Thu, Sep 30, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Scientists explain the meaning of life (and we don't matter much)

A new theory states that it is entropy which drives evolution to higher levels of complexity -- for the sole purpose of disseminating energy gradients

By Arne Jernelov

The more complex the structure the more effective is the energy dissemination. Populations are better in this respect than single individuals; ecosystems even more so, and most effective of all -- so far -- are human high-tech societies.

Thus, goes the argument, the second law of thermodynamics is not contrary to the existence of life; rather, it is the cause of life. That law drives evolution to higher levels of complexity and to more sophisticated societies and technologies for the sole purpose of disseminating energy gradients.

So life, at long last, has a higher meaning in the eyes of science -- even if serving the second law of thermodynamics is not exactly what the religiously faithful had in mind.

Arne Jernelov is professor of environmental biochemistry, an honorary scholar and former director of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna and a UN expert on environmental catastrophes.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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