10 July 2011

What is Life?

Since I am tackling the basics to start with, like tackling knowledge last week, I might as well jump to the next large interrogative, defining life. Keeping in mind what was said last week, take a skeptical view of what is here on out expressed in this blog as it is not expressed with the intent to be irrefutable knowledge, but as a system of coherent beliefs, a paradigm, expressed for understanding, a form of two way communication between myself and the world around me.

What is Life? This is one of those topics that, like a greased pig, refuses to be pinned down easily. Many definitions have been brought forward to be put to the test. I will only go through a few of them here, for a more thorough coverage of the various views and definitions I would suggest starting with the wikipedia article life. One of the manners of defining life is the list of phenomena that seem common to much of the life here on earth, namely, homeostasis, organization, metabolism, growth, adaptation, response to stimuli, and reproduction. Of course it is notable to state that Fire itself seems to arguably have most of these qualities. There are also some life forms which seem to bend these qualifications quite severely such as biological viruses (though some will argue that viruses might not be allowed to qualify as alive.)

However, there exists the question of machines and computer artificial intelligence. As modern computer programming becomes more and more complex, there occur programs which take on more and more of these qualities that we see in biological life. Where and how does one draw the line. Should it be drawn? And with that there are also many other questions that branch out into areas such as universal rights that we keep trying to grant to all living things. There are those who fight for animal rights, well what if popular belief could be swayed to believe that advanced computer programming is at some level alive, will there be people who would fight for the rights of the programs to not be erased. Of course that is mostly tangential at the moment, yet it is still useful information for grasping why it may be important to have a belief or a position on this topic.

As far as my belief and position on this topic goes, I take the frustrating position of the existence of a soul. I do this because somehow somewhere there still seems to be independent will in much of life, Much of our actions can be tacked down to biological process and neurological arrangement, but deep down there is still an element of randomness that seems incapable of being fully explained by either. Randomness here implying that there are no absolute laws that dictate outcome other than perhaps statistical law. That is a blog for another day.

So what is a soul? How do we determine if something has a soul and is therefore alive? Is it practical to believe in a soul, or even practical to try and make the distinction between what is alive and what is not according to the possession of a soul? Why abandon the list of biological qualifications? Should I feel bad about killing the bacteria that give me a cold every year?

These are all fine questions. Sadly, I came unprepared to answer them this week. I have been distracted by lovely fourth of july festivities, and friends and family, and other activities. But now that I have a bit of a direction to go. I'll be putting some thought into these questions and I will answer them as best I know how in accordance with my paradigm next week.

03 July 2011

Knowledge (It's Fickle)

Knowledge is a fickle thing. Let me explain. I am sure that you have been in this situation before, especially if you have spent longer than 30 minutes perusing the internet. But have you ever been in the situation where you "know" something to be true, and yet there is someone out there who disagrees with you and says that what you "know" to be true is actually false. You try to prove to them that they are wrong and that whatever the subject in question is, it is really true. But they won't hear any of your "proof" and actually will begin to defend themselves and start throwing out "proof" of their own to support what they "know". How does anyone win this confrontation? Can it be won at all? Should it be won?

When both sides have "proof" and "know" they are right, the means of conflict resolution are somewhat slim, either one side has to voluntarily concede to the other, or there is the tried and failed method of gathering your gang and winning by numbers. You could agree to disagree but that doesn't really solve the question of who is actually right and who is wrong, who's knowledge is validated and who's knowledge is a load of candy fluff. You could try scientific inquiry, but either side can complain that the tests weren't conducted quite right, or claim that the scientists were bribed or bought out, or they could simply refuse to believe that it can really be testable, or throw out any one of dozens of arguments to try and trip up their opposition, bringing us back to square one on the subject, How does anyone win in this situation? As far as I can tell, There is none. Not even if one side concedes, because then the two of them are going to meet another person who disagrees with them. And another after that. And another after that. And the conflict will just rage on and on and on and on and ad infinitum. Even if a large number of people were convinced that one thing was correct, does that mean it is right? History contains evidence that perhaps masses don't make absolute proof. There have been popular beliefs that have been abandoned by later generations?

Can the battle for absolute knowledge be won then? That is a dang good question. I think not. I think that the best we can do is stake our position on a subject and stick with it, and agree to disagree if no one is going to concede. If we are wrong, we are wrong together. That is the nature of the beast known as knowledge. Knowledge, as I stated above, is fickle. We can try to predict things, and we can even be pretty good at it, but knowledge about the future is non existent, the best I'm afraid we can do is prediction. For example, you can predict that the sun will come up tomorrow, and for all practical purposes, you are probably right, the sun will probably come up tomorrow, but the fact is that other possibilities could exist, There could be a freakishly fast moving black hole that is approaching the sun from the exact opposite side of the sun where we might not be able to see, and in the night the sun could be absorbed by this black hole. I will say, it is not likely that this will happen, but it could, and therefore I can say I bet the sun will come up tomorrow, but I don't absolutely know it will happen.

Should this battle be won? For pragmatic purposes, No. Just as having genetic diversity among a species better grantees the species existence as a whole. Having a diversity of opinion and belief or "knowledge" helps to keep our social and political systems in a state of balance, and it creates conditions for the existence and development of a wider variety of life styles, skills, problem solutions, etc that may be needed to deal with problems that might arise in the world.

Anyway. So it is my belief that we can have strong enough belief that we can rely upon it like knowledge, but that absolute irrefutable knowledge can not be obtained. (Ironically, and I have seen this happen, there are other individuals who do not believe this basic premise on knowledge outlined here, and they do believe that some sort of absolute irrefutable knowledge exists and that, of course, they possess it. So as I am writing this, I know that there are others out there who would disagree with me even on this point of basic philosophy. I maintain that it is their right to believe the way they do, and I will not dispute it.)