The Principle of Life

Sixth edition

(OMIKK, 1987)


Every discipline has such an exciting period in its history, what makes possible for it to provide the quantitative formulation of its basic relationships, establishing thereby its own exact, axiomatic theory. In mechanics, this has been done by Newton in formulating his equations of motion; in electrodynamics by Maxwell withnsetting up the equations named after him. Some branches of science were not so lucky: for example in chemistry a century went by with the argumentation about different trends resulting in an ever improving formalism describing quantitatively chemical processes until finally Berzelius succeeded in refining chemical stoichiometry practically to its present form producing thereby an exact theoretical basis for chemistry.

In biology, an unbelievable amount of data and observations has been accumulated in the last centuries, especially in this century, and thus several previously mysterious processes of life have been clarified, such as heredity, photosynthesis, immunity, tec. Biology seems to have achieved by now the level of development to transform from an experimental into a theoretical science capable of interpreting and forecasting events occurring in living systems quantitatively. In several special branches (e.g. Mendelian genetics or population biology) this has already come true.

I feel happy to be the witness of 15 years from the three and a half decades of the birth process of one of the most beautiful, most general and perhaps the most exact paradigm of theoretical biology, the chemoton theory. At a time when the whole science apparatus of the world tried to discover the mechanism of the storage, replication and reading of biological information, Professor Gánti, the author of this book set the aim to study the operation of the „chemical supermachinary” governed and controlled by this hereditary information. Not that he would not know or esteem the results of molecular biology (a book of his appeared in 1966 on this subject), but because he supposed that the essence of life is hidden in the machinary controlled by the information enclosed in the genetic material through mechanisms revealed by molecular biology. By now it is for sure that he is right, since genes can be produced synthetically, but these genes are not capable of life by themselves. At the4 same time, with this choice, Gánti shut himself out of professional public life concentrating only on enzymes and genes, and thus it is understandable that his results were beyond the understanding of researchers dealing with narrower fields of the profession.

However, this relative isolation of the author brought him also some advantages: first of all he succeeded in extending the chemoton theory into a comprehensive and quantitative theory which is almost unprecedented in our today’s scientific world swarming with minute particulars. As a first step, a book entitled „The Principle of Life” was published in Hungarian in 1971 containing only a minimum of mathematical formulae. The book was welcome very cordially ba any interested reader who was able to read in Hungarian. This edition was followed by a mathematically more demanding book in English containing, however, only a narrow survey of biological principles and applications, entitled „A Theory of Biochemical Supersystems and its Application to Problems of Artificial and Natural Biogenesis”, which was published jointly by Akadémiai Kiadó, the Publishing House of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and by University Park Press (Baltimore). My personal opinion is that, unfortunately, the formulation is too concise, satisfying mainly mathematical interests and narrowing thereby the circle of people capable of understanding its concepts to those exceptionally perfect in mathematical modelling and theories. However, thoso who are capable of catching its concepts, set a very high value on the book.

Though by now a two-volume summarizing monograph entitled „The ChemotonTheory” has also been written by the author which contains the biological foundation of „The Principle of Life” on the one hand, and on the other also the up-to-date mathematical description of the model, the monograph is comprehensible only for the expert. Thus it is timely even today to formulate the eseence of the thoughts of the author, from raising the problem to its solution in a brief, but intellectually very interesting and exciting book for the non-professionals.

This is what is provided in this book entirtled „The Principle of Life” edited 5 times in 3 countries. This is the sixth, revised, up-to-date English version. It has been a pleasure for me to write this foreword in the hope that the demands of readers striving for understanding the essence and mechanisms of life will be satisfied by this book, those having a deeper interest and susceptible to raising and solving general questions are encouraged to study the two-volume monograph describing the theory in a more exact manner.

Dr. István Gyarmati

Corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Professor of physics