chapter  17
28 Pages

◾ Transition from Abiotic to Biotic: Is There an Algorithm for It?

BySARA IMARI WALKER

O en, in the history of science, we nd that scientic thought closely parallels contemporary technology. e history of our prevailing views about the universe is an example. A popular viewpoint in Isaac Newton’s day was that the universe behaves as a giant clock, describable as a perfectly predictable machine, with gears governed by the laws of physics. is mechanistic picture of the universe is reective of the state-of-the-art technology of the day, where the regularity of the rules underlying the behavior of mechanical machines was being elucidated for the rst time by newly discovered laws of classical physics (such as Newton’s laws of motion). e viewpoint of a clockwork universe eventually yielded to a thermodynamic picture, where the universe was viewed as a giant engine. e notion of an engine universe was in vogue during the industrial revolution, when steam engines transformed both the economic landscape through industrialization and the scientic landscape with the discovery of the rst, second, and third laws of thermodynamics. ese newly discovered laws described how energy can be used to produce useful work at the expense of dissipation of heat, which had both practical applications and deep implications for our understanding of a possible heat death for the universe.*

In the current Information Age, it is popular to view the universe as a giant computer, where the entire universe is to be understood as either the output of a computer program or at the very least mathematical describable in such terms. is informational picture is reective of the ubiquitous inuence of computers on our daily lives and reects a long-standing tradition of scientic thought colored by a technological lens. Likewise, one might equally well take a mechanistic, thermodynamic, or informational view of living systems. Whereas in previous centuries the mechanistic and thermodynamic pictures predominated scientic thought regarding the nature of life, it is currently fashionable to study biology using analogies from information and computer science.