence of fractal geometry. It means that the complexity is constructed by repeating a very simple pattern, the same as the Hilbert curve.

There is a Collage Theorem in fractal geometry. It states that all complex systems can be represented with fractal space. And, all fractal spaces can be generated with a two-code space, such as (0, 1) or (Vacutron, Angultron). That is, the law which gives rise to complexity is not new. See theorem 3.

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Frequently asked questions
  1. Q: I don't agree at all that for something to be alive it must be able to process information. Unless one considers bacteria and plants somehow to be processing information, because they most certainly are alive.
    A: Even virus must be able to process information in order to decode its host's (or victim) chemical codes.
  2. Q: Laws of atomic structure are responsible for the chemical reactions which produce life, are almost entirely independent of the structure of the proton.
    A: Yes, this is true, but the laws of atomic structure cannot explode into the power of a universal Turing computer which is an information processing device.
  3. Q: Look at other planets. There you can find millions of protons and neutrons, but no biological life.
    A: Proton and neutron are seeds of life. Only at the right condition and with the right process, the seeds can germinate.
  4. Q: The properties of a proton, which are quantum mechanical, can in no real or complete way be compared to a glider, which is manifestly classical. That is, the glider depends only upon some simple rules but the properties of proton are much, much more complicated.
    A: Glider is not a proton, but proton is a glider.
  5. Q: The resemblance between glider and proton must be fixed artificially. Only proton with the structure of [ u(red), u(yellow), d(blue)] is a glider. Proton with the structure of [ u(red), d(blue), u(yellow)] is not a glider.
    A: Because the SU(3) color symmetry, the two proton structures are identical.

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