The Demon in the Machine

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The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information are Solving the Mystery of Life

The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information are Solving the Mystery of Life

Author: Paul Davies.
Publishing year: 2019.

The Demon in the Machine addresses the problem of consciousness head on and with a touch of novelty. It uses as stepping stones explanation to what is life and how it got started. Unfortunately, this questions prove to be equally difficult to grapple with.

Webs of Information

Paul Davies proposes we need to integrate information theory in our understanding of life. Even more, we need to be ready to discover new laws of physics and biology.

The Demon in the Machine offers answers to questions that arrived this century, in the era of computation and artificial intelligence. We can read a very compelling argument that we need to add information to the equation of life:

“But the vast and complex web of life on Earth is woven from information exchange between individuals and groups at all levels, from bacteria to human society.”

Snail on flower with pink background: biology of life.
 “… the emergence of life, and perhaps mind, are etched into the underlying lawfulness of nature…”

Our advances in computing and networking gives us the possibility to understand life in a new framework: 

“Viewing entire ecosystems as networks of information flow and storage raises some important questions”

Mystery of Life

What we need to understand is how does biology and life emerge from simple physics and chemistry. Even more, how does intelligence and consciousness evolve from complex biology

We need to find a definition broad enough to include bacterial life and maybe to some extent artificial life. But in the same time, it needs to exclude chemical reactions that have eerily similar properties.


Davies tries to explain life as biology’s higher level machine code:

“Likewise, to fully explain life we need to understand both its hardware and it’s software – it’s molecular organization and it’s informational organization.”

Biological life is not machine: mushroom with green background.
“Biological information is the software of life.”

Paul Davis puts forward the idea that current laws of physics might not be able to explain the emergence of life. Chemistry doesn’t just become biology. We are most likely missing some intermediary steps of the process. Information theory could be a good candidate. 

The Demon in the Machine is a lengthy, difficult read. It contains a large number of subjects. For example: computing and information theory to chemistry and biology and even quantum physics. However, the author thoroughly explains most of the difficult technical notions.

The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information are Solving the Mystery of Life
The Demon in the Machine

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