New Criticals

Bizarre As It May Seem, Life Is Natural


Well hello there, other! Welcome to my first post on the brand new “new criticals” web site! Allow me to begin by telling you a little about my person, and from there we can go ahead and dissolve this person in order to think the belonging of all persons in the flow of nature.

I study physical biochemistry and statistical thermodynamics and my research is concerned with understanding how electrons flow in biological molecules (proteins basically). So I have a tendency to think about living things like electrical circuits and vise versa. I know there are some differences, but this view is more fruitful than one might first imagine. We can grasp the unity of living things and electrical devices if we abstract away the physical details and focus on the principles governing the “energetics” of their operation. Except “energetics” is not exactly a scientific term. We call it thermodynamics, and its actually a monstrously radical worldview, perhaps the most abstract conceivable. As my first physical chemistry professor told me in his own peculiar, non-idiomatic, heavily French-accented way,

“Thermodynamics does not look to the things themselves; it looks at the things from very far away, it does not know or care what the things are.”

But it is precisely this immodest, abstract grandeur that allows thermodynamics to map the conceptual terrain connecting life to the natural world from which it emerged. I would like to try and share this grandeur with you, other. Hopefully I can convince you that despite our clear differences (I’m here, you’re there) there is at least one perspective capable of uniting us with the rest of nature as a single irreversible, non-equilibrium process. Process being the crucial part. We will not look at things, simply the behaviour of energy in time, which is my shorthand definition of entropy: what energy produces as time passes.