What Is Life?
How we humans acquired unconditionally selfless moral instincts when it would seem that an unconditionally selfless, fully altruistic trait is going to self-eliminate and thus not ever be able to become established in a species is briefly explained in the above-mentioned What is Science?
The answer begins with an analysis of consciousness. Page 74 of PDF Version If you can remember past events, you can compare them with current events and identify regularly occurring experiences. This knowledge of, or insight into, what has commonly occurred in the past enables you to predict what is likely to happen in the future and to adjust your behaviour accordingly. Once insights into the nature of change are put into effect, the self-modified behaviour starts to provide feedback, refining the insights further.
Predictions are compared with outcomes and so on. Much developed, and such refinement occurred in the human brain, nerves can sufficiently associate information to reason how experiences are related, learn to understand and become CONSCIOUS of, or aware of, or intelligent about, the relationship between events that occur through time. Thus consciousness means being sufficiently aware of how experiences are related to attempt to manage change from a basis of understanding.
Basically, once our self-adjusting intellect emerged it was capable of taking over the management of our lives from the instinctive orientations we had acquired through the natural selection of genetic traits that adapted us to our environment. HOWEVER , it was at this juncture, when our conscious intellect challenged our instincts for control, that a terrible battle broke out between our instincts and intellect, the effect of which was the extremely competitive, selfish and aggressive state that we call the human condition. To elaborate, when our conscious intellect emerged it was neither suitable nor sustainable for it to be orientated by instincts — it had to find understanding to operate effectively and fulfil its great potential to manage life.
However, when our intellect began to exert itself and experiment in the management of life from a basis of understanding, in effect challenging the role of the already established instinctual self, a battle unavoidably broke out between the instinctive self and the newer conscious self. To illustrate the situation, imagine what would happen if we put a fully conscious mind on the head of a migrating bird.
Obviously, the intellect could not afford to give in to the instincts, and unable to understand and thus explain why its experiments in self-adjustment were necessary, the conscious intellect had no way of refuting the implicit criticism from the instincts even though it knew it was unjust. Until the conscious mind found the redeeming understanding of why it had to defy the instincts namely the scientific understanding of the difference in the way genes and nerves process Page 75 of PDF Version information, that one is an orientating learning system while the other is an insightful learning system , the intellect was left having to endure a psychologically distressed, upset condition, with no choice but to defy that opposition from the instincts.
In short — and to return to our human situation because we were the species that acquired the fully conscious mind — the psychologically upset angry , alienated and egocentric human-condition-afflicted state appeared. We became ego-centric, self-centred or selfish, preoccupied with aggressively competing for opportunities to prove we are good and not bad — we unavoidably became selfish , aggressive and competitive.
What is so exonerating, rehabilitating and healing about this explanation of the human condition is that we can finally appreciate that there was a very good reason for our angry, alienated and egocentric behaviour — in fact, we can now see why we have not just been ego-centric, but ego- infuriated , even ego-gone-mad-with-murderous-anger for having to live with so much unjust criticism. Finally, God and man, religion and science, our instinct and intellect, the integrative meaning of life and the inconsistency of our behaviour with that meaning, are all reconciled.
A visitor from another planet, judging from the enormous number of automobiles on Earth and the way in which cities and landscapes have been designed for the special benefit of motorcars, might well believe that automobiles are not only alive but are the dominant life-form on the planet. See physiology.source
What Is Life? - Wikipedia
A biochemical or molecular biological definition sees living organisms as systems that contain reproducible hereditary information coded in nucleic acid molecules and that metabolize by controlling the rate of chemical reactions using the proteinaceous catalysts known as enzymes. In many respects, this is more satisfying than the physiological or metabolic definitions of life. However, even here there are counterexamples.
Viruslike agents called prions lack nucleic acids, although the nucleic acids of the animal cells in which they reside may be involved in their reproduction. Ribonucleic acid RNA molecules may replicate, mutate, and then replicate their mutations in test tubes, although by themselves they are not alive. Furthermore, a definition strictly in chemical terms seems peculiarly vulnerable.
