Notices
Results 1 to 17 of 17

Thread: Life and non-life

  1. #1 Life and non-life 
    Forum Freshman
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Posts
    8
    Please disregard my low post count. I know I am a new member and there are probably think I have no idea what I'm talking about... but please hear me out.

    Can someone explain to me what exactly life is? How do you define life? Is life defined as something composed of cells? If so, what exactly does that mean? Aren't cells just composed of DNA, which are composed of amino acids, which are composed of atoms, which are composed of particles? Now correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't everything in our universe a result of either particles interacting with particles, particles interacting with energy, or energy interacting with energy bound within the laws of physics? Every action that we preform, is simply the result of quadrillions upon quadrillions of atoms moving, interacting with energy and other particles, am I correct?

    What I'm trying to say is, by this view, one could easily say that there should be no distinction between life and nonlife. Rather, they should be viewed as a single entity. Both are composed of either particles interacting with particles, particles interacting with energy, or energy interacting with energy governed by the natural laws of the universe.


    Reply With Quote  
     

  2.  
     

  3. #2  
    Veracity Vigilante inow's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Austin, TX
    Posts
    3,499
    Let me request that you disregard my high post count, as I am (by no means) an expert. However, I think there is quite a bit of validity in your central premise.

    My understanding is that life exists along a spectrum, and there is no real boundary between what is and what is not life (at least, no boundary about which we are aware). It's a very gray and fuzzy area, and not really a binary state.

    As for what defines life, this is the explanation which has always made the most sense to me:

    Life is an entity that has all 4 of the following characteristics:
    1. Metabolism (anabolism and catabolism)
    2. Growth
    3. Response to stimuli
    4. Reproduction

    AFAIK, if ALL four of those characteristics are present, then it is life.


    Again, though. I'm no expert. I am not a practicing scientist (I was for years in many different labs while in university, but that was a while ago). Cheers.


    Reply With Quote  
     

  4. #3  
    Forum Isotope Bunbury's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Colorado
    Posts
    2,590
    You can reduce everything to fundamental particles and forces and you would not be wrong, but itís not very useful in getting around in the world is it? We have to categorize things at an everyday level; rocks are different from plastics; trees are different from pigs; life is different from non-life. It doesnít imply anything mysterious or supernatural, in case thatís your worry.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  5. #4  
    Forum Freshman
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Posts
    8
    Yes but from a strictly scientific perspective, since all things involve interactions between particles and energy, AND if there exists no omnipotent, metaphysical component of the universe (AKA God), I could come to the conclusion that the classification of "life" and "nonlife" objects is meaningless; the only characteristic that separates life from nonlife is that so-called "life" tends to be more complex in nature.

    The point I'm trying to make is this: the universe does not shed a tear when a lesser planet is consumed by a larger planet, it does not care when a star is engulfed by another star, it does not have any emotions whatsoever toward what we classify as "nonlife" objects. So therefore we could say, quite blantly, that the universe does not give an absolute sh** about us. The universe has no feeling; it does not judge us in any way.

    So why is it that when a human is murdered that we assume we are being judged by some omnipotent being? Why is it, that when a planet is consumed by another, that we do not say this same omnipotent being is judging that action as well? We allow these so-called "nonlife" objects (such as planets) to be "murdered" by eachother with no emotional response whatsoever. Considering the fact that nonlife and life are the same entity, and if there exists an absence of an omnipotent all-knowing creator, we could easily say that ANY action within the physical boundaries of the universe and all that exists is permitted, correct? I can kill a human being. Who is judging me? Other human beings. But what are other human beings? Just mass and energy, nothing else. What we percieve as "emotion "(in this case, judgement) is only our interpretation of the sound waves, gestures, and actions arousing from other humans, interpretted by the mass and energy within our brain. IF there is a lack of an "ALL-KNOWING" "ALL-JUDGING" presence in the universe, whose emotions are composed of something beyond simply interaction between particles and energy, then we can say that all actions are permitted, so long as they are physically possible.

