16 May 2018

Review of Karo Michaelian's Thermodynamic Dissipation Theory, PART 2. Darwin and Natural Selection

Karo Michaelian
'Thermodynamic Dissipation Theory
of the Origin and Evolution of Life',
12th printing, March 2017

In my first blog about Karo Michaelian's Thermodynamic Dissipation Theory I discussed his claims about the effects UV light on life and the inefficiency of photosynthesis. In this blog I discuss his views on the Darwinian theory of evolution.

Update: Note 10. 26 Feb 2024

Will to survive

Two striking criticisms are: the "will to survive" and the "tautological definition of fitness".
The "will to survive" occurs at least 17 times in his book. It must be crucial for his argumentation. Here a few examples:
  • "Traditional evolutionary theory based on an implicit metaphysical "will to survive" of the individual and the tautology of "survival of the survivors"  has little explicative value." (p. xxvi)
  • "... do not have a mysterious "will to survive and proliferate" as the Darwinists are obliged to see it." (p.129)
  • "The implicit and unjustified assumption of the "will to survive" in the Darwinian theory can now be replaced with an explicit and physically founded "will to produce entropy" (colloquially speaking)". (p.139).
Michaelian never gives a reference for the "will to survive". Charles Darwin did not use the "will to survive" in any of his books, articles and published manuscripts. This can be easily checked:
  1. Go to Darwin Online website 
  2. Go to Advanced Search
  3. type in the field Full Text: "will to survive" (or: "drive to survive", "survival instinct")
  4. Identifier: empty *)
  5. Results: No hits
*) If desired a search can be narrowed to The Origin of Species [1st ed.] by typing F373 in the field Identifier, etc. No identifier means all his published works. See for identifiers this page.

So, the conclusion is straightforward: Michaelian accusation of a mysterious, metaphysical will to survive is not based on Darwin and therefore does not need to be replaced by anything [6]. Furthermore, the 'will to survive' is not present in any Evolution textbook [4]. See for an overview of 36 evolution textbooks my website. Any textbook of the last 35 years is good enough for this purpose.

Ironically, his theory is explicitly teleological and metaphysical. In 19.3 he rejects the standard view in science that 'Life has no Purpose' (p.291). According to Michaelian life has a purpose. But the "will to produce entropy" is just as metaphysical as the "will to survive". Really surprising for a scientist practicing the most exact of all sciences: physics.

Survival of the survivors tautology

The "survival of the survivors tautology" occurs at least 9 times in his book! It must be an important part of his argument.
Freeman & Herron
Michaelian notes that philosopher Karl Popper pointed out that "survival of the survivors" is a tautology and later Popper changed his views on Darwinism somewhat (see footnote on page 266 of Michaelian's book). Sadly, all of this is outdated and irrelevant because in Evolutionary biology fitness and natural selection are defined and used in a non-tautological way. Again pick up any of the evolution textbooks of the last 35 years. The tautology is refuted in one of the oldest Evolution textbooks I have on the shelves: Minkoff (1983) Evolutionary Biology. Minkoff defines natural selection as the "differential contribution of heritable variations to the next generation" (page 82). This blog post is not the place to explain the theory of natural selection. An excellent discussion of the testability of natural selection can be found for example in Freeman and Herron (2007) Evolutionary Analysis [1], [7].

Sadly, the tautology problem is a well-known creationist objection to evolution. In the classification of Mark Isaak (2007) The Counter-Creationism Handbook it is listed as Claim CA500 (page 32) or see the TalkOrgins website. The father of the Intelligent Design movement Phillip Johnson didn't  miss the opportunity to use the tautology to make a fool of Darwinists (my review).

Remarkably and inconsistently, elsewhere in his book Michaelian knows very well the non-tautological definition of fitness and natural selection (chapter 19 section 8 'Evolution through Natural Selection', page 299) and even mentions antibiotic resistance as an convincing example of natural selection [8]. But that's the only example he thinks exists. He needs one consistent view throughout the book, getting rid of views that contradict each other. If he wants to criticize a theory, the first thing is to know the subject in the same depth as the experts [2]. It seems that Michaelian wants to discredit natural selection as much as possible in order to clear the way for his own thermodynamic selection. [9]

Sadly, his criticism of natural selection and fitness are targeted at wrong and outdated views of evolution. Natural selection is in biology what the Second law of thermodynamics is in physics. Natural selection does not and cannot contradict thermodynamics or any other physical law. That would be a miracle. Natural selection assumes every possible physical, cosmological, chemical and geological condition. It is in this extended environment that natural selection operates and has operated since the origin of life.

