• Benj96
    2.2k
    Perhaps one of the most confounding mysteries of the universe is the emergence of living animate objects from inanimate physical material. Theories of how life first originated have been in the sphere of debate ever since humans could ponder the thought. Many have tasked themselves with explaining - in multiple disciplines both religious, scientific and philosophical alike -the origin of life.

    Part of the difficulty lies within developing a concrete definition of “life” or “living systems” in the first place. To date the cell has typically been considered the fundamental unit of life as it possesses characteristics common across the board. However even these characteristics - reproduction , response, structure, excretion, nutrition, etc lie in a grey area. For example viruses sometimes possess all the characteristic but only in conjunction with a living host on which it depends to reproduce.

    Bacteriophages can even reanimate/ resurrect dead bacteria adding to the strangeness that is the line between dead and alive.

    Similarly DNA like any other component of a cell has no living aspects other than the fact that when all are working together the unit is alive. DNA however has the capacity to code for the full production of a living entity. Even though it is composed of four basic chemicals.

    So how is it that inanimate chemicals can form a living thing. And when does one call a living thing conscious? Some believe the whole universe is living in that it possesses conscious agency as a fundamental force of nature. And that the boundaries we place between that which is living and that which is dead is a false artificial construct.

    What do you believe?
  • tim wood
    8.7k
    What do you believe?Benj96
    Are your beliefs anything anyone else should care about? Or mine? What matters belief? What even do you mean by :belief?
  • Gregory
    4.6k


    I recently read the first half of Teilhards book The Phenomena of Man. You might like it
  • Olivier5
    6.2k
    Bacteriophages can even reanimate/ resurrect dead bacteriaBenj96

    Source?

    Part of the difficulty lies within developing a concrete definition of “life” or “living systems” in the first place.Benj96

    There are many, but the one I prefer is the capacity of a structure to repair and replicate itself.

    Re. abiogenesis, there are two leading hypotheses: 1) the cosmic soup (a form of panspermia) and the RNA world. There are not mutually exclusive. In fact a lot of the complex molecules recently found in space seem related to RNA.

    The RNA world hypothesis solves a long lasting conendrum: DNA cannot replicate without proteins catalysing the reactions involved, and yet those proteins are coded in the DNA that they help replicate, leading to a chicken and egg paradox.
  • Echarmion
    2.5k
    So how is it that inanimate chemicals can form a living thing. And when does one call a living thing conscious? Some believe the whole universe is living in that it possesses conscious agency as a fundamental force of nature. And that the boundaries we place between that which is living and that which is dead is a false artificial constructBenj96

    I personally tend towards the idea that a dividing line between biology and chemistry, between animate and inanimate, simply does not exist.

    "Life" is a category we use to order our world. It is useful insofar as it allows us to quickly make overarching conclusions about how things inside or outside the category behave. But it being useful doesn't justify reifying the category. The very name "abiogenesis" has obvious religious connotations. I suspect it's a bit of a holdover of a religious, or faith-based, perspective.

    There are some very complex exothermic reactions, which at some point have become so complex that to us, they look qualitatively different. We have some good theories about how that happened. But it's not inherently more Mysterious than the formation of stars, planets, or weather patterns.

    As to consciousness, we are a biased observer. Because we have, or perhaps are, consciousness, we cannot pretend to objectively tell what is and isn't conscious. Instead, what we are doing is comparing how similarly things are to us, and from that conclude consciousness. Not that this is an irrelevant or fruitless task, but it does mean it's somewhat misguided to look for the a physical source of consciousness.
  • TheMadFool
    13.8k
    Part of the difficulty lies within developing a concrete definition of “life” or “living systems” in the first place. To date the cell has typically been considered the fundamental unit of life as it possesses characteristics common across the board. However even these characteristics - reproduction , response, structure, excretion, nutrition, etc lie in a grey area. For example viruses sometimes possess all the characteristic but only in conjunction with a living host on which it depends to reproduce.Benj96

    I maybe talking out of my hat here but I sense a deep flaw in this, may I call it, attitude, towards life. I don't know if biologists are doing this knowingly/unwittingly but it seems the logic is fractal in nature in the sense that biologists are of the opinion that once no similarities can be discerned between two objects relevant to this discussion, one being the body, as a whole, and the other being some unit of life, here the cell, they believe, perhaps "feel" is a better word, that that's where they should draw the line between life and non-life.

