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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

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987