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Q: What is the meaning of life? A: I don't know, ask the gyre.
January 27, 2012 5:57 AM   Subscribe

Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life, in which the author, Erik Andrulis, proposes an "axiomatic, experimentally testable, empirically consistent, heuristic, and unified theory of life." He also claims to be able to unify physics.....ahem. All this is done using the chemistry notation you learned in highschool.

Obligatory pop science explanatory article: Radical Theory Explains the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life, Challenges Conventional Wisdom
posted by AElfwine Evenstar (53 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Ooops, forgot a link.

Erik Andrulis
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:02 AM on January 27, 2012

What's that line about how every complex problem has an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong?
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:03 AM on January 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

This theory is based upon a straightforward and non-mathematical core model and proposes unique yet empirically consistent explanations for major phenomena including, but not limited to, quantum gravity, phase transitions of water, why living systems are predominantly CHNOPS (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur), homochirality of sugars and amino acids, homeoviscous adaptation, triplet code, and DNA mutations.
What serious biological journal is going to publish a paper purporting to explain quantum gravity? Non-mathematically, no less.
posted by DU at 6:06 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Having perused the press release, I feel the slightest soupçon of educated stupid.
posted by lumensimus at 6:16 AM on January 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

What? Where?

posted by likeso at 6:17 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Because many elements of the gyre model (gyromodel) are alien, I introduce neologisms and important terms in bold italics to identify them; a theoretical lexicon is presented in Table 1.

What's the old axiom? The quality of science fiction is directly related to the amount of made-up words it uses?

Snark aside, I look forward to others with more time and dedication looking this over to see if it is more "interesting idea," than, "4-SIMULTANEOUS DAYS."
posted by Panjandrum at 6:24 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

The gyre models the living universe perfectly.
Phew, glad that's solved. Guess all of us scientists are out of a job.

This strikes me as truly weird. The fellow is actually a professor at a perfectly normal university and works in effectively the subject in this work (even has a first author Nature paper work on RNA stuff in Drosophila) and quite young and yet this is... very, very cranky. After a good bit of skimming, I find it hard to actually find an example of any exact claim exactly. He mostly seems like he says that things work because he can make up a notation to write them down and because the notation is right that proves the deep meaning why the thing is true. If nothing else, he is not a very good scientific writer. I hope his graduate students went into the lab knowing what they were getting into, because I worry this sort of thing is not going to be good for the weight of his letters of recommendation for future jobs, even if his traditional work is perfectly fine.
posted by Schismatic at 6:29 AM on January 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

Bold italics?

Kill him.
posted by rtha at 6:31 AM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Another challenge is discovered in the lexicon, where I have redefined established terms and created and applied ~100 new words to identify, explain, and interconnect distinct aspects of the theory

And another indicator the author might be wearing crazypants is the presence of dozens of nearly identical diagrams with very slight changes between them (pp.17) . I'm a soft scientists, but what I get from this is "everything is, like, *spirals* maaaaaaaaaaaaan! Did you ever think about that? Spirals, like, explain everything!" (Andrulis, 2011). Anyways, this paper is very long and doesn't include an empirical experiment, a good indicator the theory doesn't necessarily deal with reality.
posted by fuq at 6:36 AM on January 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's unreadable--both painfully long winded, and he obsessively introduces gyre neologisms and others that he decides to just make up on the fly just because they seem like they're in need of some possible compounding.

It's like reading a Middle Earth language made out of Douglas Hofstadter.
posted by hanoixan at 6:58 AM on January 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

Sounds like a parody article designed to lampoon this new open-access journal. But I'll give it a shot.

Seems to me that general systems theory from the 1940s - 60s was on the same track: trying to find some general principles by which to understand any system.

Check out Maturana and Varela's ideas and related wiki articles for more.
posted by phenylphenol at 7:00 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I only got a little further than the giant lexicon table.

Dude is using the prefix 'Amino' to refer to sulfur compounds, 'Amino' has for nearly two hundred years referred to specific kinds of nitrogenous compounds. 'Ribo' not only refers to all nucleobases, even in the absence of ribose or any sugar for that matter, but all nitrogenous compounds replacing 'Amino'.

Scientific nomenclature is horrendously stupid and over-complicated, mostly because as bad as it is it would be so much worse to change, but this has somehow managed to be worse. The bastard needs to retake GenChem and then get an OChem professor to beat the meaning behind proper nomenclature into his head.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:02 AM on January 27, 2012

This paper is most certainly the result of an incredibly intense acid trip.
posted by phenylphenol at 7:05 AM on January 27, 2012

Genetic code. The origin of the genetic code is one of the leading problems in evolutionary biology [445] and thus pinning down this problem requires a ground head chancery.
Google, with all of 8 results, on "ground head chancery."