    You mentioned how cells perform functions like nutrition, excretion, respiration, etc and these are the similarities between them and the body, itself composed of cells, that, in my humble opinion, lead biologists to the conclusion that once they arrive at subcellular structures that don't exhibit these functions they should then make the distinction life and non-life. In other words, the fractal self-similarity breaks down at the subcellular level...or does it? God know!

    Bacteriophages can even reanimate/ resurrect dead bacteria adding to the strangeness that is the line between dead and alive.Benj96

    In other words, what is miraculous at the human scale is just an ordinary occurrence at another scale. Makes one wonder about religion, doesn't it? Jesus would've been an average bloke in the world of bacteriophages or, if you don't mind a little, perhaps dry, joke , bacteriophages, all of them, are sons of god.

    So how is it that inanimate chemicals can form a living thing.Benj96

    Quit the fractal logic?! :chin:
  • Benj96
    2.2k
    of course beliefs should be cared about. The world we live in is dominated by belief systems as they’re are likely an unavoidable fact of the human experience. Beliefs and facts are sometimes interchangeable in that facts are often redacted and reassigned belief status and beliefs are often proven to be facts. Both are means bu which we understand the world and are subject to time and changing capacity to verify each of them. So I don’t really understand what you’re asking by “what do you mean by beliefs?”

    I mean your views on the subject at hand. Whether factually, anecdotally/ experientially or intuitively or superstitiously founded. The importance of mine or your beliefs is an irrelevant feature of the discussion as it’s not what I asked nor is it the information I’m looking to attain. We could always begin a discussion on whether beliefs are important or not or what we mean by then but for the sake of this argument let’s take it at face value.
  • Gary Enfield
    143
    I think that Christophe Finipolscie hit the nail on the head when he he explored this subject in his 2nd book. He firstly argued that consciousness is made of of 3 more basic elements, each of which might have a range of simpler and more complex forms. These were:
    - Awareness
    - Control, and
    - Thought (ie. a way to generate ideas/concepts and influence the wider world)

    He also basically argued that we identify life when it appears to demonstrate a breach of the seemingly deterministic prinicples, which the purely chemical world seems to be governed by, (according to the traditional mathematical Laws of Physics and Chemistry).

    So we see Life when activities appear to start something new, or assemble things; or produce multiple outcomes when only one should be possible if determinism was everything, (as some people argue).

    He then went on to list many of the factors/processes at the core of Life which seemingly break the Laws of Chemistry and Physics. The element which resolves some of these are explained away in science through the use of probabilities (in themselves an admission of no known cause); and yet there are many other of these processes which seem to point to controlling influences which have awareness.

    I have just raised a separate discussion about one of these.
  • NotAristotle
    252
    So how is it that inanimate chemicals can form a living thing. And when does one call a living thing conscious?Benj96

    When I consider abiogenesis as a "natural" explanation of where life comes from, it seems to me that for some combination of particles to be the recipe for the first lifeform would just be a miraculous occurrence, even if and especially if, one excludes a supernatural explanation. Does anyone have perspective of it or an alternative theory? I am open to a "natural" explanation for life's origin, I'm just not sure an account can be given in natural terms without any miraculous occurrences.
  • AmadeusD
    1.8k
    Does anyone have perspective of it or an alternative theory? I am open to a natural explanation for life's origin, I'm just not sure an account can be given in natural terms without any miraculous occurrences.NotAristotle

    I think this is true. We cannot point at life. We can't point to the button, switch, mechanism etc.. that causes or in which consists, life. We must, given current facts, accept two scenarios:

    1. We don't have all the facts, despite our attempts and we will (or not, i suppose) discover an empirical state of affairs that covers one of the two above (cause/consists in); or
    2. Life comes from the non-physical - whether than be an emergence-type of thing (clearly, a force such as a life 'arising' from complexity in already-existing physical matter is not further physical matter to be discussed physically).

