I teach college courses in life sciences and often find myself describing life in terms of the well-accepted traditional method of listing the various characteristics of life. In other words I explain life in terms of what it does. Life moves, responds, grows, absorbs and assimilates foods, excretes wastes and reproduces. Most life science textbooks describe life this way and most students are happy with this explanation.
I have often wondered that there may be something more under the surface of these characteristics. Is there some underlying fundamental process to life? This question led me on a journey of exploration a number of years ago to look for the common denominator of all living things. What it led me to was a unique way to understand the inner workings of life.
In order to begin to explain this unusual way of understanding life we must look at the difference between living and non-living things at a fundamental level. A famous quantum physicist by the name of Erwin Schrodinger once said:
"Life is characterized by the ability to create order from disorder by exploiting external
energy sources (negative entropy)."(1)
What Schrodinger meant was that life evolves to higher levels of complexity while the rest of the universe becomes more disorganized. The movement of the universe toward higher levels of disorder is called entropy. Schrodinger's negative entropy is a movement away from disorder to higher levels of order. This is what life does; it moves toward higher levels of order. Think about how life evolved from simple single celled organisms to complex humans.
Just how life does this is still a mystery, but there are some important clues. One is that life can capture information in the form of energy from the environment. Plants capture energy from the sun and use this energy to create more complex structures such as carbohydrates. We eat the plants and use the information in the carbohydrates to form even more complex structures such as tissues and organs.
We may think that it is only energy that life needs to sustain itself, but if we go deeper we see that energy consists of information and it is the information that life needs to sustain itself and evolve to higher levels of complexity. In essence, life needs a constant supply of information. The ability to capture information separates the living from the non-living.
Think of the many systems in your body and how they continuously communicate with each other. Your nervous system communicates with your heart and lungs in order to keep a constant supply of oxygen to your tissues. Thousands of information-carrying hormones flow through your blood at any given moment from cell to cell in order to regulate digestion, growth, metabolism and many more processes.
Your body is a complex information network that requires a constant supply of information to keep it going. When you become ill some of these systems break down interrupting the flow of information. In order to heal your body's information network needs to be supported. There are many ways to do this and it depends on the illness and the health of the body as well as the mind. The bottom line is that your body needs information to heal.
So where does all of this information come from? Information is all around us; we communicate with it every waking moment. We only need to select and use the right information to support our bodies and heal. The internet is a good analogy of how this works. Think of the billions of messages transmitted through this complicated network of computers. When we need information we select what we need from this constant flow of information. It may help us to formulate an idea or achieve a task. In a sense it is adding to our complexity.
When we realize that every time we take a medication, nutrient, herbal substance or even food we are adding information to our bodies that either adds to the complexity or inhibits it we will understand healing in a whole new light.
1. Schrodinger, E. What is Life? 1967. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press: 71.