There are however conditions where natural selection overrules thermodynamic selection in the sense that a flying bird overrules gravity. In general: when an organism is excellent in thermodynamic dissipation (entropy production) and survives to old age in good health, but has zero offspring, its excellent characteristics will not be inherited. And that's the end. That's where natural selection overrules thermodynamic selection.
If an organism with low dissipation (entropy production) produces more offspring than an organism with high dissipation, and this dissipation property is at least partly genetic, then the frequency of this property in the population will increase. Non-random representation of genetic differences in future generations is called natural selection. Natural selection (and a view other principles in population genetics such as drift) is sufficient to explain the properties of organisms given their environment.

gliding storks gain height for free (source)
see stunning beautiful video (16 secs)

Not Wasting Energy

There is a deep problem with thermodynamic selection. If thermodynamic dissipation means using and wasting as much energy as possible, then thermodynamic selection is refuted. In the animal world there is a rule of thumb: if you waste energy you are a loser [3], [5]. A good demonstration of the principle is the seasonal migration of birds. Like sailplanes, hang gliders, para-gliders, European white storks use rising air (thermals or ridge lift, gliding) to gain height (see picture and video). The storks subsequently glide for free downwards and forwards to travel a great distance and locate another column of rising air to gain height again. 
White storks exploiting thermals. © Science 25 May 2018


Of course they could simply use muscle power to travel in a straight line to their destination, but that would be very costly energetically. That would be stupid. Energy is not for free. Birds  do not fly "to benefit entropy production". They would not make the thousands of kilometers of their seasonal migration. The migration of birds has been compared to the Olympic Games because of the high physical demands of a non-stop flight for thousands kilometers. Especially in birds but also in planes, the need to be as lightweight as possible is easy to understand. One could store as much fuel as possible, but that increases weight and that is a disadvantage. The point is to store just enough energy and use it efficiently. That is: don't waste energy. The anatomy, physiology and behavior of birds is organized around this principle. And that refutes the idea that dissipation (entropy production) is maximized (10).

The problems with Michaelian's  view are connected to the question what life is. In contrast to free-floating molecules (pigments) in solution, cells and organisms are almost by definition not directly governed by physical forces. Bacteria, plants and animals do not spontaneously arise from abiotic materials under the influence of physical forces. Proto-life could. The big difference is that life contains inherited structures that harness energy from the environment. Metabolism is under genetic control. These structures make life to a large extent autonomous. Life is not at the mercy of thermodynamics. Molecules are. Bénard cells, Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, etc. are spontaneous, dynamic, temporary structures exclusively governed by physical forces. Life enjoys a structural permanence not present in dead non-equilibrium thermodynamic systems. It doesn't make sense to say that organisms are controlled by a 'local thermodynamic flow'. Energy (food) has to be actively searched, captured and digested. So, one cannot extrapolate from the fundamental molecules of life ('UV pigments') which obey the laws of physics and chemistry, to cells and organisms. Organisms circumvent the laws of physics in ingenious ways. Drop a dead bird, and it falls to the ground in agreement with the law of gravity. Drop a living bird and it flies away. That's life.

I think the value of Karo Michaelian's theory is in the application to single molecules especially at the origin of life, and the origin and replication of DNA. But there is more. KM has more ideas than a whole team of experts can evaluate. He has a list of no less than 16 paradigms in need of reform (chapter 19). Among them The RNA world hypothesis, Metabolism or Replication first, The Last Universal Common Ancestor, The Great Oxygenation Event, the Hydrothermal Vent Origin of Life, Pigments provide photo-protection, Photosynthesis is optimized in nature, and Panspermia. Additionally: homochirality (chapter 14). So, it is clear that he is far more than 'just another critic of evolution'. I personally like original writers the most. Right or wrong. It is intellectual entertainment. And yes, while reading, thinking, and writing, the brain produces a lot of entropy.


