Thursday, October 9, 2008
What is Life? (Part 2)
Continuing from definition of life in my previous post...
There are two things that need to be explained for the definition to make sense. One, what is meant by such phenomenon, if life is to be defined as one. Two, how does that definition cover complex facets of human life -- can our emotions, desires, consciousness, etc. be covered in such a lifeless definition?
Let me take the first aspect first. If you notice, the life phenomenon as described in the post, is a highly self organising phenomenon. This is to be noticed because one would expect that most processes and effects should degenerate into chaos when they run on their own. I will leave out a discussion on the second law of thermodynamics but let me say that in our universe there are other self organising phenomenon (from disorder to order) as well. Consider matter around us. It started as nothing but a hot soup of protons and electrons. As it cooled, rather than electrons and protons just clumping together, they formed atoms of 100 elements or so with complex properties. Those atoms then settled into crystals, combined with each other, created cycles and processes (e.g., seasons, ages, ocean currents, monsoon, and many such cycles even on other planets) and eventually created a highly evolved universe as we know it, even if you don't count life. All this from disorder to order.
Why such a counter-intuitive (non-life) organisation took place? No one knows, but it happenned and so was created this universe. Creation is a self organising phenomenon. Since life needs an environment as per my previous post, this environment got created from which arose life. One could consider life as just an extension of this phenomenon -- a relentless persuit of higher and higher levels of organisation, or spawn of a new phenomenon, or possibly say that universe itself is living by extending the definition to the environment itself.
Let's come to the second aspect mentioned above -- the correlation between the definition and human experiences. The characteristic of continuity in the definition translates into survival instinct (survival of self and offsprings) of the species, whether humans or bacteria. Based on what I understand from evolutionary psychology, survival instinct is the most powerful force that has guided human evolution. A lot of things can be explained through this -- people's fears, why women doll up, power, money, attraction, parental love, and so on. In other words, things that improve or assure your chances of survival make you happy. You have a good day at work, and you feel truly happy. Feelings of happiness and sadness are the result of chemicals, which are generated in the brain in such situations. The chemicals drive people's mind, not something abstract.
In other words, our ability to think and feel is nothing but a menifestation of a complex response system of a highly developed neural system, DNA and neuro-chemicals -- all physical things. At the basics, it is nothing but one's reaction to the heat of fire, one senses heat and automatically learns to move away to survive. This is what bacteria do, animals do and humans do.
Is the definition of life in my previous post starting to make sense? If yes, in my next post I will explain how we could perhaps create life, and other implications of that definition.