    I know this is a radical idea. But I got this in my head two days ago and I started wondering if this theory actually made sense. Of course, this ideology is entirely based upon the assumption that nonlife and life are a single entity, and share no distinction (which, I believe, according to our current scientific evidence, is true).

    Anyway, what do you guys make of it? (and don't worry I'm not a murderer, lol)
    Reply With Quote  
     

  6. #5  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    14,168
    Quote Originally Posted by Amgis
    Yes but from a strictly scientific perspective, since all things involve interactions between particles and energy, AND if there exists no omnipotent, metaphysical component of the universe (AKA God), I could come to the conclusion that the classification of "life" and "nonlife" objects is meaningless; the only characteristic that separates life from nonlife is that so-called "life" tends to be more complex in nature.
    As Bunbury pointed out, classifying things is a useful approach to understanding and manipulating the universe. Therefore the distinction between life and non-life is not meaningless, since it aids in the understanding and manipulation of said universe.

    As inow has pointed out the distinction between life and non-life is more than the difference between simple and complex. He has noted four disticntive features, all of which need to be present for us to consider it 'life'.

    So, as I would point out, your conclusion quoted above appears to be wrong.

    The universe has no feeling; it does not judge us in any way.
    Possibly true, though natural selection has done a good job of judging the fit and the unfit. But even if true, so what? It doesn't alter the fact that distinguising between life and non-life is useful in order to better understand and manipulate the universe.

    So why is it that when a human is murdered that we assume we are being judged by some omnipotent being?
    Speak fo yourself. I don't think that. I believe I know bunbury and inow well enough to say they do not think that. There are very few regualr members of this forum who would think that. So you may be asking the wrong people.
    Considering the fact that nonlife and life are the same entity,
    I am rejecting this claim. It is invalid.

    I can kill a human being. Who is judging me? Other human beings. But what are other human beings?
    Other human beings are entities that have the ability to punish you for your actions if they do not like them. If you are indifferent to punishment then this will not be seen by you as a constraint.

    I know this is a radical idea.
    No, it is an old idea with very little practical value. You should probably have posted this in philosphy. Perhaps a moderator will choose to move it.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  7. #6  
    Veracity Vigilante inow's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Austin, TX
    Posts
    3,499
    Quote Originally Posted by Amgis
    So therefore we could say, quite blantly, that the universe does not give an absolute sh** about us.
    I think that's a fair assessment.


    Quote Originally Posted by Amgis
    So why is it that when a human is murdered that we assume we are being judged by some omnipotent being? Why is it, that when a planet is consumed by another, that we do not say this same omnipotent being is judging that action as well? We allow these so-called "nonlife" objects (such as planets) to be "murdered" by eachother with no emotional response whatsoever.
    I find the idea of omnipotent beings rather laughable... much like the imaginary friends of children, or the tooth fairy, or purple unicorns. However, each of your questions have a central theme, and the answer to each is this.

    We evolved in a local environment, and traits have been selected which aided in survival within that environment. We evolved a sense of right and wrong, both of which were reinforced by our social group... our tribe... our community. We don't have an emotional response when stones are split because stones never cast our ancestors out of the pack. We don't have an emotional response when non-life objects are destroyed because those same non-life objects never had an impact on the survival potential of our ancestors during our evolutionary past. We care about those things which have a real and likely chance on impacting our survival... like starvation... lack of water... threats from predators... lack of secure lodging and a place to sleep... and ultimately those things which might impact our ability to successfully propagate our genes from one generation to the next. Within the relatively short time scales of humans and animals on planet earth, the coalescence of stars and the collision of planetary bodies large or small are pretty low on the list of likely threats about which to concern ourselves.

    In short, we care about the things we care about because that's what it takes to survive within our local and rather isolated social groups. If our ancestors survival was contingent upon planets being consumed by larger planets... or stars being consumed by larger stars... then you can bet your ass we'd actually care about those things on an innate level. However, since they don't impact our survival in anything more than a several millennial way, we don't care. We care about what impacts us in the present. And those are things like killing and stealing from neighbors, or doing something which would cause us to be cast out from the society which sustains our existence.

