How Thermodynamics Explains the Origins of Life
From the New Books Network's Book of the Day Podcast
In Every Life Is on Fire (Basic Books, 2020), Jeremy England walks readers through a range of different concepts in physics and biology to sketch out his novel description of how life might emerge. One of the beauties of his approach is the way it matches recognizably with the messy complexity of the everyday world, from the way sleet slides down a windshield in cold rain to how salt and pepper grains dance together in a pan of heated oil.
But that is not the whole story. While the difference between being alive or not may seem as obvious as night and day, physics does not in fact make a clear distinction. As England, an ordained rabbi, argues, that is a matter of perspective, and throughout the book he describes what he sees as the remarkable synergy between the account of life’s origins given by physics, and the account given in the Hebrew Bible. In so doing, England reckons with what, if anything, science can really tell us about life’s great mysteries.
Jeremy England is senior director in artificial intelligence at GlaxoSmithKline, principal research scientist at Georgia Tech, and the former Thomas D. & Virginia W. Cabot Career Development Associate Professor of Physics at MIT. He was a Rhodes Scholar, a Hertz Fellow, and was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 Rising Stars in Science. He lives in Brookline, MA.
Galina Limorenko is a post-doctoral candidate in Neuroscience with a focus on biochemistry and molecular biology of neurodegenerative diseases at EPFL in Switzerland.