The average person would probably list four things: air, food, water, and light/warmth. Some people might also say that a human being requires a planet such as Earth underneath his feet. But we can imagine humans living indefinitely in a wheel-shaped space station that rotated to provide artificial gravity. We might say that the requirements for the indefinite survival of a human being are:
- Gravity (either
artificial or planetary)
Are these all of the requirements for human beings to live for an indefinite length of time? Most people would probably answer: yes. But actually there are two more requirements that the average person would not think of, two things that are absolutely necessary for our existence. They are both laws of nature that allow us to exist.
The first requirement is what is called the strong nuclear force, which is the force that binds protons and neutrons together in the nucleus. Were it not for such a force, no type of atomic nucleus other than a hydrogen nucleus could hold together, and there could be no carbon or oxygen in our bodies. The second requirement is the electromagnetic force, causing a repulsion between protons and protons and between electrons and electrons, and an attraction between protons and electrons. If there were no electromagnetic force, the type of chemistry we see in living things would be impossible.
So we can now expand our list of requirements for the current existence of human beings:
- Gravity (either
artificial or planetary)
- The strong nuclear force
- The electromagnetic force
Let us consider the question of the density of space. We intuitively think that outer space should be just completely empty. But quantum mechanics tells us something completely different than our intuitions on this matter, as you can read about by doing a Google search for the term "vacuum catastrophe." According to quantum field theory, every unit of space should be teeming with short-lived virtual particles that pop in and out of existence. According to quantum field theory, there should be so many of these virtual particles that at any given instant any cubic meter of ordinary space should be incredibly dense, even denser than steel. The scientific paper here mentions a figure of 10111 Joules per cubic meter for the energy density that should exist everywhere, according to one way of calculating things. That is a density many, many orders of magnitude greater than the density of steel. But somehow the reality we experience is totally different from what there should be according to quantum mechanics. Ordinary space is at least 10 to the sixtieth power less dense than predicted by quantum field theory. Of course, if ordinary space were anywhere near as dense as predicted by quantum field theory, life would be impossible (just as it would be impossible to live inside the denser-than-steel density of a neutron star).
Given such a situation, there would seem to a strong basis for suspecting that life has an additional dependency: a dependency on a kind of "vacuum correction" force that continually gets rids of all the quantum mechanical vacuum nastiness, allowing relatively empty space. Such a force would have to be acting continuously, just like the strong nuclear force and electromagnetism.
When we leave the realm of physics, and delve into biology, we find some additional reasons for suspecting that life may depend on some mysterious force or agency. The first of these reasons is the fact of protein folding. Our DNA specifies the linear polypeptide sequences of more than 20,000 proteins used by the human body. But such proteins have intricate three-dimensional shapes, and there is no good evidence that DNA specifies the three-dimensional shape of any protein. The diagram below shows the difference between a polypeptide chain and a protein that results from that chain after protein folding occurs.
Where does the three-dimensional shape of a protein come from when protein folding occurs? For a long time, scientists have assumed that the three-dimensional shape of the protein is somehow a consequence of the one-dimensional sequence of amino acids in the necklace-like polypeptide chain. If such a thing were true, then it would be fairly easy for scientists to predict the three-dimensional shape of a protein from the polypeptide chain specified in DNA. But scientists are still unable to do that, even though they have tried very hard to do this for decades.
For many years, there has been a bi-annual competition in which scientists try to predict the three-dimensional shape of a protein after having been given only its one-dimensional polypeptide chain. When they are limited to “ab initio” predictions that cannot rely on information databases about protein shapes, the predictions of scientists still are poor for any of the more complex proteins. This would not be true if the three-dimensional shape of a protein was somehow a consequence of that protein's polypeptide chain specified in DNA.
Astonishingly, a strong case can be made that the three-dimensional shapes of proteins are somehow coming from some life force or mysterious biological facility outside of or beyond the human body. It is as if some controlling force outside of the human body was causing the one-dimensional chains of amino acids known as polypeptide chains to fold in just the right way to become three-dimensional protein molecules.
What is astonishing is that both in the case of protein folding and in the case of morphogenesis (the progression from a fertilized egg to a human baby), we seem to have a crucially important structural progression that is almost completely unexplained by modern science. Morphogenesis cannot occur merely by reading instructions from DNA, because contrary to popular misconceptions, DNA does not store any blueprint or sequential list of assembly instructions for making cells or complex organs. DNA is basically just a long sequential list of amino acids, and there seems to be no way of stating in DNA any such thing as a 3D blueprint. See here and here for several reasons why the whole idea of a body plan stored in DNA is erroneous. DNA is like a big stack of cards in which each card simply has printed on it the name of an amino acid. You can't express body plans or 3D blueprints with such a thing. Expressing a body plan would require some language vastly more expressive than the “bare bones,” minimalist, “amino acid” language in which DNA is written.
What goes on in morphogenesis (the progression from a fertilized ovum to a baby) is something currently inexplicable and profoundly mysterious. Somehow a barely visible speck (a fertilized ovum) progresses to become a full baby, but we don't even know from where it gets the body plan for a human being, which is not stored in DNA (something that seems to be mainly an ingredient list, not a structural blueprint).
Given the mystery of protein folding and morphogenesis, in which human bodies seem to receive external information about forms and structures, it is reasonable to assume a radical hypothesis. I can call this idea the hypothesis of continuous life force dependency. According to this hypothesis:
- When humans are growing
in a mother's womb, they receive controlling inputs from some
mysterious external life force, that supplies information on the
human body plan, determining the eventual form of a newborn baby.
