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Author Topic:   Is there a border dividing life from non-life?
sidelined 
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Message 1 of 132 (104675)
05-01-2004 11:47 PM


I hold that there is no actual border between the two and that it is a matter of bias on the part of we conscious humans. If we assume that life is a continual progression in complexity then everything that any organism does is a result of chemical elements increasing in capability and,under the influence of natural forces,changing the level of interaction into novel forms that again increase the range of capabilities into complexity.Whatever atoms can do relays into what we can do.The border would appear to be an illusion and this would explain the difficulty that occurs in trying to pin it down. We have a good working knowledge of the forces and the atom itself and I believe that over the next decade there should be sufficient understanding of biology to show the connections within the complexity.
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AdminAsgara
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Message 2 of 132 (104677)
05-01-2004 11:57 PM


Thread moved here from the Proposed New Topics forum.
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sidelined 
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Message 3 of 132 (104688)
05-02-2004 1:27 AM
Reply to: Message 2 by AdminAsgara
05-01-2004 11:57 PM


I am sorry Asgara however I was unable to locate it after I left to deal with work and returned. I even clicked on my name to try to locate it under recent posts and found nothing. I apologize and grovel abjectly before your will. {meekly}Be gentle.
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jar
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Message 4 of 132 (104730)
05-02-2004 2:45 PM


I think that this is an important issue that will simply become an even bigger issue in the next few decades.

So far, we have been able to observe only one form of life and only one form of intellegence.

As we expand our observations to sites other than the earth, will we be able to recognize life, and even more so, would we be able to recognize an entirely allien intellegence?


Aslan is not a Tame Lion
  
TechnoCore
Inactive Member


Message 5 of 132 (104734)
05-02-2004 3:06 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by sidelined
05-01-2004 11:47 PM


But how is life defined? Isn't that almost the same question?
Is it the abillity to self-replicate or does it take more? Is some level of awareness required?
I agree that life is a continual pregression of complexity, and that there is no actual border, only an illusion of one.

In simple life it might be true that what atoms can do relays into what it can do. But more complex life forms seems to be working on another level also. So how or what the individual atoms are capable of is superseded by their complex interaction with eachother.

So I'm not sure that learning how atoms functions will tell you how complex life works. I mean isn't that occuring at a higher level. Knowing how semi-condoctors within a computer function can't tell you anything about how Internet Explorer works.


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zephyr
Member (Idle past 1932 days)
Posts: 821
From: FOB Taji, Iraq
Joined: 04-22-2003


Message 6 of 132 (104737)
05-02-2004 3:26 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by sidelined
05-01-2004 11:47 PM


I have argued the same in the past, during abiogenesis discussions. To me, once you start looking for a boundary, things get too fuzzy to sustain the assertion that one thing is alive (or, similarly, "complex" or "intelligent") while another is not.

Just take this lineup:

self-replicating molecule -> prion -> virus -> bacterium -> slime mold -> mammal -> human

Any attempt at drawing a boundary between two of those will find that they share enough characteristics to question the division. (IMHO)


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sidelined 
Inactive Suspended Member


Message 7 of 132 (104741)
05-02-2004 3:46 PM
Reply to: Message 5 by TechnoCore
05-02-2004 3:06 PM


Technocore
Knowing how semi-condoctors within a computer function can't tell you anything about how Internet Explorer works.

Yes,but the Internet Explorer is dependent for its existence upon the physical operation of the semi conductor and not vice versa.
The point I was trying to make is that we have the need to define life. Nature however is under no such obligation.

I agree that life is a continual pregression of complexity

Actually,I was proposing that the entire universe is a continual progrssion of complexity that began with the Origin of the universe and via stages of cooling we progress from one level of interaction between the fundemental constituents of the universe to form greater levels of phenomena all the way through the formation of atoms and the properties they possess.
It is a consequence of our investigation into the nature of the forces that govern atoms that we have learned how the world actually operates.It is not simply life that is gaining in complexity but that which we call life {however you wish to define it} is merely a step removed in complexity from that which we would call non-life{again as you wish to define it}.It is our human tendency to categorize that is in error.there is no life opposed to non-life but simply a greater complexity with a greater range of abilities.

For example Hydrogen and Oxygen combine to form water that has properties not apparent in the individual elements.They do this according to well known laws of chemistry that in turn reduce to physical interaction.We do not consider water as alive {although some cultures have indeed done so} So if we look at all the incredible properties of water and the changes it can go through as different forces come to bear upon it is it so much of a leap to insist that as elements combine and mix and heat and cool and are bombardeed by various levels of radiation new and multiple sources of complexity will appear that are not at first apparent?

Perhaps I ramble too far from the concept. If we view the process from simplest to most complex we see the pattern emerge.Our usual way of tackling it is to start with ourselves,call this life and go backwards trying to find a border which IMHO does not exist


"We cannot define anything precisely! If we attempt to, we get into that paralysis of thought that comes to philosophers, who sit opposite each other, one saying to the other, 'You don't know what you are talking about!' The second one says 'What do you mean by know? What do you mean by talking? What do you mean by you?', and so on."
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usncahill
Inactive Member


Message 8 of 132 (105053)
05-03-2004 7:02 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by sidelined
05-02-2004 3:46 PM


i've always believed that life could be defined by the ability to self-replicate/reproduce. which brings to mind computer virii which self-replicate as a meaning for existence just like normal virii. which also makes me think that since our bodies are so geared towards reproduction (the whole getting pleasure out of a naturally occuring part of our body), maybe the point of life is to reproduce; the pleasure part only appling to a few species of course. it appears that almost all animal(and i guess lower lifeforms as well) behavior is geared towards the reproductive process. any opinions?
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1.61803
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Posts: 2672
From: Lone Star State USA
Joined: 02-19-2004
Member Rating: 3.9


