A New Theory on the Origin of Life on Earth and Its Implications for Finding Meaning

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One of the most vexing problems in all of science has been to develop an understanding of how inanimate molecules formed together to create early life on planet Earth.

    So, if you ever think you’re here by mistake or that you’re living this life all wrong, know that you have a vital role to play in the universe simply by spreading your energy around.

-Dr. Jason Holland, Lifespark

A biophysicist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Dr. Jeremy England, believes he may have an answer and has developed a new theory on the origin of life that has taken the scientific community by storm.    

In short, his new theory suggests that under certain conditions molecules tend to join together in ways such that they can efficiently absorb ‘work’ (e.g., the motion of small particles, like atoms or molecules, as well as larger objects) and then scatter that energy back into the environment (e.g., through the dissipation of heat).

Life seems to be particularly well-suited for this task, the most straightforward example perhaps being a plant that absorbs light from the Sun, turns it into usable sugar, and then emits excess energy as heat and infrared light (see pictures).  

Dr. England has developed a model demonstrating the feasibility of inanimate molecules forming into more organized structures, under conditions similar to that of early Earth.

And his work provides a physical explanation for why something as complex as life may have emerged from Earth’s primordial soup.

“This means clumps of atoms surrounded by a bath at some temperature, like the atmosphere or the ocean, should tend over time to arrange themselves to resonate better and better with the sources of mechanical, electromagnetic or chemical work in their environments,” England recently explained for an article in Quanta Magazine.

Taking this idea a few steps further, he contends that if “you start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant.”

More research needs to be done before these ideas can progress into anything more than just an intriguing hypothesis. But if true, the potential implications are staggering.

If the formula for life is embedded within the very physical laws of the universe, then we must accept that we’re here by no accident. I find great inspiration in such a notion.

Read Related Article: The Formula of Life that Unites All Creatures 

For me, these findings are also a beautiful metaphor for what the meaning of life could be all about. Just as our bodies absorb and emit energy, perhaps on a psychological or spiritual plane, we’re similarly here to absorb the energy in our environments and then share it, to learn and to teach.

So, if you ever think you’re here by mistake or that you’re living this life all wrong, know that you have a vital role to play in the universe simply by spreading your energy around.

What kind of energy are you spreading out into the world? Let us know in the comments below.       



England, J. L. (2013). Statistical physics of self-replication. The Journal of Chemical Physics, 139(12), 09B623_1.

England, J. L. (2015). Dissipative adaptation in driven self-assembly. Nature nanotechnology, 10(11), 919-923.

Perunov, N., Marsland, R. A., & England, J. L. (2016). Statistical physics of adaptation. Physical Review X, 6(2), 021036.


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