Sara Imari Walker and Paul C. W. Davies have a great paper out that I would like to call attention to. It is called the “The Algorithmic Origins of Life” and can be viewed in its entirety by downloading the PDF. Davies has written a large number of relatively accessible books that deal with some of the big issues like the origin of the universe and the origin of life from a scientific standpoint. He is often called upon in interviews and panels as a sort of intermediary position between believers in God and Creation Science and atheists and scientists. I must caution that this particular paper is relatively technical so I will hit some of the highlights for you.
Theories about the origin of life fall into two general categories – genetics first or metabolism first. Both of these approaches focus mainly on the chemistry of life; however, since genetics and metabolism are both required for life as we know it, this creates a sort of chicken or egg problem. Walker and Davies try to get beyond this problem by redefining the problem in terms of information. They argue that what makes life different from non-life is that in life “information manipulates the matter it is instantiated in.”
Walker and Davies think of the origin of life as a phase transition during which information gains control over the matter that instantiates it. They specifically point to the following hallmarks of life:
Information as a causal agency
Analog and digital information processing
Laws and states co-evolve
Logical structure of a universal constructor
Dual hardware and software roles of genetic material
Physical separation of instructions (algorithms)
from the mechanism that implements the
While we are still left with something of a mystery as to how this phase transition first occurred, Walker and Davies attempt to provide a new way of thinking about the problem.
I think perhaps this approach might be extended to how we think about mind and consciousness. In other words, consciousness is the encoding of information in near real-time just as life itself is the encoding of information in evolutionary time. Consciousness may also be a phase transition during which mind gains a qualitatively different level of control over the matter it is instantiated in from that of genetic and other regulatory information. This to me suggests that consciousness is an almost inevitable outcome of the evolution of living organisms.
This might, in addition, point to some more profound trend in the universe as a whole whereby information becomes increasingly more capable of controlling matter in which it is instantiated.