Message 9 of 132 (105110)
05-03-2004 11:46 PM


Interesting topic...I often myself have wondered what defines life.
I am beginning to think that life is a emergent property of matter.
And conciousness a emergent property of Energy/matter. Strange thought I know. *edit (Interesting) mispelling

[This message has been edited 1.61803, 05-03-2004]


"One is punished most for ones virtues" Fredrick Neitzche
  
Dr Jack
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From: Leicester, England
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Message 10 of 132 (105208)
05-04-2004 12:07 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by usncahill
05-03-2004 7:02 PM


i've always believed that life could be defined by the ability to self-replicate/reproduce.

This is insufficent: fire manages that. As does a crystal of ice in a pure distilate of water at sub-zero tempretures.


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sidelined 
Inactive Suspended Member


Message 11 of 132 (111567)
05-30-2004 1:22 PM


I am going to bump this topic so that other can input their own views and further advance how we might resolve this issue.


"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts. "
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Chiroptera
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Posts: 6229
From: Oklahoma
Joined: 09-28-2003
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Message 12 of 132 (111574)
05-30-2004 1:41 PM
Reply to: Message 11 by sidelined
05-30-2004 1:22 PM


As usual with human-made categories, there are at least a couple of ways to do this. One way is simply to give a single arbitrary definition of life: something is alive if it has this, this, and this characteristics, but not that characteristic. By default, anything that doesn't fit this definition is not alive. And then accept that there will be things that "blur" the line - things that are alive or not alive according to the definition, but only in the technical sense of the definition, even though it comes close to fitting into the other category.

Another way to do it is to define life, and define non-life separately. Then there will be things that blur the dividing line by either fitting both defintions at the same time, or by fitting neither definition.

Another way would be to allow each field of research to use their own definitions so that they can talk about life and non-life in ways that are relevant to their field, even though what may be "life" to a biochemist looking at viruses may not be the same as "life" to a chemist exploring one certain step in abiogenesis.

Finally, one can just dispense with a defintion altogether - we may quibble over viruses, but we all pretty much agree on what is alive right now, and just try to find out how the process of abiogenesis gave rise to this life without worrying too much about where the dividing line between life and non-life is.


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sidelined 
Inactive Suspended Member


Message 13 of 132 (111578)
05-30-2004 2:14 PM
Reply to: Message 12 by Chiroptera
05-30-2004 1:41 PM


Chioptera

Another way would be to allow each field of research to use their own definitions so that they can talk about life and non-life in ways that are relevant to their field

Is it not a problem though,since research in one field is now growing into other areas,that definitions in one will oppose definitions in another? As I proposed,if we view it as all one phenomena,complexity of varying levels,then we do not run into confusion over issues outside of science. Life as a word is fraught with far too many unsubstantiated biases to lend itself to clarity of explanation between individual scientists in related but distinct fields of research.
LOL I do not want to come off as sounding as though my proposal MUST be adopted or else but I find it especially useful for non-scientists such as myself in eliminating the seperation between the progression of knowledge starting in physics and chemistry {themselves already bridged in physical chemistry} and proceeding up through the levels of complexity into consciousness found in higher animals.

Thanks for your input Chioptera.Hanging upside down as your kind does must be good for supplying the brain with the necessities for thinking straight. LOL

This message has been edited by sidelined, 05-30-2004 01:15 PM


"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts. "
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Chiroptera
Member
Posts: 6229
From: Oklahoma
Joined: 09-28-2003
Member Rating: 4.0


Message 14 of 132 (111584)
05-30-2004 3:37 PM
Reply to: Message 13 by sidelined
05-30-2004 2:14 PM


Thanks, sidelined. I realize, now that I reread it, that I agree with most of your OP. There is no clear dividing line between "living" and "non-living", and no matter how one defines "life" there are going to be problematic examples.

Such is reality. Human categories are often pretty arbitrary, as are the dividing lines. One of the most profound moments I had was I read an essay by S.J. Gould on classifying Archaeopterix as a bird or as a reptile, where he made this exact point.

Still, to understand the world we need to classify things, to make distinctions, to categorize things. Reductionism is an important tool in our conceptualizing the world; however, the limitations must always be acknowledged. There are often going to be "in-between" cases that don't fit our nice, neat categories easily, and if one takes the reductionist approach too seriously one will fail to really understand the world. And, as new understanding dawns, the old categories may become inadequate, based on the old way of thinking of things. Like the Greeks dividing matter up into fire, water, earth, and air - these categories make no sense whatsoever according to our current understanding of matter.

That's why I suggested that each field will probably have its own definition of life/non-life, either tacit or explicit. Because each field has its own paradigm, its own conception of understanding its subject matter, and needs to categorize the data in a way that makes sense to the reseachers.

Of course, as someone says in this thread, as science advances, and the different fields in abiogenesis begin to merge and reach a common understanding of what it is they are studying, then the definitions will need to be standardized.

Sorry for the rambling pseudo-philosophy. My dissertation is seriously derailed right now, so I've been given to metaphysical musings. Someday I have to write a serious of essays on this stuff.


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jar
Member
Posts: 28667
From: Texas!!
Joined: 04-20-2004
Member Rating: 2.6


Message 15 of 132 (111585)
05-30-2004 4:18 PM


Do non-living systems
produce waste?


Aslan is not a Tame Lion
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