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.

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