    *shrug*.
  • NotAristotle
    252
    And even if we did have all empirical facts and could reproduce life in a lab, it would still be a weird thing for life to arise there, in my opinion, and the occurrence of that life may not be something we "caused" even though we put all the ingredients together.

    But surely such empirical facts and laboratory analysis would help us explain the Fermi Paradox.

    Or maybe we can "work backwards" from the probability of life - given the Fermi paradox - to determine the conditions that would give rise to a "natural" occurrence of life?
  • flannel jesus
    1.3k
    if miraculous means incredibly unlikely, then yeah, the first instance of life on earth was probably incredibly unlikely. However, given the number of planets there are in the universe, and how long the universe has been around, you have to acknowledge that there are many many many opportunities for the universe to achieve this incredibly unlikely thing.

    If I'm trying to achieve a one-in-a-million thing, and I only get one go, it's very unlikely I'll get it. But if I have infinite chances and infinite time to try, it goes from being very unlikely to an eventual inevitability.
  • NotAristotle
    252
    I am trying to comprehend not just the probability of the event, an event that as you say is quite unlikely, in addition, I am trying to understand how some combination of particles under such-and-such conditions goes from non-living to living. It seems almost Frankenstenian although I think the better word is miraculous. You agree?
  • flannel jesus
    1.3k
    no, the particles don't go from non living to living. The particles are doing the same things they would always have done - atoms don't know they're part of a living thing. Avery atom and molecule in your body doesn't know it's part of a body, it's not behaving differently because it's part of a living thing. Any chemical reaction it has, it would be capable of having in principle even if it wasn't part of a living thing.

    The distinction between living and non living is a useful one at certain scales, but at the scale of pure chemistry, I don't think there's a distinction between living and non living. Atoms just do what atoms be doin.
  • NotAristotle
    252
    by "combination of particles" I mean a cell and I do believe cells are alive though not conscious (like plants). And I am not sure if atomic activity would change, perhaps atoms that are part of living things act differently.

    In any case, my main point is that those atoms are now part of a living thing even though they have merely combined in some arrangement. To borrow a word you used earlier, that is incredible.
  • flannel jesus
    1.3k
    And I am not sure if atomic activity would change, perhaps atoms that are part of living things act differently.NotAristotle

    I can tell you right now, if you asked 100 physicists and 100 chemists, they would all say atoms do not change how they behave based on if they're in a "living" environment or not.

    If an atom binds to some chemical inside a living thing, there's a way to make that atom bind to that chemical outside of a living thing
  • NotAristotle
    252
    I would not say the atom itself acts differently, but the entire organism acts in a way that it would not act were it dead. The atoms, by extension and as parts of the organism, act differently than were they part of something dead.
  • NotAristotle
    252
    Atoms still do what they do, but what they do is ordered by the activity of the whole organism.
  • flannel jesus
    1.3k
    We're talking about abiogensis, which means the very first instance that a chemical arrangement formed something that we might choose to call "life" or at least some precursor to life. At that moment in time - the moment that that thing first happened - there was no big miraculous change in the atoms or chemicals involved. If we could narrow it down to a specific moment, we would find that at that moment, a chemical got bound to another chemical, and then... they just kept on behaving like normal chemicals. There was no sudden magic change from non life to life. If you looked at it with a microscope, you might not even notice something interesting happened at that moment of abiogenesis.
  • NotAristotle
    252
    yeah I see what you are saying, the chemicals and reactions and atoms, maybe they did not change their course at all so that living is physically, and in terms of process and ,functionally identical (combination aside) to non-living. Still, the central issue remains that there is something there that is alive that is composed of those atoms, chemicals, and of which those reactions are a part. That is the mystery.
  • wonderer1
    1.7k
    The atoms, by extension and as parts of the organism, act differently than were they part of something dead.NotAristotle

