New Criticals

Once the first chemical cycle or cycles formed on the early earth, the prebiosphere moved from its abiotic phase to what might be called its proto-biotic phase. Chemical cycles driven by free energy gradients are already the fundamental components of living organizations, but by themselves they still lack the capacity for reproduction that is fundamental to life and necessary for biological evolution. Reproduction is accomplished through genetic information. The task now is to see how chemical cycles, of themselves, give rise to function-assessing contexts which can select and store information which exists only in the network of chemical relationships, in and by virtue of the whole organization itself, rather than its molecular parts. The central example of such information is the genetic code. One common misconception is that DNA or RNA are “self-replicating” molecules. This is misleading shorthand, promoted by the interpretation of evolution as a competition amongst genes. Genes have the capacity to be copied by proteins which in turn are reproduced through the sequences encoded by the genes. Rather than view this circularity as a problem to be resolved by appeals to a world in which naked RNA molecules competed to see which could copy itself the fastest, the thermodynamic view suggests that this circularity was an essential and necessary feature of life from its beginning.  The genetic code exists because of the chemical relationships that exist throughout the entire organism. It exists because of every molecule that is involved in the replication process and it does not act for the perpetuation of any one of them in particular, the genes included.