On the Chemical Origin of Biological Cognition

Robert Pascal, Addy Pross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


One of life’s most striking characteristics is its mental dimension, one whose very existence within a material system has long been a deep scientific mystery. Given the current scientific view that life emerged from non-life, how was it possible for ‘dead’ matter to have taken on mental capabilities? In this Perspective we describe the existence of a recently discovered non-equilibrium state of matter, an energized dynamic kinetic state, and demonstrate how particular chemical systems once activated into that kinetic state could manifest rudimentary cognitive behavior. Thus, contrary to a common view that biology is not reducible to physics and chemistry, recent findings in both chemistry and biology suggest that life’s mental state is an outcome of its physical state, and therefore may be explicable in physical/chemical terms. Such understanding offers added insight into the physico-chemical process by which life was able to emerge from non-life and the perennial ‘what is life?’ question. Most remarkably, it appears that Darwin, through his deep understanding of the evolutionary process, already sensed the existence of a connection between life’s physical and mental states.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2016
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • cognition
  • consciousness
  • dynamic kinetic stability
  • evolution
  • molecular replication
  • origin of life
  • thermodynamic stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)
  • Paleontology
  • Space and Planetary Science


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