Vladimir Leonidovich Voeikov – Doctor of Biological Sciences, Bioorganic Chemistry Department Professor, Biology Faculty of Moscow State University named after M.V. Lomonosov. Research interests: water biological functions, biophotonics, biological evolution laws, physicochemical foundations of biological activity, free radical and vibrational processes in aqueous systems and their role in bioenergy.
V. L. Voeikov is a Higher Education Honorary Worker of the Russian Federation, “Water Journal Multidisciplinary Research Journal”Deputy Editor-in-Chief (waterjournal.org), Laureate of the Ilya Prigogine Gold Medal, established in 2004 by the University of Siena (Italy) and the Wessex Institute of Technology (UK).
As we know, water is life, and a person is a structured water in a sense. You are a water expert. Tell us about the water properties in living systems.
Life as a concept is in the same line as time, space, energy, information and matter. We biologists study this life by its manifestations, only by studying what in the broadest sense of the word can be called “living systems”: from the cell to the biosphere.
Water is the dominant component of living matter; one considers it traditionally only as a solvent in which biochemical reactions take place and there is a belief that it does not differ from ordinary water. However, let us take a living creature like a jellyfish. More than 99% of the jellyfish mass is water, and the mass fraction of proteins, nucleic acids, polysaccharides, salts and so on in its body is negligible. The jellyfish water is represented by the same molecules as the water in which the jellyfish lives, but this “living water” is fundamentally different from the “ordinary” one if only because salts from sea water do not penetrate into it, despite the absence of any semi permeable films on the border between the jellyfish and its environment. Obviously, the biopolymers wetted by the jellyfish water determine its state, although they make up an insignificant part of its mass.
Not only water, but also breathing matters for life. You have interesting results about the relationship between respiration and water metabolism.
Breathing is the main source of energy for living systems. Its essence is to restore oxygen to water, by electrons supplied by their donors that are “combustible” substances, which is equivalent to burning. We consider usually food substances, primarily fats, and carbohydrates as electron donors. The role of water in their “burning” is not taken into account, although the fact that water, which is the main molecular component of all living creatures, acts as a combustion catalyst, was discovered a long time ago.
There was the more recent discovery that a specially structured water, like “jellyfish water”, can itself serve as an electron donor for oxygen. It follows that under certain conditions, water can act as a “food source”; its oxidation can be no less, if not more, a valuable energy source than ordinary food substances oxidation.
Life is a fundamental concept. How do you see the basic principles of living systems?
In order for something to show some activity, for example, motor activity, one needs energy for this. Free energy sources, that is, energy that can turn into some kind of work (the simplest form of work is movement), lie outside structures of machines and non-living systems. Non-living systems are passive transformers of free energy into work.
As we know well, life is omnipresent. Recently, they began to study more and more extremely active and complex life, not some of the anaerobic microorganism type, but the more active animals, which live where there is no light, no oxygen, and the environment ambient temperature lies in the range of 2 to 4 Celsius degrees. Such animals live on the ocean bottom, right up to the Mariana Trench. Large living organisms exist there, which, by the way, are more active and even larger than their closest relatives living on the surface. There is no sun there, but life is flourishing nonetheless. It is possible that it originated there (many scientists already think so). This life exists without any sunlight. These animals did not fall from atop into to the ocean bottom, but they existed there for the entire period of which we know anything.
They live in liquid water, and the water stays liquid because there is the necessary small amount of heat to ensure that water doesn’t freeze, but remains liquid. This is the energy already. These living organisms turn small energy into extremely intense one, with the help of which they carry out all their life’s activity, no less complicated than the life activity of biota, which we see here on the surface, with our own eyes.
A living cell protoplasm is in an extremely distant state from equilibrium, and such a system can carry out work. E. S. Bauer discovered the work essence. The stable disequilibrium principle formulated by him reads: “All living and only the living systems are never in equilibrium and, due to their free energy, perform work against the equilibrium required by the physics and chemistry laws under existing external conditions». In other words, living systems provide both self-preservation and an increase in the ability to perform work at all levels of their organization, starting from the supramolecular, due to their own activity. To maintain the structures of living systems in a nonequilibrium state, they must be constantly renewed, and, according to Bauer, «…the food chemical energy is used in the body to create a structure free energy (structural energy), to build, renew, maintain this structure, and does not directly turn into work».
