Great points, Tony.
If you have been blogging for some time, you would have realized how difficult it is for you to gain new readers. Even though you might be highly active and posting new articles every single day, what if there’s no one to read it? It’s better to have a private blog rather than to have a blog with no readers at all. To get your content out to the masses, you need to market it – sell your content to the readers and gain their loyalty.
But marketing is not as easy as it sounds and requires a lot of hard work. Here’s where marketing automation tools and platforms come into play, effectively reducing the burden on you.
Why You Should Market Your Content
You might be asking me why you should promote your blog and wondering if you even need to market it. Well, the simple answer is yes…
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Hungary uses intelligence agencies to combat Soros schemes, one world order, Black lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, racketeering laws, Activism, subversion
We Didn’t Beat ISIS, It’s Here, al qaeda
Source: We Didn’t Beat ISIS, It’s Here
Attack On White People Mounts New York professor says white nuclear family promotes racism. In The Camp of the Saints, diversity politics prevented marriag
Source: Attack On White People Mounts
How to Stay in the Present Moment in Everyday Life: 5 Simple Habits
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
There is only one time and place where you can be and have any control over.
The present moment.
But most of us still spend a lot of our regular days lost in memories, reliving a sunny vacation or maybe more commonly repeating an old conflict or negative situation over and over in our thoughts.
Or we get lost in scenarios about what could happen in the future. Maybe through wishful daydreams. Or maybe by building monsters in our minds as thoughts go round and and round and create scary and dangerous mountains out of molehills or just air.
Or your thoughts may become split and unfocused between several different things and tasks.
If you spend a lot of your everyday moments and time in the future or the past or you have difficulty focusing and you feel this may have a negative effect on your life then maybe you want to learn to live more in the present moment.
Here’s what works for me to do that. Just a few simple things that I use in my normal day.
1. Single-task not only your work.
I and many others have often written and talked about the importance of single-tasking your work to get it done more effectively.
I have found that it becomes easier for me to stay present for more time throughout my day if I single-task everything as best I can.
That means to not use tabs when I browse the internet but to just be fully engaged with one thing online at a time. It means to not use my smartphone or my computer as I also try to watch the TV. Or to use any of those internet-devices during a conversation.
Get a good start to your day and set the tone for it by doing one thing at a time as soon as you wake up.
If you have to multitask, then try to set off some specific time for it during your day. Maybe an hour or so in the afternoon.
2. Do it slowly.
When you wake up and starting doing your first thing of the day, then slow it down a bit.
Do it and the next few things at a relaxed and calm pace. It will probably not take that much longer than if you do it quickly. And you’ll be able to stay present more easily, to focus on each thing you do and to find a simple joy or stillness in it.
Do that instead of increasing your stress right away and getting stuck in worries or though loops about what may happen today before you even have had your breakfast.
And as you move through your day, try to do it slowly when you can.
3. Tell yourself: now I am…
As I do something I simply tell myself this in my mind: Now I am X.
For example, if I am brushing my teeth, then I tell myself: Now I am brushing my teeth.
This habit is maybe most important when doing things where it is easy to drift away to the future or past. It could be when you brush your hair or teeth or when you are taking a walk to the supermarket.
I don’t tell myself this line all the time, but I pepper it in a couple of times throughout my day.
4. Minimize what you let into your head early in the day.
If I check the email, Facebook and other websites online early in the day then I have found that I will have more thoughts bouncing around in my head. And so it becomes a lot harder to concentrate on anything, to stay present and to not be dragged away into some negative thought loop.
So the kind option towards myself has become to not check anything early in the day. And to check things as few times as I can.
If I minimize such things then my day becomes lighter and simpler and I not only stay present more easily but I also tend to get more things of importance done.
5. No, no, no + reconnect with the here and now.
The four tips above make it easier to stay in the present moment and to use it and enjoy it fully. But each day I still drift into the past or the future. Or my thoughts become split between different things.
If you have read any of my stuff on self-esteem then you know that I often use a stop-word or phrase to quickly disrupt and stop the inner critic or a self-esteem damaging train of thought. I do the same thing here.
As quickly as I notice that my thoughts have drifted away I say to myself: No, no, no.
Then I quickly follow that up with focusing on just my breathing or just on what is happening around me right now with all my senses for a minute or two to draw myself back into this present moment.
CPJ’s 2017 Global Impunity Index spotlights countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free
By Elisabeth Witchel, CPJ Impunity Campaign Consultant
Published October 31, 2017
Impunity in the murders of journalists can be an intractable cycle stretching over a decade or more, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 10th annual Global Impunity Index, a ranking of countries where journalists are murdered and their killers go free. Seven countries on this year’s index have been listed every year since the index launched a decade ago–including Somalia, which is the worst country for unsolved murders for the third year in a row.
- The Index
- Statistical Table
- Video: Getting Away With Murder
- Infographic: Impunity Facts and Figures
Impunity thrives in conflict environments, where powerful actors often use violent intimidation to control media coverage, while weak-to-nonexistent law and order increases the likelihood of attacks. Justice for over two dozen journalists murdered in Somalia in the past decade is one casualty of prolonged civil war and an insurgency waged by al-Shabaab extremists.
The war in Syria pushed that country into the second worst spot on the index, compared with third last year. Third on this year’s index is Iraq, where journalists are menaced by the militant group Islamic State and state-backed militias, among other groups.