    Superficially, we might say that the carbon atoms in gunpowder act differently than the carbon atoms in pencil leads. Still, the physicists and chemists will see beyond that superficiality. The way atoms act is a function of the context they are in in any case, without a distinction between living and non-living being what makes the difference.
  • NotAristotle
    252
    The way atoms act is a function of the context they are in in any case, without a distinction between living and non-living being what makes the differencewonderer1

    I agree that context matters, although I would also disagree and say that whether living or non-living makes all the difference.
  • NotAristotle
    252
    Or put another way, living or non-living is the relevant context.
  • flannel jesus
    1.3k


    That's right. My mama used to say, Carbon is as Carbon does.
  • NotAristotle
    252
    your mother never said that, nobody ever said that, except you just now.
  • flannel jesus
    1.3k
    Here's a nice little educational resource that says it explictly:

    https://www.khanacademy.org/science/ap-biology/chemistry-of-life/elements-of-life/a/matter-elements-atoms-article#:~:text=Atoms%20and%20molecules%20follow%20the,part%20of%20a%20living%20thing.

    Atoms and molecules follow the rules of chemistry and physics, even when they're part of a complex, living, breathing being. If you learned in chemistry that some atoms tend to gain or lose electrons or form bonds with each other, those facts remain true even when the atoms or molecules are part of a living thing. In fact, simple interactions between atoms—played out many times and in many different combinations, in a single cell or a larger organism—are what make life possible. One could argue that everything you are, including your consciousness, is the byproduct of chemical and electrical interactions between a very, very large number of nonliving atoms!
  • bert1
    1.8k
    And when does one call a living thing conscious?Benj96

    When you think it is capable of experience.

    Part of the difficulty lies within developing a concrete definition of “life” or “living systems” in the first place.Benj96

    Yes. 'Life' is a example of redefining a concept so it becomes amenable to your preferred method of investigating it. Investigating consciousness empirically is problematic, so strike that from the definition of 'life' but retain things that are more amenable, such as reproduction.
  • NotAristotle
    252
    "atoms and molecules follow the rules" yep, agree with that, I just think they are also ruled by a further principle, namely, the organism of which they are a part.. even though they can't act contrary to the atomic and molecular rules that govern them.

    But I think you and I just disagree as to whether the atoms and molecules could behave differently were they part of a living organism.

    That is not the central issue/mystery anyhow.
  • flannel jesus
    1.3k
    I think it might be related to the central issue. If we go back to that first moment of abiogenesis, then in my interpretation, a new chemical bond gets formed but it's still just chemicals being chemicals, they aren't yet necessarily doing anything particularly novel compared to what they were doing previously.

    But under your interpretation, there must be a first moment where these unalive chemicals first started becoming subject to this "further principle" you mentioned. This might be the source of why you think it's a miracle, and I think it's chemistry. If there's a new principle that governs matter that's part of life, then there kind of IS something miraculous about when those chemicals transition from not being subject to that principle, Vs how they were before when they weren't subject to it.

    I think it very much could be the (or a) central issue.

    If you could prove atoms follow new principles when they're part of life, you pretty much have a guaranteed nobel prize.
  • NotAristotle
    252
    Can you clarify whether you think there is a difference between living and non-living things, and what you take that difference, if any, to consist of?
  • Patterner
    558
    One could argue that everything you are, including your consciousness, is the byproduct of chemical and electrical interactions between a very, very large number of nonliving atoms! — Khan Academy
    I guess we know Khan's position on consciousness.
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