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Is it possible for chemistry to explain all of biology?

  1. Jan 31, 2006 #1
    Do people think that eventually chemistry could explain all of biology?

    If not than are you suggesting there is something intrincic about biology that cannot be explained by chemistry? Why are the workings of the primitive forms of life be able to be explained by chemistry? Surely it is only a matter of time before all of biology could be explained by chemical processes?

    If so than given that all of chemistry could be explained by physics, it follows logically that phyiscs could explain all of biology.

    Note: I am not asking whether biology could be studied better using chemistry or physics. I just like to know whether it is possible to explain life using only chemistry. So it is a more of a theoretical than a practical question.
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2006
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  3. Feb 1, 2006 #2

    Monique

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    It's a combination of chemical and physical processes. Researchers are trying to make an in silico cell, by putting in all known reactions and their variables. On some level chemistry should explain all processes, but you need the extra component of sociology to take into account more complicated things like thought processes, morals etc.
     
  4. Feb 1, 2006 #3

    The more complicated things things you describe such as thoughts and morals are the result of processes in the brain. These process must surely obey the law of physics and eventually be explained chemically as well.
     
  5. Feb 2, 2006 #4
    There are things that should be left unexplained! If everything could be explained what would be the point of living. Quoting from Pivoxa15:"The more complicated things you describe such as thoughts and morals are the result of processes in the brain. These processes must surely obey the law of physics(in other words mathematics) and eventually be explained chemically as well.", if it were so simple then the thing thats makes me, me; and you, you; should not be existing, even the simplest of biological organisms differ, and if we could explain it by mathematics or physics, then thats quite a long equation. If we take the human example then we shall take a longer time to figure out the equation. All we know about present physics or mathematics is just a mere fraction, probably less than 0.01%, we still are the most intelligent species we know, there is still a long way ahead, maybe I am biased, but I think chemistry cannot explain everything in biology.
     
  6. Feb 2, 2006 #5
    I think it would be extremely complicated to use physics to try explain life but that does not matter. My question is whether there is an intrinsic difficulty or impossibility in reducing all biology to chemistry (which ultimately is all physics). The fact that it might take 1 million years to do so does not matter to me.
     
  7. Feb 3, 2006 #6

    Monique

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    How do you predict with a physical law the following question:

    Do you want this cookie?
    There are a large number of factors that can determine the question, the person is hungry, the person craves sugar, the person is diabetic, the person does not like cookies, the person is not allowed to take the cookie from the parent, the person wants to take the cookie but feels uncomfortable by seeming too greedy. Good luck factoring in all the variables and their weight :tongue2:
     
  8. Feb 3, 2006 #7

    selfAdjoint

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    Sure there are a lot of highly interacting variables, and there's probably a coin-toss tie breaker in there too (see Buridan's ass), but that has nothing to do with in principle. Do you believe liquids have an extra something? Because hydrodynamics is too complex for ab initio computation.
     
  9. Feb 3, 2006 #8

    Monique

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    Well, I don't know. Behaviour is (seems) so ambivalent, I think you need to factor in a large factor of insecurity. Unethic thought experiment: grow an identical twin under exactly the same conditions. Hook them up on a matrix-like system so that their surroundings are exactly the same. Do you expect these twins be carbon copies, exactly synchronized in everything they say and do? Do they even need to be to prove the principle? What could be a good example to prove the principle?
     
  10. Feb 3, 2006 #9

    selfAdjoint

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    I think you'd have to wait for the development of an artificial womb to do a sufficiently controlled experiment. A natural womb is just too uncontrolled to ensure that twin fetuses have identical experiences, even granting that two individuals in different locations can ever have "identical" experiences. What does "identical" even mean here?


    But I think this question is really OT to the main question, can chemistry explain biology. If we leave psychology and sociology to one side, would you agree that it can? Say up to the somatic level?
     
  11. Feb 4, 2006 #10

    Monique

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    Since it's a thought-experiment we don't need to wait for anything. The question is, if chemistry can explain everything then the outcome of the same person being born twice under the exact same conditions should be exactly the same (everything would be pre-determined).

    Sure you can explain biology with chemistry, it is just hard to imagine that by knowing all chemical interacts in the world that you can predict with 99% security which day WOIII will begin.
     
  12. Feb 4, 2006 #11

    selfAdjoint

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    Sure it's hard. But note my hydrodynamics comparison. All my life physicists have been trying to predict the onset of turbulence, and I don't think they're any closer in 2006 than they were in 1946, although they've learned an awful lot. But that doesn't mean water flow isn't accounted for by physics and chemistry!
     
  13. Feb 4, 2006 #12

    Monique

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    So do you think languages can be reduced to chemistry? Sure we think and speak because of firing neurons in our head, but where does language as an identity or pattern come from.. is it encoded by a chemical/physical law or is it something beyond that?
     
  14. Feb 4, 2006 #13

    selfAdjoint

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    I pretty much think Chomsky is right, in general anyway, and we have an innate "language engine" in our heads. Some kind of presumably neural structure that can do recursive logic and is optimized for building capability for the language heard most into the developing brain. Yes I think it can all be explained by chemistry.

    Years ago people said we would never get software that could translate language fluently; language was just too human, too complex, for that. But automated translation has been getting better and better over the decades. It's still not perfect but it's already far better than those old critics would ever have believed it could be.
     
  15. Feb 4, 2006 #14
    This would imply that physics is capable of explaining biology since it can explain all chemistry. But experts such as Stuart Kauffman and Ernst Mayr claim that it is not possible for this kind of theory and explanatory reductionism. For example, could you use chemistry to explain emergent properties in biology occuring in different hierarchical levels?
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2006
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