Fighting between political factions in South Sudan, number four on the index, is the backdrop behind a 2015 ambush during which five journalists were killed. Threats from violent extremist groups operating beyond the reach of authorities underpin high impunity rates in three other countries on the index: Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria.
Afghanistan dropped off the list for the first time since CPJ began calculating the index in 2008. Though security conditions remain volatile and no convictions in journalist murders were achieved, targeted killings of journalists have declined. Instead, larger-scale acts of violence such as a truck bomb attack in downtown Kabul in May that killed 150 people, including one journalist, are responsible for recent fatalities. Over a dozen journalists have been killed there in the past decade while covering combat, by crossfire, or while covering dangerous assignments. CPJ records only two murders, both unsolved, for the period covered by this index.
The Impunity Index, published annually to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on November 2, calculates the number of unsolved murders over a 10-year period as a percentage of each country’s population. For this edition, CPJ analyzed journalist murders in every nation that took place between September 1, 2007 and August 31, 2017. Only those nations with five or more unsolved cases for the period are included on the index-a threshold that 12 countries met this year, compared with 13 last year. Read more about CPJ’s methodology.
Conflict is not the only cause of impunity. In countries such as the Philippines, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, and India-countries that bill themselves as democracies but have repeatedly appeared on the index-government officials and criminal groups go unpunished for murdering journalists in high numbers.
Over the decade that CPJ has published the Global Impunity Index, Somalia’s impunity rating shot up by 198 percent. Other countries that saw impunity ratings increase the most over the past decade are: Mexico (142 percent), Pakistan (113 percent), and India (100 percent); Syria (up 195 percent) and Brazil (up 177 percent) experienced huge increases in impunity despite not appearing on the index all 10 years.
In addition to Afghanistan, four countries that appeared on the index have come off at various times since 2008: Colombia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. Their exit from the list is attributable primarily to declines in violence associated with the end of civil wars rather than with prosecutions being achieved. Only Colombia and Nepal convicted the perpetrators of journalist killings, and only in a handful of cases.
International attention to the issue of impunity in journalist murders has increased in the past 10 years. The United Nations has adopted a total of five resolutions–three by the Human Rights Council, one by the General Assembly and the one by the Security Council–urging states to take measures to promote justice when journalists are attacked. This year also marked the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the U.N. Plan of Action for the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
This year, 23 states responded to the UNESCO director general’s request for information on
the status of investigations into killed journalists, including eight countries on this index. Pakistan acknowledged receipt of the request, but did not provide information. Three index countries-India, South Sudan, and Syria-failed to respond at all. CPJ and other press freedom groups advocate for full participation by all states in this accountability mechanism.
Among the other findings from CPJ’s data on murdered journalists:
- The 12 countries on the index account for nearly 80 percent of the unsolved murders that took place worldwide during the 10-year period ending August 31, 2017.
- Four countries on this year’s index-India, Mexico, Nigeria, and the Philippines-are on the governing council of the Community of Democracies, a coalition dedicated to upholding and strengthening democratic norms.
- In five countries listed on the index, new murders took place over the past year, a testimony to the powerful cycle of impunity and violence.
- Political groups, including Islamic State and other extremist organizations, are the suspected perpetrators in one third of murder cases. Government and military officials are considered the leading suspects in about a quarter of the murders.
- About 93 percent of murder victims are local reporters. The majority cover politics and corruption in their home countries.
- In at least 40 percent of cases, murder victims reported receiving threats before they were killed, highlighting the need for robust protection mechanisms.
- In only 4 percent of total murder cases has there been full justice, including prosecution of those who commissioned the crime.
- In the past 10 years, around 30 percent of murdered journalists were first taken captive-higher than the historical average of 22 percent since CPJ began tracking in 1992. The majority of those taken captive are tortured, sending a chilling message to the victims’ colleagues.
Journalists killed with complete impunity in past decade: 26
Getting away with murder: Militant groups like al-Shabaab, government officials
Targeted for murder: Local journalists covering politics, culture, and war
Progress: None since early 2016, when military courts sentenced suspects in connection to six murders
Setback: At least one journalist, Abdiaziz Ali, was murdered since last year’s index was compiled. Somalia has issued the death penalty against at least three individuals accused of murdering journalists, in contrast with international human rights norms. In February, newly elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed announced his support for media freedom, but he has failed to advance justice in the killings of any journalists.
Illustrative case: Abdiaziz Ali was walking home from his parents’ house in Mogadishu in September 2016 when two men on motorbikes pulled over and shot him several times. Abdiaziz had reported on the civilian toll of Somalia’s conflict between government forces and the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab. At least eight journalists murdered in the past decade were affiliated with Abdiaziz’s news outlet, the Shabelle Media Network.
Journalists killed with complete impunity in past decade: 17
Getting away with murder: Islamic State and other militant groups, security forces
Targeted for murder: Local journalists and international correspondents covering human rights, war, and politics
Progress: CPJ has not confirmed any murders of journalists in Syria since last year’s index, though it has recorded at least six other journalist fatalities in that period, including deaths by crossfire and while carrying out dangerous assignments.
Setback: Syria moved up one spot, from number three to number two, on the Impunity Index. Not a single case of a journalist’s murder has been prosecuted in Syria since CPJ began keeping track. Syria has never responded to UNESCO’s requests for the judicial status of journalist killings in the country.
