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Complexity Forum: Eric Smith (Santa Fe Institute)

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Location: D1.07

Speaker: Eric Smith (Santa Fe Institute)

Title: Understanding the origin of life as the emergence of a fourth geosphere


Hypotheses for the way life originated are often strongly framed by what we think life is. I will present evidence from geochemistry, biochemistry, and deep evolutionary reconstruction that is interpreted by many researchers as supporting an origin of life through metabolism, with genes and cells following later. I will argue that, more important than an origin scenario, the same facts suggest a different understanding of the nature of the living state from the usual frame based on cells, the Central Dogma for information flow, and the neo-Darwinian synthesis. I will propose that metabolism be seen as originally a property of ecosystems and as the bridge from geochemistry to life. Hierarchical control is added in layers, only leading later to the emergence of individuality and Darwinian dynamics. Most important, the nature of the living state is a property of the biosphere rather than of its objects and is inherently chemical: the biosphere is the fourth terrestrial geosphere, which emerged and persists because it provides a unique channel for energy flow through organic chemistry.
Lunch group: 5
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