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On the Chemical Nature of Purpose (Teleonomy)

Addy Pross 

Ben-Gurion University, Department of Chemistry, Beer-Sheva 84105, Israel


Chemistry enables us to understand the properties of chemical systems based on their chemical structure. For example, we understand why water is soft, why ice is hard, and why metals are shiny and conduct electricity. However this kind of understanding is lacking for the basic properties of living systems. For example, one of living systems' most striking characteristics is their purposeful (teleonomic) character, but a chemical understanding of that character and, in particular, how it might have emerged, remains missing. In this talk we will explore the chemical nature of purpose within a general framework that attempts to further clarify the physico-chemical relationship between animate and inanimate systems. One key element of the analysis is our proposal that all living systems constitute a kinetic state of matter as opposed to the traditional thermodynamic states that dominate the inanimate world. Thus we will argue that a traditional physical organic approach, based on the well-established concepts of kinetic and thermodynamic selection, can help explain the emergence of biological systems with their striking properties - such as purpose - in relatively simple chemical terms.


[1] A. Pross, Origins Life Evol. Bios. 2005, 35, 383-394: On the Chemical Nature and Origin of Teleonomy.

[2] A. Pross, Pure Appl. Chem. 2005, 77, 1905-1921: Stability in Chemistry and Biology. Life as a Kinetic State of Matter.


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Presentation: invited lecture at 18th Conference on Physical Organic Chemistry, Plenary session, by Addy Pross
See On-line Journal of 18th Conference on Physical Organic Chemistry

Submitted: 2006-05-25 09:06
Revised:   2009-06-07 00:44