Illustrative case: In December 2015, 23-year-old Ahmed Mohamed Al-Mousa was shot twice in the head in front of his family home in Abu al-Duhur, a town in northwestern Syria. Al-Mousa was an editor for Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), a Syrian citizen journalist group. Al-Mousa’s murder came amid a campaign of violence by Islamic State against members of RBSS and other Syrian journalists.
Journalists killed with complete impunity in past decade: 34
Getting away with murder: Militias, Islamic State, government officials. More than half of the murders over the past decade took place in or near Mosul
Targeted for murder: Local journalists covering culture, politics, war, corruption, and human rights
Progress: Iraq fell to the third spot on the index from number two last year. The number of journalist murders has fallen since the mid-2000s, when sectarian violence was even more pervasive.
Setback: Iraq has failed to fully prosecute a single killing of a journalist. In only one case, the 2013 murder of Kawa Garmyanein Kurdistan, have any suspects been convicted; the mastermind behind the assassination remains at large. In addition to killings and abductions by Islamic State in recent years, Shia militias that mobilized to fight the terrorist group also menace journalists with impunity.
Illustrative case: In January 2016, broadcast reporter Saif Talal and his colleague, cameraman Hassan al-Anbaki, were driving in Diyala province in eastern Iraq when unidentified gunmen intercepted their vehicle, forced them out the car, and shot them dead. Their station, Al-Sharqiya, accused “one of the militias on the loose” of carrying out the murder.
Journalists killed with complete impunity in past decade: 5
Getting away with murder: Unknown
Targeted for murder: Local journalists covering politics and war
Setback: No culprits have been identified, let alone convicted, in any of the five journalist murders CPJ has documented in South Sudan. In this climate of impunity, journalists have been detained, harassed, and physically attacked, as well as killed in crossfire. Several journalists have been murdered for reasons that CPJ was unable to connect to their work, such as ethnic strife. South Sudan has never responded to UNESCO’s requests for the judicial status of journalist killings in the country.
Illustrative case: In January 2015, five journalists were shot, attacked with machetes, and set on fire in an ambush in Western Bahr al Ghazal state. The journalists were in a politician’s convoy.
Journalists killed with complete impunity in past decade: 42
Getting away with murder: Government officials
Targeted for murder: Local journalists from outside the capital covering politics, corruption, business, and crime
Progress: The Philippines dropped one place in the index from last year. In October 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte formed the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, which includes a designated team of investigators and prosecutors for the speedy probe of new cases of media killings. The commission has announced investigations into several murders, but no convictions have been achieved. Meanwhile, two people including a former policeman claimed Duterte ordered the killing of radio broadcaster Jun Pala in 2003, when Duterte was mayor of Davao City. Duterte has denied any connection to the crime.
Setbacks: There has been one murder since the previous index, the March 2017 shooting of reporter Joaquin Briones. Justice has not advanced for the 2009 Maguindanao massacre victims, among them 32 journalists and media workers. Three (out of dozens) of suspects were acquitted in July this year on grounds of insufficient evidence. The regional appeals court also upheld petitions for bailby Datu Sajid, a principal suspect, according to news reports.
Illustrative case: In April 2014, two gunmen went into the home of tabloid reporter Rubylita Garcia and shot her multiple times. She died in the hospital shortly after. Garcia had worked to expose wrongdoing in the Cavite province police force. A senior police officer was named by the justice department as the main suspect, but no one has been prosecuted.
Journalists killed with complete impunity in past decade: 21
Getting away with murder: Criminal groups such as drug traffickers
Targeted for murder: Local journalists reporting on crime, corruption, and politics in cartel-dominated states
Progress: Partial justice was meted out in March 2017 when police commander Santiago Martínez was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the 2016 murder of reporter Marcos Hernández Bautista. The mastermind has not been prosecuted. In May, President Enrique Peña Nieto pledged in a meeting with a CPJ delegation to prioritize combating impunity in the murders of journalists. He subsequently replaced the special prosecutor for crimes against free expression, a post tasked with investigating the killings of journalists. The move followed the release of CPJ’s special report “No Excuse,” which calls on the government to do more to break the cycle of violence in Mexico.
Setback: In 2017 alone, at least four journalists have been murdered in connection to their work.
Illustrative case: On May 15, 2017, investigative reporter Javier Valdez Cárdenas was dragged from his car and shot dead in Culiacán in Sinaloa state. Valdez, who received CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 2011, dedicated his life to telling the stories of the victims of Mexico’s drug war. The office of the federal Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) has taken charge of his case, but no one has been arrested.
Journalists killed with complete impunity in past decade: 21
Getting away with murder: Islamist militants, military and intelligence agencies, political parties, criminal groups
Targeted for murder: Local journalists reporting on war, politics, corruption, and human rights
Progress: CPJ has not confirmed any work-related murder of a journalist since 2015, though several journalists have been victims of non-fatal attacks or killings that CPJ has not been able to link to journalism.
Setback: Perpetrators have been prosecuted in only two murders that have taken place in the past decade. An investigation that was reopened last year in the 2014 New Year’s Day murder of journalist Shan Dahar appears to be at a standstill. A draft “Journalists Welfare and Protection” bill has been working its way through a broad consultation process but the independent Pakistan Press Foundation has criticized it for failing to include measures to combat impunity in attacks on the media.
Illustrative case: In April 2014, two unidentified gunmen stormed the offices of the independent news agency Online International News Network in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, and shot dead bureau chief Irshad Mastoi and trainee reporter Ghulam Rasool. Prior to the attack, Mastoi had been threatened by an array of actors, including sectarian and militant groups and security personnel, according to family and colleagues. Local journalists in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and Balochistan work under pressure from many sources: pro-Taliban groups, Pakistani security forces and intelligence agencies, separatists, and state-sponsored anti-separatist militias. More than two-thirds of the killings that took place in Pakistan included in this index took place in these areas.
