It is certain beyond the reasonable doubt that within the current scientific paradigm, origin of life is still an elusive mystery. We can, however, be optimistic that the new principle of self-organization based on theory of complexity might have some answers in its repertoire. But it is pretty certain that it needs to travel a very long and arduous path to achieve that purpose. Life abhors reduction; it denies being a mere mathematical equation, almost vehemently. Is it the limitation of the current scientific symbolism and its associated pre-suppositions, or it is the basic premise of life itself? Sometimes a wrongly posed question is far more dangerous than the problem itself. Is it the case that we are interrogating nature and life in a wrong way?
Our material universe is a quantum-mechanical relativistic manifold. At the cosmological scale, the nature and evolution of universe is governed by relativity and at sub-atomic level, the evolution and properties of matter is governed by quantum mechanics. So, somewhere in between, life and consciousness fall; sort of emergent phenomena which mysteriously evolve out of the mute material-matrix, which mechanics we are still unaware of. At the moment, however, we are going to assume that it is self-organization. The philosophy behind quantum-mechanics is Radical Atomism which asserts that anything can be finally reduced to its underlying sub-atomic mechanics, hence, also life and consciousness. In the essay, I propose a different world-view called “Relational Pluralism” to counter the thesis of Radical Atomism under the light of Lee Smolin’s cosmology.
Lee Smolin — the famous physicist, is of the opinion that we require a radical revision in the way we have architectured science so far. Inability of science to explain life and consciousness is not intrinsic, but most largely contextual. If life and consciousness are the phenomena which arise due to the relational dynamics between the various constituents through self-organization, we need a radically different scientific-worldview which is also relational, not atomic. Under this new relational word-view, which we can call “Relational Pluralism” for the time being, the origin of cosmos, life and consciousness are not independent chance events, but are historically connected in their texture and shape. What a new world-view is demanding is, a paradigmatic shift from matter to pattern, from atom to archetypes, and from chance to self-organization. We need to change our way of interrogating nature to understand the mysterium called “life”.
“A theory of a whole universe if it is to be consistent with what we know of quantum theory and relativity, must be a theory of a complex self-organized universe” — Lee Smolin
The abovementioned quote of Lee Smolin is of paramount significance here. What it essentially implying is, only a holistic world-view can guarantee the continuity between the concepts of origin of cosmos, life and consciousness, which further assumes “relation” as its implicit nucleus. Relationality/self-organization is not the “Ghost in the Machine” surreptitiously creeping only into the phenomenon of life, it is probably the way how nature speaks, thinks and works. If the study of life is tightly coupled with its appreciation as self-organizing system, the universe itself and the laws of physics also must be contingent, historic and relational. According to Smolin, the laws of physics are not the unchanging and absolute platonic categories, but the very result of self-organization and evolution! The legitimacy of this idea as a scientific theory within our current state of knowledge seems like an extremely far-fetched idea, however, it can’t be totally regarded as a pop-science either. To develop a new world-view, there is an urgent need of transition from absolutistic-essentialist-atomic to relational-contingent-holistic.
Lee Smolin’s Self-Organizing Universe: According to Smolin, the chance of creating a universe by randomly choosing the parameters of standard model (a quantum-mechanical framework), which is our universe, is 10229. Under the standard model, there are four types of fundamental forces; Strong (the force the binds the nuclei of an atom together and accounts for the stability of sub-atomic world), Electromagnetic force (Force between the electrically charged particles and accounts for the phenomena of electricity and magnetism), Weak force (This force is responsible to account for the decay process involving fundamental particles) and Gravitational force (the force that accounts for the floating moon in the sky, tides and solar-system and overall stability of our universe). It further includes a particular number of elementary particles that further can be characterized in two groups, particles making the atoms and particles responsible for the actuation of the abovementioned four forces. The standard model, thus incorporates all the parameters related to four fundamental forces and the elementary particles. One of the biggest mysteries of science at this time is, why all these parameters have some specific values? For instance, how nature decides the value of Planck’s constant or Gravitational constant to be some ridiculously small numbers? In a sense, how this cosmological-screening happened that makes the existence of this universe possible? How the fundamental constants were tuned to the particular values, which are finally responsible for the stability of the universe, and finally to the origin of life and consciousness? Here we can see that the probability of having the universe that we inhabit is a highly improbable chance event, with a slightly better probability than the origin of life in this particular planet. If the values of the constants have been different, there would not have been the possibility of origination of life. And here we have a theory of Lee Smolin:
“The parameters of the standard model of elementary particle physics have the values we find them to because these make the production of black holes much more likely than most other choices”.
