Tag Archives: Life

Another year of living dangerously

Twenty twenty will be another year of living dangerously if short-term policies continue to be pursued at the expense of long-term vision.
By Isabel Ortiz – The year 2019 ended with widespread demonstrations, rising inequality and a crisis of representation in many countries. The world is sleepwalking toward recession and a new crisis, while depleting the environment. Governments, and ultimately people, can reverse these alarming trends in 2020.

Sixty-one countries will have presidential or parliamentary elections in 2020. Many citizens are tired of conventional orthodox policies; they want change, and they will choose new parties as a way to achieve this.

This is an important opportunity to redress the current situation, but many of the new emerging leaders are far-right demagogues who blame today’s problems on social-welfare policies, migrants and the poor, while aiming to remove all remaining constraints on capital. As in the United Kingdom, many whom neoliberalism has harmed will vote for these politicians, making the world a more unequal and riskier place.

A lot will be decided in the United States, still the world’s hegemonic power. How US citizens (many without much knowledge of global affairs) vote in the 2020 presidential election will have profound consequences for the rest of the planet’s citizens.

The US president, Donald Trump, has already had a big impact on the world, eroding multilateral institutions, trade agreements and global initiatives as part of his ‘America First’ agenda. Despite the populist rhetoric, Americans in the main have benefited little. more>

To get a grip on altruism, see humans as molecules

By Ski Krieger – ‘What is life?’

In 1943, Erwin Schrödinger posed this question in a series of lectures at Trinity College, Dublin.

Seventy-five years later, the biophysics revolution is ongoing. Schrödinger’s call to action inspired his colleagues to look at the building blocks of life at all scales, from the diminutive DNA molecule to schooling fish and the construction of anthills.

My research group at Harvard University focuses on altruism, or why creatures sacrifice themselves for the common good.

But rather than relying on psychology or moral philosophy, we approach this problem using thermodynamics – how the laws governing heat and the interaction of microscopic particles might translate into macroscopic behavior. Can we explain altruism by casting humans as atoms and molecules, and societies or populations as solids, liquids or gases?

By studying each of these phases as physicists, we come away approaching a recipe for altruism – rules for certain structures that might foster cooperation.

What we’ve observed so far is that strong local connections enhance altruism everywhere. more>

How Do You Say “Life” in Physics?

BOOK REVIEW

What is Life? Author: Erwin Schrödinger.

By Allison Eck – How is it that the rules governing those atoms we call “life” could be so drastically different from those that govern the rest of the atoms in the universe?

In 1944, physicist Erwin Schrödinger tackled this question in a little book called What is Life?. He recognized that living organisms, unlike a gas in a box, are open systems. That is, they admit the transfer of energy between themselves and a larger environment. Even as life maintains its internal order, its loss of heat to the environment allows the universe to experience an overall increase in entropy (or disorder) in accordance with the second law.

At the same time, Schrödinger pointed to a second mystery. The mechanism that gives rise to the arrow of time, he said, cannot be the same mechanism that gives rise to the arrow of life.

Imagine you’re standing in front of a fence. You want to get to the other side, but the fence is too tall to jump. Then a friend hands you a pogo stick, which you can use to hop to the other side.

But once you’re there, you can use the same pogo stick to hop the fence again and end up back where you started. The external source of energy (the pogo stick) allows you to make a change, but a reversible one. more> http://goo.gl/qbm9k4

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Life without design

By Chiara Marletto – Constructor theory is a mode of explanation proposed by David Deutsch, visiting professor of physics at the University of Oxford, who pioneered the theory of the universal quantum computer. With constructor theory, Deutsch generalises some of the insights that led to that earlier idea, applying them now to the whole of physics.

Constructor theory gives the ‘recipe’ an exact characterisation in fundamental physics. It is digitally coded information that can act as a constructor and has resiliency – the capacity, once it is instantiated in physical systems, to remain so instantiated.

In constructor theory, that is called knowledge – a term used here without the usual connotation that it is known by someone: it merely denotes this particular kind of information with causal power and resiliency. And an essential part of the explanation of all distinctive properties of living things (and of accurate constructors in general) is that they contain knowledge in that sense. more> http://tinyurl.com/nbul4z