Journalists killed with complete impunity in past decade: 15
Getting away with murder: Government officials, criminal groups
Targeted for murder: Journalists reporting on corruption, crime, and politics outside the major cities
Progress: For the first time since 2009, CPJ has not recorded any new murders of journalists in Brazil, a possible indication that its stepped-up efforts to combat impunity-in the past four years Brazil has convicted suspects in six cases-are having an impact.
Setback: While the murders of journalists have slowed, so have prosecutions. No one has been sentenced for a journalist murder since 2015, when the gunman who perpetrated the murders of photographer Walgney Assis de Carvalho and reporter Walgney Assis de Carvalho was convicted.
Illustrative case: Gleydson Carvalho was shot live on the air while presenting his afternoon radio show in April 2015. Prior to his murder, Carvalho, who was known to be critical in his broadcasts of local police and politicians, including a local mayor, had received death threats. Five suspects, including the alleged gunman, have been arrested but not tried. The suspected mastermind remains at large.
Journalists killed with complete impunity in past decade: 9
Getting away with murder: Government officials, political groups
Targeted for murder: Journalists reporting on corruption, human rights, politics, and war
Progress: Suspects have been convicted in three cases of journalists murdered in the past decade, though in only one, the 2009 shooting of Anastasiya Baburova, was the mastermind identified and prosecuted.
Setback: At least two journalists, Dmitry Popkov and Nikolai Andrushchenko, have been murdered in retaliation for their journalism in 2017, ending a lull of nearly three years in which CPJ did not record any targeted killings.
Illustrative case: Natalya Estemirova, contributor to the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and an advocate for the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial, was abducted near her home in Grozny, Chechnya, early on July 15, 2009. A few hours later, her body, with gunshot wounds in the chest and head, was found in a ditch next to a highway. Estemirova had reported relentlessly on human rights violations committed by federal and regional authorities in Chechnya. No one has been prosecuted for her murder, and the investigation has been at a standstill since 2013.
Journalists killed with complete impunity in past decade: 7
Getting away with murder: Members of extremist and criminal groups
Targeted for murder: Secular bloggers, journalists reporting on drug trafficking
Progress: In November last year, police arrested a member of the militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team who admitted involvement in the murders of two secular bloggers, Niloy Neel and Faisal Arefin Dipan, according to news reports. Since 2015, several suspects have been detained in these and other brutal attacksagainst secular bloggers and editors.
Setback: Only in one case, that of Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was hacked to death in 2013, have the killers been convicted.
Illustrative case: In 2015, two assailants stabbed and hacked blogger Avijit Roy to death as he was leaving a book fair in the Dhaka University campus area. Roy’s wife was badly injured in the attack. Roy, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi origin, wrote blog posts on secular issues including atheism and free expression. Despite multiple leads and arrests, no one has been prosecuted.
Journalists killed with complete impunity in past decade: 5
Getting away with murder: Extremist group Boko Haram, unknown assailants
Targeted for murder: Local journalists covering war, politics, and human rights
Setback: Several nonfatal attacks and arrests of journalists took place this year. In June, editor Charles Otu was abducted and beaten by thugs who told him to stop writing critically of the Ebonyi state government.
Illustrative case: Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the October 2011 murder of Zakariya Isa, a reporter and cameraman for the state-run Nigeria Television Authority.
Journalists killed with complete impunity in past decade: 13
Getting away with murder: Criminal and political groups, government officials
Targeted for murder: Journalists reporting on local corruption, crime, and politics outside main urban areas
Progress: In April, India’s Maharashtra state passed legislation outlying stiffer penalties for incidents of violence against journalists and news outlets. The new law requires high-ranking police officers to investigate incidents of violence against journalists and designates such attacks a non-bailable offense, according to the International Federation of Journalists.
Setback: All murders of journalists in India documented by CPJ have been carried out with complete impunity. On September 5, 2017, after the research period for this index closed, independent journalist Gauri Lankesh, was shot dead outside her home in Bangalore. India has never responded to UNESCO’s requests for the judicial status of journalist killings in the country.
Illustrative case: Umesh Rajput, a reporter with the Hindi-language daily Nai Dunia, was shot dead outside his home in Chhura village, on the outskirts of Raipur district in the central state of Chhattisgarh, on January 23, 2011. The 33-year-old journalist reported on allegations of medical negligence and claims that the son of a politician was involved in illegal gambling. Six years later, no one has been arrested for Rajput’s murder.
CPJ’s Impunity Index calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population. For this index, CPJ examined journalist murders that occurred between September 1, 2007, and August 31, 2017, and that remain unsolved. Only those nations with five or more unsolved cases are included on this index. CPJ defines murder as a deliberate attack against a specific journalist in relation to the victim’s work. Murders make up nearly two thirds of work-related deaths among journalists, according to CPJ research. This index does not include cases of journalists killed in combat or while on dangerous assignments such as coverage of street protests. Cases are considered unsolved when no convictions have been obtained. Cases in which some but not all suspects have been convicted are classified as partial impunity. Cases in which the suspected perpetrators were killed during apprehension are also categorized as partial impunity. The index only analyzes murders that have been carried out with complete impunity; it does not include those where partial justice has been achieved. Population data from the World Bank’s 2016 World Development Indicators were used in calculating each country’s rating.
|4||South Sudan||5||12.2||0.409||Up 0.10%|
*Source: population 2016 World Bank development indicators http://data.worldbank.org
CPJ’s Impunity Index is compiled as part of the organization’s Global Campaign Against Impunity, which is made possible thanks in part to the Leon Levy Foundation.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The third bullet point has been corrected to reflect the number of index countries where new murders took place over the past year.
