noun ( pl. lives |līvz|)
1 the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death
What constitutes as life?, has been a question that remains nebulous, even with the sophistication of modern day science. Some narrow life down to humans, animals and insects, while others include plants in their repertoire. Some say that life is anything animated, but it’s argued that even the most inanimate objects contain more bacteria than the substance that makes it what it is. Another notion is that life is less material and more of an experience. If it interacts with something else then it can be considered life, and since everything interacts with everything, then ‘everything’ is life. Very Interesting. By no means am I going to try to define life in this article, but I would like to share a curious perspective that I’ve stumbled upon.
The other day, I was doing a little light reading while riding the Metra to work, when I came across a striking statement made by the American biologist Ursula Goodenough (interesting last name) in regards evolution and the Darwinian notion of natural selection.
“Mutation is utterly random, but selection is extremely choosy!”
She was referring the process of the genome when a species evolves. Though the selection of the gene is carefully chosen, the mutations that occur in the genes that offer new selections are completely random. This fact sent my mind into a whirl wind. I must have zoned out for at least twenty minutes. I imagined I looked quite foolish to the other passengers, cross eyed and drooling.
It seems as though the universe has been beating me over head with examples of how balanced it is, or at least how much it tries to be (I’ll explain that later). The most fundamental of these balances, in my opinion, is the second law of thermodynamics which explains how energy moves from low to high entropy.
Entropy isn’t a word normal people use everyday. I though I should define it. It’s an esoteric notion but simply put entropy is a level of disorder or randomness. Example: Let’s say you have a drop of ink in a syringe and a bath tub full of water. While the ink is still in the syringe the entropy is at it’s lowest because we know where all of it is. There is no disorder. When we drop the ink in the water, the droplet of ink changes shape as it spreads in the water. The entropy or disorder is getting higher. If we let it sit long enough the ink will completely spread through out the water until all that is left is dingy water. At this point the entropy of the drop of is at it’s highest.
Out of chaos comes order. That is a statement that has been repeated by many throughout history. But in the face of the thermodynamics of entropy, that message seems to be contradictory. If all matter is made of energy, and energy flows from low to high entropy, how is it that any thing exists at all? If we refer to the Big Bang Theory, the entropy of all energy was at it’s lowest in the singularity. Then it explodes and the entropy gets greater and grearter. Yet some how in the process of energy spreading, particles formed into molecules. Molecules form into matter, matter formed into stars and planets and life etc. And it makes me wonder. What is it that brings energy together to form the elements that evolve into what we call life?
Yes, I considered this too, but gravity is a weak force and is an effect of large masses that have already been brought together. So what brings those pieces together that form a massive enough object to generate gravity?
If we look back at the example of the ink experiment, the facts of entropy hold true. We don’t notice the molecules of ink reforming in certain areas of the water. Yet this is something energy does everyday. Granted the tub of water isn’t exactly the vacuum of space—which is another thing I have many questions about. Order is constantly being made from the chaos of highly entropic energy. There is a mystery here and I’m willing to propose that perhaps life is the force that defies the natural flow of the thermodynamics of entropy.
Now, I want to be clear that even though I’m saying that life is defying the flow of entropy, it cannot deny it. Entropy is constantly reclaiming the coming together of energy. The first law of thermodynamics states that, “Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. It can only change forms.” All energy that aggregates will eventually return to a state of equilibrium. From chaos to order to chaos. A force constantly enforcing and a force constantly defying. Like cops and crack heads. Sorry, bad joke.
For those who follow the notion that life is the experience of matter interacting with other matter, then I think that idea can draw it’s roots from the originator that interplay, which is the omnipresent interaction of chaos and the force that mysteriously defies it. Perhaps this isn’t a definition of life per-say, but it infers from the force that makes it possible. However, since they are so inseparable, perhaps that can mean they are one in the same.
Just a thought.
It has taken me a while to actually post this article, and I’m glad because I recently came across an interesting bit of information that, coincidentally, supports my own thoughts, and might make an curious conclusion. The Dalai Lama stated this in his book, “The Univers in a Single Atom”:
“…at the most fundamental level, no absolute division can be made between mind and matter. Matter in it’s subtlest form is ‘prana’, a vital energy which in inseparable from consciousness. These two are different aspects of an indivisible reality… when a world system comes into being, we are witnessing the play of this energy and consciousness reality.”
Perhaps it’s consciousness that brings everything together. Almost as if to say, the desire for sentient beings to exist is so strong at the consciousness makes it so. Maybe it sounds crazy, maybe it sound like a stepping stone to clarity. But at the very least, it’s interesting to think about.Read More