“There is a black hole at the heart of biology,” Nick Lane writes at the start of his 2015 book The Vital Question. “Bluntly put, we do not know why life is the way it is.” It takes some chutzpah to lay down the gauntlet to the life sciences so starkly—to suggest they are engaged more in documenting life than in explaining it.
Lane, a professor of evolutionary biochemistry at University College London, doesn’t seem the kind of person you might expect to make such a provocative challenge. He’s disarmingly modest, explaining his own answer for why life is the way it is with enthusiasm and conviction but also with frequent disclaimers and frank recognition that he could be wrong. “I’ve come to realize that being wrong is actually really good fun,” he says.
But then his self-assurance kicks back in. Sure, he could be wrong on the details, but on the big picture, “I can’t possibly be, because at bottom all I am saying is that energy is important to life, and that the peculiar method by which it works surely tells us something important about how life operates.” [Continue reading…]