Imam Mohammad Tawhidi says he repeatedly warned New York Mayor Bill De Blasio about the terror threat in New York City but that he was ignored because De Blasio was more interested in undermining President Trump.
An Islamic terrorist pledging allegiance to ISIS killed eight people and injured at least eleven others yesterday, mowing them down in a pick-up truck on a bike track alongside West Street in Lower Manhattan.
Iranian-born Imam Mohammad Tawhidi revealed on Twitter that he had given De Blasio specific intelligence about the terror threat in the city but was rebuffed every time he reached out.
“About #NYC terrorist attack, I personally sent letters to Mayor De Blasio online & in person about terrorist breeding in NYC.He did nothing,” tweeted Tawhidi, adding, “In 2016, I told Mayor De Blasio that I was in NYC and noticed some hot radical centres. I was willing to point out serious cases. Ignored!”
About #NYC terrorist attack, I personally sent letters to Mayor De Blasio online & in person about terrorist breeding in NYC.He did nothing.
“Not only am I a Muslim Imam who understands the threat of Islamic Extremism, I also hold a certificate in counter-terrorism. Now what!?” asked Tawhidi.
The imam then suggested that De Blasio was more interested in trying to sabotage the Trump presidency than fighting Islamic extremism.
“Fact: In the last two years, De Blasio spent all his energy and resources in trying to bring down President Trump and not Islamic Extremists,” said Tawhidi.
The charge that De Blasio was too busy undermining Trump to focus on the terror threat in his own city resonates with criticism the Mayor received back in June when DeBlasio rushed off to Hamburg, Germany to show solidarity with far-left protesters at the G-20 Summit.
Those same protesters, many of whom were members of Antifa, later caused mayhem in the city during a series of riots, assaults and attacks on private property.
Why trees don’t ungrow
The cliché that life transcends the laws of thermodynamics is completely wrong. The truth is almost exactly the opposite
Living things are so impressive that they’ve earned their own branch of the natural sciences, called biology. From the perspective of a physicist, though, life isn’t different from non-life in any fundamental sense. Rocks and trees, cities and jungles, are all just collections of matter that move and change shape over time while exchanging energy with their surroundings. Does that mean physics has nothing to tell us about what life is and when it will appear? Or should we look forward to the day that an equation will finally leap off the page like a mathematical Frankenstein’s monster, and say, once and for all, that this is what it takes to make something live and breathe?
As a physicist, I prefer to chart a course between reductionism and defeat by thinking about the probability of matter becoming more life-like. The starting point is to see that there are many separate behaviours that seem to distinguish living things. They harvest energy from their surroundings and use it as fuel to make copies of themselves, for example. They also sense, and even predict things about the world they live in. Each of these behaviours is distinctive, yes, but also limited enough to be able to conceive of a non-living thing that accomplishes the same task. Although fire is not alive, it might be called a primitive self-replicator that ‘copies’ itself by spreading. Now the question becomes: can physics improve our understanding of these life-like behaviours? And, more intriguingly, can it tell us when and under what conditions we should expect them to emerge?
Increasingly, there’s reason to hope the answer might be yes. The theoretical research I do with my colleagues tries to comprehend a new aspect of life’s evolution by thinking of it in thermodynamic terms. When we conceive of an organism as just a bunch of molecules, which energy flows into, through and out of, we can use this information to build a probabilistic model of its behaviour. From this perspective, the extraordinary abilities of living things might turn out to be extreme outcomes of a much more widespread process going on all over the place, from turbulent fluids to vibrating crystals – a process by which dynamic, energy-consuming structures become fine-tuned or adapted to their environments. Far from being a freak event, finding something akin to evolving lifeforms might be quite likely in the kind of universe we inhabit – especially if we know how to look for it.
The understanding that life and heat are intertwined is very old knowledge. Moses, for one, was launched into his first encounter with the Creator of all life by the sight of a tree ablaze, burning with a marvellous fire that left the living organism unscathed.
In physics, heat is a form of energy, made up of the random movements and collisions of molecules as they bounce off each other at the nanoscale. Much of the world’s energy is tied up as heat. Although it sounds like something that just wobbles around in the background as other factors take centre stage, it actually plays a crucial role in making some of the most interesting kinds of behaviour possible. In particular, we’ll see that heat and time are bound together in an intricate dance, and the release of heat is what stops time going backwards.
Some things in the world seem reversible: I can kick a ball upward and it will rise, or I can drop a ball from a height, and it will fall. Putting it this way just seems like common sense, but it turns out that this pairing of dynamical trajectories, where one path looks like the time-reversed movie of the other, is a symmetry built into the basic mathematical structure of Newton’s laws. Anything that can go one way can go the other, if you just set it moving back the way it came. As a consequence, the most ‘normal’ thing in physics would be for events to be able to reverse themselves in time, just like the ball that goes up and then down.
