Implications of Life

A perennial controversy concerns the uniqueness of life.  This is neatly framed by the question: Are we alone?  From the perspective of physics, life remains an anomaly.  Despite much effort, no one has discovered a universal law of life or any vital force.  Nor has any one produced incontrovertible evidence that we are not alone in the universe.  Yet, the scientific anomalousness of life seems totally at odds with its luxuriant presence on Earth.

The physical anomalousness of life is apparently exceeded only by that of the mind.  That these two anomalies may have a common metaphysical basis is often supposed, and it is a supposition to which I adhere.  In previous essays I have moved from the metaphysics of the mind to cosmic idealism.  Here I will give more consideration to the metaphysics of life in general.

An outstanding feature of the physical universe is its regularity, which is reflected in the symmetries and simplicities of the governing laws.   It is only in recent decades that a deeper, more complex layer of mathematical physics has been discovered.  In contrast, the simplicity of the genetic basis of life gives rise, in combinatorial fashion, to a great diversity of biological structures and processes.

The Anthropic Principle signals the fact that the existence of biological complexity appears to be very sensitive to the otherwise arbitrary parameters embedded in the physical laws.
To that extent, the unified force field of physics may be considered a vital force.  If these arbitrary parameters were to be explained by a possibly unique, underlying mathematical structure, the tension between mathematical abstraction and biological function would have to be resolved on some still deeper level.  Much attention has also been devoted to the possibility that the non-mechanistic aspects of quantum physics might be vital to life and mind.

The existence of mathematical structures underlying physical processes has given rise to speculation that there might be similar, extra-genetic, universal structures underlying biology and psychology.  Such structures might arise in conjunction with the genetic evolution of the individual organisms, but would then serve as morphogenetic templates particularly for those developmental and psychological processes that unreasonably stretch the explanatory power of Darwinian genetics.

The existence of morphogenetic templates would force us to consider the wider implications of an implicate order.  The implicate order would be an information storage medium that is non-spatial.  In as much as the physical laws encode information in a non-spatial manner, they are part of an implicate order.  The morphogentic structures would constitute additional information at the disposal of biological and psychological processes.  These additional structures would, like the physical laws, be instantiated at the quantum level as in non-local, non-random quantum probability correlations.  One could imagine there being an aperture or antenna of quantum coherence which allows these higher level structures of the implicate order to influence the physical processes occurring in space and time.

The implicate order then acts as the hologram behind the holograph that is the physical or explicate order.  At the very least, the implicate order is a storage medium for hierarchies of fixed and evolving structures.  There would be a flow of information both upward and downward within the hierarchies of structures.  There would be informational cycles in the implicate order as there are energy cycles and food chains in the ecological order.

The final and most important question is the degree to which there is an overarching coherence in the implicate order.  Is the implicate order monistic or pluralistic in its entirety?  Related to this question is the degree to which the implicate order is exerting a teleological influence that is manifest in the explicate order.


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rev. 5/6/00