Sunday, April 25, 2010

beyond the farthest reach of the sun's power

Video - Abundant Life in and around Hydrothermal Vents

In the eyes of many Christians, the darwinian revolution left nature purposeless, at least on paper. Darwinians, faced with a personal Creator as the only conceivable source of purpose, hastened to agree. But physical purpose is more subtle than that. From the thermodynamic vantag point, purpose has a physical aspect. It is no more uniform than memory, which manifests itself in bodies, genetically, and brains, neuronally - and even in machines - magnetically. And like memory, purpose - with its orientation toward the future - has a thermodynamic genesis.

Life is thermodynamic. A continuous whirlpool downstream of Niagara Falls has a name; "Whirlpool". We give names to things like species and hurricanes, that keep their identities - at least for a time. The formation of stable identities aids the thermodynamic process of gradient reduction. The highly heritable members of a species, like other cyclical and complex thermodynamic agents, provide stable vehicles of degradation. The cycling selves of life survive in order to reduce the energetic and material gradients that keep them going, they covet and tap into these gradients to survive long enough to reproduce. As natural selection filters out the many to preserve the remaining few, those few ever more efficiently use environmental energy to "purposefully" reduce their gradients. The key point is that living and nonliving "selves" come into being to reduce gradients naturally. The reproducing self of biology is a higher order cycle whose antecedents can be inferred from the cycles of the nonliving world. Nucleotide replication and cell reproduction do not emerge from nowhere. They are born in an energetic universe from thermodynamic tendencies inherent in nature.