We don’t immediately grasp the sweeping significance of time-reversal symmetry because a whole lot of what we see doesn’t seemto have this property. Little green shoots soak up the Sun and grow into mighty trees, but we never see a full-grown pine ‘ungrow’ itself into a cone buried in the dirt. Sandcastles disintegrate under the waves, but we never see them splash back together when the tide recedes. Countless examples of ordinary occurrences around us would look extraordinary if they happened in rewind. The ‘arrow of time’ seems to point in one direction, but there’s no obvious reason in principle to think it should. So what’s going on?
The short answer is that we’re not looking closely enough. When a piece of wood burns, an enormous amount of heat and chemical product is exchanged with the surrounding air. In order to run the tape backwards and spontaneously generate wood from ash and anti-flame, we’d have to somehow give every little molecule in the ash and atmosphere a backwards push to send it bouncing along the reverse track. That is not going to happen.
In a rigorous, quantitative sense, the dissipation of heat is the price we pay for the arrow of time
Many scientific commentators have noted the connection between heat and the arrow of time. However, only in the past 20 years or so have physicists developed a crisp, comprehensive formulation of the relationship. One of the most important contributions came from a theorist named Gavin Crooks, now at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in the United States. He asked the following question: given that I have a movie (say, of a piece of wood burning to ash or a plant growing) and the rewind version of that movie, how would I tell which one is more likely to happen?
By applying some basic assumptions, he was able to mathematically prove the following. If you have a system (a piece of wood or a plant, for example) surrounded by a ‘bath’ of randomly jiggling particles (say, the atmosphere), the more heat the system releases into its bath, the less likely it is to rewind itself. In a rigorous, quantitative sense, the dissipation of heat is the price we pay for the arrow of time.
Why? Another way of phrasing this insight is to note that the more a system increases the entropy of its surroundings, the more irreversible it becomes. Now, it must be said that in the grand contest for the most misunderstood idea in the history of physics, entropy is probably the winner. Even people who are normally averse to any mention of the natural sciences will sagely volunteer that entropy – read: messiness, dysfunction, chaos, disorder, who knows? – must increase, all the time. It’s the second law of thermodynamics, obviously. But this simple picture can’t be right. Living organisms, for one, seem to defy this misleading gloss on the second law. They take disorganised bits and pieces of matter, and put them together in fiendishly complex and refined ways.
Thankfully, the full story is substantially more nuanced. Connoisseurs use entropy in a technical, microscopic sense, as a statistical measure of the number of different ways the same kind of arrangement of matter can be constructed out of its constituent parts. For a room full of air, for example, it turns out there are just many, many more ways of spreading out the molecules uniformly than there are of squishing them into clumps. That’s why uniform air density wins the entropic game, and nature abhors a vacuum. The particles diffuse themselves evenly because that’s just the most likely thing to happen over time.
The connection between entropy and heat is more subtle. Remember that heat is energy diffused randomly among the particles in a substance. The more energy, the more ways of sharing it around; and the more ways of sharing the energy around, the higher the entropy. Back to Crooks’s example of a system in a bath, then, the more heat a system releases, the more it increases the entropy of its surroundings – and, as Crooks showed, the less likely it is that this sequence of events could rewind itself.
This is what the second law means: the reason a heat-producing movie is more likely than its heat-absorbing re-run has to do with the number of ways you can disperse that heat in the surrounding bath. The more heat you throw into the bath, the less hope you have of getting it back from a freak fluctuation, and the less likely it is that you will have the energy you need to retrace your steps once the movie has run forward. It’s like releasing a bagful of feathers into a gusting wind and hoping to catch them with a net. If you only release one feather, the gale might blow it back to you; but if you release hundreds or thousands, the chance of capturing them all is basically nil.
Now we can bring life into the picture. Living things clearly have energy to burn, and they get this energy from being worked on. Like heat, ‘work’ in thermodynamics involves units of energy. But instead of the uncoordinated wiggling of molecules, here it’s a measure of how much and how fast energy has been transferred to a system from its surroundings in a way that produces a change. There are a variety of versions, such as movement, volume change and chemical transformation. What unites these processes is that energy is being forced, pushed or driven into a system from the outside, in a way that modifies the system’s shape or location. When you hit a car, it might move, or you might dent it, or both. In any case, you’ve done work on it.
Life is superb at capturing energy through work. Growing a plant means doing work on it, no less than when we put shoulder to yoke and drag a cart up a hill. In these situations the conservation of energy required by Newton’s laws implies one of two things: either all the energy put in as work stays stored in the system, like the compressed spring in a Jack-in-the-box; or else it’s released into the surroundings as heat. Recall, too, what we said before about the release of heat and time-reversal symmetry. So the question of how much work gets done, and when, makes all the difference to which events are more or less likely in the movie we’re watching.
Now we know why mighty trees don’t ungrow themselves: because life produces heat. From a physics perspective, a tree harvests energy from its surroundings – work is done on it – and in the process, it dissipates energy to the surrounding air as heat. The differences in probability between forward and reverse in such cases are staggering. Even ungrowing a single photosynthetic bacterium is less likely than growing one by a factor of roughly 1050 billion! Suffice it to say, once the work gets flowing (and dissipating), backwards movies usually cease to be worth even talking about.
With a few tricks of algebra, you can use Crooks’s equation to compare the likelihoods of two future events in a system that’s being pushed by external forces and surrounded by a bath of randomly jiggling molecules. That includes the plant growing in the air, and anything that’s alive, in fact. So, if I zap a chemical mixture with electric shocks, or mechanically vibrate the container of a viscous fluid – does thinking about work and heat help me to predict if something resembling life might eventually emerge, after some energy has been allowed to flux through the system? Perhaps, but with a twist.
