Muddle Puddle with Entropy in Biology

One paragraph from J. Scott Turner, Biology’s Second Law: Homeostasis, Purpose, and Desire. In Beyond Mechanism: Putting Life Back Into Biology

I should say that the book is good and the chapter actually is also not bad. Yet, this paragraph speaks for itself:

p. 192 “At its most general, the disequilibrium that characterizes a living system takes the form of a low-entropy stream of matter that continually degrades to equilibrium with the surroundings in accordance with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. For such a system to persist, work must be done to feed into the pool a stream of matter and to impose specified order on it, so as to offset the loss of matter and order to the higher entropy surroundings. Thus, a living system is marked by two flows of matter: a thermodynamically-favored flux (TFF) of matter up an entropy gradient (which liberates heat in the processes), and a physiological flux (PF) of matter down an entropy gradient, which mobilizes free energy to do entropy-reducing work. In the context of cellular systems, the orderliness takes the specific form of a catalytic milieu that biases the flows of matter and energy in a way that sustains the specified disequilibrium. The orderliness can take other forms in other contexts, such as the organism, such as potential energy differences in heat content (temperature), solute concentration, or oxidation potential.

Now a couple of quotes from Dorion Sagan, Lynn Margulis, “Wind at Life’s Back” – Toward a Naturalistic, Whiteheadian TeleologyL Symbiogenesis and the Second Law.

This is the first crazy chapter in the book. I wonder if editors have read this chapter.

p. 205 “In the first case, the inherently telic tendency of energy to spread informs life, whose living systems measurably produce more entropy, that is, reduce more gradients and delocalize more concentrated sources of energy than would be the case without them, informs life at all levels.”

p. 206 “The bottom line here, based on data, is that life can be regarded as a manifestation of the energy spread, telically tending toward equilibrium, predicted by the Second Law.”

p. 210-211 “Science itself follows a historically dependent thermodynamic, rather than mathematically idealized and reversible, dynamic pathway of development.”

p. 216-217 “Because life is an open thermodynamic system, as well as an open informational one, genomic transfer is rampant.”

p. 218 “From a thermodynamic perspective, the most inclusive level of purposeful activity is that of the cycling system as a whole, which acts intelligently or with unconscious purpose to degrade ambient gradients.”

p. 225 “Evolution’s main trend – … – measurably increase entropy production (gradient reduction) at local and global scales.


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