  1. Freeman and Herron (2007) Evolutionary Analysis, fourth edition. Chapter 3.2 'Evolution by natural Selection' (p.76,77,). They list 4 postulates of natural selection and how each of them is tested. On page 93 under the heading 'Fitness is Not Circular' the tautology problem is discussed explicitly.  Required reading! See homepage of my WDW website and the Introduction page for an overview of Evolution textbooks.
  2. In chapter 19 two sections deal with natural selection: 19.2 and 19.8. These should be severely updated and united in one section. Or deleted altogether. Please note that there is no 'natural selection' in the Glossary of technical terms! So, it is undefined in his book!
  3. "if you waste energy you are a loser" are my words, but something very similar is stated by John Tyler Bonner (2006) Why Size Matters, (p.123-): "There is also a constant selection, no matter what the size, for greater [physiological] efficiency." KM: you should seek a connection with metabolism theory. There has been a lot of research on metabolism rates in the animal world. Interesting theory: Rate of living theory: "Support for this theory has been bolstered by studies linking a lower basal metabolic rate (evident with a lowered heartbeat) to increased life expectancy." So, rate of metabolism is under genetic and evolutionary control, and is not simply dictated by physical laws.
  4. Coincidentally, the first sentence in an article about ribosomes in Science 18 May 2018 reads: "From an evolutionary perspective, life involves two simple goals: survival and reproduction." There is, however, a subtle difference between goal and purpose: goals can be measured whereas purposes cannot be measured. (source) [added 18 May 2018]
  5. In an article in Science, 25 May 2018 ("From local collective behavior to global migratory patterns in white storks") it is stated: "Similar to other large-bodied soaring migrants, white storks try to reduce the amount of energetically costly flapping flight by exploiting their atmospheric surroundings." The birds traveled 1000 km during the first 5 days of their migratory journey! Why would the authors use words as "flight costs"? See also this publication: 'The roller coaster flight strategy of bar-headed geese conserves energy during Himalayan migrations'. Science 347, 250–254 (2015). In biology this is all bloody obvious for many years. [added 26 May 2018 ]
  6. The "will to survive" is present in popular science books. For example Steven Pinker writes: "The struggle to stay alive is the primal urge of animate beings." (chapter 5 of Enlightenment now). In evolutionary biology this 'struggle to stay alive' is not an explanation of Darwinian evolution, but an adaptive behavior which is explained by average reproductive success of individuals. So this behavior is an effect, not the cause. It is not primary, but secondary. Compare: "the will to find a partner and have sex" or "why sex is fun". 'Sex is fun' explains why individuals have sex (proximate cause), but differential reproductive success explains why sex is fun (ultimate cause).  Karo confuses proximate and ultimate causes. elementary error. [added 26 May 2018 ]
  7. survival of the fittest: "But it is only that phrase that is tautological; there is nothing tautological about the concept of “fitness”, nor about natural selection. The phrase “survival of the fittest” is not part of a formal statement of Darwinism for that reason: it is a redundant phrase that adds nothing." (coelsblog) [added 30 May 2018]
  8. "An example showing that some kind of natural selection is indeed a force for change in the biological world is the rather recent discovery of bacteria acquiring resistance to our existing arsenal of antibiotics. (...) This appears to be incontrovertible evidence in favor of the theory of evolution through natural selection." (...) "but (...) is neither an accurate nor a useful description of the evolutive process and is insufficient to betray the underlying physical-chemical mechanism of evolution."  (p.299-300). [added 31 May 2018]
  9. Tautology: Newton's first law can easily be formulated as a tautology: "In particular, there have been complaints that Newton’s first law is circular. It says that force-free bodies move in straight lines or stay at rest, but how do you know that they’re force-free? Well, it’s because they move in straight lines or stay at rest.", Scientific American, 5 Sep 2023
  10. "Natural selection has been hugely concerned with minimizing the thermodynamic cost of computation. It will do all it can to reduce the total amount of computation a cell must perform." Philip Ball (2024) How Life Works. chapter 9. 26 Feb 2024



28 May 2018

Here are 3 page scans from Freeman and Herron (see note 1). They show that there is no mysterious metaphysical implicit "will to survive" and no tautology:
  1. page 76, chapter 3.2 Evolution by Natural Selection, with 4 postulates
  2. page 77
  3. page 93 with heading Fitness is Not Circular



30 Mar 2022


The idea that living organisms optimize or maximize heat dissipation in stead of reproductive output is just as wrong as saying that the purpose of computers is to maximize heat dissipation in stead of computational efficiency. Now physicists  have proposed a new way to carry out computation that would dissipate only a small fraction of the heat produced by conventional circuits. 

Source: ‘Momentum Computing’ Pushes Technology’s Thermodynamic Limits, Scientific American, March 29, 2022

Dissipated heat is a waste of energy and is harmful for the computer. The core processor could melt down. Until now computer manufacturers tried to solve overheating with fans. New is that researchers are trying to prevent heat production. That is the opposite of Michaelian's claim.


01 May 2018

Thermodynamic Dissipation Theory of the Origin and Evolution of Life by Karo Michaelian. A review by Gert Korthof.

Karo Michaelian
'Thermodynamic Dissipation Theory
of the Origin and Evolution of Life',
12th printing, March 2017

What if somebody told you that a deadly substance such as radioactivity or UV light  actually was involved in the origin of life? 

