Theory of all life and the universe: There’s a big idea (Updated: System failure)

Radical theory explains the origin, evolution, and nature of life, challenges conventional wisdom.

Earth is alive, asserts a revolutionary scientific theory of life emerging from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The trans-disciplinary theory demonstrates that purportedly inanimate, non-living objects — for example, planets, water, proteins, and DNA — are animate, that is, alive. With its broad explanatory power, applicable to all areas of science and medicine, this novel paradigm aims to catalyze a veritable renaissance.

Erik Andrulis, PhD, assistant professor of molecular biology and microbiology, advanced his controversial framework in his manuscript “Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life,” published in the peer-reviewed journal, Life. His theory explains not only the evolutionary emergence of life on earth and in the universe but also the structure and function of existing cells and biospheres.

The basic idea of Dr. Andrulis’ framework is that all physical reality can be modeled by a single geometric entity with life-like characteristics: the gyre.

Source: Science Daily

Um. Yeah. Maybe this guy is a genius who will herald in a paradigm shift. Or not.

The article states the his theory is unifying and explains much such as synthesizing arguments between creationism and evolution. It also substantiates the Gaia premise.

He is doing additional experiments. I believe I shall withhold judgement on this one. It won’t be accepted in my lifetime, I’m pretty sure about that.

UPDATE (28-Jan-2012): This article from ArsTechnica is critical, very critical:

The new paper was accepted by an open access journal called Life, meaning that you can freely download a copy of its 105 pages if you’re so inclined. Apparently, the journal is peer-reviewed, which is a bit of a surprise; even accepting that the paper makes a purely theoretical proposal, it is nothing like science as I’ve ever seen it practiced.

How in the world did this get into a peer-reviewed journal? It’s not clear. Life is tiny, publishing a single issue with a handful of papers in each of its two years of existence. Many of these papers seem highly speculative, so this paper isn’t completely out of line. But it should be clear to just about anyone that there’s no clear relationship between this proposed model and reality, something that is fundamental to science. It’s hard to imagine why Life’s reviewers decided it should pass peer review.

The paper would almost certainly have languished in obscurity were it not for the fact that the press office at the Case Western chose to publicize it with a press release that repeated many of the paper’s most outlandish claims.

They do make some good points. But, it is open access science and there will be some oddball research that gets through. The good thing about science is that it is self correcting. If this theory has no merit, it dies.

UPDATE (28-Jan-2012) Case Western has removed the press release from their website. See Retraction Watch.

The School of Medicine’s public affairs office promotes all faculty research as possible. We have been evaluating our processes regarding media outreach and elected to remove the release from our website while we assess our policies surrounding promotional communications.

UPDATE (5-Feb-2012) There is a post on Retraction Watch that examines the failure of peer review over this paper.

  29 comments for “Theory of all life and the universe: There’s a big idea (Updated: System failure)

  1. Mac
    January 27, 2012 at 6:44 AM

    Sounds like he’s trying to get a show on the “Science Channel”. :/

  2. edeibler
    January 27, 2012 at 10:59 AM

    My immediate impression is that the article reflects a psychotic thought process. I do not mean this as a pejorative–I am a psychologist, and I am speaking from a clinical perspective. I would not be surprised if Dr. Andrulis wrote the original article himself, referring to himself in the third person, in order to present his views in a more professional-sounding format; however, the grandiosity, neologisms, and non-logical flow are all very similar to writings produced by people experiencing a psychotic episode.

    I find it difficult to imagine how this was peer-reviewed by anyone, if in fact it was. Dr. Andrulis has clearly produced other work of traditional scientific merit in the past, and this might have been enough to have this paper published. If his work is currently being compromised by a psychotic disorder, time will prove this out.

    • adeiblar
      January 27, 2012 at 11:22 AM

      My immediate impression is that the above comment reflects a psychotic thought process. I do not mean this as a pejorative–I am a @#$%wad internet commentator, and I am speaking from a experiential perspective. I would not be surprised if edeibler wrote the original comment himself, referring to himself in the third person, in order to present his views in a more professional-sounding format; however, the grandiosity, neologisms, and non-logical flow are all very similar to writings produced by people experiencing a psychotic episode.

      I find it difficult to imagine how this comment went unchallenged by anyone. Edeibler has clearly produced other comments of traditional logical merit in the past, and this might have been enough to have this comment published. If his work is currently being compromised by a psychotic disorder, time will prove this out.