The definition of what is a living system reduces to a simple thesis: living systems work continuously to stay alive. If they stop this activity, then they cease to be alive.
There is another biological law, the law of the dependence of the animals’ species number on the mass of each species individual representatives. Here, for example, a small animal, a certain species of mice. How many mice, which are representatives of this species, are on the globe? Their number is somewhere around 109 on the globe, that is, about a billion individuals. If we look at some animals closer to us in size, for example, a bear, a horse, and so on, then the number of these animals’ species representatives will be significantly less. What, for example, is the number of chimpanzees? Or gorillas? Or macaques? This will be an order value of 100,000 of this species’ individuals (not monkeys in general, but belonging to a particular species with the corresponding specific mass). The people number today already exceeds by five magnitude orders the amount that they should have had as representatives of the corresponding biological species. This is a feature of man, only he flies out of this, again hyperbolic, dependence.
There is another indicator that a human being is very different from animals: the brain. The ratio of the rate of oxygen consumption by the human brain to the rate of oxygen consumption by the body along with the brain is 2.3 times greater than that of primates, and dolphins and all others. This is the reduced value; everything is reduced to mass. What does the increased human energy mean?
Why do we generally need energy from a biological point of view? We need it in order to accumulate so much energy during a biologically meaningful life, so that you can leave a viable offspring, which again accumulate as much energy, leave a viable offspring and so on. A human being has an excess. As a result, man has a greater supply of free energy than is necessary for his survival as a biological species.
Does today’s global crisis into which all of humanity has entered as a whole living system, have any biological prerequisites?
We have now entered a state that everyone calls the “global crisis”. Well, talking about the global crisis basically comes down to a discussion of the financial, economic, social problems that will arise sooner or later. Where did the global crisis come from? Today you can read a lot of accusations against those fifth, tenths, specific persons and individual states that allegedly provoked a global crisis.
In fact, there was the global crisis clear prediction back in 1960. The Science journal published then the article of Heinz von Förster, one of the founders of second-order cybernetics, under the screaming title “Doomsday: Friday, November 13, 2026 after the Nativity of Christ” (Förster, H. von, P. Mora,Foerster, H. von, P. Mora, and L. Amiot. 1960), At this date human population will approach infinity if it grows as it has grown in the last two millennia. Science 132: 1291–1295).
Heinz von Förster analyzed the growth curve of mankind on Earth in this article and came to the conclusion that this curve does not grow according to the exponential law, as everyone thought, based on the a priori theory of Malthus (as in that reproduction of a person, or bacteria, etc. goes into geometric progression), but according to a law called “hyperbolic”. What does “hyperbolic law” mean? This means that if something increases according to the hyperbolic law, then at some point in time this something will become infinite in number. Förster calculated this moment in time when humanity should become infinite in number, it turned out: Friday, November 13, 2026. It turns out that humanity will not die of hunger, since this moment will come very quickly, but from a crash. This is naturally someone’s joke.
It is not a long time to wait. But it is absurd! Absurdity, not only because it cannot be, because it can never be. A mathematical function can go into a singularity, and physically, never a single process ends in infinity. Something must change dramatically, one calls it “the system goes into exacerbation mode”; so that the physical system is perhaps mutated, but it remains. The same thing applies to the living system, which is humanity: this living system must change a lot.
What is a demographic transition? It’s a slowdown. It is a function transition from one law to another. The hyperbolic growth law has ceased to be valid. This happened in 1964, according to Kapitsa. The relative population growth reached a maximum this year, and then began to decrease. On the border of the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, the absolute population growth began to decrease also. The demographic transition is a slowdown in absolute population growth, which further begins to develop into a phenomenon called depopulation.
How does the hyperbolic law apply to the size of humanity?
If we compare the year 1850 and 1990, the population grew by 4.3 times, and the amount of energy that humanity possessed grew by 17 times. That is, the energy amount for each person (it is clear that there is an uneven distribution of energy amount consumption across the earth, but we are considering purely statistical data) increased in proportion to the square of the number of people. By the way, if we respect this law, then the demographic transition and further depopulation will affect the energy amount that humanity owns accordingly. By the way, why is there all this noise and din about energy in our time? It happens not because it is not enough, but because per capita growth has begun to take place more slowly than before, and we felt this, not even a deficit, but a kind of approximation to the deficit.