Ground head chancery.
posted by lumensimus at 7:12 AM on January 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

I don't (and may never) have the time to go wading through this and seriously try to understand it, but this feels like someone doing a LOT of work to explain something we already have a pretty good understanding of in a new and different way. I mean I'm sure the first person who talked about thermodynamics using the language of topology (energy hills and valleys) sounded like a crank to his fellows, but it's a perfectly logical way of thinking given that a rock on a hill has potential energy and a rock in a valley ain't going nowhere unless you do work on it.

Or maybe he's just wearing the crazy pants.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:15 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's clear that this paper is gibberish even through the fog of my hangover. I stopped reading when I saw this:

"The paradox of chirality is that a left-handed gyre, when inverted 180° and viewed anew, is a right-handed gyre. This paradox is at the core of the problem of life. Indeed, homochirality—exclusive use of one chiral form or the other—is observed throughout life, where sugars are dextral (D), amino acids in polypeptides are levoral (L) and nucleotides in nucleic acids are D form."

The way this is written implies that "chiral gyres" are equivalent under a rotation of 180 degrees, which is totally not the same chirality that amino acids or sugars have. Unless by "invert" he means inversion through the origin. Regardless of what he actually means, that I have to sit down and think about whether this guy knows the definition of chirality signals to me that this is not worth my time.
posted by thermopoetics at 7:20 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Law of Trimergence. Every majorgyre of the theoretical framework emerges with, cycles as, and is sustained and unified by a quantal triad. The triune organization of nature is observable in, for example, the three generations of leptons, three oxygen atoms in carbonic acid, the three phosphates in NTP, three RNAs in protein synthesis, three elemental forms (metals, metalloids, non-metals), three phases of water, triplet genetic code, and IEM. This tri-emergent phenomenon (trimergence) is thus a natural law.
Indeed, sometimes there are three things. This is paredoliac madness, albeit very entertaining.
posted by lumensimus at 7:21 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Pareidoliac, that is.
posted by lumensimus at 7:22 AM on January 27, 2012

I gave up after encountering the first sentence in the introduction:

How life abides by the second law of thermodynamics yet evolutionarily complexifies and maintains its intrinsic order is a fundamental mystery in physics, chemistry, and biology.

It's not much of a mystery- the second law of thermodynamics only applies to closed systems. Anywhere we've observed life, it's had an external energy source. If you can't even get something this basic right, how can you be right about a universal theory of life, the universe and everything?
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:23 AM on January 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

...axiomatic, experimentally testable,...

If something is axiomatic, it isn't testable.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:31 AM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

From the author's bio, there's this bit:

We are currently using two model organisms (Drosophila melanogaster, Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and several approaches (cell biology, molecular biology, genetics, transcriptomics, bioinformatics, biochemistry) to test the hypothesis and theory.

So, presumably, whatever this funny little old "incommensurable, trans-disciplinary, neologistical, axiomatic theory of life from quantum gravity to the living cell" of his is, it will undergo experimental scrutiny of, erm, some kind. Presumably, whatever experiments that entails will be described using lots of neologisms, since the use of neologisms is somehow fundamental to the theoretical framework being proposed here, taking the author's characterization of his theory literally.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:32 AM on January 27, 2012

Maybe this is a post-structuralist's revenge for the Sokal hoax.
posted by condour75 at 7:33 AM on January 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

what I get from this is "everything is, like, *spirals* maaaaaaaaaaaaan! Did you ever think about that? Spirals, like, explain everything!"

I knew I had seen that guy before! Read from right to left.
posted by martinrebas at 7:35 AM on January 27, 2012

When will biologists finally learn to stop dabbling with LSD? I mean, geez, just because that one guy figured out how DNA works in the first place after an acid trip, that doesn't mean biology is always best practiced on acid...

Besides: don't they know, the spiraling shape will make them go insane?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:41 AM on January 27, 2012

Random thoughts:

1) If there wasn't so much work put into this, I'd be inclined to think it was a parody of something. As it is I'm left wondering: sign of mental illness or just a sign that this practicing scientist at a respectable university doesn't understand the basics of, well, science.

2) I haven't been able to find (through Google or Wikipedia) a single reference to this "peer-reviewed" journal Life. Can anybody point me to some information on it? Does it typically publish crazypants gibberish?

3) The press release calls the theory "experimentally verifiable". I skimmed to the end, but I didn't spot any falsifiable predictions. Did I miss anything?