      Dickwad.

      • idoubtit
        January 27, 2012 at 12:33 PM

        Cease name calling. Or you will be banned. We only engage in discussion here. I allow extreme comments. Once. But no name calling.

      • edeibler
        January 27, 2012 at 12:53 PM

        OK–I’ll take another shot at this. I was only trying to be precise and not speculate any further than necessary. I wanted to point out something that I thought was important: that the author of the article for the popular press(the one in Science Daily and other places, not necessarily the journal article itself) sounds as if they may be mentally ill.

        To me, this is important as many people seem to be piling on the researcher, denouncing him as a fraud, opportunist, or a quack, when it seems to me that he might actually be ill, and undeserving of that criticism. His other work seems to be very solid, and what you’d expect from a scientist. This article is not like those, or any standard journal article–it reads much like writings that people with psychosis often produce.

        I mentioned that I’m a psychologist to try and explain that I am not criticizing his ideas, just noticing oddities in the way those ideas are expressed. I have read many, many things written by people with schizophrenia or with acute mania from bipolar disorder, and they have many similarities with the article.

        I am not making fun of Dr. Andrulis, or trying to insult him–I’m worried that something is wrong, and that he is being made fun of because of it. I mentioned that “time will prove this out” because, if he actually is ill, it’s not going to get better by itself, and it’ll either become clear that he is ill, or clear that he is not.

  3. edeibler
    January 27, 2012 at 12:20 PM

    Did I offend you somehow?

  4. LREKing
    January 27, 2012 at 12:32 PM

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

    • abby yorker
      January 28, 2012 at 10:02 PM

      I hate to say it but edeibler may not be far off. The author regularly communicates on the web under the name “Ik”.

  5. LOLedeibler
    January 27, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    You’re trying to assert all kinds of things you have zero evidence for (who wrote an article for a blog and what the author of the piece *actually* wrote for starters), so whatever profession you may have it hasn’t done much for your critical thinking skills. Furthermore the self-righteous tone betrays the hubris of your discipline- no doubt all this “poor fellow” needs is a lifetime of powerful mind-altering drugs provided by America’s number one drug pushers and/or to pay you to listen to his problems for years. Because, obviously, the “science” of psychology has mastered all aspects of emotions and the mind which is why we live in age of unrivaled mental health thanks to our perfect and complete study of psychology, which your degree proves you have mastered and which you can apply at will to random snippets of text that you read on the internet. What a rigorous academic discipline, this psychology…

    Also, if you care about how others perceive you, please consider self-censoring nonsense such as “I don’t see how this passed peer review?” I’d be quite happy to solve that mystery for you if your status as a PSYCHOLOGIST OF MERIT somehow obscures the operations of the process of peer-review from your discerning intellect. All that your comment showed is that you’re willing to type out ill-conceived piffle if something even slightly offends your worldview which hath been wrought from perfection itself. Some might say that is a psychological weakness, but of course since I find common cause with you in not wanting to indulge in undue speculation, I personally couldn’t say.

    Cheers!

  6. edeibler
    January 27, 2012 at 6:46 PM

    Well, since you clearly have me, my entire field, the mental health care system, and all of science figured out, care to enlighten me about what makes you such an authority?

    • idoubtit
      January 27, 2012 at 7:44 PM

      Guys, please keep this at a high level and preferably on topic.

      • edeibler
        January 27, 2012 at 8:02 PM

        My apologies. I should not have responded to the last post.

        • LOLedeibler
          January 27, 2012 at 8:45 PM

          Well golly gee if I took your bait then I’d be just as guilty of the appeal to authority as you were… LOL. But feel free to examine my claims and find fault with them on their own merits, I believe I recently furnished you with a successful example of doing that very thing. Again somebody who was inclined to speculate freely on the motives/psychological makeup of people unknown might suggest that you were unable to offer a response because you had nothing to say but felt uncomfortable with admitting that you were spouting nonsense that no respectable member of your field would engage in. But that would be a ridiculous example of the very thing you just did to Dr. Andrulis.

          To the Mod- What argument is on a “higher level,” to state that a person is struggling with mental illness without knowledge of whether the “evidence” for that illness is even something written by the accused, or calling nonsense on that claim? I think that the readers can decide that on their own without rejoinder. This discussion moved off topic into ad hom land immediately thanks to edeibler, which passed without any noise from your end. There hasn’t been a single comment on your website that would enhance the discussion on this topic, which I only found upon looking for some credible sources who might have commented on this paper. But the rote skepticism is fairly dull and uninspired. Something to consider if you’re looking to attract new readership.

