The Universal Membrane – part one
By Robert M. DePaolo
Origins and Boundaries…
It might be interesting to discuss the structural and functional connections between the origins of life and of the universe; not in a metaphorical sense but in terms of how all systems in nature seem to operate. The assumption of a common template between life and the cosmos is not an original idea.
Pribram (1969), Bohm (1986) and Talbot (1991) proposed possible connections between how organic life (particularly brains) operates and the essential nature of the cosmos. The holographic theory they espoused presumed that everything within the biotic and cosmic domains is part of a gross singularity – not in the sense of a black hole but as fractional components of a whole to which everything responds and in which everything is structurally and functionally entangled.
That idea has met with both excitement and criticism – the latter because it is a model that is difficult not only to prove empirically but to conceptualize. For example, one could ask what “connective tissue” is involved and what exactly are the wave functions that turn parts into wholes via interference patterns. Although some research and theory have raised optimism that such wave patterns exist (Pietsch 1981) the idea lacks proof.
Despite such criticism, an argument can be made in its favour. For one thing, almost all theoretical physics is based on speculation. While Newton, Einstein, Planck and Heisenberg provided insights and proofs regarding the “what” of physics, they have not been able to provide a “why,” that is, a concrete explanation of why gravity operates differently from the other forces, why the universe became so thermally and materially isomorphic and why subatomic particles are able to sidestep the classical laws of physics requiring that all things must align in a specific location in order to move from point A to point B, i.e. have both position and momentum.
Even quantum mechanics, which has as its central principle that all phenomena consist of discrete packets of energy and matter (separate items rather than continuous, all-inclusive waves) entails a paradox, because it appears some types of matter act like particles in some instances, waves in others. Strangely the form it takes depends on whether an observer is measuring these qualities.
Although quantum theorists (actually, adherents, since its operations seem pretty solid) believe wave functions and particles are both quantum phenomena, this seems to beg the question with regard to waves, which have a continuous nature and can veer off in various directions. Without a boundary how can anything truly be defined as a discrete packet?
“Quantizing” nature would seem to mandate that location and momentum are a given, rather than a vaguely dualistic, probabilistic process. In a sense, a quantum interpretation arguably appears more consistent with a local, rather than a non-local universe – even at the subatomic level. Yet it has been shown not only that particle interactions are not local but also that they can interact in concert with other particles with which they had initial contact across distances even beyond light speed… what Einstein referred to as a “spooky distance.”
Einstein was one of the more vocal critics of quantum non-locality, which he felt virtually obviated the need to study physics. * While his criticism was itself criticized by Neils Bohr, he was certainly justified in complaining about things operating beyond physical causation. Had he been around a bit longer he might have taken his criticism even further, not just because of the myriad, as yet un-proved (and possibly untestable) theories out there such as superstring theory, loop gravity theory, hologram theory, “brane” theory (which derives from string theory) and numerous others, but also because no one has yet observed an atom, nor have they observed an electron or photon. Indeed the terms “particle” and “atom” are defined variously as energy packets or circumscribed material phenomena. No one knows what they are.
What this tells us is that when one takes away all the byzantine equations written on blackboards to prove that some theory “coincides with the math,”… shouldn’t it be the other way around?… physicists are still like blind men trying to determine the shape of the elephant.
One of the more interesting questions arising in theoretical physics is based on the anthropic principle. This is an intriguing if somewhat metaphysical attempt to explain why observations change the outcome of an experiment. More specifically it appears that by measuring/observing the path and location of particles we change one or the other.
It suggests we are in effect barred from discovery; almost as if God, consistent with his admonition to Adam and Eve, did not want mankind to examine to eat from the tree of knowledge, and in an ironic twist thus gave the most elementary components of nature the capacity to outwit the most complex of his creations.
That, of course, is a metaphor – pardon the distraction. On the other hand, the question implied in anthropic theory is quite relevant. To wit; are living organisms so linked to the cosmic fabric that rather than being outside, empirical observers, we are simply another causative agent, no different than gravity, the strong, weak or electro-magnetic forces – ourselves enclosed in a relativity of the sensorium?
The daunting, yet obvious implication of that point is that if we are part of a cosmic holograph we cannot, by definition, be empirical, scientific or even in a sense extant. Instead, we would have to consider ourselves mere threads in a very large fabric, stretching, curling up, heading toward entropy in the same way as trees, rocks and atoms.
At the risk of appearing anthropocentric, this writer would prefer to assign mankind and life, in general, a more distinct role in the natural world. After all, we not only created automobiles, airplanes, rockets, x-ray machines and computers, but, in concert with flora, created the earth’s atmosphere – a distinct accomplishment if ever there was one.
