EP 227 Stuart Kauffman on the Emergence of Life

Jim talks with Stuart Kauffman about the ideas in the recent paper he co-authored with Andrea Roli, “Is the Emergence of Life an Expected Phase Transition in the Evolving Universe?” They discuss the fragmentation of the origins of life field, Pasteur’s test of spontaneous generation, primitive soup, Watson & Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA, mutually catalyzing molecules, molecules as combinatorial objects, random catalysis, collectively autocatalytic sets, the origin of metabolism, composability elements, the earliest form of life, Darwin’s warm little pond hypothesis, the theory of the adjacent possible, the TAP equation, why small molecule reproduction will be abundant in the universe, the Drake equation, Kantian wholes, the function of a part, autocatalytic closure, constraint closure, cycles of work, downward causation, information conservation vs the error catastrophe, exaptation, the new adjacent possible, why evolution is unendingly creative & mathematically unpredictable, what this implies about economics, Arrow-Debreu competitive general equilibrium, the impossibility of well-founded expectations, why we can’t have dominion over the ongoing biosphere, an open-ended experiment to mix fungi with bacteria on sterilized sand, and much more.
Stuart Alan Kauffman is an American theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher who studies the origin of life on Earth. Kauffman graduated from Dartmouth in 1960, was awarded the BA (Hons) by Oxford University (where he was a Marshall Scholar) in 1963, and completed a medical degree (MD) at the University of California, San Francisco in 1968. After completing his residency in Emergency Medicine, he moved into developmental genetics of the fruit fly, holding appointments first at the University of Chicago, then at the University of Pennsylvania, where he rose to Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics. Kauffman held a MacArthur Fellowship from 1987–1992.