General theory of life

(Műszaki Könyvkiadó, 2000)


***  „However unbelievable it is, science searches the ways of the origin of life so that it does not know actually what is it looking for”

                                                                                              Tibor Gánti


The most difficult tasks are usually to answer fundamental questions  - actually infantile questions -. The thoughtful scientist, carrying out experiments avoid the discussion of questions of infinite spaces and times, the study of possible connections between energy, information and matter.

However, there are unavoidable fundamental questions. „What is life?” „What is the origin of life?” They surround us even when we want to escape from them.

For an ordinary biologist, life is an evidence. Such as water for a fish, air for men…the source of their being. They cannot exist without these elements, not even for a short moment, therefore they take it for granted. Tibor Gánti is not a common biologist, he is kept engaged exactly in the essence of life, the difference between living and non-living and the transition between them. ***  This interest was waken up early in him, already during his years of study, and it was ripened to a recognition, then to a theory, and after that to monographic works. In the meantime, generations grew up at reading his books. In trace of the cooperative thoughts of mental allies and adversaries, at home and abroad, worldwide, a specific new trend, a school of evolutionary biological thinking developed. In case of Tibor Gánti, the school forming principle of János Sylvester is fulfilled: „Scientists, make your pupils to scientists!”

International recognition is the result of the work of best direct and indirect students: time ripens its fruits. However, the creator of the chemoton theory could experience in the meantime also the truth: who wakes up early, wakes up in dark. And whoever dares to progress too far into the unknown, his own troops will probably also shoot at him. This is always the fate and risk of discoverers. His every day satisfaction is, however, that he alone discovered a field before his followers.

This foreword is also the result of such a follow up: it was born from confronting my own students with the chemoton theory. Let me to reconstruct shortly this story providing also general evidence.

During teaching the subject on evolution, the problems of the relation of living and non-living systems, the scientific explanation of the origin of life come up regularly at my lectures and seminars, more times yearly. It is a very important subject, since actually this is the point where faith and knowledge are separated. The questions should be dealt with also correspondingly, the faith of people should not be hurt, but also the trust in knowledge should be preserved. But the difference between these two very important and specifically human intellectual capacities should be clarified – with specific regard to the agressive sectarian views filtering nowadays also into the universities. This is a real rope-walking for every empathic university teacher, and the chemoton theory has helped to balance in this rope-walking succesfully, year by year.

As usual, the problem of the minimal living systems came up  also in the last semester. The theories looking for answers to the question of the essence of life were introduced, then the students were asked to grade the theories according to their own scale of values. The result was even more unambiguous than the grading in former years. Practically everybody saw the chemoton theory of Gánti the most comprehensive, most rational, such as that could help most efficiently to understand – both at the levels of details and connections –by which human logic was it possible to follow the development of a material system by swinging over from the non-living into a living system.

The thought that we should share the common opinion with the discoverer of the chemoton theory was born in our seminar discussions. Five students elaborated, then fifty undersigned the letter in which they thanked Tibor Gánti for his steadfast efforts in elaborating this train of thoughts. They did it then, when they had no idea about the preparation for the Hungarian and English publication of the book. The reply arrived by return of post, from which some thoughts concerning the recognition of creative work, also as an ethical evidence, are the following:                      

„The different kinds of recognition – be this verbal, or written recognition, such as your letter- have a very important significance for the society. The society is, namely, maintained by human work, but it is promoted by human creations. Societies coming quickly into the frontline of the world are those in which creations are esteemed  and in which the members of the society are inspired to creative work.

From the societal point of view, the role of recognition for creative work is different for young and older discoverers. In youth, a praise, a prize is mainly a stimulation …. In an older age, the societal role of a recognition is different. The main role is played here not by inspiration, but a prize or an order speaks first of all to the society. It says that such creative work should be done, this is how you have to work, you should be useful to society this way. This is nowadays very important, when the media radiate negative examples, when our environment stimulates enjoyment and not creation. „

The Műszaki Könyvkiadó (Technical Publisher) – by its new edition of the book concerning the principles of life which contains thoughts already in science history perspectives, performes a very useful work for both the young and not so young generations.

Why is the new edition useful for the upgrowing generation of engineers, teachers and scientists? This is indicated year by year by the most competent people: students interested in life in the fields of biology, environment research and agriculture. The message of the publisher to the public can be perhaps summarised by paraphrasing a saying of Bernard Shaw („I should have worked well, because I never have been decorated”):

Sometimes the real, permanent value of a work of somebody is shown by the prize given to him not by the friendly authorities, but by the value judgement of society, and not immediately, but after a longer time. And who survives until then, is lucky.

Universal and internal biological society is rich in belated recognitions. In my own, narrower professional field are the following in this category: József Gelei with his research work about chromosomes almost a hundred years ago, Imre Festetics with his research in „genetical laws” two hundred years ago, and György Lencsés with his 6-volumed monography on bioscience from the years of the sixteenth century, they all sleep their Sleeping Beauty sleep.

The fate of chemoton theory – compared with the former-  can be said lucky: it has lived and has taken continuously increasing  effect in the past fifty years. And now, with the English edition, it will hopefully step in the light of world science, and will continue to have an already world-wide impact.

Since -  „However unbelievable it is, science searches the ways of the origin of life so  that it does not know actually what is it looking for”

Veszprém, June 2000

Szabó T. Attila


From *** to ***: text on the backside of the book.