The Emergence of Life as a Transition in Causal and Informational Architecture
TWCF Number
Project Duration
October 1 / 2013
- July 31 / 2016
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
North America
Amount Awarded
Grant DOI*

* A Grant DOI (digital object identifier) is a unique, open, global, persistent and machine-actionable identifier for a grant.

Paul C. W. Davies
Institution Arizona State University

How does information act in living matter? And how does it relate to the nature and dynamics of the material substrate that instantiates it?

This project addresses these questions by focusing on how the informational aspect of life first emerged. Then, it examines the organizational principles that underpin this transition. We hypothesize that the origin of life should be identified with a transition in the pattern of information flow.

Although the problem of how life began has been the subject of research over many decades, the field has been dominated primarily by pre-biotic experimental chemistry. Our approach differs by being information-based, and capitalizes on new developments in systems chemistry and systems biology. It also considers important recent advances in information theory and complexity theory. These advances are being applied successfully to many varieties of complex systems, but have not yet been applied to the problem of the origin of life.

The emergence of life is more than a mere advanced stage in the complexification of matter. Rather, life’s origin involves a fundamental change in the logical organization of matter and the relationship between parts and wholes. The challenge is to explain this transition without falling into the trap of vitalism—a challenge which this project aims to tackle.  

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