*Kevin G. Kirby
*Department of Computer Science
Northern Kentucky University (US)

*Joseph Brenner*
International Center for Transdisciplinary Research
Paris (France)

(Kevin Kirby)

In the standard view, taken for granted so completely it is rarely articulated, the fundamental physics of particles and fields is a mere "platform" for life. Physics and biology are surely deeply different: the extreme ends of the scales simply don't match up. For example, the notion that somehow the incompatibility of general relativity with quantum physics has some relevance for life seems nonsensical.

But is it? In a series of papers published throughout the 1990s, Michael Conrad put together a theory in which life was, as he often put it, an image of the underlying physics of the universe. The mere title of one of the final papers in the series, and the title of the book he wanted to write, "Quantum Gravity and Life," seems almost like a non sequitur. And indeed, the theory he put forth was difficult. But the claim I would like to put forward is that there are deep ideas here that -- even if the full details of the theory are not correct or not well-defined-- help us reach a more satisfying theory of information in the natural world.

Tragically, Conrad passed away in 2001, and was unable to complete his book. Yet a very thorough description remains of his ideas in a series of sixteen papers from 1989 through 1998. This work centered on what he called fluctuon theory. The main exposition was in a series of papers "Fluctuons I,II, III" published in Chaos, Solitons and Fractals during 1993-1996. For the purposes of this discussion, two briefer papers can be recommended as providing good summaries of his ideas here:

* Conrad, M., 1995, Multiscale synergy in biological information processing. Optical Memory and Neural Networks 4(2), 89-98.

* Conrad, M., 1998, Quantum gravity and life, BioSystems 46, 29-39.

The fluctuon theory asserts that the universe is a kind of giant homeostat, but one in which the ground state is always in flight. The universe slides in and out of consistency. His starting point was the Dirac sea of negative energy particles: his vacuum was a plenum. There was more than one sea. One was of electrons and positrons, where photons are chains of such pairs. The gluons of the strong nuclear force were to be chains in a quark/anti-quark sea. Gravitons were chains that arose from all massive particles in these seas. Viewed this way, these chains of virtual particles, disturbances in the sea --which as a class he called "fluctuons" -- are responsible for all fundamental forces. He described fluctuons as skipping along the energy surface of the vacuum sea as analogous to a stone skipping along the surface of a pond.

This theory is daunting not because it is mathematically complex; in fact, its mathematics mostly resembles elementary perturbation theory. It is daunting because it is so discontinuous with the standard model of particles and fields. For example, even though gluons play a role, there is no use of group theory or symmetry principles.

What the fluctuon theory does have, however, is a mechanism for seeing the "lifelike" in the "un-lifelike". Central to the theory is that there are vertical flows, up and down, across microscopic, mesoscopic, and macroscopic levels. In particular microscopic decorrelation and recorrelation processes are amplified up the scale, and this is characteristic of life. These flows in fact are information flows. (Information also plays a role in the fluctuon theory through the notion of anti-entropy.)

How does logic connect to this? None of Conrad's work dealt with logic per se. But the fluctuon theory allowed Conrad to talk systematically about percolation networks, and the nested, hierarchical, compartmental structure of interactions is one way a logical approach could take hold here. To what extent can we see this as "ontological levels of reality"? In fact, could the dynamic oppositions discussed by Joseph Brenner in his LiR theory be aligned with the decorrelation/recorrelation concept in the fluctuon theory as it reaches across scales?

Overall, within fluctuon theory "the interaction between the manifest organism and its unmanifest vacuum sea image abets the evolution, persistence, and maintenance of this unique complexity [of life]". This is a fascinating and rich notion. What can we unfold from this notion now in 2010?

(Joseph Brenner)

In a Wheeler model of the universe, information as an abstract entity (bit) is ontologically prior to any material-energetic entity (it). If, however, energy or its effective quantum field or string equivalent is primitive, as I believe, interpretations of information in terms of energy become much more plausible. The physicist/biologist Michael Conrad proposed a cosmological model in which energetic interactions are possible between our everyday 'manifest' world and the complex 'unmanifest' world constituted by vacuum conceived of as a plenum of potentialities for particle-anti-particle pair production. This would correspond to a De Sitter-type model of the universe.

The most fundamental manifest quantum entities (photons, electrons, quarks, perhaps others) and their field equivalents are characterized by their self-duality and/or wave-particle duality. In another domain involving a minimum of two interacting entities, /e.g./, a hydrogen atom, non-separable physical dualities provide the basis for further relations and interactions resulting in thermodynamic change and evolution up to and including the universe of ordinary matter-energy as a whole. Entities in which self-duality is expressed are 'timeless' and undergo no change into others of the same kind without massive external inputs of energy. It is an open question, however, whether fluctuations in the quantum vacuum constitute changes of state in the thermodynamic conception of change, that Hawking showed applied to black holes.

What Conrad achieved was a deeper level of explanation which provides for the differentiation of the universe into vacuum and non-vacuum domains. Conrad divides his scheme into 1) a model of the vacuum /per se/, the fluctuon model, in which interactions between observable or manifest particles are mediated by transient excitations of unmanifest vacuum fermions that propagate through the sea of unmanifest fermions in a chain-like manner, and 2) a biomolecular model that links the macrophysical actions of organisms /via /transduction and amplification schemes to the microphysical dynamics of sub-cellular components down to the most microphysical level of the indicated dynamics of the vacuum. In the Conrad cosmological picture, the primordial energies of the manifest universe evolve with differentiation into the electromagnetic and gravitational forces, and the vacuum evolves to yield particles with charge-masking properties into a state of mutual consistency. Biological organisms can "unmask" the recursive, irreversible processes that dominated the evolution of the early universe and real-time cognitive capabilities (consciousness) derive from this unmasking. The hypothesis is that the vacuum makes an indispensable contribution to the real-time capabilities of biological systems. Unlike the discredited concept of consciousness mediated directly by quantum entities, the unmanifest influences in this theory are not sensitive to being washed out by thermal fluctuations due to the self-correcting properties of inconsistencies in the cell between the manifest and unmanifest structure.

From the standpoint of my extension of logic to real systems, Logic in
Reality, in which the Principle of Dynamic Opposition describes the alternating contradictorial actualities and potentialities of real systems, Conrad's conceptions are extremely interesting. For example, at the cosmological level, feedback processes in the neighborhood of black holes have an a-periodic spiraling aspect, with many local collapses and reversals of collapse that correspond exactly to the Principle of Dynamic Opposition in LIR, also avoiding hypothetical singularities required in classical physics.

In order to evaluate the relevance of Conrad's work to information science, and in fact science in general, the most important question is whether there is recent or current research in physics that /directly/ addresses the existence of the interactions postulated by Conrad. I hope that further contributions can help to disentangle the fascinating interplay of philosophical, physical and biological questions posed by Conrad's work.

For completeness, let give my two, different references:

1993. The Fluctuon Model of Force, Life and Computation: A Constructive Analysis. In Applied Mathematics and Computation 56 (2-3), pp. 203-259. 2000. Closure and Anticlosure in the Realm of Quantum Gravity: Why Evolution Needs No Origin. In Closure. Emergent Organizations and Their Dynamics, J. Chandler and G. van de Vijver (eds.). Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 902, pp. 244-256.


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