Chemical perpetual motion

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A diagram of "chemical perpetual motion", wherein the "catalyst" becomes the magical ingredient, via the phrase "auto-catalysis" (Wooldridge, 1968), or "autocatalytic closure", (Kauffman, 1995), that allows for a "end-over-unity" chemical reactions, where some purported-to-exist "thing", namely "life", comes out of the reaction, or is found in the products, which was not there (in the reactants) in the first place; all of which defies the basic laws of chemical thermodynamics.

In hmolscience, chemical perpetual motion, aka "perpetual motion of the living kind", refers to any number hypothetical reaction mechanisms that employ "loops", "cycles", and feedbacks, typically involving some catalyst-based argument, e.g. "auto-catalysis", that yield an end-over-unity result, e.g. "life" products out of "non-life" reactants, a self-moving thing (or self-organizing system), or which amount to reactions that "catch fire" and thereafter go on their own accord, in a perpetual manner, e.g. gray goo scenario, beyond that defined or allowed by the laws of chemical thermodynamics.


Oparin | Morgulis

In 1952, Serguis Morgulis, in his introduction to the second edition English translation of Alexander Oparin’s The Origin of Life (1924), stated the origin of life problem thusly:[1]

“The [origin of life] problem is really quite insoluble since it is formulated upon a tacit assumption that the emergence of living from non-living could only have followed a hierarchical order, thus:
Non-living to living (Morgulis, 1952).png
But life could have originated not as the end link of a chain of consecutive events but by simultaneous coordination of several factors:
Non-living to living 2 (Morgulis, 1952).png
As long as the cell is considered as the unit of life, the origin of life must remain a paradox. But like the erstwhile atom in chemistry, the cell has lost its prestige as the ultimate unit in biology. The cell, like the ‘indivisible’ atom, is not recognized as highly organized and integrated system built up form extremely small and distinct particles.”

The “L → C → E → L” loop is what is called “chemical perpetual motion theory”, specifically the idea that reactant can feed back into the products to create an “auto-powered” or “self-powered” chemical reaction that goes perpetually on its own, thereby giving the perception of having found the so-called “spark day” of the origin of life. Secondly, the the discussion of how the cell breaks down into smaller components, we are reminded of the cell-as-molecule view of things.

Wooldridge | 1968

In 1968, Dean Wooldridge, in his Mechanical Man: the Physical Basis of Intelligent Life, wherein he attempted to explain "life" via pure reductionist "physics", unknowingly took refuge in so-called standard model of chemical perpetual motion origin of life model:[2]

“Sooner or later the phenomenon today known as ‘autocatalysis’ would have appeared. In autocatalysis one of the products of the reaction stimulated by the catalyst is more of the catalyst itself. But since auto-catalysis would have provided the original droplet with many catalytic molecules instead of just one, some of the smaller, ‘baby’ droplets into which the ‘parent’ fragmented would likely have contained some of the all-important catalytic material causing them to embark on the same kind of chemical growth activities that had previously been the specialty of the parent. By such developments, droplets, that started as ‘inert 'bags of chemicals’, cold slowly lead to structures with properties of growth, metabolism, and reproduction at least crudely similar to those exhibited by modern single-celled organisms”.
— Dean Wooldridge (1968), Mechanical Man: the Physical Basis of Intelligent Life (pg. 23)

Here, the phrase "would likely have contained some of the all-important catalytic material" belies ignorance. Catalysts, by definition, do NOT take part in a chemical reaction. Catalysts do not become a component of the products or "baby droplets". Wooldridge, on this perpetual motion platform, then jumps to evolution:

“Once the first ‘autocatalytic droplets’ appeared, they must have quickly given rise to a major population explosion. For each ‘baby droplet’ would ultimately have reproduced more of its own kind when growth led to its own instability and disintegration..”
— Dean Wooldridge (1968), Mechanical Man: the Physical Basis of Intelligent Life (§:Evolution, pgs. 24-25)

He then says that a few thousand generations of this, would have led to "almost life-like organizations of matter".