          • idoubtit
            January 27, 2012 at 9:01 PM

            High level means no name calling. I’m OK with letting things go for while, even off topic.

            If you don’t like the discussion, you can leave. When you pick a username that automatically makes fun of the other person, I can tell you aren’t really serious about meaningful discussion.

            This is mainly a news feed and I won’t be dropping the rational tone anytime soon.

  7. Positive Times News Blog
    January 27, 2012 at 11:11 PM

    A day after the press release and this story is on the verge of going viral. Most sources pooh-poohing it, with multiple sources implying mental illness on behalf of the author.

    Before I am willing to disregard this theory, I am waiting for two things.

    1, the journal that published the paper to either stand by it or admit they never reviewed it and pull it

    2, internet peer review – it should be easy for someone with a comparable background to the study’s author to spot an obvious flaw and point it out publicly. Similarly, internet peer review may point to the theory being theoretically sound and deserving more testing.

    Question: Is this theory really so ridiculous as to imply mentall illness? Is the idea of electron behavior being described as interactions between “probability vortexes,” as Andrulis posits, categorically more insane and outlandish than the current scientific consensus of electron behavior described as “probability clouds?” Is Andrulis’ idea that vortexes model the fundamental structure of reality any more insane than mainstream String theory, the concept that multi-dimensional “strings” model the fundamental structure of reality? Not to mention Brane theory, and the fascinating Black Hole Universe theory. Funny, I don’t see anyone claiming the originators of those theories are lunatics.

    Modern science, as it struggles to integrate the bizarre world of Quantum Mechanics with standard physics, ends up sounding weirder and weirder in its explanations of a reality that must be consistent with predictions and observations at the Quantum level. As it’s become harder for the layman to understand, there is increasing opportunity for uninformed, incurious comment.

    The responses I have seen react to the press release, the paper’s abstract, the illustrations (“cartoons”) in the paper, and its’ glossary of terms (“made up words” – you know, like “Brane”). Nobody seems to have read the theory itself!

    • LOLedeibler
      January 28, 2012 at 9:55 AM

      This is a great example of well-written critical thinking, which idoubtit and ediebler would do well to take note of. Being a freethinker doesn’t mean having a knee jerk reaction to any new piece of information which calls into question one’s belief system. I will definitely have a look at your blog based on the strength of these observations.

      • idoubtit
        January 28, 2012 at 10:02 AM

        I have been moderating your comments. It’s my site, I want to keep a high level of discourse. This isn’t reddit. Like I said, you can leave. But complaining and name calling will not be published. Therefore, don’t expect them to show up.

    • idoubtit
      January 28, 2012 at 9:59 AM

      I didn’t register “mental illness” at all when I read this story. It sort of reminded me of, Gaia, of course, and then of Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science. These ideas come around every now and then. But I agree that this needs more work, for sure. It seems very difficult to test. Besides, paradigm shifts don’t happen overnight (usually).

      But, I am surprised at the hits on this story. I didn’t expect it. People are searching for more info. They are curious about it.

      • Massachusetts
        January 28, 2012 at 10:32 AM

        I didn’t feel it was a mental illness thing either from what I know about it, which isn’t much. The story reminds me of some pagan ideas that are sometimes discussed, that the rocks and earth itself are alive and spiritual, etc., as I suppose does the Gaia concept too. That may be one reason why people are curious. Plus a big paradigm shift from within science, with claims of proof, is always something to take not of. Since the scientist seems to be legitimate, with an acceptable track record so far and affiliated with a good University, that’s caught the attention of a lot of people.

        • idoubtit
          January 28, 2012 at 10:46 AM

          Yep. That could be it. And, promises to resolve the Creation/Evolution controversy. :-P

  8. Massaschusetts
    January 28, 2012 at 12:47 AM

    @LOLedeibler: I don’t think the rage you express is warranted. You could have made your point in an articulate and thoughtful way without being so over the top. Perhaps you feel you presented as clever and witty, but I think it’s come off more as hateful and scary. And attacking the moderator seems even less logical and rational to me. She’s only calling you out on rudeness. That’s not so unreasonable.