As per Smolin, the constants of nature are not the unchangeable platonic archetypes, but the result of the long process of cosmological natural selection to produce a universe with most likelihood of production of stars, hence black holes. This may sound very preposterous unless we realize that stars are primarily made of carbon, which is also the primary building block of organic life. Our universe thus contains innumerable stars which finally run down to their black-death, thus actuating a big-bang for another universe. The singularity of the black-hole of a star is a portal to a different universe. Of all the innumerable multiverses thus created, only one which can maximize the production of stars will survive. In the Smolinian cosmology, we are the space-time of a star which had collapsed to a black-hole in a different space-time manifold, and was cosmologically selected based on the fine tuning of our constants to the values favorable for the production of stars and black holes. As per Smolin, the values of the constants vary under each bounce and hence, are not universal. In a sense, our universe is a gigantic organismoid that was part of bigger evolutionary scheme of the cosmos! The production of black hole is thus a cosmological correlate of the biological reproduction which evolutionary aim is to yield the maximum number of progenies. As simple as it may sound, this is quite an arbitrary, yet a thought-provoking speculation. At first, we need to come face to face with a very non-intuitive concept of simultaneous and non-successive presence of innumerable universes and the other, we are unable visualize its exact biological correlate. However, this theory also can’t be totally disregarded, as it provides a broader framework for the concept of relational and self-organizing universe, and the possibility of the holistic scientific paradigm we are looking for, which is, Relational Pluralism.
One of the arguments provided by Smolin was the incredibly small value of gravitational force and its role on black-hole formation. The incredibly small value of gravitational constant accounts for the very large size of starts, thus not allowing it to collapse under its own gravitational field. And larger the star, more will be the stellar life due to the larger magnitude of nuclear fusion energy. If the gravitational force were stronger by a factor of 10, the lifetime of a typical star will lower to 10 million years from 10 billion years. If that was the case, life would not have originated on earth, as the solar energy would have run down throwing her into the darker and damper region of equilibrium, order and death before the appearance of pre-life. If gravitational constants have not been finally tuned to the value that we observe, I would not be here to write this very sentence!
All these speculations still reside in the Deleuzian “Plane of Immanence”, that is, in the level of philosophy. We don’t have an exact mathematical-scientific explanation to account for this worldview. However, I prefer to think more in the Smolinian manner, as it provides a general framework to visualize our universe as a self-organizing system. As far as I am concerned, I believe in the structural similarity between the origin of cosmos, life and consciousness, and since “life” implies self-organization, I would prefer to accommodate the origin of cosmos within the similar paradigm too. Smolin has compared the large galaxies as self-organizing systems which operate in the realm of non-equilibrium, maintaining its meta-stability feeding on the large magnitude of energy created by the explosions of massive stars and supernovas. Under the cosmological selection, a universe should self-organize itself to guarantee the maximum production of star and black holes. This, according to Smolin, requires the regions in space-time which can remain cold and dense, irrespective of the expansion of the universe. Such places can be the disks of the spiral galaxies and also the giant molecular clouds, which are full of organic molecules, that is, carbon compounds which are also the early precursor of life.
In almost a theatrical elegance, Smolin has architectured a philosophical paradigm that can relate the origin of cosmos with the origin of life, adhering to relational and self-organizational fundamentals. The author of this essay proposes to use the term “Relational Pluralism” to identify this school of thought and is of the opinion that origin of cosmos, life and consciousness is a tightly coupled relational whole.
Lee Smolin (1955) is an American theoretical physicist, a faculty member at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, an adjunct professor of physics at the University of Waterloo and a member of the graduate faculty of the philosophy department at the University of Toronto. Smolin is best known for his contributions to quantum gravity theory, in particular the approach known as loop quantum gravity. He advocates that the two primary approaches to quantum gravity, loop quantum gravity and string theory, can be reconciled as different aspects of the same underlying theory. His research interests also include cosmology, elementary particle theory, the foundations of quantum mechanics, and theoretical biology. — Wikipedia
Sudeep Adhikari from Kathmandu (Nepal), is professionally a PhD in Structural Engineering. He lives in Kathmandu with his family and works as an Engineering-Consultant/Part-time Lecturer. He is a keen observer of inter-disciplinary dynamics between science, philosophy, religion, literature, music, mathematics and psychology, and its implications on the epistemological foundation of human ideas. His poetry has also found its place in more than 40 literary journals/magazines (online, print) across the world. The author kindly likes to point the fact that, the essay is the result of his independent research and is therefore looking for appropriate corrections/suggestions, if required. The author can be reached at email@example.com.