Is there a demographic transition in Europe and the USA?
If we take the European continent or the USA, then there is no depopulation there for one simple reason. Although there the people reproduction rate is significantly lower than what is required for simple reproduction, but due to the very long life expectancy there is a certain stasis. The ratio of population growth and mortality just depends on the ratio of life expectancy and reproduction rate. The life expectancy plays the main role now. The average life expectancy will reach its limit sooner or later, and then depopulation will begin everywhere. These are demographic issues, and they stem from the human growth law.
Why biologists began to pay attention to the features of the humanity demographic transitions very recently?
Because biologists did not consider until recently that there is the relation between the hyperbolic growth law and the living systems growth. Darwin also postulated that the living organisms’ number growth goes according to the Malthus law, that is, according to the exponential law, and in conditions of an increasing resources shortage.
Therefore, the numbers’ limitation here can only be realized through competition for resources, which leads to a “struggle for existence and survival of the fittest in it”, to “natural selection”, which, according to dominant ideas, serves as an evolution mechanism.
There was the believing until very recently that humanity growth was also subject to the exponential law, therefore, to limit it in the face of resource shortages, they proposed various programs to inhibit this growth. It is interesting that such programs’ developers did not notice the hyperbolic law of human growth, discovered by Förster in 1960.
They united in the 1960s in the framework of the famous “Club of Rome”. Well, if there is no hyperbolic growth, then what kind of natural demographic transition, determined by the internal growth laws of integral systems, one can discus?
As for the growth of an individual living organism, for example, at the embryonic and postembryonic stages, the allometric (exponential) law, which discovery took place in the 1930s and ensures the harmonious growth of the whole organism and its parts, is the one considered as the main growth law. According to this law, each individual organ grows as long as other organs grow, about which it “knows” and while the whole organism grows, which “knows” about the growth of its parts. Moreover, allometric relations determine the relationship between body weight and bioenergetic activity of the body also. It is very likely that allometric laws determine the evolutionary progress also, which we cannot deny. Everything matches each other.
However, allometric laws that determine the harmonious growth and development of living systems do not come into force from the moment of the living organism “birth”. One sees it clearly, for example, when considering embryonic development, which begins with the ovule fertilization. A fertilized ovule does not grow at first, but it fisses. There is cells fission into 2, 4, 8, 16, and so on, and the mass does not increase, or, at least, they say that it does not. Thus, the gain in mass observed in the embryos of different animals is preceded by a certain lag phase, when there is no primordium growth. From which moment then does the embryonic mass increase begin?
Embryologists usually begin to measure for example the human embryo mass from about one and a half or two grams. Those who are smarter begin to measure from one gram. What was the ovule mass? It was 0.005 milligrams, that is, 5 micrograms. Thus, according to one data, one can measure the exponential growth in a human embryo in 40 days after fertilization, and according to others, after 60 days, that is, when this mass becomes two gram.
What happens during these 30-60 days, when this mass increases from 2-5 micrograms to two million micrograms?
Moreover, there is no growth at all in the beginning. We observe a rapid increase in mass after, a characteristic of hyperbolic growth, after which the growth law becomes allometric, that is, much more harmonious for the growth of the whole system, which is a living organism, than hyperbolic growth.
If humanity is a holistic, developing living system, and many scientists shift to such a point of view, then by analogy with the growth and development of other living systems, the present stage of human growth and development is the stage of transition from a less harmonious hyperbolic growth process to allometric law.
What is your forecast for human development?
I believe that we are now at the stage when humanity has finished growing hyperbolically, has accumulated a completely gigantic potential and must move on to development according to another law. That is, the humanity growth will not stop; it just goes according to another law, according to a harmonic law.
Both that and other growth are impossible without interaction, without interconnections, without mutual assistance, without cooperativity. In physical terms, all living systems are not just cooperative, they are coherent. The degree of their coherence, that is, the mutual coordination of all the processes that take place in them, increases during their growth and development. Therefore, I am very optimistic about the stage at which we are now. By and large, nothing can be predicted. The main trend is this: there must be a transition to a completely different harmonic world.
Interview: Ivan Stepanyan