Saturday, May 16, 2009


What is life? The demarcation between what is living and what is not seems so obvious to the average person that it is surprising to learn how much difficulty there is in the scientific community defining just what life is. Richard Dawkins who is considered by many, especially himself, as the foremost expert on the origin and evolution of life writes, “Human suffering has been caused because too many of us cannot grasp that words are only tools for our use, and that the mere presence in the dictionary of a word like ‘living’ does not mean it necessarily has to refer to something definite in the real world.” This may be a charming admission of humility in our 'foremost authority' but if a word like 'life' does not refer to anything definite, how can words like the 'origin of life' or the 'evolution of life' refer to anything definite either? If Dawkins begins without a clear definition of life, then how in the world does he know that any of his conclusions as to life's origin and development are in any way accurate? Is it possible that what Dawkins loquaciously espouses, whether we agree with it or not, is not really the origin and development of life, but merely the origin and development of the equipment that life uses?

Scientists often employ a list of the shared functions of life as a definition for life. In other words, life, by this definition, is "that which grows and develops, metabolizes energy, reproduces, eliminates waste and reacts to changes in its environment." Defining anything as "that which....." is never entirely satisfactory. If I say that my sister is "that which......eats ricotta cheese and Macoun apples, sends me a birthday card every year, and loves British television shows" all of which may be true, there is still some essence of my sister that is missing from this, or any, list of her activities, no matter how complete. Even if I listed every detail of my sister's daily life, behavior and history, which I would never do (I don't want you showing up at her door step saying, "So you're the sister of that guy with the weird blog!") it would still not capture her essence. I would be describing her behaviors and characteristics but not the person that performs those behaviors and that has those characteristics.

Let's suppose that we could construct the body of a robot that could somehow perform mechanically all the tasks of life that I mentioned above: growth, digestion, replication, etc. Let's imagine that this robot, behaviorally and physically, resembled a human being so well that you were fooled and did not know that this 'being' was, in fact, a robot. One day the robot breaks down; it suddenly stops. An expert is called in and you watch as the robot is dismantled, repaired and then restarted. The robot, then, continues on with no interruption of its earlier activities and no sense of regret or fear about what had happenned to it. When it needed a repair, it simply stopped. It did not care whether it stopped or not; it had no concern about whether it got repaired and remained functional or stood there, frozen in space and time. You would probably feel duped, because every communication that you had with this robot, while you thought it was a real human being, you had assumed was accompanied by some degree of genuine feeling and volition, that the robot was saying what it felt like saying, that it was talking because it wanted to. Now you realize that there was no feeling at all; that the robots words and intonations and facial expressions may have been artfully adjusted to give the impression of feeling and spontaneity, but that there was no real feeling or volition there; that there was no self capable of experiencing feelings or capable of 'wanting' to do anything. This revelation would probably feel similar to, but more intense than, the feeling that you have when you realize that the person talking to you on the phone is not making genuine conversation but is reading from a sales script, or worse, that it is a recorded message. So here is, at least, a hypothetical example of something, a robot, which could conceivably be designed to fulfill all those biological functions on the 'life' list in some kind of a mechanical way and yet still not be alive. One of the criteria that we use to determine that the robot is not alive is that the robot has no ability to care, if not for someone else, at least for its own survival; and that it has no desires of its own; but let's hold this line of inquiry for a moment while we consider something else.

The activities that are used to define life: growing, developing, metabolizing,etc., we do not actually do. We are so used to saying that we do these things that it may be shocking to learn that we actually do not. Now I don't want to underestimate anyone who may be reading this blog. I know you are very intelligent and capable, but, in truth, do you know how to grow your own body and metabolize energy from food sources and or is it done for you? If you do know, please don't tell anyone. You would immediately put several thousand research biologists out of business and our economy is suffering enough already. Please don't think that I am splitting hairs. If living is so elusive a concept that we are forced to define it by the things that living beings do, let's at least list those things that we actually do and not list processes that go on in our bodies, processes that we depend on, that serve us in vital ways, but that we do not actually execute and know next to nothing about. And don't confuse those few facts that you learned in biology class with your ability to do anything at all on a biological level. Our very best Nobel Prize biologists cannot begin to create anything from scratch, from basic elements, that metabolizes, grows, is responsive to it's surroundings, etc. And even the most brilliant biology students were breathing, metabolizing and growing just fine way before they ever heard of or could pronounce the word 'biology.'

Suppose you are acquainted with a very wealthy playboy who spends his entire time loafing and entertaining himself. Bewildered by his life style you ask him what he does. He proudly tells you that he manufactures tires, several million of them every year. Upon further investigation you discover that this tire business was, in fact, inherited from his father who inherited it from his grandfather. This gentleman's entire involvement with the tire business is to show up once a year for a board meeting during which he struggles to stay awake because he has so little knowledge of any of the business details that are being discussed. You have discovered the truth; that this fellow does not, in fact, manufacture tires; but that the tires are manufactured by others for his benefit. He is served by the manufacture of these tires but he does not really manufacture them. Likewise for the trophy wife who responds to an inquiry of just what it is that she does, by saying that she is raising her three children and maintaining a ten room house. You subsequently find out that she and her husband employ two full time maids, a full time nanny,a chauffeur and a cook. The kids are woken up and gotten ready for their prep schools by the nanny, cooked and served breakfast by the cook and driven to school by the chauffeur, while our 'housewife' sleeps in. After school they are in the care of the nanny who tries to keep them occupied until dinner, which is prepared by the cook and served by the maid, at which point the children may be joined, on ocassion, by their mother if her social schedule permits. Once again, she is not bringing up children or maintaining a home. It is all being done for her. She is benefitting from it; all these people serve her, but she is not actually doing the work and probably does not know how to.

Getting back to accurately defining life, with this understanding, life is not "that which metabolizes, grows, develops, eliminates, etc." but life is "that which is served by a metabolic system, a process of growth and development, and systems of reproduction and elimination." Is this the best we can do to define life and to define ourselves? No wonder Dawkins questions whether there is any such thing as living and others believe that consciousness is the same thing as the physical brain and the self is a figment of our imagination. Defining life by the processes that serve it would be like writing an obituary for a great woman or man by simply listing this person's staff, assistants and aides with no mention of the person's actual accomplishments.

Abraham Lincoln was a great man. He was assisted in life by a devoted mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, a brilliant Secretary of State, William H. Seward, an astute Secretary of the Treasury, Salman P. Chase, and a fearless general, Ulysses S. Grant. Oh, yes, he was assassinated in 1865. What a shame!

This kind of definition is almost comically demeaning to Lincoln's life. Were there no things that we could list that Abraham Lincoln actually accomplished himself; nothing for which he, himself, could be proud? Of course there were. Yet this is very similar to the way that we currently define ourselves as living beings. By defining living as a list of biological processes, processes that, supposedly, came about accidentally, randomly and mechanically (Darwin and Dawkins), and processes that cannot be properly understood, supposedly, without years of post graduate study and research; well, where does that leave the vast majority of us? Is there nothing about life, about us, that is unique? Nothing in which we can take pride or gratitude or even understand and appreciate?

If life is too elusive to define it directly, could we at least define it by isolating those activities that we actually do; activities that distinguish us from inanimate objects and even distinguish us from the organic materials of our bodies; from fats and proteins and nucleic acids; and from the biological processes that these materials are engaged in? Can we say what it is that these processes serve? What is it that these processes allow us, and all of life to do? With Richard Dawkins' objection duly noted, I can say, emphatically, yes, we can. Life is that which experiences and initiates. All our biological processes serve us in that they allow us to experience and to initiate; our sense organs allow us to experience the physical world in a particular way and our brains allow us to record and define those experiences; and our nervous systems, skeletons and musculature allow us to express, or manifest, our desires in the physical world. We, as living beings as opposed to matter, experience things and we do things because we want to do things. Now I know that I am suggesting a complete paradigm shift in the way that we look at life and that my words may have already provoked in you a torrent of materialist objections. I will anticipate some of these objections and try to respond to them later in the post. For now, let's return for a moment to our foremost expert on life, Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins would have us believe that prior to life there was no consciousness, no purpose and no initiative. There was merely the random collision of atoms, expanding and contracting, combining to form molecules and separating into individual atoms again. (The fact that these combinings and expansions and contractions followed an uncannily precise and inviolable set of physical laws without which there would be no atoms,no molecules, no galaxies and no Big Bang, which supposedly put this whole thing in motion; and where these laws came from, is never explained or discussed). Again, according to Dawkins, the first self initiated action in the entire universe, the first thing that was done by 'itself' (prior to this moment there was no such thing as a self) was that a randomly accumulated molecule 'made a copy of itself', it self-replicated. That the first self-initiated action in the universe was made by a molecule (no known organic molecule initiates anything, but merely, and automatically, responds to enzymes and electronic stimuli connected to the needs and cycles of a cell) and that this first initiated action was not some simple movement or simple starting or stopping, but replication, perhaps the most baffling and complex of all biological activities; and that the molecule that self-replicated just happenned to be made of nucleic acids that were arranged in a code that coded for proteins each of which proteins must be of an absolutely precise shape, charge and chemical composition to be of any biological value what so ever;and that this code was not like any other code we know, like letters or numbers or computer code; but these nucleic acids arranged themselves into codes, which is equivalent to letters arranging themselves into novels, numbers arranging themselves into equations and the high and low frequency charges of computer code arranging themselves into software programs; and that the entire mechanism for translating this code into proteins, which mechanism is similar to our best modern day computers, except much more precise and complex, had also and simultaneously accumulated by itself;and the amazing system whereby these proteins are then combined with each other and energized to form a specific and growing body with a specific and growing shape; all of this somehow being done by itself; and how the organic ingredients (think raw eggs without their shells) of this molecule could accumulate over millions of years without any protection (in our bodies our DNA is protected by the wall of the nucleus, the wall of the cell,our skin and the homeostatic processes of our bodies, and we live in an age of moderate temperatures, not an age of boiling oceans, enormous volcanic eruptions and constant asteroid bombardments which were the conditions of the early earth when all of this "accumulating" was supposedly taking place) and how this self replicating molecule could not only replicate its chemical composition but it could replicate this relentless desire to replicate which continues in its progeny to this day; all of this is never explained. And not only is it not explained, but if it is questioned, then the questioner is considered to be someone who is insufficiently educated or too blinded by deep seated religious prejudices to accept the truth of Dawkins' teaching.

If you think this is how life began, it may be time to think again (please see my posts ORIGIN OF LIFE and IMMACULATE REPLICATION). Yet however you think life began, whenever it did begin, along with it began the desire to survive. Before life, there was nothing that cared whether it survived or not. Certainly atoms didn't care if they turned into a gas or a liquid or a solid; if they combined with other atoms to form molecules or separated into individual atoms again. No one and no thing cared. It was simply, in Dawkins' vision, a mechanical universe, with every action caused by a reaction and those actions and reactions determined by specific, unalterable physical laws (with matter, nothing matters).

With the advent of life we have something completely different. We have a revolution on several fronts. First of all, regarding the unalterable physical laws (gravity, electomagnetism, strong force and weak force), these did not change, but with the advent of life came the advent of metabolic systems. What is a metabolic system? It is a system in which energy is borrowed and directed to accomplish a purpose. Replication, or any biological process, cannot take place without borrowed energy. Life processes still operate within the four forces of physics, but life forms are metabolic systems that use energy to overcome these forces to accomplish a goal. On a behavioral level we use energy to overcome these physical forces and the energy used to overcome these forces we call desire. On a biological level, energy is used to overcome these forces in order to operate biological processes and we call that energy will. The purpose of will is to survive. But what is trying to survive? Certainly not the atoms and molecules of the body. Why would atoms and molecules suddenly care about what form they were in? What wants to survive is the being that experiences the world and that fulfills desires through this body. We want the biological processes that serve us to keep going so that we can continue to experience the world and to some degree fulfill our desires through this body. When survival attempts fail, the being that imbues the body with purpose and that experiences things through the body leaves and the lifeless physical body, suddenly devoid of purpose and no longer the ground of anyone's experience, yet still containing all its molecules and atoms, remains.

Along with metabolic systems and the will to survive, the advent of life brings with it the advent of experience. Suddenly, there is a self, there is a 'that' which experiences that. Please note that I did not say that the first known life forms, primordial bacteria, had souls. The idea of a 'soul' is connected to the idea of someone's ability to contemplate their place in the universe. Do I believe in contemplative bacteria? No. Do I believe that bacteria have self-consciousness in that they carry around some idea or some picture of themselves? No, of course not. I am simply saying that bacteria experience things in a way that non-living congregations of molecules do not.

Bacteria are equipped with a light sensitive membrane. What is the purpose of this membrane? It allows the microbe a level of discernment that enables it to distinguish to some degree what there is in the environment that it should avoid (predators, toxins, etc.) and what there is in the environment that it should pursue (edible materials, water, etc.) Now if we agree that microbes are equipped with a system whose purpose is discernment, then we must ask what or who is it in the microbe that is doing the discerning? What or who is it that is using this information to decide to move toward this perceived object or to move away; to eat or not to eat? You may say, no, the microbe just automatically goes toward the nutrients it needs and automatically avoids predators. But what is that automatic process? We know that negative and positive charges will automatically attract each other like the opposite poles of a magnet. Is this the same thing? Are bacteria drawn to nutrients in the same way that iron filings are drawn to a magnet? If so, then why have any system of discernment at all? You have probably read in the Darwin section of your biology textbooks how the light sensitive membrane is the pre-cursor of the human eye and you have probably seen charts plotting the gradual, step by step perfection of organs of vision (absolute nonsense, by the way. There is no step by step genetic process leading from a light sensitive membrane to a human eye. That would be like going from a doll house to the Taj Mahal, by adding on to the doll house and along the way having it turn into a lean to, a hut, a bungalow, a ranch house, a mansion, a palace, and voila..the Taj Mahal. If you ever get a chance to build a Taj Mahal you'd probably want to start from scratch, not by building add-ons to your doll house, although you might want to use some ideas that you gleaned in the process of creating and designing all those earlier structures when you set about to build the latest one). But still it is indicative of the obvious understanding that light sensitive membranes allow the bacteria (again, not the body of the bacteria, but the being that inhabits that single cell) to determine where to go. Now I am not saying that bacteria have free will or that they spend any time wondering what they will do at any given moment. Bacteria are driven, but not by automatic forces, like a robot, but by powerful desires, like living beings. In other words, bacteria go toward nutrients because they are attracted to those nutrients. But that attraction is an experienced attraction. It is not the passive, unexperienced attraction of iron filings moving toward a magnet; it is the experienced attraction of a living being moving toward something that attracts 'it.' For this to take place there has to be some biological equipment that reacts in some way to environmental signals and there has to be an 'it', which is a living being, which experiences this biological reaction as an irresistible desire. Do bacteria have free will? Do they have any choice in the matter? Probably not, but that is not because they are automatons, it is because the desires that they experience are irresistible and overwhelming.

Now let's look at where biology ends and desire begins. Biologists think that we eat because our body needs nourishment; we sleep because our body needs restoration and we have sex because we need to propagate the species. But biologists look exclusively at the equipment that we use and not at the experiences we actually have. In reality we do not do any voluntary actions for biological reasons. Yes, involuntary processes are driven by biological survival needs, but our voluntary behavior is completely different. We have little to no idea and no control of what is going on inside our bodies. If the great majority of us in the twenty-first century are basically ignorant of what is happening within our bodies on a biological level, then, certainly, primordial bacteria had no idea either. We don't eat and bacteria don't eat eat because our blood sugar is too low or some other chemical is depleted; we eat because we are the recipients and the beneficiaries of an amazing system whereby the nutrients we need to ingest seem pleasurable to us when we need to ingest them. We eat because we find food to be delicious. We eat because we want to. And the more our bodies need the nourishment, the more delicious it seems. We sleep not to biologically restore our bodies, but because the idea of sleeping seems pleasurable and appealing to us and the more we need it, the more appealing it seems. We eliminate waste not to reduce toxins but because the build up in our bladders and intestines is uncomfortable and the release is pleasurable. And, of course, we have sex because we desire it, not to propagate the species. While our bodies 'need' certain things, we, not as bodies, but as beings, do the things and take in the things that our bodies need because we 'want' to, and we want to because it feels good. Every life form inherits a complete and utterly amazing system (that is never even discussed or considered by Dawkins and his ilk) whereby the things that it needs to survive are pleasurable to it and the things that threaten its survival are painful to it. Please think about this. This elaborate but uninvestigated system is so much a part of every life form that we may think of it as inevitable; that it is just the way that it is. But it is not inevitable. Because there are certain electrical and chemical processes in your stomach and intestine and in certain areas of your brain does not automatically translate into hunger and a desire for nutritious food. The fact that there are other chemical and electrical processes in your body during puberty, does not automatically translate into the desire for sex. Hunger and the desire for sex are carefully designed coded responses to these electrical and chemical activities. This is an entire system, above and beyond the visible, electro-chemical biological systems that we are used to studying; an incredibly specific and balanced system whereby what we 'want' is exactly that which will deliver our survival and our replication. And we cannot possibly imagine such an amazing and intricate system 'evolving.' For any life form to exist beyond the first few minutes, it must want what it biologically needs, and want to avoid what will biologically destroy it. You cannot imagine generations of life forms evolving by any random gradual process to be able to be aware of these chemical and electrical responses that we now call thirst, and then evolving randomly to the point that they can identify that "thirst" sensation as a desire to drink, and evolving generations later to learn that that sensation will be satisfied by water and then still later evolving a method of finding the water and then still later evolving a biological method of drinking it. This is all absurd. Darwin's principle of natural selection is based on the idea of nature selecting from a group of competitors the one's best able to adapt and survive; but there can be no living competitors to select from, at all, unless these competitors are already metabolizing, growing, replicating, digesting, eliminating and sensing their environment; and unless they already have in place an entire system whereby they are attracted to the nutrients and the water and the temperature changes they need at the time when they need it.

You may say that these behaviors and attractions are genetic. You can even see how these behaviors become distorted and self-destructive when genes are damaged by radiation mutations. This is true. Yes, the perfect balance of our behaviors with our biological needs is connected to our genes (connected but not 'caused' by genes. Bodies and human behavior are not caused by genes anymore than letters 'cause' novels or numbers 'cause' equations). I am saying that these basic life sustaining systems and behaviors could not have been 'learned' by the genes; that this could not have been evolving knowledge over any period of time; that it had to be there right from the inception of life forms or there would be no evolution and no survival at all; that it had to be part of the original design of life forms, and, if you prefer, I am happy to say the original genetic design of life forms (although genetic designs are like blue prints, or recipes; they don't write themselves; they are the materialization of creative ideas that are then written down in letters, numbers, diagrams or in the case of living bodies, in nucleic acids).

I want to say some more about this amazing system whereby the biological needs of our bodies are connected in perfect complementary balance to our desires. Very conservatively, there are at least ten quadrillion electrical and chemical processes taking place in our bodies at each moment. That is a lot of processes. If there are close to seven billion fellow human beings on this planet, that works out to well over a million processes for every man and woman and child on the Earth, all occurring within each of our bodies at every moment. How many of those processes are we in any way aware of? How many translate into any kind of experience whatsoever? An infinitesimally small amount. Not only do we (the great, great majority of us) not know anything about what is going on in our bodies, we are not even 'aware' of what is going on. Peristalysis, blood flow, enzyme production,every one of our one hundred trillion cells a beehive of frenetic molecular and electrical activity and we feel nothing. Let's say we felt, or were aware of 1%of these processes on some level. That means that we would be bombarded with one hundred trillion sensations at each moment. If we had any awareness of one billionth of what was going on that would leave us with several billion simultaneous sensations. In terms of my own experience, I may be able to handle and compartmentalize three or four conflicting sensations. Anything much more than that and I am paralyzed, a basket case. So, another aspect of this beautiful system, is that none of these processes, in any way, intrude upon our consciousness except when some behavior is required on our part. And exactly the same thing must be said for the primordial bacteria whose tiny one-celled body is host to hordes of molecules and countless electrons. Even in that microscopic body only a miniscule portion of electrical or chemical processes can be translated into any kind of microbial awareness or the result would be paralyzing.

Please don't take this for granted. Please don't say something senseless like, "That's just our stomach telling us it wants food," or "That's just our body letting us know it needs some sleep." Why is it that people who consider themselves so intellectually superior to "superstitious" concepts like cosmic consciousness or universal intelligence,or God, have no problem babbling such thoughtless drivel about hungry stomachs and talking bodies. Folks, your stomach is not hungry. Your stomach doesn't care whether you eat or not; your stomach doesn't care about anything. It's a stomach. It doesn't feel better when you eat; it doesn't feel worse when you don't eat. It doesn't feel anything at all. It's a stomach. And there is no such person as "your body." "Your body" doesn't want to sleep. Your body never feels tired and it never feels well rested. You feel tired; you feel well rested. Your body feels nothing at all. It's a body. Please understand that I am not demeaning this fabulous physical equipment that we have been given. The body is endlessly complex and endlessly amazing; and the more you study it the more complex and amazing it gets. But the body is not a being; it has no intentions; it doesn't experience anything; and it doesn't care about anything. It is your instrument that allows you, not your body, to experience the physical world and manifest your intentions in the physical world.

And it is not inevitable that a chemical and electrical reaction in your stomach should translate into an experience of hunger. There is no inevitable connection between electrons and chemicals and experience. If there were you would be reacting at every moment to your ten quadrillion chemical and electrical processes. Good luck with that! It is a system, an amazing, precise, selective and coded system. Basically the same electron flows at the same voltage and the same chemical deposits in the brain record every aspect of our entire human experience, intellectual, emotional, artistic, sensual, etc. There is no inevitable relationship between any electrical and chemical pattern and any experience. A Masai warrior uses basically the same system of neurons and the same electron flows and chemical deposits to record his experiences and help define his life that a Kalamazoo orthodontist uses to record his completely different experiences and help define his completely different life. Just like with other codes: there is no inevitable relationship between the code and what it is coding for; there is no inevitable relationship between the shape of the letters l o v and e and the experiences we associate with the word love; there is no inevitable relationship between the following shapes: p i r and 2 and the area of a circle. There is no inevitable relationship between a particular sequence of nucleic acids (genes) and a particular sequence of amino acids (proteins). They are coded that way because they have been organized that way. Codes are organized by intelligent beings (or, in the case of biological codes, by intelligent Being) as a way of communicating intelligent ideas and constructs from one being to another. They are intelligently conceived, intelligently organized, intelligently translated and intelligently experienced.

Why do we even say things like, "My body is telling me to lie down?" Because we can sense from the way these sensations impinge on our consciousness and from our ever beating hearts and our ever breathing lungs, that something or someone cares about us; something or someone wants us to take care of ourselves and survive. Why attribute that caring to feelingless and intentionless organs and tissues. Doesn't it make much more sense to attribute that caring to the Being whose limitless intelligence, limitless creativity and limitless caring supplied you with all this precious equipment in the first place? It is not your body that wants your body to survive. It is the Cosmic Conciousness or God whose boundless intelligence designed this amazing body and this remarkable system whereby you are alerted whenever you need to do something to help protect and sustain your body and its biological processes. It's not the body that wants you to get enough to eat. It's God that wants you to get enough to eat. It's not the body that created the amazing system of pain that alerts you whenver you are injuring yourself; it's God that wants to protect you and wants your body to survive so that you can experience the world and learn the things that you need to learn. And if you have negative associations with the word God because a nun was mean to you or a priest flirted with you or a rabbi was callous to you or a televangelist was seen at a peep show, or some pompous cynic like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens or Bill Mahr told you it was old fashioned and superstitious, GET OVER IT! What anyone ever did who called themselves religious has absolutely nothing to do with the omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient Creator Who pervades every atom of this universe, and without Whom, despite all the desperate efforts of twentieth century science to avoid it, the Universe, our lives, how we got here, how the planet got here and how the galaxy got here, make absolutely no sense.

I have to mention two more things that, by Dawkins' world view, must be initiated by the arrival of that first 'replicating molecule.' The first thing, or two things, is good and bad. In a purely material world there is no good or bad, there is only indifference. If something explodes, if something contracts, if something heats up or cools down, it is of absolutely no difference to the atoms and molecules involved; and if there truly was, prior to the arrival of life forms, nothing else but particles, then what happenned was of absolutely no difference at all. With the arrival of life forms all that changes. Life forms want to survive and life forms need things from their environment in order to survive. If a life form gets what it wants then that, from the point of view of that life form, is good. If a life form does not get what it wants and does not survive, or can feel the end of its survival approaching, then that is bad. With life, then, there comes about points of view and good and bad outcomes. Life cares; if not about anyone or anything else, it cares, at least, about its own survival.

There is a lot of talk that you may have heard or read about the beginning of altruism and morality. Is it genetic or cultural; do animals have morality, etc.? But, for there to be altruism there has to be selfishness, and for there to be selfishness there has to be a 'self' with a self-interest and a point of view. When altruism appeared among life forms is another matter; but if you study gene swapping among bacteria, it's hard to imagine anything more altruistic (and more intelligent) than that process (see my post EVOLUTION). The point is that when life forms began, if we follow Dawkins' scenario, then, at that very moment, selves, points of view and good and bad began. So, this is yet another revolution, unexamined by Dawkins and the neo-Darwinists, that had to have begun with this 'accidental' accumulation of a molecule that 'makes copies of itself.'

And finally, the arrival of life forms, again from Dawkins' perspective, marked the arrival of intelligence. Those of you who think of intelligence as one of the advanced bells and whistles of the human brain may understandably gasp; but let me first explain what I mean by intelligence. Intelligence, like life, has eluded a solid definition by the scientific community. Like life, intelligence can be observed by its results in terms of behavior, speech and creativity, but it cannot be observed directly. Let me suggest that intelligence is not a thing that can be quantified or measured but an attitude. When a living being looks or listens or in any way attempts to read its environment to determine whether it is safe or dangerous, whether it can, at that moment, provide the food or water or rest or temperature change or safety that it needs, that 'attitude' is intelligence. Let's distinguish between intelligence and intellect. Intellect may be the sole province of human beings and may require language, numbers and other symbology. Intellect is the attempt to read and understand environments other than the one that is immediately facing you, including both real environments and conceptual environments. Intelligence is the attitude of attempting to read the environment that one is confronted with in the present moment in order to get one's needs met; and intelligence is the province of all of life. Are some species, and some individuals within a species better at getting their needs met than others? Yes, but the difference has to do with their biological equipment, their musculature, reaction time, sense organs, etc. Certainly, the more complex the sense organs, the more distinctions can be made and the more sensitive a read on the environment a life form has; and there is a very wide variety of equipment that a life form has in terms of fins or feelers or legs or wings, etc. to act on the information that it receives, and bigger brains allow more information to be stored and remembered and the ability to make more subtle distinctions among a variety of environmental cues. But the attitude is the same; the attempt to read the environent is the same; the readiness to marshall resources to respond to the received information is the same; and that attitude is intelligence; and it is something we share with all of life.

To re-iterate, life then is that which experiences and initiates and life has the characteristic of caring and intelligence. The last part of the definition that I would like to discuss is the 'that which' part. I said in the beginning that defining something as 'that which' is not entirely satisfactory, but in this case it will have to do. The reason we must settle for a 'that which' definition is that life is not really a thing, at all. Life is not content, but context. All through this post, with each characteristic of life I prefaced the discussion by saying that 'according to Dawkins' view' these characteristics: having a self, having desires, the ability to experience, intelligence and caring, all began with the beginning of life forms, and that beginning happenned with the chance accumulation of a molecule that could make copies of itself. But this is, of course, nonsense. Life forms did not begin with a randomly accumulated molecule, and caring, intelligence and purpose did not begin with the beginning of life forms. Before there were life forms there was life formless. Life formless or what we call cosmic consciousness or God included unlimited caring and intelligence before there were life forms and even before there was matter. It is out of life formless, out of unlimited intelligence and caring, that the physical laws came that engendered the material universe, and that the whole system of genetic reproduction, translation and transcription was conceived, that allowed not life, but life forms, life connected to a particular body with a particular limited and specific perspective, to manifest. Life itself is context, not content; it is not a thing but it is the invisible bowl within which you experience 'things' and it is the non-physical milieu out of which comes your desires to manifest things in the physical world.

Your comments are always welcome.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent, Matt. With matter, nothing matters, With mind, we mind, so we matter.

I particularly like the distinction you make between Intelligence and Intellect.