We all know that a small amount of UV-C light could instantly kill most present day micro-organisms and viruses [27, 32, 37]. We all know that the ozone shield is vitally important to life because it absorbs biologically harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun [24]. We all know that melanin in our skin absorbs the energy of UV light and shields our cells from the radiation’s harmful effects [31]. Geneticists know that Ultraviolet light can damage DNA [25,26,36]. If we know all this, how on Earth could somebody think that UV light plays a role, let alone a key-role, in the origin of life? You probably think such a person is ignorant or a genius.

There is such a person in Mexico. It is physicist Karo Michaelian. He called his theory Thermodynamic Dissipation Theory of the Origin and Evolution of Life. His view of life is a radical new theory about life and evolution based on the theory of dissipative systems. A dissipative system is a thermodynamically open system which is operating far from equilibrium in an environment with which it exchanges energy and matter. Examples of dissipative systems are hurricanes and living organisms. I am intrigued. I want to know more about it. Even if the theory only partially solved the origin of life, it would be a great contribution to science.

UV-resistant RNA and DNA

Michaelian applies the theory of dissipative systems to the origin of life with interesting results. He points out that [1] both RNA and DNA are exceptionally strong absorbers and extremely rapid dissipaters of ultraviolet light UV-C (230–290 nm) [2]. They do this within a picosecond, which is extremely fast (one millionth of one millionth of a second). There are no known other biotic or abiotic molecules that have this property, he claims. UV-C light from the sun could have penetrated the prebiotic atmosphere 4 to 2.5 billion years ago. The reason is that the ozone-layer (ozone shield) did not exist at the time [3], so UV-C light could not be absorbed by the ozone layer. This is before the origin of life. So, Michaelian suggests that DNA and RNA have those exceptional properties because they could resist the UV-C light of those days. In other words: DNA and RNA (especially the 5 bases) were thermodynamically selected. They were stable under those harsh conditions. If DNA and RNA have indeed those properties it makes sense that they were selected. Not only DNA and RNA: "There are also many other vestiges remaining in the fundamental molecules of life pointing to a UV-C environment at, or very near, the beginnings of life which would also have to be considered as mere accidents or coincidences..." (p. 307). This all makes sense and this is one of the potential valuable contributions to the Origin of Life field [28].

So, the explanation of why DNA has been 'chosen' as the hereditary molecule, is that it has been thermodynamically selected at a time 4 to 2.5 billion years ago. A relic of the past. This seems plausible because all molecules of those days must necessarily have been very resistant to UV light. One cannot call it natural selection, because we are talking here about non-living non-reproducing molecules. I guess other molecules were destroyed, but Michaelian does not tell us much about what happened for example with amino acids, peptides, proteins, lipids, sugars, etc. in those days.

Now we have short sequences of DNA or RNA. But that is not life. DNA should be replicated. Michaelian has ideas about that too ('Ultraviolet and Temperature Assisted Replication'). Still, this does not amount to life. But all other Origin of Life researches face the same problem. Michaelian is not the only scientist claiming a role for UV light.  John D. Sutherland reports that his team created nucleic acid precursors starting with just hydrogen cyanide (HCN), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and ultraviolet (UV) light [4]. I don't know what the specific role of UV is in their scenario.

I am not an expert on these matters, so I have to rely on the opinion of Origin of Life researchers. I found a few isolated remarks which seem to support Michaelian. For example Koonin et al (2006): "... suggest that photosynthesis originated in the cyanobacterial lineage under the selective pressures of UV light and depletion of electron donors". That is similar to the main claim of Michaelian. There is a short supporting remark in Leslie Orgel (1973) [5]. However, these are a few isolated remarks. Almost universally, when in the Origin of Life and evolution literature UV light or the ozone layer is mentioned, UV light is harmful. For example: "the damaging effects of solar UV, which was orders-of-magnitude stronger in the absence of the ozone shield than it is now" (source). And: "Skin cells that produced a pigment called melanin were advantaged because melanin is a natural sunscreen; it absorbs the energy of UV light and shields cells from the radiation’s harmful effects." ( source ).
Famous origin-of-life researcher Cairns-Smith wrote: "It is being realised too that ultraviolet sunlight is even better at destroying middle-sized organic molecules than at making them" [6]. On the other hand, if UV creates ozone O3 from O2 that seems to be a creative process. Maybe that is a clue [17].

UV induces thymine dimer lesion in DNA ©wikipedia

Returning to our remarks at the beginning of this blog. How is it possible that DNA and RNA are UV-resistant and yet are damaged by UV? It still remains puzzling that UV light causes mutations [22], [23], causes skin cancer [7], [20], skin aging [33] and is widely used as an sterilization method (anti-bacterial, anti-viral [29]), is implicated in mass extinctions [8], and at the same time  –according to Karo Michaelian– is instrumental in the production of the first molecules of life and at the same time according to mainstream science small amounts UVB radiation help synthesize vitamin D. How does this all fit together? Is it possible that proto-life was not damaged, but life today is damaged by UV? [19].

