Is the Emergence Of Life An Expected Phase Transition In The Evolving Universe?

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
January 22, 2024
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Is the Emergence Of Life An Expected Phase Transition In The Evolving Universe?
A small molecule collectively autocatalytic set with no DNA, RNA, or peptide polymers in a prokaryote. Similar small molecule autocatalytic sets are found in all 6700 prokaryotes. Presumably the phylogeny among these is part of the evolution of metabolism. — q-bio.PE

We propose a novel definition of life in terms of which its emergence in the universe is expected, and its ever-creative open-ended evolution is entailed by no law. Living organisms are Kantian Wholes that achieve Catalytic Closure, Constraint Closure, and Spatial Closure.

We here unite for the first time two established mathematical theories, namely Collectively Autocatalytic Sets and the Theory of the Adjacent Possible. The former establishes that a first-order phase transition to molecular reproduction is expected in the chemical evolution of the universe where the diversity and complexity of molecules increases; the latter posits that, under loose hypotheses, if the system starts with a small number of beginning molecules, each of which can combine with copies of itself or other molecules to make new molecules, over time the number of kinds of molecules increases slowly but then explodes upward hyperbolically.

Together these theories imply that life is expected as a phase transition in the evolving universe. The familiar distinction between software and hardware loses its meaning in living cells. We propose new ways to study the phylogeny of metabolisms, new astronomical ways to search for life on exoplanets, new experiments to seek the emergence of the most rudimentary life, and the hint of a coherent testable pathway to prokaryotes with template replication and coding.

Stuart Kauffman, Andrea Roli

Subjects: Populations and Evolution (q-bio.PE); Biological Physics (
Cite as: arXiv:2401.09514 [q-bio.PE] (or arXiv:2401.09514v1 [q-bio.PE] for this version)
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Submission history
From: Stuart Kauffman
[v1] Wed, 17 Jan 2024 15:22:32 UTC (1,654 KB)

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