Yet if we are detached from nature why the non-local phenomena? Why in accord with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is a particle’s (photon’s) properties altered just by observing it? Here one can provide a possible explanation, not only for uncertainty but for the reason why there are distinct parallels to be drawn between life and the cosmos. It is an explanation that derives from principles of Information Theory.
The Organic Borderline…
Scientists have argued over time about the initial biological entity, the primordial seed, that set in motion the origin of life. One school of thought proposes that the first macromolecules had to be either RNA or DNA since only those molecules can replicate and, absent that capacity, evolution, organic complexity and adaptations could not have occurred (Marshall 2012).
The other school of thought holds that proteins came first, via the gradual accumulation of amino acids (the string of building blocks that comprise proteins) because while DNA can replicate it cannot construct tissues needed to build organ structures. This debate has a chicken-egg feel to it, which can lead to endless questions. For instance, one might ask what good a copying machine is with nobody to copy? Conversely, what good a body is without the capacity to create a line of descent?
Even though some research has shown that proteins, under certain controlled conditions show replicating tendencies, (Ikehara 2014) the evidence that this could have occurred on a grand enough scale to foment life is inconclusive. In some ways, this argument is reminiscent of the universal origins conundrum and it is equally hard to resolve.
In the domain of theoretical physics the aforementioned David Bohm tried to resolve the non-local vs. classical physics argument by proposing that if one eliminated distance as a variable, it would be possible for two disparate particles to interact even beyond the constraints of light speed and gravitational pull. In other words, he was saying one doesn’t need to explain spooky distance or non-locality if distance itself (which implies a spatial separation between objects) is a misconception. Bohm clearly thought out of the box in a way that could be applied in a biological context. While Bohm eliminates distance, let us de-prioritize DNA, RNA and proteins with respect to life’s origin.
The Origin of Identity…
Although DNA, RNA and proteins are necessary for creating, sustaining and refining life forms, they might not have been the engine of life’s origin. Macromolecules like DNA, RNA and protein probably arose frequently in the primordial soup. Yet in the early stages of the earth’s formation, climatic conditions were extreme – as was true of most of the solar system before Omni-gravitational influence led to systemic smoothing and more permanent planetary interactions.
Day times were extremely hot, night times extremely cold. As a result of exposure to extreme conditions, macromolecules would have cropped up and in most instances dissolved. Life was only a potential, mere raw material without an organizing machine to turn it into a distinct, “quantized” homeostatic entity. At one point a new substance came on the scene; a kind of shield providing shelter and insulation against the climatic vicissitudes. The substance was a lipid.
Lipids are essential fats and they have three unique bio-insular and systemic properties. First, they can protect against environmental intrusion due to their thickness – like water off a duck’s back. Second, they are semi-permeable, which means that they allow some flow of energy to break through to prevent molecules from becoming so closed off as to undergo rapid entropy.
The third component has to do with the fact that they provide a partial enclosure of molecules within the lipid membrane. As a result of enclosure molecular “drift” is precluded. That forces interaction within the bio-packet and creates the potential for reciprocal feedback within that enclosure… sort of like having a talkative house guest who won’t leave and with whom you are obliged to interact.
Eventually, one of two things can occur within a semi-enclosed system; either internal chaotic bombardment/noise will lead to disassembly of the parts or interactive agreement will evolve, leading to the creation of a homeostatic, regulated system. Once that system is created the gauge is set.
In the primordial soup, there still would have been free, non-systemic molecules outside the lipid boundary. Absent a membrane they would have cropped up and been destroyed at some level of probability. Since they were not semi-enclosed and systematized they would tend to float freely and exhibit disorganized, possibly random (non-grammatical) interactive behaviour patterns. Such states would have precluded the possibility of evolution. In effect, the laws inherent in the biological world would not pertain, despite the fact that in their essence they possessed the basic components of life forms. This argument can now be extended to the realm of the universe.
First, is an explanatory digression. Since the above concepts pertaining to biology and cosmology are derived from Information dynamics some discussion of Information Theory would seem appropriate.
>>>For Part Two, please visit sparrow-publishing.ca next week <<<
Ash, R. (1990) Information Theory. Dover Publications Inc. New York
Bohm, D. (1986) A New Theory of the Relationship of Mind and Matter. Journal of The American Society for Psychical Research. 80 (2) April 1986 p. 128
Ikehara, K. GADV Protein World Hypothesis on the Origin of Life. Origins of Life Evolution of Biospheres. Dec. 2014 Vol. 44 Issue 4 pp. 299-302
Marshall, M. DNA Could have existed long before Life itself. Aug. 2012 New Scientist
Pietsch. P. (1981) The Quest for the Hologramic Mind. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin. p.78
Pribram, K. The Neurophysiology of Remembering, Scientific American, 220 January 1969. pp. 76-78
Talbot, M. (1991) The Holographic Universe. Harper Perennial