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Physical foundations of evolutionary theory

  • Clarification why evolution displays scale-free and non-computable characteristics
  • Clarification of thermodynamic imperatives in systemic organization

E volution by natural selection is the basis of biology. Nevertheless our un­derstanding of nature as a whole has remained obscure because Darwin's tenet, despite its broad scope and central role, is a phenomenological account without a firm physical foundation given in a mathematical form.

It is no new thought that evolution is a manifestation of the 2nd law of ther­modynamics. However, this conjecture was proven first when the equation of evo­lution was derived from statistical physics of open systems. The universal natural law states simply that energy differences will diminish in least time. Species are mechanisms of transduction that acquire energy from their respective surroundings, ultimately from insolation and eventually will transform all of it to dissipation. The flows of energy will naturally select those mechanisms that will level off energy dif­ferences most rapidly. These species are said to be the fittest.

The physical portrayal of evolution allows us to understand profound questions and puzzles, most notably: why evolution is a non-deterministic process, why nature organizes itself in a hierarchy of systems within systems and display scaling-laws and small-world patterns, why ecological succession does not necessary terminate at a state of maximum number of species. Moreover, the statistical theory of open sys­tems has given us understanding what a society in its profound meaning is.

The holistic and scale-independent view of nature provided by the 2nd law of thermodynamics, equivalent to the principle of least action, points out that natural selection does not operate only on genes but on all matter. During evolution flows of energy naturally select the steepest descents, equivalent to the paths of least ac­tion to even out energy landscape in least time. The thermodynamic theory roots biology via chemistry to physics and widens contemporary discourse on the funda­mentals of evolution.

Selected publications

Annila A. All in action. Entropy. 2010; 12: 2333-2358.

Annila A, Mäkelä T. Natural patterns of energy dispersal. Physics of Life Reviews. 2010; 7: 477-498

Karnani M, Pääkkönen K, Annila A. The physical character of information. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA. 2009; 465: 2155-2175.

Sharma V, Kaila VRI, Annila A. Protein folding as an evolutionary process. Physica. 2009; 388: 851-862.

Annila A, Annila E. Why did life emerge? Int J Astrobio. 2008; 7: 293-300.

Sharma V, Annila A. Natural process - Natural selection. Biophys Chem. 2007; 127: 123-128.

Photo by Veikko Somerpuro


Group leader Annila

Principal Investigator

Arto Annila

  • Annila lab
  • arto.annila (at)
  • +358 9 191 58945