Letter | Published:

The Problem of the Autonomy of Life

Nature volume 149, page 552 (16 May 1942) | Download Citation



MY expression “potency for producing order” means potential availability for the occurrence of greater order (that is, decrease of entropy) in another system. It is no part of my business to enlighten Prof. Kapp on the principles of physical science, but I may perhaps help him by quoting a passage from the writings of a world-famous physicist1. “In individual sections of the universe, or in definite material systems, the movement may well be towards a higher degree of order, which is made possible because an adequate compensation occurs in some other systems. Now, according to what the physicist calls 'order', the heat stored up in the sun represents a fabulous provision for order, in so far as this heat has not yet been distributed equally over the whole universe (though its definite tendency is towards that dispersion), but is for the time being concentrated within a relatively small portion of space. The radiation of heat from the sun, of which a small portion reaches us, is the compensating process making possible the manifold forms of life and movement on the earth, which frequently present the features of increasing order.”

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    "Science and the Human Temperament", by . Translated by . (London, George Allen and Unwin., Ltd., 1935.) The passage quoted occurs on pp. 39 and 40.

Download references

Author information


  1. The Athenaeum, London, S.W.1.

    • F. G. DONNAN


  1. Search for F. G. DONNAN in:

About this article

Publication history





By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.