Random Variations to Biological Choice

Random Variations to Biological Choice

By Heidi Hileman

Isaac Newton's Laws of Motion which he first introduced in his book Principia in 1687, proclaim a deterministic physical world that is in a state of action and reaction without self-direction. Henri Bergson, a Nobel prize winner in literature in 1927, in his book (1910) Creative Evolution declared time could not be unique if it was only defined by deterministic forces. If elements were finite in a world of chemistry that was completing a periodic chart of a limited number of atoms and if the forces that defined them were all those of predictable determinism, then time would repeat itself. If on the other hand time was unique as he believed it was, than at least some of the forces would have to be totally unpredictable to create an ever-new time line. Bergson rejected the idea that there are internal forces and external forces. All forces are external and so for time to be unique there must be physical and well as biological forces that fluctuate. There is fine line between chaotic weather and a bacteria cell that is inclosed in a cell wall exhibiting mutations. The difference between biological life and physical matter was that for life to find duration, it must develop evolutionary vital actions such as adaptability to survive.

Quantum Physics with its collections of elementary particles such as photons, gluons, quarks, electrons and antimatter particles; with properties of "colors" and "flavors"; has accepted there are unpredictable random fluctuations which can be filtered to find probability distribution that create a predictable pattern. An example would be the decay of carbon-14, the carbon radioisotope widely used today to date organic remains. Carbon-14 is formed in the atmosphere by the bombardment of nitrogen by cosmic rays. It is oxidized to carbon dioxide and utilized by plants. The plants, in turn, are ingested by animals. There is a relatively constant level of carbon-14 in living organisms which begins to decay upon death. Archaeologists can predict the age of a once-living organisms through testing the amount of carbon-14 in the remains of bones. The test is accurate up to 40,000 years beyond which modifications must be made. Analogous dating using other radioisotopes can be used for inorganic objects.

While the use of radioisotopes can be used to predict age, the actually decay of radioisotopes are probabilities. The half-life of carbon-14 is 5,700 years. One way to use this information is to say that half of the original carbon-14 in the living body will be gone in 5,700 year. Or for a single radioisotope the chance of its nucleus remaining intake after 5,700 years is 50 percent. While quantum scientists have not been unable to predict the exact moment of disintegration for a single radioisotope; they can, given enough time summing over the entire collection of radioisotopes, arrive at an average that is accurate enough for science to use it for dating.

Answering the question of probability requires a closer look at the world of atoms. There are 6 x 10²³ molecules per gram molecular weight. The atomic weight of carbon is 6. This means that there are more atoms of carbon in 6 grams of carbon, then there are seconds in age of light estimated at 15 billions years. Since each carbon atom is alike in the number electrons, protons and neutrons; we need to discover the hidden variables that separates one atom from another. The immense repetitiveness of the atom makes a true probability, a play of chance very probable. And while it is possible to predict the average life span of an atom, there may still be random fluctuations that could change the time line in a unique way.

Since the advent of Gottfried Leibniz's vis viva equation, biology has been differentiating itself from deterministic physics by claiming biological life-forms have a measure of self-direction. Free will has been one of the great mysteries of life. Choice, however, is easier to explain when inorganic matter exhibits a measure of chance. Even if the probabilities of quantum turn out to be a sum of hidden deterministic variables, the causes may be so insignificant to the biological body on a short term basis, that for all intent and purposes they are probabilities. The subconscious biological body can then evolve itself so as to maximize its options for choice, rather than just chance. Our biology maximizes choice, choice which in turn influences biological evolution: such as the free-will choice of parenting a child, or the environmental and medicinal options or lack thereof that preserve or destroy life.

The potential for choice inherent in our biological nervous system gives us a measure of individuality. Our nervous system works through the principle that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. To understand this we must return to probability theory. Looking at three letters ABC: their sum is three. But the whole can create six permutations of three where order matters: ABC, BCA, CAB, ACB, BAC, CBA; plus 6 more permutations of two letters: AB, BA, AC, CA, BC, CB; as well as three more with each letter listed singly: A, B, C. The sum of ABC is three, but the possible permutations including subsets are 15, and this doesn't include doubles or triples of the same letter. Looking at the entire alphabet of 26 letters, while their sum is 26, there are more possibilities for words than the known age of universe since the last Big Bang. Our nervous system is layered in a connective way that allows for permutations of ideas and actions. We are more limited by the realities of the physicals world, than we are by our ability to conceive of ideas and dreams. This give us our sense of identity and individuality, and in some measure, with biological restrictions, master of our soul and navigator of our own destiny.

© 1999 Heidi Hileman


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