|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: Postscript 30 Mar 2022
Will to surviveTwo 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).
- Go to Darwin Online website
- Go to Advanced Search
- type in the field Full Text: "will to survive" (or: "drive to survive", "survival instinct")
- Identifier: empty *)
- Results: No hits
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 . Furthermore, the 'will to survive' is not present in any Evolution textbook . 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 tautologyThe "survival of the survivors tautology" occurs at least 9 times in his book! It must be an important part of his argument.
|Freeman & Herron|
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 . 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 . It seems that Michaelian wants to discredit natural selection as much as possible in order to clear the way for his own thermodynamic selection. 
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 EnergyThere 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 , . 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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!
- "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.
- 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]
- 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 ]
- 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 ]
- 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]
- "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]
- 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.
Postscript28 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:
- page 76, chapter 3.2 Evolution by Natural Selection, with 4 postulates
- page 77
- 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.