Mathematics and Life

Current science views life according to the organic chemistry paradigm, that is, life is made of organic molecules (carbon-based) and water. This paradigm limits our view of where we can find life. Our space probes search for water in liquid form above the freezing point and below the vaporization point. We resist looking for new forms of life in deserts, deep within the rocks themselves, in the coldest ice of Mars, or in the vents of volcanoes. All these conditions are too extreme for liquid water, or stable complex carbon chains.

Written 2001

Formatted 2009


"It's life Jim, but not as we know it."

We propose that a new definition for life be created based in information theory. That the organic chemistry paradigm for life is too limiting has already become evident. The Gaia hypothesis proposes the earth itself has all the self-regulating features of a living organism. Many recognize ecosystems as living entities. Some recognize that complex groups such as ant colonies or even primate societies themselves function as living entities. The Meme hypothesis describes ideas as having lives like viruses. Earth, societies, ideas, none of these things are composed of organic molecules, yet they have the qualities of living entities.


To ask whether something is living is to ask, "what information does it carry? How does it process new information? How does it reproduce the information that it already has? Where does it acquire the energy to process this information? How does the information reprogram the processor?"


Is life too complex for math?

Some have proposed that life science is superior to physics because life is too complex for math. Others have responded that we were slow to discover the appropriate mathematics to apply to life, or that those who prefer life science chose paradigms that are non-mathematical. What have the successes been so far?

Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos

  • Fractals have been used to describe the growth of lung-tissue and capillaries.
  • Strange attractors have been used to analyze brain function and heart health.
  • General system dynamics has been used to discredit Darwinian gradualism and support punctuated equilibrium.
  • Information theory has been used to distinguish between the two different types of sequences within DNA.
  All of this reaches far beyond the much simpler ideas of measuring the pH buffering of the blood, or projecting predator-prey relationships. We can recognize that DNA processes data in base 4 (unlike computers which use base 2, and Americans who use base 10), proteins process information in base 23.
  As shown above, the foundation for a new theory of life based in the mathematics of information and chaos has already been laid. The Life sciences now await a brilliant thinker who can pull these all together. From that point on, our search for new life no longer will be limited to carbon and liquid water. Our search for life will expand to any system far enough out of equilibrium to process information. And our understanding of our own ecosystems, societies, and our minds, individual and group-think, will expand.

Return to: