• TheHedoMinimalist
    183
    On the side, you should consider the consequences of autonomous motion as extensions of the autonomous;Shamshir

    What do you mean by the phrase “extensions of the autonomous”?
  • Shamshir
    856
    A stretch? Like how the arm is divided in to parts, and each part is just the arm extending or stretching itself out.

    And though you could consider the finger as an autonomous unit, it is a part of the arm and so virtually the arm. And its consequential action being autonomous as stemming (being a part of) from some autonomous action.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    183
    Ok, so to make sure that I’m understanding you correctly. Are you suggesting that if I pick up a baseball bat, then that bat would be part of me and therefore alive?
  • ssu
    1.7k
    Biologists define living things as organisms and emphasize their ability to maintain homeostasis and replicate its genetic information. But, are those things actually important? Should we really think of living things as just a collection of cells which replicate themselves? I think of life as the process of being alive and as a state of animation. I do not understand why we consider trees and fungi to be alive.TheHedoMinimalist
    Those things are important.

    Considering something living is quite important to us and there is an obvious difference on how we treat living things versus simple chemical compounds or elements, hence the distinction is important.To draw the line how the biologists have done is understandable and quite easy. If we don't draw that line so, just where do we then draw the line?
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    183
    If we don't draw that line so, just where do we then draw the line?ssu

    I agree that biologists should continue to study the organic matter which they are currently studying but perhaps call themselves organicists rather than biologists. I am not against the studying of plants, bacteria, and fungi. To answer your question, I think we should draw the line between living and non-living on the capacity for autonomous action. Hence, humans, non-human animals, and perhaps future robots should be the only things regarded as living.
  • Possibility
    772
    This has been an interesting discussion - one of the most interesting things has been the recognition that categories such as living/non-living are not as definitive as we once believed.

    I’m trying to make sense of your position: the line you’ve drawn between living and non-living comes from your value system. Autonomous action renders an entity ‘interesting’ to you, worthy of your attention and interaction. The existence or action of everything else, including plants, bacteria and fungi, appear to have little to no significance in relation to your own existence as you see it. It’s not important to you whether a plant grows and develops or not - or at least not as important as the growth and development of animals, humans and computer systems. Your interaction with the universe is determined by a multi-dimensional awareness of VALUE to the ‘self’ - and autonomy appears to be your highest value...am I close?
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    183

    Yep, I would say you got it right for the most part. I actually tend to think that the most important aspect of our lives is the ability to experience positive and negative mental states but we cannot determine precisely which things are capable of such mental states. So, I think the best externally observable indicator of the capacity to experience seems to be the capacity for autonomous action. Also, aside from my views on value, I also think it’s quite intuitive to think of living things as animated. Animation can be defined as having a capacity to experience or the capacity for autonomous action. Human, animals, and future robots are the only things we know of with such capacities.
  • Possibility
    772
    There’s an interesting book called ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleben that offers a different perspective on the capacity of plants and fungi to experience and their capacity for ‘autonomous action’. I also wonder if you’ve considered chemotaxis in bacteria as evidence of experience. I understand your qualification of ‘externally observable’ indicators, but do you really mean observable to the naked human eye?

    Personally, I question this focus on ‘autonomy’ as a value, given how dependent humans are on the rest of the universe (particularly plants, bacteria and fungi) in order to achieve life, let alone anything else. What you refer to as ‘autonomous action’ is highly debatable as such - particularly if you take into account microscopic activity.

    FWIW, I don’t believe drawing an objective line between living and non-living is as important as it seems. The value we each attribute to this distinction both informs and is informed by how we personally interact with the universe above and below the line, rendering it highly subjective at best and dependent on our awareness of certain indicators. Biologists who define a living thing as ‘a collection of cells which replicate themselves’ consider these two indicators to be valuable for life at a microscopic level because it informs their work. You interact with the universe at a different level, and so you draw the line differently. I’m fairly confident that if you spent more time interacting with plants, bacteria and fungi and striving to understand how they interact with the universe, you would view their living/non-living status differently.
  • Shamshir
    856
    Are you suggesting that if I pick up a baseball bat, then that bat would be part of me and therefore alive?TheHedoMinimalist
    Yes, you would vivify the bat by extension; the bat will live through and as you.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    183
    There’s an interesting book called ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleben that offers a different perspective on the capacity of plants and fungi to experience and their capacity for ‘autonomous action’. I also wonder if you’ve considered chemotaxis in bacteria as evidence of experience. I understand your qualification of ‘externally observable’ indicators, but do you really mean observable to the naked human eye?Possibility

    I will have to do more research on that. While it might be possible that plants, fungi, and bacteria have experiences, I think the probability of that is lower than the probability of any animal having experiences. There is 2 reasons for why I think this is the case:

    1. I hypothesize that the capacity for mental activity requires a sufficient amount of bodily energy. What we typically believe to be the complexity of a species mind tends to correlate with the amount of energy consumed by their nervous system. For example, we believe humans have more complex mental activity than chimpanzees or rabbits. Chimpanzees spend a lot of their bodily energy on making their muscles big and strong rather than use that energy on the brain like humans do(this explains why they are stronger and we are smarter). Rabbits, on the other hand, are a bit too small to have the bodily energy needed to have a human level mind. This problem is bigger for plants and fungi it seems. Although I am not a botanist and I acknowledge my ignorance about plants and fungi, I believe they lack the energy needed for mental activity to occur. I also don’t think it’s clear which area of a plant or fungi would store the energy needed for mental activity(assuming that there needs to be something resembling a nervous system in plants and fungi). Of course, the energy problem seems even greater for bacteria which has microscopic amounts of energy. Unless mental activity requires little to no energy, it seems unlikely that bacteria has significant mental lives.

    2. I would also hypothesize that mental activity is an adaptation which helped organisms search for food and escape predators. It may be the case that the complex decision making required to accomplish those tasks requires the presence of mental activity to physically work. This could offer a potential explanation for the presence of mental activity in animals. Of course, plants and fungi have no need for such a mechanism for complex decision making it seems. This is due to the fact that they are usually stationary with some minor autonomous movements like the blooming of a flower as an example. For the most part, they seem to make their own food and have no need to search for it. In addition, they cannot really do anything to escape predators because they are stationary. Some plants and fungi have mechanisms for protecting themselves. Plants may have thorns and mushrooms may contain poisons. This deters predators from eating them. But, it seems that those bodily functions could be performed without a mind much like we do not really have to have a mind to breathe or urinate. Bacteria, on the other hand, does seem to be capable of motion. I think it sometimes needs to search for food and to avoid predators which are usually viruses. The energy problem is my main concern regarding the possibility of bacterial mental life. Nonetheless, I will need to read the book you have recommended and do research on chemotaxis.

    Personally, I question this focus on ‘autonomy’ as a value, given how dependent humans are on the rest of the universe (particularly plants, bacteria and fungi) in order to achieve life, let alone anything else. What you refer to as ‘autonomous action’ is highly debatable as such - particularly if you take into account microscopic activity.Possibility

    I agree that perhaps I need to refine my views further. Rather than autonomy, perhaps we should focus on the 2 requirements which I hypothesize are necessary for mental activity. The first one is the ability and need to make complex decisions to achieve a particular goal and the second is having a sufficient amount of energy stored in something resembling a nervous system to produce mental activity. I think your comment has helped me clarify that a little better. Of course, I could be wrong about both of those hypotheses but I will have to do more research on that. At the very least, meeting those requirements seems to increase the probability that a particular type of thing is likely to have mental activity. I would still put animals above other organisms in the capacity for value hierarchy since it seems that they are more likely to experience suffering and joy.
  • ssu
    1.7k
    , I think we should draw the line between living and non-living on the capacity for autonomous action.TheHedoMinimalist
    Why to insist on redefining life and not simply making the juxtaposition with having capacity for autonomous action and being incapable of it? Why life and living organisms would have to be fixed with this new far more narrow and a bit equivocal definition?

    Starting with Aristotle and continuing to this day, biology makes a totally reasonable argument for the demarcation of living organisms from other. After all, we do have similarities with plants: we both have DNA and RNA, we both have reproductive systems and so on...

    main-qimg-9a0e30415c3a900d512d09588a9a9d79

    It's extremely confusing especially when then your argument goes on that automated machines that perhaps would be built (in totally different fashion than living organisms) are considered living. Besides, just how autonomous robots are? A mechanical device that has been programmed to do something does what it has been programmed to do, if it doesn't brake down. And since we don't have genuinely autonomous machines, it's really a bit vague issue to refer to possible future robots. Because then again I could make the hypothesis that in the future there would be autonomous plants too.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    183
    Why to insist on redefining life and not simply making the juxtaposition with having capacity for autonomous action and being incapable of it? Why life and living organisms would have to be fixed with this new far more narrow and a bit equivocal definition?ssu

    Well, it’s not clear to me if I am redefining the meaning of the word “life” at all. There’s a double meaning in our usage of the word to begin with. Sometimes when we speak of life, we speak of the scientific definition of life aka organisms. But there is also a more colloquial meaning of the term that often comes into conflict with the scientific meaning. This colloquial meaning refers to life as the process of being alive or animated. Here are 2 thought experiments that you can think about to see the distinction:
    1. Imagine that you have a potted plant in your house. You would likely treat the plant like you would any other object in your house. The plant would seem to you almost like a statue that requires occasional watering but one day something extraordinarily happens. The branches of the plant start moving on their own and suddenly the plant pulls itself out of the pot and starts walking on its roots. At this point, you are likely freaked out because the plant had just came to life. But, wait a minute? Wasn’t it alive before that freaky event? What makes it seem like it is more alive now? It seems like the added capacity for autonomous action is what would make one think that the plant had come to life.

    2. Imagine a robot that was designed to do just 2 things. The first thing the robot is designed to do is to create other daughter robots which will grow over time and share some inherited characteristics of the mother robot. The mother robot creates these robots in a relatively uninteresting and non-autonomous manner. A human presses a button and the mother robot builds the daughter robot in a passive manner like a 3D printer. The second function of this mother robot is to repair itself with materials from the environment which is sort of like a robot metabolism. It also does this only after the human presses the button and puts the materials from the environment into the robot’s built in vacuum. This mother robot now fulfills 2 of the 3 requirements for life by the scientific definition:
    1. It reproduces
    2. It has a metabolism
    3. It doesn’t have cells
    But, it’s not clear why the 3rd requirement is all that important. If you could build a highly autonomous robot which doesn’t have cells, would this really make the robot less of a living thing? In addition, we can challenge the other 2 requirements as well. Would the robot that I have described above be more similar to a living thing than a more complex and autonomous robot which does not reproduce or have a metabolism? It just seems like a more autonomous robot would be more similar to us than the reproducing robot or a tree for that matter. If such robots are not possible then we should limit the definition of life to animals.
  • I like sushi
    1.8k
    Delete my joke? If you have enough of a sense of humour to tolerate people suggesting a bat is an extension of life tolerate my mockery ... maybe?

    Have the crazies taken over the ass-ylum?

    Note: deleting posts is counter-mount to murder! Shamsirmir has by back on this ;)
  • ssu
    1.7k
    But there is also a more colloquial meaning of the term that often comes into conflict with the scientific meaning. This colloquial meaning refers to life as the process of being alive or animated.TheHedoMinimalist
    Living organisms can also die, so the dead/alive dichotomy is quite understandable. Again why life has a lot to do with living organisms.

    1. Imagine that you have a potted plant in your house. You would likely treat the plant like you would any other object in your house.TheHedoMinimalist
    No. As you mention later, I would have to take care of it that it stays alive. With a plastic contraption that is designed to fool people that it is a plant, I wouldn't have to worry so much.

    But, wait a minute? Wasn’t it alive before that freaky event? What makes it seem like it is more alive now?TheHedoMinimalist
    Or it would see to be behaving more like an animal? And we do have moving plants like tumbleweeds.

    This mother robot now fulfills 2 of the 3 requirements for life by the scientific definition:
    1. It reproduces
    TheHedoMinimalist
    Nope. It simply builds from (processed) materials a machine. No sex involved.

    2. It has a metabolismTheHedoMinimalist
    Actually not. An electric motor or whatever motor or battery there is to give energy to the machine isn't what you call a metabolism: the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life. We are not there yet.

    3. It doesn’t have cells
    But, it’s not clear why the 3rd requirement is all that important.
    TheHedoMinimalist
    Well, it is.

    To give a counterexample which is close to your examples, assume that we find from Mars under the sand an extremely old remnant of something that isn't just rocks or sand. Now to find out if it would be a extraterrestial fossil or an extraterrestial robot and we would be exactly looking at these kinds of clues. And if we assume that it indeed would be an Alien "robot", but these Aliens have far advanced technology, so that their robots operate like an living organism, we likely would be fooled to think that it's a fossil. To argue that it's an advanced planetary lander of a third party would feel highly unlikely, when it looks like the remains of a plant or an animal.
  • Pattern-chaser
    1.8k
    I can't rid myself of the oft-quoted motto "if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a dick, it's probably a duck". If it seems to be alive, because it acts like a living thing, then it's probably alive. This is far from precise, I know, but I submit that a precise recognition of 'life' might be quite difficult. And I think the difficulty is in wrestling with details, to support or oppose the accolade of Living Thing to a particular thing. Is that worth it? Maybe it is. Maybe we need a precise definition of life, so that we can easily and conveniently classify things as alive or not. Or maybe there's another reason? Is there? :chin:
  • ssu
    1.7k
    Maybe we need a precise definition of life, so that we can easily and conveniently classify things as alive or not. Or maybe there's another reason? Is there?:chin:Pattern-chaser
    It's a question of classification, yes, and I think TheHedoMinimalist has another idea than just classification at mind here.

    Perhaps when you are talking in the future to an AI that is fully conscious, aware and independent, you might have an interesting discussion with it about the subject. Would it consider itself alive or dead? It may perhaps see itself as conscious, but not as a living being and it might consider itself hence dead. The dead interacting with the living might sound awesome to it, who knows?
  • Pattern-chaser
    1.8k
    Perhaps when you are talking in the future to an AI that is fully conscious, aware and independent, you might have an interesting discussion with it about the subject. Would it consider itself alive or dead? It may perhaps see itself as conscious, but not as a living being and it might consider itself hence dead. The dead interacting with the living might sound awesome to it, who knows?ssu

    Yes, that would be interesting. :smile: But I wouldn't be side-tracked by the thorny question of whether the AI is alive, I'd just enjoy the conversation. :wink: Even if that conversation was about whether the AI was/is/will be alive. :smile: Is its 'life status' really so important?
  • ssu
    1.7k

    Indeed.

    And just how smart would it be and how interesting discussion you could have with the AI are really totally open questions. Yeah, you could assume NOW that the AI would be this highly intelligent entity with surprising new ideas and viewpoints. Yet there is the possibility of the AI being... something resembling a Trump-voter from a little town in Kentucky who dropped out of school and has been on the farm since then. And who hasn't a lot to say, actually. :razz:

    You see all the time people talking about AI "getting out of hand" like in the Terminator-movies or discussing this "Technological singularity", where AI enters a "runaway reaction" of self-improvement cycles, people seem to think intelligence being this quantifiable thing. (And for some like Elon Musk it's a clever move to side with the "computers-can-be-dangerous" crowd and appease them, btw.)

    Yet knowing all the Worlds telephone books inside and out doesn't make you super-intelligent. Perhaps useful in some occasion, but not the most interesting entity to have an interesting discussion with.
  • Pattern-chaser
    1.8k
    Yet there is the possibility of the AI being... something resembling a Trump-voter...ssu

    If the AI proved to be an AU (Unintelligent), that would be unfortunate. But even Trump-voters are alive.

    Yet knowing all the Worlds telephone books inside and out doesn't make you super-intelligent.ssu

    I think everyone agrees with that. It's not the knowledge that gives rise to intelligence, it's the ability to apply that knowledge for its own purposes that would distinguish an intelligence.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    183
    Nope. It simply builds from (processed) materials a machine. No sex involved.ssu

    Well, there doesn’t have to be sex involved. Organisms sometimes reproduce asexually. Reproduction is generally defined as the ability to produce offsprings. The mother robot is producing something I would consider an offspring.

    Actually not. An electric motor or whatever motor or battery there is to give energy to the machine isn't what you call a metabolism: the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life. We are not there yet.ssu

    Well, there is chemical processes which occur inside of a robot which regenerates the robot. They are just different chemical processes than the ones found in normal organisms.

    Well, it is.

    To give a counterexample which is close to your examples, assume that we find from Mars under the sand an extremely old remnant of something that isn't just rocks or sand. Now to find out if it would be a extraterrestial fossil or an extraterrestial robot and we would be exactly looking at these kinds of clues. And if we assume that it indeed would be an Alien "robot", but these Aliens have far advanced technology, so that their robots operate like an living organism, we likely would be fooled to think that it's a fossil. To argue that it's an advanced planetary lander of a third party would feel highly unlikely, when it looks like the remains of a plant or an animal.
    ssu

    I don’t think we would be fooled. If the fossils look more like a machine that an organism, then it is likely an advanced civilization of robots. It’s likely that perhaps those robots were created by animals at some point in time. Of course, I also wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of life existing which is neither composed of cells nor a robot. There could possibly be thousands of different matter arrangements which could produce the first type of thing which will eventually evolve into something animated and alive. It’s also possible that organisms can be designed by other organisms rather than from evolution and reproduction. For example, it’s imaginable that a mad scientist could possibly create something resembling chimeras which do not reproduce but are nonetheless composed of cells. I think if those cases came to fruition then it would truly undermine the scientific notion of life.
  • Stephen Cook
    8
    If we strip away any regard to the substrates involved and/or what those substrate may imply in terms of the mechanics of the living process we are left with what are, arguably, the simplest facts of what constitutes life as we know it:

    1) An entity must exist that is capable of replication and the resources necessary for such replication should be available.

    2) The replication process should not, in all circumstances, produce perfect copies and should, instead, allow for a tiny amount of random variation

    3) the above variations should be subject to a process of natural section based upon environmental constraints

    4) there must a be a lot of time available for the above processes to evolve from simple to complex.

    At some point, relativity early on in the above process, we may say that "life" exists.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    183
    well, it appears as though infertile humans wouldn’t qualify as life by the 4 requirements you have listed
  • ssu
    1.7k

    Well, if all in a group of humans are infertile, then that group won't be here for long.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    183
    yes, but should we judge whether or not something is alive based on what group they belong to or should we judge it on an individual level. I think it makes sense to judge it on an individual level because whether or not a particular being belongs to a particular species may be based on arbitrary factors.
  • Theologian
    160

    I myself want to consider two different approaches to deciding what life is. First of all, life is a natural language word – specifically from the English language. One approach to this question might be a lexical or psycholinguistic one, in which we attempt to find out what native speakers of English have in their heads when they use the word. I think this might offer us a fair idea, naïve though it may seem:



    The second approach is a more scientific one. Having started off with this naïve “folk biology,” we might attempt to advance to a deeper, more rigorous definition of what we have really been studying when we have been studying life. This is, of course, a fundamentally different question, and calls for a different answer.

    One theory of life is that life is that which self replicates. But, as has so often been observed, flames self-replicate. Yet they don’t seem to be alive.

    A second theory is that organization, or complexity is what defines life. Under this approach, whole ecosystems, or even the Earth itself, may be deemed alive. But is the space shuttle alive? How about a nuclear power plant? They seem pretty complex and highly organized. But alive – and alive in the same sense that a frog or a human is alive? Most of us would have some doubts.

    So I am going to suggest that there is one very specific reason why we should combine the two, finding that when we have done so, the whole is indeed greater than the sum of the parts. And that is that when we have something that is both complex and self replicating, evolution happens. Which creates a virtuous circle of ever increasing adaptivity and complexity.

    So the reason our particular form of life became life was because it started with a chemistry that had both these things.

    The other properties that we typically observe in life, are “merely” the practical necessities that thermodynamics imposes on any self replicating orderly system. Life, as Cookie Monster so wisely taught us, needs to eat and respire. This is simply because any closed system inevitably progresses towards entropy over time. Thus, in order for an orderly system to self replicate, it needs to input and utilize energy.

    Similarly, homeostasis is “merely” winning the battle against entropy. At least for a while.

    My definition also has the property (I would say advantage) of allowing for forms of life with completely different physical bases. For example, highly complex robots that can build others of their kind. These too would count as alive. Similarly so complex self replicating pieces of code. [Note: while I meant computer code when I wrote this, upon re-reading I am struck by the incredibly obvious realization that "complex self replicating pieces of code" perfectly describes our own genomes too.]

    Whether viruses, which by definition do not technically self replicate, but depend wholly on other living things to replicate them, should be alive, is an interesting question.

    For myself, I believe that they should be.

    My reason for this is simple: their particular kind of order also activates the same forces of evolution that self-replication does. Thus, they seem to have essentially the same kind of orderliness, be subject to essentially the same rules, and in the words of Lt. Commander Data, overall be “more alike than unlike.“

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4VxbnGbWbM
  • Theologian
    160

    An entity must exist that is capable of replication and the resources necessary for such replication should be available.Stephen Cook
    it appears as though infertile humans wouldn’t qualify as life by the ... requirements you have listedTheHedoMinimalist

    I’ve been thinking about how I might myself deal with this objection. Of course, it applies not just to biologically infertile humans, but to all organisms that do not self-replicate. Worker ants, and for that matter any organism that simply fails in the evolutionary game. Could we say that a mayfly that died without ever managing to breed was never alive? There seems to be something wrong with this.

    So to offer a slightly more refined version of my definition, I’d say that once you start with a complex thing that self replicates, evolution is ignited. Once that happens, you generate a tree structure that continues to exists because at least some nodes do self replicate.

    Once you have that, each node on that tree – each individual organism – qualifies as alive. Regardless of whether it, as an individual node, self replicates or not.

    Indeed, we may even recognize that the very fact that many nodes do not self replicate is itself a vital aspect of the evolutionary process that creates and maintains life.
  • Theologian
    160

    I can't rid myself of the oft-quoted motto "if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a dick, it's probably a duck"Pattern-chaser

    Yeah... I'm gonna have some difficulty ridding myself of that one too! :grin:
  • Venkat K
    1
    A thing/subject recognizes itself as alive or not with the knowledge it has acquired about it. Probably, when this knowledge is absent, the question of aliveness becomes insignificant as there is no subject experiencing the aliveness. The knowledge being the result of the conditioning by thought, and thought being transient with out any permanent ground to withstand, creates a temporary illusion /subject in the human brain that it’s alive , autonomous and a separate entity. this process of thought created human robot which always clings to the past and projects to the future and so is the artificial intelligence.
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    183
    I myself want to consider two different approaches to deciding what life is. First of all, life is a natural language word – specifically from the English language. One approach to this question might be a lexical or psycholinguistic one, in which we attempt to find out what native speakers of English have in their heads when they use the word. I think this might offer us a fair idea, naïve though it may seem:Theologian

    I must say that this response is now the most interesting one I’ve gotten. Though, I think my view is quite befitting to the common use of the word “life” in non-scientific context. For example, if I see a tree start moving on it’s own like an animal, then it would make perfect sense to say that the tree came to life. This would, of course, be confusing to the biologist since the tree was always alive. This seems to suggest that we don’t pay much attention to the scientific meaning when we speak the word colloquially. There is one good counterargument that I thought about relating to this though. We sometimes observe that trees die and prepare for them to eventually fall down. This suggests that we do think of a tree as a living thing at least some of time. But, we have to remember that it’s not only living things that can be said to die. For example, one day this thread on which we are posting will die. We can say that the Roman Empire had died in the past. So, it’s possible for trees to die and never be a living thing. Of course, it’s also possible to posit that non-living things can be metaphorically alive. For example, I could posit that I’m surprised that this thread is still alive. I could also utter something like “The American way of life still lives on!”. This seemingly posses a challenge for both of our views on the lexical issue. I think both views have their pros and cons. The pros of the scientific view is that the metaphorical usage of “alive” seems to be based on survival. This thread is alive because it survives and the American way is alive for the same reason. Reproduction can be considered as an extension of survival(ie your DNA can’t survive without reproduction). The scientific meaning of life is therefore better at taking this into account since my view doesn’t prioritize survival much. But, there is also an advantage that my view has with the metaphorical usage of the word life. When we say that this thread is alive, we don’t just mean that it exists somewhere like a rock. There are plenty of threads on this forum which still technically exist but are considered dead because no one posts on them anymore. My thread is still alive because it still has value relevant activity. This thread is still of interest to someone. Once there is no interest in this thread, it will die. So, the question that we might want to ask is what is the fundamental aspect of interest which would create the distinction between living and non-living. I think autonomous action is the best candidate mainly because it seems indicative of mental activity but it’s also often considered interesting for its own sake.

    So I am going to suggest that there is one very specific reason why we should combine the two, finding that when we have done so, the whole is indeed greater than the sum of the parts. And that is that when we have something that is both complex and self replicating, evolution happens. Which creates a virtuous circle of ever increasing adaptivity and complexity.Theologian

    I got a question. Would this imply that our current software is alive? Software is both complex and self-replicating. It could also evolve as new versions come out. Later in the post you suggested that only complex computer code should count. But, how complex does it have to be to count as life? If it only needs to be as complex as viruses then it seems we already have software which fit that description.

    So to offer a slightly more refined version of my definition, I’d say that once you start with a complex thing that self replicates, evolution is ignited. Once that happens, you generate a tree structure that continues to exists because at least some nodes do self replicate.

    Once you have that, each node on that tree – each individual organism – qualifies as alive. Regardless of whether it, as an individual node, self replicates or not.
    Theologian

    I don’t have a knockout objection to this view but I think it may be incompatible with the common lexical understanding of the word “life”. This is mainly due to the fact that concept of life has been around long before the theory of evolution was accepted by anyone. This evolutionary understanding of life would be alien to anyone living just 200 years ago. This suggests that there is a more primordial understanding of life which should also be considered. I think that primordial understanding relies on the notions of autonomous action and possible mental activity present in living things. So rather than understanding life as nodes in a linear progression, it seems like an alternative view is to view it as a chaotic web of survival of certain beings which act autonomously. An infertile human might not be able to continue this process after his death but he can continue it in himself so long as he is alive. We could also consider the interesting case of immortality. If there was just one alien being on a distant plant that can live forever, would he need to reproduce to be considered alive? What if there was just one bacteria cell on Mars which almost replicated but got killed by an unlikely natural disaster the moment before successfully doing so? Would it be less alive despite almost reproducing? Even though evolution is never ignited in these cases, it’s nonetheless intuitive to think of both the immortal being and the Mars cell as being alive(of course, by my definition, the Mars cell isn’t alive). Despite my objections, I must say that I’m impressed with your ability to philosophize. You are definitely the most impressive person who has responded to me thus far.
  • Pattern-chaser
    1.8k
    Oh dear. Sorry for missing the typo! :blush: :smile:
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Get involved in philosophical discussions about knowledge, truth, language, consciousness, science, politics, religion, logic and mathematics, art, history, and lots more. No ads, no clutter, and very little agreement — just fascinating conversations.