Probing complexity: thermodynamics and computational mechanics approaches to origins studies

This paper proposes new avenues for origins research that apply modern concepts from stochastic thermodynamics, information thermodynamics and complexity science. Most approaches to the emergence of life prioritize certain compounds, reaction pathways, environments or phenomena. What they all have in common is the objective of reaching a state that is recognizably alive, usually positing the need for an evolutionary process. As with life itself, this correlates with a growth in the complexity of the system over time. Complexity often takes the form of an intuition or a proxy for a phenomenon that defies complete understanding. However, recent progress in several theoretical fields allows the rigorous computation of complexity. We thus propose that measurement and control of the complexity and information content of origins-relevant systems can provide novel insights that are absent in other approaches. Since we have no guarantee that the earliest forms of life (or alien life) used the same materials and processes as extant life, an appeal to complexity and information processing provides a more objective and agnostic approach to the search for life’s beginnings. This paper gives an accessible overview of the three relevant branches of modern thermodynamics. These frameworks are not commonly applied in origins studies, but are ideally suited to the analysis of such non-equilibrium systems. We present proposals for the application of these concepts in both theoretical and experimental origins settings.


Probing complexity: thermodynamics and computational mechanics approaches to origins studies
Stuart J. Bartlett and Patrick Beckett

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