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Creative destruction

Maxwell's demon's genes

Will we reconstruct and synthesize life?
Out of the box questions and some answers
News about the genome revolution

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The established physical picture of Reality rests on four currencies: space, time, matter and energy. For a century a fifth category, information, began to be consistently viewed as an essential component of this picture. The discrepancies between classical physics and quantum physics cannot be resolved by assuming the existence of hidden variables, as the experiments derived from thought experiments have all refuted their existence. The contradiction is resolved if one introduces information as a critical component of the phenomena of interest. At least from a heuristic point of view, information can be considered as an authentic, physical, currency of Reality. Collecting information requires concrete instantiations of Maxwell's demons, combined to creative destruction, a concept that has been revived under a subtle form by Nassim Taleb as antifragility.

Information is key to biology, in a fairly loose way. It brings together the concept of genetic program and that of information transfers between the program embodied into nucleic acids and its expression, generally as protein. In line with a revolutionary shift of emphasis in the physical sciences and recent developments of biology, here we revisit Natural Selection, a concept often considered as quite fuzzy, that lies at the bottom of many heated controversies. demon If information is an authentic currency of Reality, then accumulation of information over time is a crucial question to biology. Analysis of the genomes of living organisms suggests that special degradation functions make room in the cell. They do not degrade randomly but use energy to reset their memory, allowing them to prevent degradation of what is functional. This astute cleanup process is what we used to name natural selection. This view implies that we must avoid mixing up reproduction (making a similar copy) and replication (making an identical copy), a separation that has been key in the unfolding of the origins of life. Information theories are only fairly recent. We need therefore to design new ways to represent this category of Reality. This effort must be coupled to experimental approaches in biology, meant to investigate the many ways in which living organisms keep gathering information: our quest will be to identify the Maxwell's demon's genes.

+  Caveat: The epilogue to The Delphic Boat. Harvard University Press, 2003. Scientists should have no name...