Houjun Liu

Dyson's Model of Life

Dyson’s Model of Life is a theory of origin of life:

  1. cells form as machines that perform tasks
  2. genes show up later as parasites, eventually forming symbiosis with cells

Read: and so, we can essentially ditch trying to find things characteristics of “cells” per-se like RNA, instead we can go about finding generic boxes of containers called “cells” and see how they evolve.

See also: high chemical activity, metabolism, Stepwise Evolution, and Two Main Functions of Life


  • \(x\): percentage of active binding sites
  • \(w\): percentage of inactive binding sites
  • \(z\): percentage of “empty binding sites”
  • \(p(k)\): probability distribution for a site to be in any given state at time \(k\)
  • \(\Psi(x)\): rate of activation “efficiency in active monomers in acceleration monomer absorption”


  • evidently, because percentages: \(x+w+z = 1\)
  • Active monomer absorption: \(\Psi(x) \cdot p\)
  • Inactive monomer absorption: \(p\)

additional information

general intuition

  1. some kind of isolated droplet contains a population of molecules
  2. chemical reactions occur to the whole droplet such that its state changes

Recall the Two Main Functions of Life: metabolism and replication. So, if we want our Dyson’s Model to capture life, we should try to encode them into our model. Turns out, we can use the language of Stepwise Evolution to describe our model.

Therefore, let’s declare that there is only two states to our system, in which our particle is quasi-stationary (it wiggles but doesn’t go anywhere):

  1. high chemical activity”, a.k.a. “metabolism” — “ordered” state
  2. “low chemical activity” — disordered state

Our transition \(M\), then, only has to encode transitions between these two states. Dyson claims that, in his model, this transition happens spontaneously when the circumstances is correct.