Life and Death in Ancient Philosophy and Modern Physics

Introduction: The idea that a living organism is not just an accumulation of molecules, but also some non-molecular structure in the physical vacuum goes back to the mists of time.  As early as 5th century B.C., ancient Greek philosophers studied the question of what distinguishes living from nonliving.  They believed that a special substance, ψυχή (psykhḗ English: soul), is possessed by not only humans and animals but plants as well. Heraclitus and Epicurus believed it to be a special kind of matter, the latter even suggested that the soul is made of atoms. Some philosophers put forward the idea that it could also be responsible for sense perception and emotions.  About the same time, similar ideas of the soul sprung from Chinese philosophers who also believed that the soul is what distinguishes the dead and the living. 

The modern scientific view on a human being is much poorer than that of ancient Greeks. In modern physics and biology, there is no place for feelings, thoughts, or the soul. Life is viewed as a continuous, irreversible interaction of biomolecules and emotions are associated with only our hormones produced in our body.

Recently, however, a new form of research, quantum biology emerged, which studies the role that quantum mechanics plays in biological systems. It often uses the concept of quantum nonlocality to describe the human mind. However, quantum mechanics in its present form is ill-suited for description of the processes occurring in the living organism. Quantum mechanics uses the probabilistic approach to the description of quantum systems, while the processes in a biological organism, on the contrary, demonstrate a high degree of determinism. One of the fathers of quantum mechanics, E. Schrödinger, wrote ‘A single group of atoms existing only in one copy produces orderly events, marvelously tuned in with each other and with the environment according to most subtle laws… we are here obviously faced with events whose regular and lawful unfolding is guided by a ‘mechanism’ entirely different from the ‘probability mechanism’ of physics.” N. Sotina develops the deterministic (causal) interpretation.

Using this approach, she proved that some spatial structures, composed of elements of non-molecular nature, accompany any quantum object in the physical vacuum. It is natural to assume that the structures of living matter are more complex than those that are non-living.  These ideas are in agreement with the results of the experiment conducted by Romanian biochemist, Eugene Macovschi (1906-1985).  Macovschi and his group made the following observation: after being exposed to 200 ATMs hydrostatic pressure, the living plant tissues released a certain amount of water and still remained alive, after the tissue died it behaved in quite a different way: after being exposed to 200 ATMs a dead tissue released all the water it contained. According to Macovschi, living cells consist of two qualitatively different forms of matter: a special form of structured matter (he called “biostructure”) and coexisting molecular matter, the chemicals.

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Published on May 15, 2022