“It is not reasonable, of course, to assume that only one type of autocatalytic droplet developed and prospered. Various self-aggrandizing chemical cycles were physically possible, and were doubtless discovered by nature's random processes.”
— Dean Wooldridge (1968), Mechanical Man: the Physical Basis of Intelligent Life (§:Evolution, pgs. 24-25)

Here, we see more errors. First, "self" is a violation of the principle of inertia. Second, nature does not operate "randomly". Third, the premise of "auto-catalytic droplets", or reactants that contain their on catalysts, enveloped into a liquid sphere, is science-fiction. Fourth, he then says that "mutations" or "accidental changes in molecular structure", would have eventually led to "new species", and a primitive form of evolution, semi-envisioned by Darwin.

Eigen | Hypercycles | 1971

The Eigen model (1971) of self-organized biological macromolecules.

In 1971, Manfred Eigen, in his “Self-Organization of Matter and the Evolution of Biological Macromolecules”, postulated the reaction circle diagram, pictured adjacent, of his idea of autocatalytic reproduction:[3] This diagram is described as follows:[4]

“Autocatalytic reproduction of the hypercycle: the polynucleotides are capable of auto-reproduction, and polypeptides catalyze the synthesis of polynucleotides. Thus, catalyzes the formation of . then furnishes information necessary for the synthesis of . The primes indicate growth of polypeptide concentration at each turn of the cycle.”

Here, we not only see Eigen employing the loaded-term "self-"[5], which violates the principle of inertia, but we see subscripts being used to make circular chemical reaction, that just "goes on its own", as Eigen would have us believe. Those who site Eigen (1971), e.g. Daniel Brooks (1988)[6] or Terrence Deacon (2011), particularly when such authors have no fundamental education in physical chemistry, tend to produce even more nonsense; for example:

“At the point where the molecular diversity in the solution reaches the stage where ‘circles of reactions’ of this sort start to become common, there is a ‘discontinuity’ in the dynamics of chemical reactions.”
— Terrence Deacon (2011), Incomplete Nature (pg. 294) [7][8]

The terms "circles of reactions" and "discontinuity" in chemical thermodynamics of the reactions is all code for perpetual motion at the chemical reaction level.

These types of authors, as a group, to note, tend to be, in underlying motive, selling "chemical perpetual motion", unknowingly in most cases, as one of several "ontic openings"[9] in their argument program; much of which, in the end being either a coded creationism or teleological argument.

Ganti | Chemical-automatons | 1971

In 1971, Tibor Ganti, a Hungarian chemical engineer turned theoretical biologist, in his Principle of Life, followed by "Chemoton Theory Basics" (1974), and Chemoton Theory: Fluid Mechanics and Living Systems, Volumes 1-3 (2003), attempted to ferret out a chemical thermodynamics based model of the life, wherein living things are defined as fluid-based "chemical automatons", conceptualized as follows:

Ganti chemoton model.png

The following is a synopsis:

Ganti offers a radically novel approach to the problem of the origin of life: based on his theory of fluid (chemical) automata he proves that all living systems are basically program controlled self-reproducing fluid automata and that such automata behave as living systems. The simplest such construction—the chemoton—behaves as living, and all living systems have chemoton type organization. This means that the chemoton model is the minimum model of life. Ganti's chemical perspective captures the fundamentally cyclic organization of the living state.”

Here, again, we see the premise of a reaction that cycles back on itself in a three-dimensional loop, that is suppositioned as the "minimum of life".