I would like to see experimental results with UV-C induced DNA and RNA synthesis published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Such an experiment would not be too complicated I guess. If successful that would be a major breakthrough in the origin of life field.


Poor Photosynthesis

Now the most remarkable claim of all. Applying his theory to photosynthesis: Karo Michaelian observes that photon dissipation into heat accounts for 99,9% of the free energy in sunlight and only 0,1% is used for photo-synthesis (p.70, p.312) [9]. This is a crucial fact in his thinking:

"This represents an extremely poor efficiency for a photosynthetic system that has had the opportunity to evolve for at least 3,500 million years considering that humans have developed systems capable of converting up to 40% of the free energy in sunlight into usable electrical energy within only 40 years of technological innovation." (p.312)
Michaelian concludes from these data that not photosynthesis, but photon dissipation into heat has the highest priority of plant species. It is not natural selection that rewards plant species with the highest photosynthetic efficiency, but it is the law of dissipative systems that selects plants with the highest dissipation [10], [11]. Needless to say this is completely against the common sense and evolutionary biology [12], [35].

His entire argument hinges on the assumption that it is possible to distinguish optimization of biomass production from optimization of the conversion of visible light into infrared light (heat). He claims thermodynamic dissipation is optimized and photosynthesis is not. However, if both processes are necessarily connected, then it is not possible to distinguish between the two, let alone to point to the one that is optimized! I think that they are two aspects of the same process. Two points of view that can not conflict and are both true.
Obviously, Michaelian would counter that the number 0,1% is decisive. It is just too small to be an optimum [18]. But the number alone is cannot be decisive. We need to know whether is physically, chemically and biology possible at all to have a significantly higher efficiency. How can we know this? Comparing photosynthesis with solar panels is certainly no good. The purpose of solar panels is electricity production and nothing else. Plants do not produce electricity. In contrast with solar panels, photosynthesis means synthesis of carbon compounds (sugars) using CO2 + H2O + photons. Solar panels are not in the business of synthesizing carbon compounds. So, that comparison is wrong.

The conclusion that 0,1% is too low, is just as wrong as concluding from the fact that 98% of the human genome is non coding, that the function of the human genome is garbage collection. Or conclude from the high energy consumption of the brain that the purpose of the brain is heat production. Or conclude from the inefficiency of light bulbs and fossil fuel cars that the main purpose is heat production [16].

If the percentage 0,1% is true (it is not: 30), it clearly would be enough for all life on earth. More than 7 billion people and as many of cats, dogs, cattle and wild animals depend on photosynthesis. 

A better idea would be comparing natural photosynthesis with artificial photosynthesis [21].The highest reported efficiency for artificial photosynthesis lab prototypes is 22.4%. However, plants are efficient in using CO2 at atmospheric concentrations, something that artificial catalysts still cannot perform (wikipedia). (Plants cannot control CO2 in the atmosphere!). So, until now natural photosynthesis still outperforms artificial photosynthesis. 
Even if humans could significantly improve artificial photosynthesis, it would be comparable to improving milk production in cattle. It would not prove that milk production of wild cattle is inefficient. There are evolutionary and ecological reasons for this.

Improving Photosynthetic Efficiency for Greater Yield
In modern evolutionary theory the definition of fitness is reproductive success. (I will return to that and what Karo Michaelian writes about it in the next blog). If photosynthesis would be the only factor determining reproductive success it is expected to be optimized or even maximized. But photosynthesis is not the only factor. For example Nitrogen availability is an important factor for growth (source). And there are other ways to enhance biomass production. Plants can make few bigger leaves, or many smaller leaves. It at all depends on the design specifications: for a shadow environment or the bright sun? Also CO2 is a limiting factor for photosynthesis and is out of control of a plant. Life history theory aims to explain the facts that different organisms have different strategies for growth and reproduction. Weeds (annuals) have fast growth and short lives, trees have slow growth, live long and invest heavily in non-photosynthetic wood en root system [13]. Bamboo is a famous fast growing plant [14] (whatever the photosynthetic efficiency).

Even if photosynthesis were the only factor in evolutionary fitness, it would not necessarily mean that the efficiency would be high. The reason is that there is enough sunlight. Literally more than enough. Whenever there is more than enough of a resource, there is no reason to have high efficiencies. "Crop leaves exposed to full sunlight absorb more light than they can use. If they can’t get rid of this extra energy, it will actually bleach the leaf. Chemical changes within the leaf allow the excess energy to be dissipated as heat, in a process called nonphotochemical quenching (NPQ)" (source). I think this is  an important reason why the efficiency is 'low'. See also: Photo-inhibition, photoprotection.

