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Open AccessArticle

On the Statistical Mechanics of Life: Schrödinger Revisited

Institute of Behavioural Neuroscience, University College, London WC1H 0AP, UK
Biological Sciences, Columbia University 749 Mudd, Mailcode 2419, NY 10027, USA
Centre de Physique Théorique, Aix-Marseille Université, Université de Toulon, CNRS, 13009 Marseille, France
Perimeter Institute, 31 Caroline Street North, Waterloo, ON N2L 2Y5, Canada
Rotman Institute of Philosophy, 1151 Richmond St. North, London, ON N6A 5B7, Canada
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Entropy 2019, 21(12), 1211;
Received: 18 October 2019 / Revised: 30 November 2019 / Accepted: 6 December 2019 / Published: 10 December 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biological Statistical Mechanics)
We study the statistical underpinnings of life, in particular its increase in order and complexity over evolutionary time. We question some common assumptions about the thermodynamics of life. We recall that contrary to widespread belief, even in a closed system entropy growth can accompany an increase in macroscopic order. We view metabolism in living things as microscopic variables directly driven by the second law of thermodynamics, while viewing the macroscopic variables of structure, complexity and homeostasis as mechanisms that are entropically favored because they open channels for entropy to grow via metabolism. This perspective reverses the conventional relation between structure and metabolism, by emphasizing the role of structure for metabolism rather than the converse. Structure extends in time, preserving information along generations, particularly in the genetic code, but also in human culture. We argue that increasing complexity is an inevitable tendency for systems with these dynamics and explain this with the notion of metastable states, which are enclosed regions of the phase-space that we call “bubbles,” and channels between these, which are discovered by random motion of the system. We consider that more complex systems inhabit larger bubbles (have more available states), and also that larger bubbles are more easily entered and less easily exited than small bubbles. The result is that the system entropically wanders into ever-larger bubbles in the foamy phase space, becoming more complex over time. This formulation makes intuitive why the increase in order/complexity over time is often stepwise and sometimes collapses catastrophically, as in biological extinction. View Full-Text
Keywords: life and entropy; metastable states; channels; extinctions life and entropy; metastable states; channels; extinctions
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MDPI and ACS Style

Jeffery, K.; Pollack, R.; Rovelli, C. On the Statistical Mechanics of Life: Schrödinger Revisited. Entropy 2019, 21, 1211.

AMA Style

Jeffery K, Pollack R, Rovelli C. On the Statistical Mechanics of Life: Schrödinger Revisited. Entropy. 2019; 21(12):1211.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Jeffery, Kate; Pollack, Robert; Rovelli, Carlo. 2019. "On the Statistical Mechanics of Life: Schrödinger Revisited" Entropy 21, no. 12: 1211.

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