Kauffman | Auto-catalytic closure | 1995

A diagram of Kauffman's 1995 "auto-catalytic closure" model of the origin of life (left), compared to a typical "perpetual motion" device (right), both of which claiming to obtain some "thing" at the end of the cycle for "free", life in the former, and energy or work in the latter. The Kauffman diagram was employed by Libb Thims in his 2016 lecture “Lotka’s Jabberwock: on the ‘Bio’ of BioPhysical Economics” as example of chemical perpetual motion used to make an origin of life argument.[10]

In 1995, Stuart Kauffman, in his At Home in the Universe: the Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity, citing fellow perpetual motion theorists Oparin and Eigen, put the icing on the cake with definition of life as a reaction that completes one thermodynamic work cycle, achieves auto-catalytic closure, and thereby "catches fire"; the gist of Kauffman's argument is as follows:[11]

“It is a universe of stunningly abundant free energy available for performing work. The life around us must somehow be the natural consequence of the coupling of that free energy to forms of matter. How? No one knows. But we shall hazard hypotheses along the way. Here is no mere scientific search. Here is a mystical longing, a sacred core first sought around that small campfire sometime in the past 3-million years. This way lies the search for our roots. If we are, in ways we do not yet see, natural expressions of matter and energy coupled together in nonequilibrium systems, if life in its abundance were bound to arise, not as an incalculably improbable accident, but as an expected fulfillment of the natural order, then we truly are at home in the universe.”
— Stuart Kauffman (1995), At Home in the Universe (pg. 20)

Here, Kauffman not only mixes "free energy" arguments into his puzzle, but he also employs the use of humor:

“Anyone who tells you that he or she know the how life started is a fool or a knave.”
— Stuart Kauffman (1995), At Home in the Universe (pg. 31)

Catching fire?

A depiction of Kauffman's 1995 auto-catalytic closure model of a reaction that "catches fire", owing to cyclical feedback of products back to reactants, which amounts to perpetual motion theory at the chemical level. The "green fire" model, to note, also is employed in Vladimir Vernadsky's 1926 biosphere model.

The following, in short, is chemical perpetual motion par excellence:

“Alone, each molecular species is dead. Jointly, once catalytic closure among them is achieved, the collective system of molecules is alive.”
— Stuart Kauffman (1995), At Home in the Universe (pg. 50)

This scheme is depicted as follows:[5]

Kauffman reaction.png

This achievement of "catalytic closure", according to Kauffman, laws the reaction to come alive:

“In this view of the origin of life, a critical diversity of molecules must be reached for the system to ‘catch fire’, for catalytic closure to be attained. A simple system with 10 polymers in it and a ‘chance’ of catalysis of one in a million is just a set of ‘dead molecules’. Almost certainly, none of the 10 molecules catalyzes any of the possible reactions among the 10 molecules. Nothing happens in the inert soup save the very slow spontaneous chemical reactions. Increase the diversity and atomic complexity of the molecules, and more and more of the reactions among them become catalyzed by members of the system itself. As a threshold diversity is crossed, a giant web of catalyzed reactions crystallizes in a phase transition.”
— Stuart Kauffman (1995), At Home in the Universe (pg. 64)
“We are hunting big game, seeking laws of complexity, laws that govern the creative processes in this nonequilibrium expanding universe, with its abundance of energy coiled to form galaxies, complex molecules, and life. We have seen hints already. We explored [§3] the possibility that sufficiently diverse mixtures of chemicals reacting with one another can ‘catch fire’, achieve catalytic closure, and suddenly emerge as living, self-reproducing, evolving metabolisms. Auto-catalytic sets can crystallize as part of this order for free.”
— Stuart Kauffman (1995), At Home in the Universe (pg. 114)

Here, Kauffman would have us believe that "dead molecules" become "living molecules", when the reactants cycle back into the products and "catch fire" and complete one so-called chemical thermodynamic "work cycle", resulting in an "order for free" model of the origins of animate things. All of this “order for free” language, in an argument wherein he convolutes chemical thermodynamic “free energy” (Helmholtz, 1882), falls into the category of what are called “free energy devices”, which are hypothetical perpetual motion device that is supposedly capable of drawing energy from a hidden free energy field, which is unknown in science.[12]

Correct model

In the new corrected view of things, there is NO origin of life. All reactions, hydrogen to human, are of the following standard variety:[13]

Catalysts certainly play a role in these reactions, namely by changing the height of the activation energy barrier, e.g. in respect to terrestrial reactions, the surface of the earth is the catalyst, but the catalyst does NOT determine what does or does not react together, nor "catch fire".