Thermodynamic Limit. There is an intriguing reason why photosynthesis is not 100% efficient: thermodynamics! (see figure above). There is a Thermodynamic Limit: "At the reaction centers, thermodynamics limit the amount of energy available to do photosynthetic work."! (source), (source). I would like Karo Michaelian's comments! As a physicist he should be able to enlighten us.

Conclusion. The function of photosynthesis is carbon fixation: the most fundamental biological reaction which incorporates carbon atoms into organic molecules starting with carbon dioxide. Without carbon fixation no plants, no animals, no biosphere. We animals cannot live from the sun! We need photosynthesis because of the food it produces for us. We don't care if plants produce entropy when we are hungry. We cannot eat entropy.
However, his thermodynamic view is not wrong. All organisms are open thermodynamic systems that necessarily produce entropy: bacteria, plants and animals. Michaelian unnecessarily claims that Darwinian natural selection contradicts his 'thermodynamic selection', and natural selection should be replaced by 'thermodynamic selection'. More on that in the next blog. In this respect his views are over the top. He pushed it too far. That's a pity.

Michaelian cites another two experiments purportedly proving his theory. The first is 'A maximum hypothesis of transpiration in plants' (ref 392). This won't work in a hot, dry climate because plants would die if the tried to maximize evaporation. Second: 'Inactive Photosystem II Complexes in Leaves' (ref 47). However, the authors of the article conclude: "Although there are two few data to answer the question of whether inactive centers serve a useful role in photosynthesis, for example in photoinhibition, development, or otherwise, ..." (GK: 'two' must be 'too'). So, there is more research required to find out their functions.
    In the end reading his book is a pleasure and is not a wast of time. It contains many illustrations, more than 400 notes, a detailed index, glossary and is very cheap for a scientific book. His alternative view of life may be unusual, even weird, it highlights facts which are not yet well explained by Darwinian theory such as why plants devote resources to the synthesis of reaction centers that apparently do not contribute to carbon fixation (p. 312) and the red-edge effect. I was not familiar with these facts.

    Genetically modified plants are better able to make
    use of the limited sunlight available when
     their leaves go into the shade (source)

    Others about Dissipative Systems and Life

      To my surprise physicist Jeremy England [34] said "when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy". This is the same idea as Michaelian.
        Also to my surprise Eric Schneider and Dorion Sagan (2005) Into the Cool use often the same idea and wordings as Karo Michaelian. This one is beautiful:
        "Go out and observe trees, and you will see living dissipative systems stretching skyward to capture available solar energy. ... This process is the result of the thermodynamic imperative to degrade the quality of the incoming solar energy as completely as possible." "Plants are perhaps the most advanced instrument yet evolved for degrading incoming solar radiation." (p.220).
          Michaelian certainly would agree.

          Postscript: 100% quantum efficiency

          "Photosynthetic light harvesting can achieve a quantum efficiency that approaches 100% (that is, the conversion of 100 photons of light into 100 chemically available electrons), and yet it displays notable robustness in the face of ever-changing external light conditions. (...) revealed the first hints of a simple, seemingly universal set of rules that define the robustness of natural light harvesters. These rules should inform the design of future solar technology." Science  26 Jun 2020

          So, humans can learn from a 3,5 billion year old invention called fotosynthesis! Quite the opposite of what Karo Michaelian claims!


          PART 2:

          Review of Karo Michaelian's Thermodynamic Dissipation Theory. Darwin and Natural Selection

          Review of Karo Michaelian's Thermodynamic Dissipation Theory, PART 2. Darwin and Natural Selection, 16 May 2018


