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MIT Physicist Proposes New "Meaning of Life"

Jeremy England explains how simple physical laws make complex life more likely than not. In other words, it would be more surprising to find no life in the universe than a place like Earth.

MIT physicist Jeremy England claims that life may not be so mysterious after all, despite the fact it is apparently derived from non-living matter. In a new paper, England explains how simple physical laws make complex life more likely than not. In other words, it would be more surprising to find no life in the universe than a buzzing place like planet Earth.


What does all matter—rocks, plants, animals, and humans—have in common? We all absorb and dissipate energy. While a rock absorbs a small amount of energy before releasing what it doesn't use back into the universe, life takes in more energy and releases less. This makes life better at redistributing energy, and the process of converting and dissipating energy is simply a fundamental characteristic of the universe.

[S]imple physical laws make complex life more likely than not.

According to England, the second law of thermodynamics gives life its meaning. The law states that entropy, i.e. decay, will continuously increase. Imagine a hot cup of coffee sitting at room temperature. Eventually, the cup of coffee will reach room temperature and stay there: its energy will have dissipated. Now imagine molecules swimming in a warm primordial ocean. England claims that matter will slowly but inevitably reorganize itself into forms that better dissipate the warm oceanic energy.

[T]he second law of thermodynamics gives life its meaning.

The strength of England's theory is that it provides an underlying physical basis for Darwin's theory of evolution and helps explain some evolutionary tendencies that evolution cannot. Adaptations that don't clearly benefit a species in terms of survivability can be explained thusly: "the reason that an organism shows characteristic X rather than Y may not be because X is more fit than Y, but because physical constraints make it easier for X to evolve than for Y to evolve."

Here is Michio Kaku's concise explanation of the entire physical universe:

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
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Mystery effect speeds up the universe – not dark energy, says study

Russian astrophysicists propose the Casimir Effect causes the universe's expansion to accelerate.

Black hole accretion disk visualization.

Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Jeremy Schnittman
Surprising Science
  • Astrophysicists from Russia propose a theory that says dark energy doesn't exist.
  • Instead, the scientists think the Casimir Effect creates repulsion.
  • This effect causes the expansion of the universe to accelerate.
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Live on Tuesday | Personal finance in the COVID-19 era

Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.

How DNA revealed the woolly mammoth's fate – and what it teaches us today

Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.

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