4) Does Case Western just allow professors to write their own press releases when they publish a paper or did someone else at the university actually buy into the nuttiness?
posted by tdismukes at 7:59 AM on January 27, 2012

Biologists have to put up with hack physicists "solving biology" all the time. Turnabout is fair play.
posted by Ian Scuffling at 8:06 AM on January 27, 2012 [9 favorites]

tdismukes, it's a new open-acces journal. The first volume carries an article by Stuart Kauffman, and the editorial board seems credible enough (I'm personally acquainted with one of them).
posted by gene_machine at 8:12 AM on January 27, 2012

That's not to say that I endorse the paper in question... And that should be "open-access".
posted by gene_machine at 8:13 AM on January 27, 2012

From glancing at this I almost get the idea that this guy thought "hey, if I write things that look all equationy people will believe it's SCIENCE!". Like the stuff that fills the blackboards of mad scientists in bad movies.

The surprising thing is that this guy appears to be a real biologist. And, as gene_machine points out, this seems to be a legitimate journal.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:40 AM on January 27, 2012

Metaphysics. The gyre models the living universe perfectly. I have been unable to find one system, particle, event, or process—at any point or stage leading up to or during the origin of life—that does not consent to modeling onto the gyre form. In other words, there is no “before” or “after” the gyre in a spacetime sense; the gyre is evolutionarily and existentially omnipresent. This theory proves that the gyre is the long-sought invisible and inevitable metaphysical element of the universe, fulfilling a philosophical goal that dates to ancient Greece [795].

So modest.

Anyone want to do the tallying for the crackpot index?
posted by phrontist at 8:47 AM on January 27, 2012

Why isn't Andrulis among the 'concerned scientists' who signed off on the Climate Change opinion in the next post?
posted by evilmidnightbomberwhatbombsatmidnight at 8:52 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the article is a philosophical tome, and not exact science (even if math makes an appearance)..

I think that substitution of the word "metaphor" for Gyre in the article can help quite a bit of it.

Metaphors are models of things, and a lot of the models for various parts of things we know can have very similar (if not identical) equations, and thus it is possible to use the same metaphors for very different scales of things.

For example, I learned in the TED talks that cross disciplinary application of tools can be quite effective when trying to solve problems that have been around a while without results, There are tools for astronomy that work well when applied to medicine, for example.


On the other hand, I disagree with others in that I see no need to have this inexact metaphorical description of things have any detriment to the otherwise orthodox day job work of the author.
posted by MikeWarot at 8:53 AM on January 27, 2012

So this is what it looks like when your work has driven you mad.
posted by murphy slaw at 8:54 AM on January 27, 2012

@MikeWarot, agreed that this is a handy tool, but po-mo cross-discipline reapplications of the unrelated have also led to some startling bad notions. We have to know when to stop and go back to discipline fist principles.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:11 AM on January 27, 2012

...and this fellow has a tenure-track gig? If you listen carefully, you can hear the wailing of thousands of post-docs.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

posted by leotrotsky at 9:49 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

phrontist: the crackpot index is for physics, so it'll probably underestimate this guy's crackpottery.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:09 AM on January 27, 2012

How is proposing a theory and then conducting tests to confirm or repudiate said theory getting dumped on in this thread? Isn't that kinda the way science is supposed to work? Not that I agree with his theory, just that it's a little early in the process to jump on the "timecube" train. If he is still pushing this theory after his experiments have proved it to be untenable then I think we can safely claim he may be off his rocker, but until then you guys are really only engaging in what amounts to character assassination of someone who other than *gasp* positing a new theory has done nothing to lend credence to the crazy conclusion. But yeah, vortexs solving everything does seem a little weird. And yeah this guy is probably full of shit, but last time I checked being wrong about something does not make one crazy.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:20 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


While this looks like it's roughly in order of frequency, I submit that this is the wrong order of elements to denote the makeup of organic molecules. What should it be, then?


Call me, Erik Estrada. Science education is where the money is.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:27 AM on January 27, 2012

Okay, this is crazy, but what kind of crazy? I noticed that one of the key words given for the paper was "natural law". Now "natural law" is something I associate with educated Catholics. The Pope will claim that homosexuality is wrong, because of "natural law".
With this in mind it's interesting to read his closing remarks
As my theoretical framework coalesces a vast amount of accumulated scientific evidence into one neat, lawful, and interconnected modular structure, it abides by this principle. In conclusion, this catholic theory provides an innovative and elegant solution to the origin, evolution, and nature of life in the cosmos. I humbly proffer my theory as a viable system for knowing life. [emphases mine]
Granted, catholic does have a meaning outside of christianity. But the word 'lawful' seems out of place in there, and reveals his deepest desire: law and order.