          1. He points out that: See wikipedia article 'Abiogenesis'. The wording, the language, the style of the section 'Thermodynamic dissipation' are the same as in Karo Michaelian's book. So, probably Karo Michaelian wrote that section. It is a summary of the theory that only its author could have written. Or: it is a copy&paste work of somebody else.
          2. UV-C: Today UV light is used to kill bacteria! See: wikipedia article Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation and Germicidal lamp.  On the wikipage DNA there is nothing about DNA's exceptional resistance to UV-C. On the contrary: wikipedia tells us that UV-B damages DNA and causes mutations.
          3. Ozone layer appeared when oxygen levels were high enough (Great Oxygenation Event)
          4. Common origins of RNA, protein and lipid precursors in a cyanosulfidic protometabolism Nature Chemistry volume 7, pages 301-307 (2015)
          5. L.E. Orgel (1973) The Origins of Life,  p. 117: "However, it has been shown that if hydrogen sulfide or formaldehyde were present in sufficient quantities in the atmosphere, they could have absorbed a much larger amount of ultraviolet energy and made it available for the synthesis of organic compounds." but also here: "ozone absorbs ultraviolet light strongly ... otherwise men would be subjected to very harmful doses of ultraviolet light."(p.117). There there seems to be universal agreement  (1) there was no ozone layer at the origin of life, (2) UV light was hitting the earth surface, (3) UV is harmful. (added 2 May 2018)
          6. A. G. Cairns-Smith Seven clues to the origin of Life, 1985, p. 42.
          7. "No type of UV radiation has been shown to be safe – cancers have developed after exposure to UVA (alone), UVB (alone), and UVC (alone)." Source: Does UV radiation cause cancer? from the website www.cancer.org of the American Cancer Society. So, this is a serious source. Further, see the website of the Skin Cancer Foundation: UVC isn't a concern for skin cancer.
          8. See chapter 4: An ancient ozone catastrophe? in: David Beerling (2007) The Emerald Planet. (my review).
          9. p.70: KM quotes the lowest Photosynthetic efficiency. But it ranges from 0,1% – 1% to 2% (crops). Nonetheless: it seems to be low. KM emphasizes that everybody ignores this fact (p. 283). This is not true: "a surprising small amount of that energy is turned photosynthetically into biomass." (Eric Schneider, Dorion Sagan (2005) Into the Cool, p.221) however these authors don't draw very dramatic conclusions from this fact.
          10. "Instead, if plants and other photosynthetic organisms have evolved to optimize dissipation rather than photosynthesis ...". (page 234).
          11. Plants could not exist without carbon fixation. If carbon fixation is against universal law of dissipation-maximization then photosynthesis could not have originated in the first place.
          12. The 'purpose' of photosynthesis is the synthesis of carbon-compounds as glucose and ATP. Carbon-based life could not exist without photosynthesis.
          13. Photosynthetic efficiency is not a fixed number. For example the photosynthetic efficiency  of oak forests drops from 1.5% - 1.7% at ages between 20 - 40 years to 0.4% at the age of 200 years (Schneider and Sagan, 2005, p.221).
          14. Growth pattern and photosynthetic activity of different bamboo species growing in the Botanical Garden of Rome.
          15. The tile of this blog 'The Origin of Species by Means of Thermodynamic Selection' is of course a paraphrase of Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection'.
          16. added May 2 2018: I couldn't believe when I first heard that the fuel efficiency of a fossil fuel car was only 25%! An invention some 100 years on the market! 
          17. remark added May 2 2018
          18. If you believe in intelligent design: the extremely low efficiency of photosynthesis is an insult to the Creator. Creation is perfect. So, it must have happened right after the fall. Before the fall plants had a maximum efficiency only constrained by the laws of physics. (added 3 May 2018)
          19. In an email 17 May 2018 Karo Michaelian wrote: "in the book I do in fact "explain why in contrast to mainstream opinion UV is not harmful". I do that particularly in sections 4.2 (Of Pigments and Protectionism) and 19.13 (Pigments Provide Protection) and in many other places throughout the book."  [added 17 May 2018
          20. "By 1964, the biologists Robert Painter and Ronald Rasmussen had discovered that UV irradiation of mammalian cells led to a phenomenon that they interpreted as excision repair" (Nature, 31 May 2018). See also: UV-sensitivity disorders, Photosensitivity, Cockayne syndromeXeroderma pigmentosum (= inability to repair damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) light). [added 31 May 2018]
          21. I blogged earlier on the efficiency of photosynthesis: Bas Haring over de inefficiëntie van fotosynthese (4) in which I discuss Robert E. Blankenship et al (2011) Comparing Photosynthetic and Photovoltaic Efficiencies and Recognizing the Potential for Improvement, Science 13 mei 2011. [added 7 Jun 2018]
          22. There is too much literature on cellular responses to ultraviolet-C radiation to summarize here. For example: p53 becomes activated in response to myriad stressors, including but not limited to DNA damage (induced by either UV, IR, or chemical agents such as hydrogen peroxide). [17 Oct 2019]
