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No. 69: May-Jun 1990

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Spontaneous order, evolution, and life

In our thinking, one of the most remarkable articles ever to appear in Science bears the above title. Most re markable of all is the use of the word "spontaneous" without philosophical comment.

The stimuli for the research described are such observations as: (1) life exists; (2) life evolves; (3) the fossil record displays stasis, extinctions, and great gaps between phyla and lesser classifications; and (4) disordered molecules move smoothly and surely into the order manifest in the living cell. The question asked in the article is whether science has missed something in its description of the origin and development of life. Just what makes molecules coalesce into cells and humans? The answer given is: spontaneous self-organization! In other words, there is no guiding external force. Molecules do this spontaneously. There are even computer models being developed, based on a branch of mathematics called "dynamical systems," that describe how this all happens - spontaneously, of course.

(Waldrop, M. Mitchell; "Spontaneous Order, Evolution, and Life," Science, 247:1543, 1990.)

Comment. When water molecules spontaneously cluster together to form a snowflake, with all its symmetry and order, science explains the process in terms of the properties of water molecules. The same must be true when molecules merge to form life forms. But why do atoms and molecules possess these properties that lead to bacteria, to humans, to who-knows-what's-next? "Spontaneous self-organization" is a cop out!

From Science Frontiers #69, MAY-JUN 1990. 1990-2000 William R. Corliss