    @edeibler: I’m curious, you imply that you’ve read the scientist’s work. Have you read the article in question, in it’s entirety? You may very well be right, though I suspect many are wondering if you reached your conclusions based on the small amount of information posted on doubtfulnews, which isn’t enough for a real analysis, I’m thinking, but would suggest a snap judgment based on preconceived notions. That said, I did have a snap judgment when I read the guy’s theory, and it did seem pretty hokey to me, but I also think people can have some pretty crazy ideas without necessarily being crazy themselves.

  9. Massaschusetts
    January 28, 2012 at 1:06 AM

    @Positive Times: You are right that science has come up with some pretty way out theories that actually appear to have validity, like quantum mechanics an spooky action at a distance, etc. The thing that concerns me about this scientist’s work, according to the popular article (not the LIFE article which I haven’t read) is that his theory is non-mathematical. You can talk your way into a lot of strange stuff, but you need the math to keep it real.

    String theory, quantum mechanics, etc. all seem pretty nuts when you first learn about them, but they all have a sound basis in mathematics and use internally consistent mathematical modeling. That’s at least what I’ve been told by my intellectual superiors. :) And quantum mechanics has been born out many times over by experimental evidence which is also mathematically sound. The mathematics leads us to the seemingly crazy, whacky stories, so they are more likely to be true. I suspect that this guy’s work lacks that mathematical underpinning. I think this, if true, is a red flag that something’s up. But not proof, for sure, that something off about his work, as strange as it seems.

    • LOLedeibler
      January 28, 2012 at 10:01 AM

      But since its just as likely that String Theory is nonsense and we haven’t found the answers anywhere that satisfy parsimony, why does that mean that a theory of the universe ought to necessarily be mathematically derived? If anything the cutting edge of mathematics moves ever further from anything that we experience in our lives or the observable world as an objective reality. Are you a neo-Platonist?

      • Massachusetts
        January 28, 2012 at 10:49 AM

        Mathematics works. I wish I was better at it, because time and time again mathematically consistent theories have born out. True, not always, but frequently, and to my knowledge no non-mathematically consistent theory has ever born out to be true, and would probably land you in the province of religion, which is probably if not definitely, unknowable by science, and therefore not science (though not necessarily uninteresting.)

        For this reason I would say string theory is not “just as likely to be nonsense” but is more likely to be valid than the theory this scientist is advocating (assuming it is as non mathematical as the article suggests.)

        And I don’t consider myself a neo-Platonist. The scientist’s theory strikes me as more platonic, with ideolized “gyres” containing the qualities of observable higher order phenomena, but no apparent way (sans mathematics) to link these gyres to those phenomena.

        • LOLedeibler
          January 28, 2012 at 11:12 AM

          What you’re describing the theory as would not reflect Platonic conceptions of reality. Mathematics, esp. higher mathematics, is almost tautologically Platonic. We’re taking a turn into my area of expertise here- have a look at the Theory of Forms. They are independent of physical realties which don’t embody them but rather cast an imperfect reflection of themselves into the world of matter. Philosophically at least this theory shares a lot more in common with Taoism, which doesn’t distinguish between the ultimate and the observable reality but views one as a microcosm of the other.

          I agree with you that mathematics works, but does it always work in a way that describes the objective seeming reality we experience?

  10. idoubtit
    January 28, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    See the updates for today. There are several critical posts out there. Now, Case Western has removed the press release from their web site. It remains out there though on others.

  11. Massachusetts
    January 28, 2012 at 5:31 PM

    You have a point, math doesn’t always describe the objective reality we experience. Experimental verification will always be necessary for true science and definitive determinations to be made, regardless of where the mathematics may lead us. Are you a mathematician?

    As for Case Western removing the posts, I imagine they got some flack from people who felt the theory was pretty extreme, and decided to take the cautious path?

  12. abby yorker
    January 28, 2012 at 10:13 PM

    He is not doing this as a joke, as some have said – he is entirely sincere and, from what I’ve read of his posts in the last couple of years, an intelligent and decent person. Looks like he’s a reasonable scientist in his day job. But he’s got this theory that sticks in the craw of anyone with knowledge of science. Paradox.

    • Massachusetts
      January 30, 2012 at 6:28 PM

      I wonder why? It’s strange. You’d expect it from someone who doesn’t know much about science. You’d expect it from someone who’s joking or hoaxing. But that mix of facts is rather puzzling. I’d like to know more about how he came up with these ideas, taking into account that he’s a trained scientist and such.

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