          23. Lethal and Sub-lethal Effects of UVB on Juvenile Biomphalaria glabrata (Mollusca: Pulmonata). UVB (290–320 nm). Wild-type (pigmented) snails are less susceptible to lethal effects of UVB than albino snails. [23 Oct 2019]
          24. "Some of the most notorious are the chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) coolants used for refrigeration and foam production. These destroy the ozone layer, the shield that protects life on Earth from damaging ultraviolet light." The chemists policing Earth’s atmosphere for rogue pollution, Nature, 22 Jan 2020
          25. Antonio Conconi, Brendan Bell (2017) The long and short of a DNA-damage response, Nature volume 545, pages165-166 (2017): "Ultraviolet light can damage DNA, triggering a general shutdown of gene transcription – yet some genes are activated by UV light." Added: 26 Mar 2020
          26. "The coronavirus, 2019-nCoV is sensitive to ultraviolet rays and heat" from: General questions COVID-19. Prevention and Control. 13 Apr 2020
          27. "Far-UVC, which has a very short wavelength, cannot reach or damage living human cells. But the narrow band wavelength can still penetrate and kill very small viruses and bacteria floating in the air or on surfaces." quoted from: Carla Cantor Could a New Ultraviolet Technology Fight the Spread of Coronavirus? Columbia University in the City of New York, April 21, 2020
          28. In 2020 researchers "identified a network of reactions promoted by ultraviolet light that resulted in the synthesis of two of the standard nucleosides found in RNA: uridine (U) and cytidine (C), which are collectively known as pyrimidines." Furthermore, UV has a role in "producing only the biologically relevant isomers of the purines." from: How DNA and RNA subunits might have formed to make the first genetic alphabet, Nature 3 Jun 2020
          29. Researchers compared influenza rates in patients in TB buildings with and without UV lights during the 1957-58 pandemic. In the rooms without UV, 19% got the flu; in rooms with UV lights only 2% became infected. Michael Greger (2020) How to survive a pandemic. page 726/2247. [20 Jun 2020]
          30. In: Optimizing Antenna Size to Maximize Photosynthetic Efficiency: "The theoretical upper limit for the operational efficiency of plant photosynthesis has been estimated from a detailed stepwise analysis of the biophysical and biochemical subprocesses to be about 4.6% for C3 and 6.0% C4 plants. (These estimates assume a leaf temperature of 30°C and an atmospheric [CO2] of 387 ppm and were calculated relative to the full solar spectrum at the earth’s surface. These efficiencies would be slightly more than double if calculated relative to only the photosynthetically active radiation [i.e. 400–700 nm.]." that would be: 9.2% and 12.0% respectively. Karo does not mention these numbers. He sticks to 0,1%! That is up to 120 times lower! 25 Aug 2020 
          31. "The epidermis is the skin’s outermost layer. Just 0.1 millimetres thick, the epidermis is battered by mutation-promoting ultraviolet rays over a person’s lifetime, and is the origin of the vast majority of skin cancers". Seeds of cancer in normal skin, Nature 07 October 2020 
          32. New species of water bear uses fluorescent ‘shield’ to survive lethal UV radiation, Science 13 Oct 2020. "a germicidal UV lamp dose of 1 kilojoule per square meter killed bacteria and roundworms after just 5 minutes"  "It’s likely, scientists say, that the tardigrades evolved fluorescence as a means to tolerate the high doses of UV typical for hot summer days in southern India."
            13 Oct 2020
          33. Photoaging is a term used for the characteristic changes to skin induced by chronic UVA and UVB exposure, see wikipedia article: Photoaging 16 Oct 2020
          34. Jeremy England has now published about this: 'Every Life is on Fire. How Thermodynamics Explains the Origins of Living Things' 92020), Basic. 8 Nov 2020 
          35. However, an article 'Soybean photosynthesis and crop yield are improved by accelerating recovery from photoprotection' Science 19 Aug 2022 writes: "Plants protect themselves from too much sun by dissipating excess light energy."  and: "Crop leaves in full sunlight dissipate damaging excess absorbed light energy as heat. This protective dissipation continues after the leaf transitions to shade, reducing crop photosynthesis." So, plants adjust photosynthesis and dissipation according to light intensity. The study proves this adjustment is under genetic control. Karo views plants just as dead things. 19 Aug 2022. 
          36. Aziz Sancar - investigating how cells repair UV damage by Nobelprize organization. 2015. "The molecular machinery that excises UV damage from human DNA is more complex than its bacterial counterpart but, in chemical terms, nucleotide excision repair functions similarly in all organisms."
          37. "In her first experiment as a graduate student, Evelyn set out to generate mutations by treating E. coli strain B with ultraviolet light (UV). There was no previous information on the UV sensitivity of E. coli, so she selected a relatively high dose, which killed all but four colonies of cells." She demonstrated that the E. coli B/r strain was resistant to both UV and x-rays. Evelyn M. Witkin (1921–2023), Science 7 Sep 2023 [8 Sep 2023]