One of the enduring mysteries of life -- how we moved from a cold inanimate world to one teeming with life and purpose - at least in principle, finally has been solved.
In this book by a physicist (who admits to having no biological training), Peter Hoffman finds the answer to this most forbidding of all of mankind's questions. According to him, the answer lies not in deep philosophical or religious speculation, but in Darwin's natural selection and the intricacies of the second law of thermodynamics as they combine and work together at the atomic, molecular and cellular levels. He discovered that amid the storm of chaos that goes on at the atomic level, there emerges from colliding water molecules, machine-like components capable of spontaneously converting one form of energy into another.
These components are tiny machines (nano-machines, as it were) that act like nano-scale electrical motors, operating on electrical voltages found in water, and which, in addition to being able to change one form of energy into another, are also capable of rendering order to the chaos we find at the atomic level. Our cells are filled with these tiny molecular machines that ratchet up the process of transforming random motion into hierarchically ordered cellular activity.
They do this by first operating on electrical voltages, and then by turning those voltages into collections of machines (like themselves), and them into hierarchies of nano-scale factories. These factories go on to custom build other molecular level machinery that together have proceeded down a long evolutionary path, and through many very complicated processes involving natural selection, to produce and package enzymes, peptides, amino acids, and even strains of DNA.
Thus, what emerges from this book is a scientifically testable set of conjectures about the creation of life, namely that: life has emerged from the ability to self-order random chaos in water by filtering the motion of atoms through sophisticated structures of our evolving cellular machinery.
According to Professor Hoffman, the cell is like a complex city of molecular machines and factories working together to produce order, and then inexorably (and purposefully?), to produce something bigger than themselves. Using Darwin's insights about how natural selection helped resolve the split between reductionism and vitalism, Hoffman shows us how order can be created from a chaotic storm of thermal energy, and then with the process of natural selection, can produce all of the ingredients necessary to sustain cellular life.
And while it is true that for the moment some of this is what one might at best call "strategic speculation," especially the teleological aspects about the purposeful nature of the cell's activity, it is still the kind of "experimentally guided speculation" that leaves the door wide open for later scientific verification, testing and validation.
I love this book because for the first it gives us a framework for generating testable scientific hypotheses that may be able to stand as viable alternatives to the Creationists' Intelligent Design and other Biblical Genesis creation myths: This chain of logic that links atomic activity, the second law of thermodynamics, thermal, electrical and chemical energy, and Darwin's theory of evolution, contains all of the seeds of the always suspected root cause ingredients of life, and does so in the correct logical and epistemological proportions. By my way of thinking, this framework alone is a giant step in the direction of a more solid and scientifically correct understanding of how life began. Ten Stars