How will this order come about?
I conclude that my theoretical work elicits a ... rupture of intradisciplinary noöspheres and interdisciplinary boundaries. Whether the advent of this theory elicits a Kuhnian gestalt switch is debatable, though such an iconoclastic event has been foretold.
A single disruptive event (which has been predicted/prophesied) will break down previous boundaries, and we will live under one simple law. This isn't the gradual understanding of an often-messy nature that is the current paradigm of science; it is the revealed Jesus of a Christian or the inevitable proletariat of a Marxist; it is the human thirst for SINGLE REVEALED TRUTH, barely covered by a white lab coat.

(I'm not claiming that all Catholics or Marxists are like this, and hope this analysis provides more smiles that offense. But I do think there's something there.)
posted by benito.strauss at 10:42 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

"How life abides by the second law of thermodynamics yet evolutionarily complexifies and maintains its intrinsic order is a fundamental mystery in physics, chemistry, and biology."

This guy is *this close* to discovering THE SUN. Just think how that will change science. I think this calls for a grant.
posted by idiopath at 10:44 AM on January 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

Looks like the pop science press release is 404 now, or is that just me?
posted by condour75 at 10:51 AM on January 27, 2012

Looks like the pop science press release is 404 now, or is that just me?

It's down for me to. Try this one.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:56 AM on January 27, 2012

Interesting, the science daily article I linked you used to be on the front it's mysteriously moved to the second page of news stories behind the ones from the 25th. Someone must be taking some heat for making their journal and university look "crazy".
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:58 AM on January 27, 2012

There is someone who matches Andrulis' background (talks about gyres, background in RNA metabolism) who has posted on ToEQuest forum, so I assume that's him. He also posted on a blog that talks about his theory (if you can call it that), as well as some more disturbing elements.

This Pharyngula blog post (and the comments that follow) speculates that this isn't some Sokal-type hoax and is likely the result of some mental-health issues, which I'd tend to agree with (although, IANAMHP, so grain of salt, etc.)
posted by marcusesses at 11:26 AM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

marcusesses' Pharyngula blog link touches on that, AElfwine Evenstar. It features this little bit toward the end:
Science Daily has informed me that they have removed the press release from their site, and that it should never have made it through in the first place.

Also, apparently Case Western has removed the press release from their listings.
Apparently, Science Daily pulled a MegaUpload and only removed the link from the front page.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:50 AM on January 27, 2012

"How is proposing a theory and then conducting tests to confirm or repudiate said theory getting dumped on in this thread?"

AElfwine Evenstar - well for one thing, in order to conduct tests of a theory, you need to outline experiments which could falsify your hypothesis. I didn't see any such proposals in the paper, did you?

There are other problems with the paper, but that's rather a big one.
posted by tdismukes at 11:54 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

To expand on my previous comment - I'm not sure it's even possible to come up with experiments to falsify Andrulis' theory, because it doesn't actually make any predictions. It doesn't really explain anything. The problem isn't that it's wrong, it's that it doesn't actually mean anything.

His blog seems to lend more support to the idea that he is suffering from mental illness. I feel bad for him, but I don't feel particularly sympathetic towards the editors of the journal. They may claim to have peer review, but they are off to an inauspicious start with their first issue.
posted by tdismukes at 12:10 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow, ok according to saulgoodman's link he seems to actually be having mental problems....but then as his link asks, how the hell did this get published?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:20 PM on January 27, 2012

"The Theory Blog" is completely empty now, no articles or archives.
posted by murphy slaw at 2:56 PM on January 27, 2012

Dude is a slithy tove, I'll give him that.
posted by no relation at 3:21 PM on January 27, 2012

I attended a seminar that Dr. Andrulis gave. What had been expected and what was delivered seemed to have little to do with one another except for the title. In addition, he's also grown a great deal of hair since that photo was taken (both head and facial,) which has no bearing on his science but does add a certain "prophetic" air to his presentation.

50% of the seminar was about changing the paradigm of a particular complex (how it is named, how its function is defined/discussed) and the remainder about his persecution at the hands of the establishment because of his contentions re: the paradigm.
posted by ltracey at 4:16 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

How is proposing a theory and then conducting tests to confirm or repudiate said theory getting dumped on in this thread?

Because the author of this crap is Not Even Wrong. Not Even Wrong means: "The phrase implies that not only is someone not making a valid point in a discussion, but they don't even seem to understand the nature of the discussion itself, or the things that need to be understood in order to participate."

There are no experiments to make to test the theory, because there is no coherent theory presented.
posted by Bort at 6:21 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Received: 15 November 2011; in revised form: 10 December 2011 / Accepted: 13 December 2011 / Published: 23 December 2011

Four weeks to referee and revise a 100-page article? Hooray for thorough peer review.
posted by erniepan at 5:18 AM on January 28, 2012

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