Why I like chemistry: order balances disorder!

This International Year of Chemistry came to an end and, in the beginning of this next year, let us take a moment to reflect. Let us gather a quick collection of various sciences – computer science, social studies, mathematics, biology, chemistry, psychology, etc.

Consider the dynamics of all living beings, their organization into societies,  their interaction with the inanimate elements of nature such as the weather,  the Earth, etc. A study of these various levels of interactions is called the study of the biosphere, ecology, sociology, etc. Consider the varied habits, habitats, resources, needs, behavior, actions and reactions that characterize these organisms including man. Through a detailed and systematic classification, we can arrive at small, homogeneous groups. But are these groups truly homogeneous?

In other words, can all members of a community or society of human beings be averaged? If such an averaging was attempted (it would be mean!) one can imagine that in every trait there would be huge deviations. For example, starting from the physical traits such as height of humans and the colors of horses (biology), all the way to the intangible traits such as the reaction of societies to things that are foreign (sociology), one can observe nothing but diversity. This means attempting an average does not bring the data obtained from the mentioned study under control. There is a lot of “innate disorder”. Even if one reduces organisms by hierarchy as shown in the image below, or to the “species” level, there are as many exceptions as there are species!


Simplified phylogenetic tree by Madeleine Price Ball

Rephrasing, subjects such as sociology and biology have a high level of innate disorder. The larger the breadth of the topic, the greater the complexity and greater the innate disorder. Therefore, the “disorder content” of biology is high, not as high as that of ecology. For instance, the underlying fundamental processes that sustain life such as respiration and glycolysis are chemically the same – all mammals need H2Oand O2.

Speaking of O2, where did the 2 come from? There is no such thing as “2” in nature, or any number for that matter. Mathematics is a man-created subject. And it is so useful that it has become integral to our existence. We do not even realize that there was no mathematics in nature to start with, and that it has been created only for our convenience and understanding!

Now what we should observe is that 2 and 2 always add up to 4, the processes being very predictable (unless someone comes up with a proof on how 4 = 5 which can explain the current economic mess), one can say that mathematics is an ordered subject. But even it has some level of disorder. Guess how? It has different numbers! Can you think of a system that uses even less different elements? Yep, Computers – the whole world, according to these guys, is just made up of 0’s and 1’s! This field makes mathematics with its variety of numbers from 0 to 9 seem less orderly!

Consider physics in contrast to Computer Science – matter, its macroscopic properties, space and time described with mathematics equations in a computer simulation become really narrow in definition. When these are used to describe real world problems, staggering volumes of data gets created. Thus we have to apply several approximations to avoid piles of “garbage”.

We can structure the above arguments in the following way:

We can write down a trend – if a subject does not possess inherent disorder, then handling other subjects of higher disorder content with this subject makes problems clearer to scientists, but, demands extensive treatment and generates voluminous data that distracts the researcher from the problem at hand!

Instead of going into a 1000 words, let us summarize as a picture. So far, we can map these subjects on a single line (figure below) and voila! Chemistry is in the middle… As the matter in this blog pertains to drug design and molecular pharmacology, especially for this field, it appears as if chemistry has the desired level of variety and specificity. In other words, by treating chemistry as the base for drug design, we can find a compromise and prevent highly specific computer science from trying to express all the electrons and nucleons in the human body as 0’s and 1’s!

The balance of order and disorder found in chemistry versus other subjects of science pertaining to drug design

The balance of order and disorder is found in chemistry, and this is particularly useful for dealing with drug design



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