The accepted fundamental forces governing our universe comprise gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. While life is not typically categorized as a fundamental force, our understanding and definition of life might benefit from its thermodynamic and quantum mechanic properties.
The Second Law of thermodynamics posits that in an isolated system, entropy – a measure of disorder – invariably increases over time. Life, characterized as a complex, self-sustaining, and self-replicating system, initially appears counter-intuitive to the Second Law, as it generates order from chaos, thereby reducing local entropy. However, life's work in reducing local entropy is counterbalanced by an increase in entropy elsewhere in the universe.
Life, via its metabolic processes and environmental interactions, performs work to maintain and propagate itself. In doing so, it releases energy, primarily in the form of heat, contributing to an overall increase in universal entropy.
The principle of conservation of energy (dU = δQ - δW) encapsulates life's metabolic and environmental interactive processes. It performs work (W), transforming heat (Q) into different forms of energy. This work contributes to the persisting life system, and as the principle of natural selection postulates, such work is likely to be selected for, thereby propagating life. This transformational process, driven by life's inherent capacity for work, effectively accelerates the total entropy of the universe.
This understanding aligns life within the framework of the second law of thermodynamics, where life does not contravene the law but works in accordance with it. Life can be postulated as an entropic accelerator (dS_life/dt > 0), enhancing the universe's overall entropy. This paradigm provides a thermodynamic perspective to our definition of life, underscoring life's efficiency in contributing to universal entropy.
Secondly, the role of life within quantum mechanics, specifically regarding the observer effect, may also contribute to our definition of life. The observer effect posits that the mere act of observation alters the observed phenomenon, as notably demonstrated in the double-slit experiment, where the observation of a particle determines whether it behaves as a wave or a particle.
Life forms (and the devices they create) act as quantum observers. They are capable of collapsing quantum wave functions into definite states through observation, influencing quantum states. This interaction suggests that the definition of life could be expanded to include its unique role within quantum mechanics.
Considering life from both thermodynamic and quantum mechanical perspectives, life fundamentally contributes to the workings of the universe. These unique interactions provide the basis for refining and improving our physical definition of life, possibly positioning life as an integral component in the universe, rather than an anomalous agent within it.