Brian Josephson

The relationship between physics and biology

Thursday, 30 June 2005
15:00 - 17:00 hrs CEST


Biosystems are based on the same laws as physical systems, but that no more implies that there is no real difference between living and non-living systems than it follows from the equivalent fact that there is no real difference between liquids and solids. The right question to ask is, what is special about the phenomenon of life?

According to researchers such as Robert Rosen, Maturana and Varela, and others, what is special about life is that in living systems organisation in terms of causes and effects comes prior to material constitution, whereas in structures studied in physics it is the other way about. Furthermore, as a part of that organisation, it is legitimate in a certain sense to talk in terms of Aristotle's "final causation". A further characteristic of higher organisms is semiosis, the use of signs. These factors give life a potential of a kind not found in naturally occurring material systems. The brain is the medium for the enaction of semiosis, and is the means whereby a "paper account" of its potentialities in various areas of competence becomes realised.

A final question is, are these biological potentialities present in the inanimate world also in some subtle form? Modern physics gives some support to the claim of Eastern philosophies that they are.

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