Illness and Energy

Free Energy, the all-powerful measure of a process’s energetic independence, offers one of the basest levels of scientific understanding, the “why” of the universe. Ask this question about the state of any known system and you may receive the answer, “because it is thermodynamically favorable.”

Why does a rock fall, when I drop it of the roof?

Because it is thermodynamically favorable.

Why does that rock smash in the roof of dad’s new Porsche, when it lands?

Because it is thermodynamically favorable.

Why does he beat me with an old pipe until my outsides look like my insides, and why does he eventually grow tired and stop?

Because these phenomena are thermodynamically favorable.

Why do atoms form molecules? Why do molecules freeze and melt and react and explode? Why do people eat, and breath, and run, and jump, and sleep, and love, and die? Because everything in the entire universe is governed by this law.

It can be sometimes hard to correlate energy to the process of life, because the scale of such measurements are so terribly tiny, especially in comparison to the human capacity for sensation, which is many orders of magnitude weaker than would be necessary to observe these phenomena without the aide of abstract scientific instruments. For example, the human eye can resolve at best objects about 0.1mm in size, that is 1×10^-4 meters. Cells are measured in micrometers (1×10^-6m) and molecules are measured in angstroms (one tenth of a nanometer, or 1×10^-10m). This means that the average person would need to see 1,000,000 times more clearly to observe the particles in question when analyzing chemical reactions, and the remainder of our senses are not much better as a rule. But if we could observe such a reaction, and given the understanding that the state of everything in the universe is the result of countless favorable free energy exchanges, then we might start to see the unity of physics and medicine, illness with energy.

Recent research by Carnegie Mellon University physicist Alex Evilevitch, attempting to quantify the thermodynamic cost of expelling genetic material across a membrane, has potentially opened new avenues in anti-viral medicine. They have accurately measured the energetic cost for a virus to invade a cell. This means that inhibiting this process may be as simple as lowering or raising the potential energy of a virus particle by a fraction of a joule. Science is cool. And, by the way, if you want to practice science, you need not have a sweet science-guy name like, Evilevitch.