To probe the implications of work for how life (and evolution) evolved, a more versatile analogy is required. Let’s imagine a battery-powered car, exploring a rugged mountain range. Mathematically, the car’s location can be thought of as corresponding to the full microscopic configuration of a system composed of many different particles. Every spot on the terrain that the car might be, we can think of as a unique and different way of arranging all the molecular building blocks of some larger object. Accordingly, we have to think of the car not as having four cardinal directions to drive in, but rather, 1025 or more! And somewhere, out on that vast sierra, there’s a spot that represents a bacterium, a plant, a cat.
At any given moment, our car is furiously spinning its wheels, winding its way slowly up over a narrow pass, or bouncing rapidly down into another ravine. From time to time, the car randomly swerves and changes direction. This is a reasonable metaphor for a system that undergoes changes in energy, but doesn’t experience external drives that do work on it. Sometimes, the car goes uphill; this corresponds to our system absorbing heat and storing the energy, like the spring in a jack-in-the-box. Sometimes, the car goes downhill, which we’d liken to the clown popping out of the box as the spring is released.
So where does the exploring car end up? Both intuition and a more rigorous treatment of the physics tell us that two basic factors are going to affect what happens. First, the car is more likely to drive to places that are close to its starting point, and separated from that point by relatively flat terrain. Second, it will tend to go downhill more than it tends to go uphill. After a very long time, we might expect the car to wander so much that we’d have no idea where it was at the beginning – but its avoidance of hilltops and preference for valleys would probably remain.
Think of an opera singer who shatters a goblet with the perfect pitch of her song, due to a phenomenon known as resonance
To bring work into the picture, we just need to give the car a solar panel. This makes its wheels spin more vigorously when it’s positioned and angled so that the Sun is brightest. Now the rules of thumb for how the car explores are going to get dramatically more complicated. All things being equal, we’d still expect the car to stay close to home, go downhill, and avoid rugged terrain (at least until it gets stuck). In addition, we now have to think about the places and times that the car will get a power-boost from the Sun overhead. There are going to be cases where the car can more readily traverse a sunny hill than a shady plain, because of the extra help it gets by staying in the bright spots.
Given enough time, we can no longer be confident that we’ll find the car in some deep valley near home base; instead, we have to think about how far and how fast it might have travelled if it found a path on which the Sun kept shining. Described in this way, the vehicle’s dynamics are affected by a dizzying variety of factors, and there are many more possibilities for where the mountain-rover might go.
The solar-powered mountain-rover metaphor helps us to think about the evolution of a very diverse range of work-absorbing systems. Of course, the prospect of sifting through such a vast space of possibilities and landing on life at first seems hopeless. But things look different once we ask a simple question, namely: what determines which places are sunny, and which places aren’t?
At least part of the answer comes from the peculiarities of how a system’s structure allows it to connect with its surrounding energy source. Children often notice that a wineglass will ring at a different pitch depending on how much water is poured into it. A different, but related observation is that vessels made from the same amount of glass, and filled with the same amount of water, can ring at different pitches depending on their shape.
What this reveals is that the way matter is arranged can significantly affect how it tends to move and vibrate. Not only that, but the details of such an arrangement also change how matter absorbs work energy from its surroundings. Think of an opera singer who shatters a goblet with the perfect pitch of her song, due to a phenomenon known as resonance. Here, because the glass tends to vibrate at a frequency that is well-matched to the frequency of the sound, the oscillations in the glass produced by the energy in the sound waves are violent enough to break it.
We encounter the work-absorbing peculiarities of how matter is arranged all around us: from the ways pigment molecules absorb and scatter light so that we perceive them as having colours, to the fact that we can digest and be nourished by the starch in a potato more than by the cellulose in a bale of hay. From the perspective of chemical physics, a human being’s inability to eat grass is just about how the atoms that comprise a person’s digestive system are arranged. If these same carbons, nitrogens, oxygens and so on were re-fashioned into a cow stomach, the chemical work stored in grass would be ours for the taking.
It’s when we take this idea back to our solar-powered rover that things get interesting. Suppose we start with a collection of chemical building blocks in a thrown-together, uninteresting structure. That corresponds to parachuting the car into a randomly chosen starting location in the mountain range. But now, suppose that we subject these chemical building blocks to a challengingexternal environment – to a collection of energy sources that are accessible in principle, but only available in practice when the chemicals are arranged in rare, specially-matched shapes that happen to solve the problem of how to absorb work. For the rover, which we have said has unimaginably many possible directions to drive in, the challenging environment manifests as a landscape that’s mostly not very sunny, except when you are driving in just the right direction, in the right place, at the right time.
The system exhibits a self-reinforcing process that grows its ability to absorb work
Sure, it’s still not easy to tell where the rover must go in general. But there are particular scenarios where the matters become significantly clearer. We might think of a case in which the rover starts off in a sunny spot, spins its wheels furiously, and speeds to a new place in the shade, where its wheels grind mostly to a halt. Having been carried irreversibly to a new place by the absorption and dissipation of work, it then gets stuck in a shape that is bad at absorbing energy. That’s roughly equivalent to the opera singer shattering the goblet. At the beginning, the glass resonates and absorbs a lot of work from the song, which gets largely dissipated as heat when the glass shatters and settles into an inert heap of shards. Once in this state, the shards no longer resonate, and the rate of work absorption drops significantly.