    Back to the OP, though... Life is what you make of it. If you want to consider atoms and energy to be within your arbitrary and broad definition of life, then so be it. A sense of "oneness" is pretty cool. Far better than a sense of "us/them," that's for sure.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  8. #7  
    Forum Freshman
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Posts
    8
    There is no clear definition of life. From a quantum point of view, I can say it is nothing more than particles and energy interacting, which is valid. From a biological point of view, those four features he mentioned are also valid. It just depends on the way you look at it.

    And yes I realize I shouldn't have used the word "meaningless." I got caught up in the moment. To understand the universe, we DO need to classify certain things.

    I don't believe natural selection "judged" anything. It was simply an interaction of particles and energy, though probably quite complex, which prompted the structure of DNA to change to the way it has now. And yes as I said I would have noted that classification is necessary.

    I was refering to humanity as a whole when I said "most people", which seems to be composed of mostly religious people. Of course most people on this forum believe in evolution and all that :P .

    Your interperatation of punishments is in the form of particles and energy. The existence of any real emotions in the universe is absent... what I hate is people tried to fill up with absence with God, which, in my eyes, is only a temporary solution of understanding the universe, not the true solution.

    And old idea? I believe only in the past century did we truly begin to understand the quatum level of physics. That's what I based my theory off of... unless someone else has suggested this before. In which case I would really love to read about it, if there is a book or something.

    And yes it was probably a mistake to post this in Biology. The reason I did was I wanted the original question of "what is life?" answered (my first post), so I could start contructing my theory. It's heavily based on physics, I know, and Biologists and Physicists tend to have varying viewpoints.

    Didn't know there was a Philosophy forum. Must have skipped over that. Seems like the most appropriate forum now. Thanks for the advice.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  9. #8  
    Veracity Vigilante inow's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Austin, TX
    Posts
    3,499
    Quote Originally Posted by Amgis
    The existence of any real emotions in the universe is absent... what I hate is people tried to fill up with <sic> absence with God, which, in my eyes, is only a temporary solution of understanding the universe, not the true solution.
    Another VERY fair point. Your thinking is right on track. Stay with it, and be willing to adjust it as evidence changes. Regardless... Couldn't agree more with the quoted portion above... but I'm just some random dude on a random internet forum posting at a random time. Despite this, you are quite correct. It's rather frustrating when people use a "god of the gaps" approach, when one filled with reality is so much more fulfilling.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  10. #9  
    Forum Freshman
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Posts
    8
    Dangit I can't grammar good tonight. Sorry I'm a bit frustrated after doing a 1500 word English paper. But thank you for the comment above, its nice to see Atheists agreeing with me instead of Christians attempting to convert me.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  11. #10  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    14,168
    Quote Originally Posted by Amgis
    There is no clear definition of life. From a quantum point of view, I can say it is nothing more than particles and energy interacting, which is valid.
    I have to come back on this point again and this time strongly disagree with you. Yes, it is particles and energy interacting, but they interact in novel and interesting ways that differ from the interaction of particles and energy in, say, the interior of a star, or the heart of a GMC.

    The initial universe was simple, yet complexity steadily emerged. Some of the more recent complexities include life and even more recently intelligence and consciouness. The existence of humans enables the universe to contemplate itself. This is, at least to me, a surprising result and certainly represents something more than just particles and energy interacting.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  12. #11  
    Forum Isotope Bunbury's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Colorado
    Posts
    2,590
    Amgis, I think the question you are really asking is where do morals come from?

    Many people find it impossible to believe we can have morals without there being a supernatural arbiter of morality. I and many others here look at if differently: a supernatural being makes no sense logically or scientifically so that cannot be the source of morality. This then opens up a whole area of discussion that, as already suggested, properly belongs in Philosophy, not in Biology, although you canít have one without the other.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  13. #12  
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Location
    New Zealand
    Posts
    4,840
    Definition of life.