- Humans continuously
receive controlling inputs from some mysterious external life force,
which causes protein folding, causing polypeptide chains to fold
into functional three-dimensional shapes.
- Because protein folding
arises from something external to the human body, and is constantly
necessary for human physiology, humans have a continuous dependency
on some mysterious external life force.
- Such a life force may be responsible for other internal bodily processes in addition to protein folding, processes that are not specified by DNA (which does not and cannot specify super-complicated bodily processes).
- Gravity (either artificial or planetary)
- The strong nuclear force
- The electromagnetic force
- Some physics force preventing the quantum "vacuum catastrophe" from making each cubic meter of space too dense for life to exist
- The continuous existence of some mysterious organizing life force, largely responsible for the ongoing organizational effects inside cells (such as protein folding), and also for the stupendous organization effect allowing a fertilized egg to grow to become a full-sized human
Someone might complain that this hypothesis of continuous life-force dependency is unscientific because it could never be confirmed or falsified. Such a complaint is not correct. The hypothesis could be partially falsified if scientists were ever able to master what they have been long working on, the ability to make ab initio predictions of protein folding, predictions that worked with even the most complex proteins. If scientists were to determine chemical factors that allowed them to accurately predict the three-dimensional shapes of protein molecules from the corresponding one-dimensional polypeptide chains, without cheating by using protein databases, then such a thing might remove any need to postulate some external life force involved in protein folding. If that were to happen, it would be a partial falsification of the hypothesis of continuous life force dependency.
Are there any observations that might tend to confirm this hypothesis of continuous life force dependency? I can imagine some hypothetical observations that might do that.
If there is some cosmic life force that acts to aid the origination of complex forms and structure in our body, it might be possible to block such a force. I can imagine an experiment in which animal subjects were placed in some heavily shielded environment, such as a chamber with lead walls five meters thick. Conceivably such shielding might somehow block a cosmic life force from reaching the organisms in the chamber. Then, unexpectedly, the animal subjects might die. In a similar test, animal subjects might be placed in some chamber surrounded by intense electricity or intense magnetism. The electricity or magnetism might block a cosmic life force from reaching the animal subjects in the chamber, and the animal subjects might unexpectedly die.
One possibility is that a life force might be localized rather than existing with the same strength throughout the universe. Conceivably there might be a life force that is very strong here on Earth, but which has diminishing strength the farther you get from Earth. In that case, there might be an astonishing consequence: it might be that astronauts far from Earth might suddenly die in their spaceships, even though there was no malfunction on their spaceships. The deaths could be caused by diminished protein folding caused by the astronauts traveling too far from a life force that diminished the farther you get from Earth. If such an effect were observed on multiple space missions, it might be an observational confirmation of the hypothesis that humans have a continuous dependency on a mysterious life force.
The hypothesis of continuous life force dependency is one that is unlikely to be appealing to the average scientist. But what our scientists would prefer to believe in is not a very important consideration. A much more important consideration is whether a hypothesis is strongly suggested by realities of nature that we cannot explain in conventional ways.
If we evoke a life force to explain organizational effects, it would seem that we must imagine some agency applying rules and principles vastly more complicated than the very simple rules employed by electromagnetism and gravitation. Before anyone knew of computer programming, such agency could only be described as the direct work of a mind. But nowadays there is the possibility of describing such an agency as some kind of programming that might act autonomously according to intelligent rules that were written into the programming.
In his book The world of life : a manifestation of creative power, directive mind and ultimate purpose, Alfred Russel Wallace (co-founder of the theory of evolution by natural selection) made some statements that are quite the opposite of some of the claims of today's champions of such a theory. Below (from page 337 of the book) is one of those statements. As you read the statement, keep in mind that DNA does not specify the physical structure of any of the 200 types of cells in human beings, and that DNA is no answer to the "organized by what" question being raised.
"The cell is now defined as 'a nucleated unit-mass of living protoplasm.' It is not a mere particle of protoplasm, but is an organised structure. We are again compelled to ask, Organised by what? Huxley, as we have seen in Chapter XV., tells us that
life is the organising power ; Kerner termed it a vital
force ; Haeckel, a cell-soul, but unconscious, and he
postulated a similar soul in each organic molecule, and
even in each atom of matter. But none of these verbal
suggestions go to the root of the matter ; none of them
suppose more than some 'force,' and force is a cause of
motion in matter, not a cause of organisation. What we
must assume in this case is not merely a force, but some
agency which can and does so apply, and direct, and guide,
and co-ordinate a great variety of forces mechanical,
chemical, and vital so as to build up that infinitely complex machine, the living organism, which is not only self-
repairing during the normal period of existence, but self-
renewing, self-multiplying, self-adapting to its ever-changing
environment, so as to be, potentially, everlasting. To do
all this, I submit, neither 'life' nor 'vital force' nor the
unconscious 'cell-soul' are adequate explanations. What
we absolutely require and must postulate is, a Mind far
higher, greater, more powerful than any of the fragmentary
minds we see around us, a Mind not only adequate to
direct and regulate all the forces at work in living
organisms, but which is itself the source of all those forces
and energies, as well as of the more fundamental forces
of the whole material universe."
In such a statement, Wallace very much suggests a kind of "continuous life-force dependency" along the lines of the hypothesis suggested here, and suggests that such a thing must be something far more organizational and directive than some simple force such as gravity. Nothing we have learned about DNA invalidates any of Wallace's statement. In fact, since scientists during the past 100 years have continually discovered ever-more-astonishing wonders of organization, coordination and very precise fine-tuned activity most abundantly in cells and organisms, which they have almost entirely failed to credibly explain, Wallace's statement may be more applicable than ever.