We can also envision the opposite scenario. Suppose we have a single bacterium sitting in a big jar of food and oxygen. After 20 minutes or so, we should have two bacteria, and 20 minutes later gets us two more. What we expect to see, in the short term, is a process of exponential population growth. Individual bacteria harness the chemical work available in their surroundings, and pay the thermodynamic cost of making copies of themselves. Since the number of bacteria is growing, the rate of work absorption is also constantly increasing – at least until the food runs out and the party stops. We can liken this process to a rover that gets a bit of sunshine, which helps it edge its way a bit further out of the shade, so that its wheels speed up even more and carry it to an ever-sunnier location over time. The system in this case exhibits a sustained, self-reinforcing process that grows its ability to absorb work from the environment.
Note that there’s nothing in this thermodynamic description of reproduction that specifically picks out the notion of a discrete entity (such as a bacterium) reproducing itself. Rather, self-replication is just one example of a more general class of processes that exhibit what we call positive feedback. Positive feedback can happen whenever there’s a quantity in a system whose increase brings about a rise in its own rate of growth. In the case of self-replicating cells, the quantity in question is the number of cells itself: a larger number of cells can make more cells faster. However, one can also envision self-reinforcing behaviours that have to do with the shape or arrangement of a system as a whole; and in that case, the exploring rover story remains the same as ever. Looking at life this way allows us to recognise a similar feedback signature in cases where no self-copying self is apparent.
Just to recap where we’ve travelled. Living things manage not to fall apart as fast as they form because they constantly increase the entropy around them. They do this because their molecular structure lets them absorb energy as work and release it as heat. Under certain conditions, this ability to absorb work lets organisms (and other systems) refine their structure so as to absorb more work, and in the process, release more heat. It all adds up to a positive feedback loop that makes us appear to move forward in time, in accordance with the extended second law.
This process takes on a special significance in a setting like that of the vibrating glass. Here, the environmental energy source presents a particular challenge, such that the system (the glass) can only absorb energy if it adopts the right shapes. That’s equivalent to our rover finding that rare sliver of sunlight and managing to drive in just the right way to stay in the bright spots. If something about the system’s configuration lets it use the absorbed energy to power a feedback loop in a challenging scenario, you end up with a recipe for a system that evolves over time into more and more finely-tuned, specialised, energy-absorbing shapes. If you leave a lump of glass in the presence of a soprano for long enough, the shape it ultimately takes should depend on the precise pitch(es) she chooses to sing at.
In my research group’s first theoretical papers on this subject, we have referred to this mechanism of self-organisation as dissipative adaptation. Recently, we conducted two tests of the idea with computer simulations. In one study, we took a mixture of simple dots or points floating in viscous fluid. To make the environment more challenging, we imposed a simple rule: each pair of points was connected by a stretchy spring, which could randomly hook or unhook when close together. We then took one of the points amongst a group of 20 of them and pushed on it with an oscillating force of a single frequency.
What we saw next was intriguing. As the springs randomly hooked and unhooked, a specific network of tangled connections formed. These connections tended to vibrate at the frequency of the external force – hence they absorbed an exceptionally large amount of energy. Alternatively, when we engineered it so that the springs snapped more readily when stretched, we saw the opposite effect, like the opera singer’s shattered glass: a network formed that was attuned to not vibrate at that frequency. That is, the points adapted their shape to not absorbing energy.
The life-like specialness of organisms, which allows them to eat and survive and reproduce, might be recognisable in a broader physical class of systems
We got similar results in a second study. Here we put an initially randomly arranged collection of atoms in the presence of a rich but challenging source of energy that could only be accessed by a special combination of those atoms. After letting the atoms react for a long time, the composition of chemicals was biased to be either unusually bad or extremely good at extracting energy. In other words, the system exhibited a tendency to find and stay stuck in states that look adapted to their environment.
In both these cases, the point is not that all matter everywhere is trying to absorb and dissipate more energy all the time; nor is it that the second law of thermodynamics is magically guiding the discovery of organised structures that are better at increasing entropy. Rather, when particles interact under the challenging conditions created by an energy source, their resulting shapes tend to be fine-tuned to that energy source – even without the help of self-replication and natural selection.
As it happens, living things are both marvellously complex and breathtakingly good at meeting the challenges of their environments. We know this is because the life we see today has inherited many of the structural and behavioural adaptations that proved so useful to previous generations. In the biological context, ‘usefulness’ is that which enables survival and self-reproduction. But what’s beginning to emerge from some of this thermodynamic thinking – and what a few of us are eagerly exploring in simulation and experiment – is the possibility that some of the distinctively life-like specialness of how organisms are organised, and which allows them to eat and survive and reproduce, might be recognisable in a broader physical class of systems that do notcontain self-copying selves. Instead, they are propelled towards strikingly special shapes by the thermodynamic laws governing positive feedback in the presence of a challenging energy source. This process might explain how evolution can get going in inert matter.
Whether this will ultimately make a big or small difference in how we understand living things at the microscopic level, we don’t know. There’s still more work to be done. But what our new vantage point on thermodynamics reveals is that a great many uncharted, and seemingly random, explorations of shape and form have a surprisingly good chance of ending up somewhere interesting – perhaps even the summit of the very distant mountaintop that we occupy on that unimaginably huge terrain, with a tiny flag reading ‘humanity’.