    I cannot agree with iNow's qualities of life (metabolism, growth, response to stimuli and reproduction), since a bush fire has all of them and is definitely not living. Computer programs have been written with all those qualities in their operation, and I doubt too many people would accept software as life.

    The best definition I have seen in a biology textbook goes something like this.

    "Life is a complex system of organic molecules that demonstrate the properties of replication and organic evolution."

    The only part of that definition I disagree with is the word 'complex'. The author clearly added that with the express purpose of excluding viruses from the definition, and I am not sure that viruses should be excluded.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  14. #13  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    14,168
    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    "Life is a complex system of organic molecules that demonstrate the properties of replication and organic evolution."
    That's life Jim, but only as we know it.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  15. #14  
    Time Lord
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Posts
    5,328
    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    The only part of that definition I disagree with is the word 'complex'.
    Same here; I see it more as reduced entropy. Plus evolution, you may or may not get complexity.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
    Reply With Quote  
     

  16. #15  
    Veracity Vigilante inow's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Austin, TX
    Posts
    3,499
    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    Definition of life.

    I cannot agree with iNow's qualities of life (metabolism, growth, response to stimuli and reproduction), since a bush fire has all of them and is definitely not living.
    I disagree with your stated reasons for disagreement. Let me explain why.

    Fire grows, reproduces, responds to stimuli, and has catabolism. But it doesn't have the anabolism part of metabolism. Ergo, fire does NOT meet all four requirements I put forth, since I specifically stated that metabolism had to include BOTH anabolism AND catabolism.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  17. #16  
    Forum Freshman
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Posts
    8
    Okay well thanks guys, my original question was answered therefore there's really nothing else to discuss in this topic unless you want to continue to debate the definition of life.

    I'll be reposting this in Philosophy and see what people there make of it.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  18. #17  
    Forum Junior
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Posts
    267
    Quote Originally Posted by Amgis
    Yes but from a strictly scientific perspective, since all things involve interactions between particles and energy, AND if there exists no omnipotent, metaphysical component of the universe (AKA God), I could come to the conclusion that the classification of "life" and "nonlife" objects is meaningless; the only characteristic that separates life from nonlife is that so-called "life" tends to be more complex in nature.

    The point I'm trying to make is this: the universe does not shed a tear when a lesser planet is consumed by a larger planet, it does not care when a star is engulfed by another star, it does not have any emotions whatsoever toward what we classify as "nonlife" objects. So therefore we could say, quite blantly, that the universe does not give an absolute sh** about us. The universe has no feeling; it does not judge us in any way.

    So why is it that when a human is murdered that we assume we are being judged by some omnipotent being? Why is it, that when a planet is consumed by another, that we do not say this same omnipotent being is judging that action as well? We allow these so-called "nonlife" objects (such as planets) to be "murdered" by eachother with no emotional response whatsoever. Considering the fact that nonlife and life are the same entity, and if there exists an absence of an omnipotent all-knowing creator, we could easily say that ANY action within the physical boundaries of the universe and all that exists is permitted, correct? I can kill a human being. Who is judging me? Other human beings. But what are other human beings? Just mass and energy, nothing else. What we percieve as "emotion "(in this case, judgement) is only our interpretation of the sound waves, gestures, and actions arousing from other humans, interpretted by the mass and energy within our brain. IF there is a lack of an "ALL-KNOWING" "ALL-JUDGING" presence in the universe, whose emotions are composed of something beyond simply interaction between particles and energy, then we can say that all actions are permitted, so long as they are physically possible.

    I know this is a radical idea. But I got this in my head two days ago and I started wondering if this theory actually made sense. Of course, this ideology is entirely based upon the assumption that nonlife and life are a single entity, and share no distinction (which, I believe, according to our current scientific evidence, is true).

    Anyway, what do you guys make of it? (and don't worry I'm not a murderer, lol)
    This is nothing new. Its just the same old 'atoms dont have emotions and everything is made of atoms therefore nothing has emotions' fallacy.
    a lot of things have a lot of things that atoms dont have.
    Reply With Quote  
     

Bookmarks
Bookmarks
Posting Permissions
  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •