Kempes, Christopher P. and David C. Krakaue

We argue for multiple forms of life realized through multiple different historical pathways. From this perspective, there have been multiple origins of life on Earth—life is not a universal homology. By broadening the class of originations, we significantly expand the data set for searching for life. Through a computational analogy, the origin of life describes both the origin of hardware (physical substrate) and software (evolved function). Like all information-processing systems, adaptive systems possess a nested hierarchy of levels, a level of function optimization (e.g., fitness maximization), a level of constraints (e.g., energy requirements), and a level of materials (e.g., DNA or RNA genome and cells). The functions essential to life are realized by different substrates with different efficiencies. The functional level allows us to identify multiple origins of life by searching for key principles of optimization in different material form, including the prebiotic origin of proto-cells, the emergence of culture, economic, and legal institutions, and the reproduction of software agents.