Correctly, what was formerly defined as "alive", and the physico-chemical "origin" of this purported-to-exist "alive-ness", is reclassified as a species of the periodic table, which are (a) powered and (b) CH-based (or CHNOPS+ based). A walking talking human, according, is NOT alive, but rather a powered CHNOPS+20 element species, i.e. a CHNOPS+20E existive. The search for a "dividing line" as well as the need to employ panbioism both, accordingly, get thrown out the window.

The so-called Kauffman model (1995), to note, was the last roadblock or stumbling stone, so to say, prior to Libb Thims arriving at the "defunct theory of life" (2007), the defunct theory of life debate (2009-2012), "life terminology upgrades, "abioism" (2015), and the new resolved view or solution that resulted.

In 2016, Thims, in his “Lotka’s Jabberwock: on the ‘Bio’ of BioPhysical Economics”, cited the Morgulis, Ganti, and Kauffman models as examples of "chemical perpetual motion" arguments used to explain the origin of life, amid which Robert Ayers objected as follows:[10]

“It’s not perpetual motion! It’s stability far-from-equilibrium. That’s the self-organization. He said three times ‘perpetual motion’. It’s not perpetual motion.”
Robert Ayres (2016), “Objection to Thims’ use of the term ‘chemical perpetual motion’ in reference to the Morgulis-Kauffman view”, BPE talk

Here, we see that Ayres' mindset, such as outlined in his “Self-Organization in Biological and Economics” (1988)[14], is solidified into the Prigogine model of things, i.e. the far-from-equilibrium model of existence, and he objects to the perpetual motion label, because he believes in "self-organization". This Prigogine mindset, however, is a belief system adopted by many in the latter half of the 20th century, per reason that entropy theories, more often than not, tend to have a pied piper effect, tending to put people into a belief state like trance, once adopted.


  1. Oparin, Alexander. (1924). The Origin of Life (Introduction and translation: Serguis Morgulis [1952]) (Introduction, pgs. v-xxii; diagrams, pgs. xv-xvi). Dover, 1965.
  2. Wooldridge, Dean. (1968). Mechanical Man: the Physical Basis of Intelligent Life (indeterminancy, pgs. 2-3; autocatalysis, pg. 23) . McGraw-Hill
  3. Eigen, Manfred (1971). “Self-organization of Matter and the Evolution of Biological Macromolecules” ("Molekulare Selbstorganisation und Evolution"), Naturwissenschaften, 58(10):465-523.
  4. Manfred Eigen – Hmolpedia 2020.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Self- – Hmolpedia 2020.
  6. Brooks, Daniel R. and Wilson, E.O. (1988). Evolution as Entropy: Toward a Unified theory of Biology (Eigen, pg. 76). University of Chicago Press.
  7. Deacon, Terrence W. (2011). Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (Eigen, 5+ pgs). W.W. Norton & Co.
  8. JDMN (2013) – Hmolpedia 2020.
  9. Ontic opening – Hmolpedia 2020.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Thims, Libb. (2016). “Lotka’s Jabberwock: on the ‘Bio’ of BioPhysical Economics” (YT) (PPT) (Kauffman, 4:29-; Ayres, 9:27-), 7th BioPhysical Economics Conference, University of District of Columbia, Washington, Jun 28.
  11. Kauffman, Stuart. (1995). At Home in the Universe: the Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity (auto-catalytic closure, pgs. 64, 114). Oxford.
  12. Free energy – Wikipedia.
  13. Thims, Libb. (2008). The Human Molecule (Amz). LuLu.
  14. Ayres, Robert. (1888). “Self-Organization in Biological and Economics” (44-pgs) (pdf), International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Australia, Jan.

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