Life as a manifestation of the second law of thermodynamics
We examine the thermodynamic evolution of various evolving systems, from primitive physical systems to complex living systems, and conclude that they involve similar processes which are phenomenological manifestations of the second law of thermodynamics. We take the reformulated second law of thermodynamics of Hatsopoulos and Keenan and Kestin and extend it to nonequilibrium regions, where nonequilibrium is described in terms of gradients maintaining systems at some distance away from equilibrium. The reformulated second law suggests that as systems are moved away from equilibrium they will take advantage of all available means to resist externally applied gradients. When highly ordered complex systems emerge, they develop and grow at the expense of increasing the disorder at higher levels in the system's hierarchy. We note that this behaviour appears universally in physical and chemical systems. We present a paradigm which provides for a thermodynamically consistent explanation of why there is life, including the origin of life, biological growth, the development of ecosystems, and patterns of biological evolution observed in the fossil record. We illustrate the use of this paradigm through a discussion of ecosystem development . We argue that as ecosystems grow and develop, they should increase their total dissipation, develop more complex structures with more energy flow, increase their cycling activity, develop greater diversity and generate more hierarchical levels, all to abet energy degradation. Species which survive in ecosystems are those that funnel energy into their own production and reproduction and contribute to autocatalytic processes which increase the total dissipation of the ecosystem. In short ecosystems develop in ways which systematically increases their ability to degrade the incoming solar energy. We believe that our thermodynamic paradigm makes it possible for the study of ecosystems to be developed from a descriptive science to a predictive science founded on the most basic principle of physics.