Skip to Content

The Role of Entropy in the Origin of Life: A New Perspective

Entropy’s Intriguing Role in the Emergence of Life

Scientists have long pondered how life began on Earth, speculating that it originated near energy sources essential for sparking initial chemical reactions. Traditionally, the emergence of life has been viewed as a serendipitous event, where a lucky combination of chemicals through random interactions ignited the genesis of living organisms. Yet, Jeremy England, an American physicist, challenges this view by suggesting that physics, particularly the concept of entropy, may have orchestrated the formation of life.

Revisiting the Second Law of Thermodynamics in the Context of Life

Entropy, which measures the disorder within a system, traditionally indicates that systems tend to progress toward disorder, aligning with the second law of thermodynamics. However, England proposes that life itself does not contravene this law but instead manipulates it. By absorbing energy from its surroundings and temporarily reducing its own entropy—much like sculpting a snowman from snow—life maintains a state of lower entropy. Over time, the system, including the energy sources and the heat dissipated by living organisms, still trends toward increased entropy overall.

Implications of Entropy for the Universality of Life

England’s research involved simulations with complex chemical mixtures under varied energy conditions, analogous to natural processes like photosynthesis driven by sunlight. These studies revealed that such systems might self-organize into increasingly complex structures, effectively managing heat dispersion in their environment—an essential trait of living systems. This finding suggests that life-like patterns and lifelike behaviors can naturally emerge as a consequence of physical laws, particularly through optimal heat dispersion. This perspective not only reshapes our understanding of the origin of life on Earth but also suggests that life could be a common outcome in similar environments across the universe, making it potentially widespread in the cosmos.