A thought, or gedanken, experiment is the creation of a simplified, often fanciful, world for the purpose of understanding the implications of a theory. One of the first was Plato’s allegory of the cave, in which Plato postulates that people are only able to sense a part of the universe about them. The allegory explores what that means and implies. The real value of thought experiments is to generate hypotheses that can be tested in the real world.
Life must have some parts that are solid so that life in the form of organisms can persist for long periods of time. This is needed so that the blueprint or biological organization chart for life can be preserved over extended periods. It must have other parts that behave like a fluid and can adapt to changing conditions around the organism on short time scales. Life must exist as both a solid and a fluid simultaneously. How this comes about leads to one of the most fascinating, but little known, stories in science.
Gödel did something very clever. He found a solution of Einstein’s field equations in which the world lines circled back on themselves. This means that if you were traveling along a world line you would eventually encounter yourself as a baby. Suppose you kill yourself as a baby. Would you still be alive? It would be disturbing if you were both alive and dead. Unlike quantum mechanics, Einstein’s theory does not address ambiguity explicitly. The great challenge of modern physics is to unite the general theory of relativity with quantum mechanics. This has not yet been done.
Experiments were performed in the early twentieth century that
indicated that small objects like electrons were particles if certain experiments were done, but were waves if other experiments were done. The statement, “This electron is a particle.” can be both true and false. This is a failure of logic of the kind that Kurt Gödel was concerned with. However, this example goes beyond the parlor games of mathematicians. This failure of logic can be measured and occurs in nature. As we will see, this logical failure, is crucial for the formation of life.
What is there about matter, energy, and information that leads to the spontaneous creation and continued existence of complex systems of which we humans are an example? Does life need to composed of carbon atoms as we are? Can life be made out of other types of molecules? Or to take the questioning deeper, does life require chemistry at all for its existence? Can life exist in a nuclear reactor or in a neutron star or in very cold solids near absolute zero or in the memory units of a computer? And what are these things we call consciousness and awareness? And what in the world is a soul?