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The Information Revolution

Ironically, ancient wisdom, much of it presumably discredited by modern science, is making a comeback and vindicating itself.

Consider that living matter was once thought to be fundamentally different than non-living matter. This idea was presumably discredited with the discovery of the chemical synthesis of urea (http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=5905):

Urea is of major historical significance. It was the first organic chemical compound ever synthesized. The German chemist Friedrich Wöhler in 1828 attempted to make ammonium cyanate from silver cyanide and ammonium chloride and, in the process, accidentally made urea. Wöhler wrote his mentor Jöns Berzelius, “I must tell you that I can make urea without the use of kidneys, either man or dog. Ammonium cyanate is urea.”

This pioneering experiment disproved the theory of vitalism, the concept that organic chemicals could only be modified chemically, but that living plants or animals were needed to produce them.

Yes, some chemicals produced by living systems can be synthesized and modified with purely deterministic chemical processes. But then an unexpected discovery was made.

Functional biological proteins are chemicals, but they cannot be synthesized or modified with purely deterministic chemical processes, and they cannot perform their biologically relevant functions except within a carefully controlled and regulated environment. Information, and an information processing system are required to produce them and coordinate their activities.

It turns out that the vitalists were right in a sense. Living matter is fundamentally different than non-living matter. Living matter requires information.

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4 Responses to The Information Revolution

  1. So then, Life is Hardware plus Software.

    Correct. – GD

  2. what shouldn’t surprise people here is that vitalism has never really been discredited, and an idealistic/vitalistic tradition has been alive and well for centuries, especially in the medical field. Homeopathic medicine, for example, works on the premise that all substances, even non-living ones, contain a “non-material, spirit-like” essence. This essential core or blueprint is the organizing information for that substance. Living entities have a far more complex system, but are also governed by an intelligence called ‘vital force’. Interestingly, homeopathic medicine endures the same relentless antagonism from materialists as does ID.

  3. When I first became a postdarwinist, I went back to Lamarck and Bergson.
    It seems to me vitalism was ignored, not discedited.

  4. Rupert Sheldrake is the leading proponent of vitalism today, and I’d recommend his “Presence of the Past” to anyone interested in questioning the current consensus. He holds that biological form is akin to a field effect, and that genes, while important in synthesizeing the protein building blocks that make up cells, ultimatly have little or nothing to do with the organization of tissues, organs, or other large biological systems.

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