Friday, November 6, 2009

is biology more basic than physics?

There's an old joke in science called "physics envy." Physicists say that all other fields of science are just narrower applications of physics, therefore all other fields of science are bitches.

Here's the lolcat version:

There's some truth to it. Physicists are the only scientists who are seriously working on a theory of everything. Sometimes they're modest and call it "quantum gravity," but it's really a theory of everything.

Now, I'm more of a reader of biologists' blogs, and I usually find myself sympathising with them, so this joke bothers me a little. There's a hope deep in my brain that some day, somehow, biology will be found to be more basic than physics, and then we will have won. That day might have arrived.

You might not want to watch the whole video, since it's a half hour long, and the guy's bald, so I'll try to summarize: Everything in the universe, including life, computer programs, engineering, and the universe itself, is a program in the computational universe. The computational universe is the set of everything that can possibly exist. Specifically, everything that, in principle, can be simulated by a computer, which covers everything that can exist.

Since life forms sport some pretty complicated programs, with even more complicated outputs, he says that maybe biology explores a wider swath of the computational universe than physics. In searching for the theory of everything living, will biology stumble upon the theory of everything else?

Of course not. Physics has lasers and sattelites and the biggest machine ever built. But it was nice to believe the dream for a half hour.

And since I have my funny pictures folder open, here's this:


  1. Hi there, this is all very interesting...but I'm still a fan of E8 base theory.


  2. But what? What's with you kids and all your false dichotomies?