What is Life?

5 Jan

I am currently reading “What is Life?” by Erwin Schrödinger and the first chapter hits me with the reality that atoms observed alone, or in a small quantity perform a completely disorderly heat motion and it isn’t until they are observed in co-operation with a large number of atoms that they follow some order and laws. Examples he uses to illustrate this are;  if you fill an oblong quartz tube with oxygen gas and put it into a magnetic field the gas becomes magnetized. This happens because oxygen molecules are like tiny magnets and this alignment is constantly disturbed by the heat motion of the atoms making the magnetic field stronger the more atoms you pour in. Brownian motion is his second example which he illustrates with sinking fog (which I definitely observed in the Andes). As a whole the fog seems to gradually sink at a well defined velocity but if you look at one of the droplets under a microscope it performs an irregular movement (Brownian motion) which corresponds to the sinking on the average. These drops are small and light enough to respond to the impact of a single molecule and are knocked about only on the average responding to the influence of gravity. Nature in only accurate to 1/√n where n is the number of molecules co-operating.  In conclusion an organism must have a large amount of molecules in order to adhere to fairly accurate laws.

If the macro mimics the micro then what does this all mean for us? We are a large group of co-operating molecules, as is our planet and everything on it so there is always the possibility for us to not be accurate to “natures laws”, the possibilities are endless. If it takes a large group of co-operating molecules to adhere to some sort of order could that be said of society as a whole? Could what ever we don’t agree with be considered the group that is not accurately adhering? What if we were to create a new set of rules to adhere to? What if we as a society were to decide our rules instead of putting it in the hands of the few? What if what we observe as a disorderly heat motion is really something greater than anything we can grasp at this stage in our development? As for the quartz tube business what does that imply for our human bodies since we contain so much oxygen, perhaps we are each our own magnetic field aligning our selves with what ever field we choose? Could each of our journeys be like the small droplet in the mass of fog, will we all settle into the valley in the end?


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