The Life & Mind Seminar Network

Seminar # 19: Entropy and Autopoiesis: The Thermodynamics of the Living

Posted in Seminars by Eduardo on May 14, 2007

Nathaniel Virgo will lead the next seminar, this Wednesday May 16th at 15:00 in room Pev1 2A02.

All welcome!

Seminar # 19:  Entropy and Autopoiesis: The Thermodynamics of the Living


I will be leading a disussion on the relevance of thermodynamic
concepts to the theory of autopoiesis.

The second law of thermodynamics is a law of nature almost as
fundamental as the existence of space and time.  It puts important
constraints on the processes that can take place in any physical
system.  Autopoiesis, defined as a self-sustaining network of
processes, can easily be achieved superficially in artificial
scenarios, but in the physical world life is highly non-trivial.  I
hope to convince you that the reason for this non-triviality — the
reason why life is a struggle — is the second law.  But the second
law is perhaps also deeply connected to the reason for life’s

I will show how the thermodynamic concept of entropy can be applied to
living structure and explore the question of what constraints
thermodynamics puts on the living organisation, explaining how laws
traditionally applied to heat engines also apply to the chemical
processes of metabolism.  An important result of these considerations
is that organisms will always need food and always produce waste, so a
deep coupling with the environment is always necessary in order for a
structure to be maintained.

By degrading chemical gradients the presence of life increases the
rate at which entropy is produced.  Several researchers have proposed
that entropy tends to be produced at the maximum possible rate and
suggested that life may in some sense be inevitable as a result.  I
will breifly review this school of thought and discuss how it
interacts with the autopoietic viewpoint.

The format will be a relatively informal presentation with lots of
open questions and plenty of room for discussion.


One Response

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  1. Eduardo said, on May 19, 2007 at 10:39 am

    The talk was recorded, as usual, but the format ended up being .m4a. Does somebody know how to convert it into AVI, MPEG, Quicktime, Real and Windows Media (i.e. a format that google video will accept)?
    Meanwhile, the m4a file can be downloaded here and watched using iTunes or WinAmp.

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