Life and Light

There are some really strange things about the universe that science has uncovered in the past century, and among the strangest is the behavior of tiny particles such as protons and photons. Quantum entanglement is the phenomenon where two particles seem to be instantaneously linked, even if they are light years apart. Einstein originally called this spooky action at a distance, but it is real and demonstrable. However, it is so strange and so outside all of our logic and scientific understanding that it has been called “The God Effect” (1). Indeed, the concept of a simultaneous linkage between two particles independent of distance does seem to be supernatural.

One of the biggest mysteries in biology has long been the detailed mechanism of photosynthesis. In graduate school for biochemistry, I remember lots of holes in our knowledge of how sunlight could interact with stuff in green leaves to eventually produce sugar and chemical energy. And I found it quite difficult to fully understand the bits that were known.

Almost all life on earth depends on photosynthesis either directly or indirectly—without photosynthesis, animals would have nothing to eat—and it was photosynthesis that gave rise to oxygen gas in the atmosphere, which is required for large, complex animals like us to exist.

Since my graduate student days, we have learned a lot about how photosynthesis works to convert light energy to chemical energy. One stubborn mystery was how the process is able to convert light energy to chemical energy at such high efficiency, losing very little of it as heat. This is the only energy conversion process we know of with such high efficiency.

For the past decade or so, experiments (2) have indicated that photosynthetic bacteria and plants achieve this incredible feat by the use of quantum entanglement. When a photon strikes certain pigments associated with some enzymes in the chloroplast (the precise details are extremely complicated), electrons are elevated to a higher energy state, and then go through all possible pathways simultaneously (which is how entanglement works) to find the most efficient route to achieve the chemical reduction of the next protein in the electron transport chain that leads ultimately to conversion to chemical energy.

This is quite remarkable. First it had been assumed that many of the strange behaviors of particles related to quantum theory would not occur in “real world” situations, only under highly controlled laboratory conditions.  But these experiments suggest that quantum entanglement, besides being an esoteric, almost metaphysical property of particles in labs, is probably the most important physical phenomenon we know of when it comes to life. It isn’t a rare thing in the real world at all—rather, it is happening trillions and trillions of times per nanosecond everywhere on Earth. And it is critical to all life on the planet. No entanglement, no life.

If quantum entanglement really does defy all of our notions of normal cause and effect and suggests the existence of phenomena beyond our current understanding, I think it’s pretty interesting that life on earth is totally dependent on the reality of this quite remarkable, even “godly” effect.

1 The God Effect: Quantum Entanglement, Science’s Strangest Phenomenon by Brian Clegg Link

2 “Untangling the quantum entanglement behind photosynthesis.” Science Daily, Science News, May 11, 2010 Link.

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8 Responses to Life and Light

  1. SheilaDeeth says:

    Wow!!! Thank you; the world just keeps getting more and more fascinating.

  2. While not as popular (I think, due to its implication with regard to “free will”), I suspect the “transactional interpretation” of QM is probably closer to the truth. And the approach maintains mutually consistent causal relationships in a relativistic (block) universe. The recent Nobel was awarded because it supposedly used sources that couldn’t have had any causal connection at the time when the measurement was made. But point in any direction and go far enough back… it’s all ultimately connected at some point.

    We’d have to be passive observers; but it’s of more interest to me merely that an “experience” can arise from such transactions. If it’s not something reducible to a logical/mathematical relationship, then what is it that’s having the experience?

  3. Arnold says:

    “Return unto me, for I have redeemed you.. and I will return unto you,” is my heart’s desire. I want to know the Lord himself. And Sy, I suspect he’s drawing you too. After all, we belong to him.

  4. Ineke says:

    Such interesting and amazing stuff!
    At school it was explained to me as rather straightforward…

  5. Good to see you, Ineke. I pray all is well.

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