Lila Gatlin

photo neededIn animate thermodynamics, Lila Lee Gatlin (1928-), or "Lila Krause" by marriage, is an American biochemist (chnops-chemist) noted for her publications, in the late 1960s early 1970s, on relationship between DNA, viewed as an information process, information theory, thermodynamics, and the relation of these to evolution. [1] To quote Gatlin on her general view: [2]

“As Homo sapiens we have always believed that we are higher organisms … as thermodynamicists we recognize these words and realize that the concept of entropy must somehow enter into the explanation.”

Among Gatlin’s several publications, her 1972 book Information Theory and the Living System argues that entropy reduction within living systems is said to occur whenever information is stored. Using information theory, Gatlin reasons that “stored information varies inversely with entropy” in the sense that a library, for instance, “is a state of lowered entropy. [3] Her main thesis is that higher forms of life emerged when genetic messaging, in possession of an amount of entropy, in the Claude Shannon sense of “amount of potential information”, began to be passed along with minimal amount of errors in the code. [4]

Difficulties on theory
In her theorizing, Gatlin seems to start off in the correct direction, but veers off track in her dismissal of classical thermodynamics’ ability to explain living systems. Instead, she reasons that the version of entropy as formulated by American electrical engineer Claude Shannon in information theory is the answer. In particular, Gatlin thinks that “our classical notions of entropy are totally inadequate in dealing with the living system”; whereas, in the same vein, she believes that the decreasing entropy of evolving life does not violate the second law of thermodynamics. To cite an example of a very misinformed, for instance, she states: [2]

“The second law of thermodynamics is indeed an order-degrading principle in itself and without constraint; but when we place it under control of the higher law of information theory, it becomes directly responsible

Of the many incorrect points in this statement, there is no "law of information theory". In fact, by its very name it is still a theory, and thus not a law; except perhaps if one includes the hypothetical "law of conservation of information" as a case in point. All-in-all, as is often the case in information thermodynamics, Gatlin’s logic seems to be a mis-mash of disparate theories.

Gatlin completed her BS in 1957 at the University of Tulsa, her MS with a thesis on “Mechanism of Solvolysis of Dihalocyclopropanes” in 1959 at Pennsylvania State University, and her PhD with a dissertation "New Approaches to Nucleic Acid Structure" in 1963 at the University of Texas. [5] She later when on to work as a lecturer and researcher in molecular biology and genetics and various universities, although most at the University of California, Berkeley. In this sense, she may have had a residual connection to the Lewis school of thermodynamics.


The following are interesting quotes from Gatlin's 1972 Information Theory and the Living System:

“We have always had the vague notion that, as higher organisms have evolved, their entropy has in some way declined because of this higher degree of organization.”

1. Hammond, Dick K. (2005). The Human System from Entropy to Ethics. (pg. 16). Publisher: Dick Hammond.
2. Gatlin, Lila L. (1970-71). “Evolution Indices”. In Sixth Berkeley Symposium on Mathematical Statistics and Probability, Vol. 5, (pgs 277-96). University of California Press.
3. Gatlin, Lila L. (1972). Information Theory and the Living System. Columbia University Press.
4. Campbell, Jeremy. (1982). Grammatical Man - Information, Entropy, Language, and Life (pgs. 80, 112-13, 121). New York: Simon and Schuster.
5. Gale, Thomson. (2005). “Contemporary Authors: Biography – Gatlin, Lila L(ee) (1928-)” [HTML], e-document.

Further reading
● Gatlin, Lila L. (1966). “Logical Proof of the Entropy Principle”, American Journal of Physics, 34: 266.
● Gatlin, Lila L. (1973). “Entropy and Vitalism”, Nature, 242: 144, March 09.
● Gatlin, Lila L. (1974). “Conservation of Shannon’s Redundancy for Proteins”, Journal of Molecular Evolution, Vol 3, (pgs. 189-208).
● Freese, Peter. (1997). From Apocalypse to Entropy and Beyond: the Second Law of Thermodynamics in Post-War American Fiction (Gatlin, 8+ pgs). Die Blaue Eule.

External links
Gatlin, Lila L. (1928-) – WorldCat Identities.

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