It implies that, were a person able to construct a system that had all the functional properties of life, it would still not be alive if it lacked the molecules that earthly biologists are fond of—and made of. See biochemistry. Life biology. See Article History. Read More on This Topic. The connection between climate and life arises from a two-way exchange of mass and energy between the atmosphere and the biosphere. Start Your Free Trial Today. Load Next Page. Introduction Definitions of life Metabolic Physiological Biochemical Genetic Thermodynamic Autopoietic Life on Earth The biosphere Chemistry of life DNA, RNA, and protein Chemistry in common Modes of nutrition and energy generation Energy, carbon, and electrons ATP Diversity Prokaryotes and eukaryotes Multicellularity Classification and microbiota Sex Viruses Limits to life Temperature and desiccation Radiation and nutrient deprivation Sizes of organisms Metabolites and water Sensory capabilities and awareness Photosensitivity, audiosensitivity, thermosensitivity, chemosensitivity, and magnetosensitivity Sensing with technology Evolution and the history of life on Earth Heritability Convergence Spontaneous generation Geologic record The origin of life Hypotheses of origins Production of polymers The earliest living systems.
Additional Reading. Life is the aspect of existence that processes, acts, reacts, evaluates, and evolves through growth reproduction and metabolism. The crucial difference between life and non-life or non-living things is that life uses energy for physical and conscious development. Life is anything that grows and eventually dies, i. Can we say that viruses, for example, are cognizant? Yes, insofar as they react to stimuli; but they are alive essentially because they reproduce and grow. Computers are non-living because even though they can cognize, they do not develop biologically grow , and cannot produce offspring.
It is not cognition that determines life, then: it is rather proliferation and maturation towards a state of death; and death occurs only to living substances. But I think that the meaning of life is the ideals we impose upon it, what we demand of it. Most of us would avoid murdering; and most of us would refrain from other acts we find intuitively wrong. So our natural intuitions determine the meaning of life for us; and it seems for other species as well, for those intuitions resonate through much of life and give it its purpose.
The ceramic artist Edmund de Waal places an object in front of him and begins to tell a story. Even if the patina, chips and signs of repair of the inanimate object hint at its history, the story is told by a living observer. A living thing is an object that contains its story within itself.
Maybe other ways for memorising the story may be discovered, but in environments subject to common chemical processes, common methods are likely to emerge. Although we have only the example of the Earth, it shows that life will evolve to fill every usable niche, and to secure and further diversify those niches. This should not be thought of as purposeful. Inanimate processes can be cyclic but not iterative: they do not learn from past mistakes.
Life exists at many levels.
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Life is also a process through which energy and materials are transformed; but so is non-life. The difference is that the process of life is intimately linked to story it contains, whereas non-life is indifferent to the story we impose upon it. Yet life is only a story, so it can act only through matter. Therefore life is by nature a toolmaker.
A Biologist Explains: What Is Life?
Its tools are potentially everything that exists, and its workshop is potentially the whole universe. So why do humans risk undermining the life of which they are part? Because they try to impose upon it a story of their own making. First the technical definition. Life is self-organising chemistry which reproduces itself and passes on its evolved characteristics, encoded in DNA.
In thermodynamics terms, it has the ability to reduce local entropy or disorganisation, thus locally contravening the third law of thermodynamics. But what is life really about , if anything?
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The current state of life is as yet too unstable and undeveloped for it to be the end. If therefore the universe itself has a purpose, it seems most likely to be to explore what the outcome of the evolutionary experiment would be. But what will be the outcome? If, as many physicists now believe, the universe is only information, then harnessing all the resources of the universe in one giant evolutionary process could plausibly provide a useful outcome for a species clever enough to create the universe in the first place.
On this interpretation, life will ultimately organise all the physical resources of the universe into a single self-conscious intelligence, which in turn will then be able to interact with its creator s. Life is the embodiment of selfishness! Life is selfish because it is for itself in two ways: it is for its own survival, and it is for its own reproduction.
Anything that is not itself is the other; and the collection of others constitute its environment. The organism must destructively use the other to satisfy its reproductive desire, but on achieving this, it produces an additional other — but now one that also embodies its own selfish aim and the means to satisfy this aim. Therefore, even by an organism satisfying its desire, it makes the continuing satisfaction of its desires ever more difficult to achieve.
A partial solution to this dilemma is for genetically-related entities to form a cooperating society. The underlying mechanism of evolution is therefore the iteration of the embodied desire within an ever more complex competitive and social environment. Over vast numbers of iterations, this process forces some life-forms along a pathway that solves the desire for survival and reproduction by developing ever more complex and adaptable minds. This is achieved by supplementing their underlying cellular embodied chemistry with a specialist organ although still based on chemistry that we call its brain, able to rapidly process electrical signals.
However advanced it might be, an organism is still driven by the same basic needs for survival and reproduction.