Interesting And Expansive Definition Of Life—No Matter How Stupid Everything May Seem, We All Have The Ability To Think Deep Thoughts
I recently read an interesting definition of life in New Scientist magazine.
New Scientist is a challenging and accessible weekly that I subscribe to in print and on-line.
We all merit things that both respect our intelligence and that are accessible.
This definition of life was put forth in an interview by a Australian cosmologist named Charlie Lineweaver.
Here is a portion of the interview from New Scientist–
So how would you define life?
To the extent that the question makes sense, as a “far-from-equilibrium dissipative system”.
What do you mean by that?
A system that feeds on the free energy associated with the gradients in the environment. For example, a hurricane is a dissipative structure because it feeds on the free energy of air pressure, humidity and thermal gradients. Hurricanes dissipate the free energy – they undo the gradients and bring the environment closer to equilibrium. That’s what life is. We take chemical energy and undo it – move it closer to equilibrium.
By your definition, a hurricane and a star are both alive. Are you really saying that?
If you want to chain me to a black and white view, then yes, I am. The distinction between far-from-equilibrium dissipative systems and near-equilibrium features is clearer than the traditional boundaries that people put on life and non-life…
I’m far from being a scientist af any kind. I’m a lowly blogger. But I’ve been thinking about this definition of life for a few days now.
What this Lineweaver gentleman seems to be saying is that anything that draws energy from the environment–whether that environment be terrestrial or up in space—is life of a kind.
While the article does not address the subject, I wonder if this concept might make an airplane or an automobile a type of life. If that seems odd, don’t we often consider the idea that machines could at some point act in an autonomous way? Don’t machines more and more each day mimic what we thought before were things that only people could do?
(When I use the word “autonomous” I mean to the extent that anything is autonomous in an existence in which everything is interdependent on something else.)
The interview with Professor Lineweaver has gotten me to thinking about the value and nature of any entity or system that changes or has some impact of one kind or another.
Professor Lineweaver uses the term “chemical energy.” But for the purposes of our day-to-day lives why limit our ideas even to that broad framework?
We sometimes talk about situations and issues that “take on a life of their own.”
Maybe that common has phrase has more meaning than we realize.
There is such vitality all around us and this vitality is present every day.
All people have the ability to see the world around us in many unique and intellectually valid ways.
The expansive concept of life put forth by Professor Lineweaver can be used as a helpful point of reference in your own ideas about life, energy, change and existence. This can be so even if you have to read the interview a few times like I did to get a more clear idea of what he was saying.
No matter how idiotic so much of life is each day, we all have the ability to think deep thoughts and to apply our thoughts to everyday life.
I feel I’d be remiss not to post about the saltwater crocodile in Australia that grabbed a lawnmower and watched over it quite closely.
Here are facts about visiting Australia. I’ve never been to Australia.
If you decide to visit Australia, please be certain to tip service workers well and to be respectful of the working people you encounter on your trip.
A saltwater crocodile is a large and fearsome creature.
I know this is a freak show kind of story, but that does not mean you can’t use it to learn something new.
So much of what goes on that we might view as more serious news is a freak show as well.
Given your expectation that giant crocodiles would be aggressive and unpredictable, you could argue that this story makes more sense than does much of the daily news.
There is always so much to learn.
I hope folks are having a nice holiday season.
Below is the weekly roundup of the Texas Progressive Alliance. The TPA is a confederation of the best political bloggers in Texas.
Above is a picture of a town called Texas in the Queensland State in Australia. Looks a lot like a Texas town you might see in Texas, U.S.A.
Here is some information about this town. It has a population of around 700.
The round up–
Neil at Texas Liberal says that while people went on about Michael Jackson, the U.S. Supreme Court was making it more difficult for black folks to get promoted at work.
A wild dolphin is apparently teaching other members of her group to walk on their tails, a behaviour usually seen only after training in captivity. The tail-walking group lives along the south Australian coast near Adelaide. One of them spent a short time after illness in a dolphinarium 20 years ago and may have picked up the trick there.
Scientists studying the group say tail-walk tuition has not been seen before, and suggest the habit may emerge as a form of “culture” among this group. “We can’t for the life of us work out why they do it,” said Mike Bossley from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), one of the scientists who have been monitoring the group on the Port River estuary. “We’re doing systematic observations now to determine if there’s something that may trigger it, but so far we haven’t found anything,” he told BBC News.
In the 1980s, Billie, one of the females in the group, spent a few weeks in a local dolphinarium recovering from malnutrition and sickness, a consequence of having been trapped in a marina lock. She received no training there, but may have seen others tail-walking.
Now, other females in the group have picked up the habit. It is seen rarely in the wild, and the obvious inference is that they have learned it from Billie. “This indicates that they do learn from each other, which is not a surprise really, but it does also seem that they exhibit elements of what in humans we would call ‘cultural’ behaviour,” said Dr Bossley.
“These are things that groups develop and are passed between individuals and that come to define those groups, such as language or dancing; and it would seem that among the Port River dolphins we may have an incipient tail-walking culture.” The “cultural” transmission of ideas and skills has been documented in apes, while dolphins off the coast of Western Australia are known to teach their young to use sponges as an aid when gathering food.
This area is part of “Victoria’s mighty Surfcoast.”
The kangaroo hopped into the ocean and was consumed.
Here is an excerpt from a story on the kangaroo attack—
“Mr Boucher said the marsupial, which seemed dazed, stood at the edge of the water for about 10 seconds and then started swimming out to sea.
“It was bobbing up and down,” Mr Boucher said.
He told the Geelong Advertiser that the unfortunate marsupial was about 200m (656ft) from shore when the shark struck.
He said the predator’s back was clearly visible above the choppy waves as it launched its attack.
“It wasn’t a huge shark and it was too far out to see clearly, but it was a shark. I couldn’t believe it.”
Here is a story from the Geelong Advertiser about international media response to the attack. This news was reported in India and Germany.
Also, Australia recently elected a Labor government led by new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Mr. Rudd replaces the odious John Howard after over 11 long years.
Prime Minister Rudd promises to be part of the Kyoto climate treaty and to end Australian support of the War in Iraq.
Mr. Rudd’s election was welcome news.
The painting is called Watson and the Shark. It was painted in 1778 by John Singleton Copley.
Mr. Copley left New York City for England in 1774 and never came back. I don’t think he was so keen on the American Revolution. He mostly painted people of some social standing.
A few observations for yesterday’s elections—
I was glad to see passage of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District levy in Harris County. That part of the county revolves around affordable housing for families and support of schools is very much needed.
When the runoffs are completed, Democrats will sweep all five Houston at-large Council seats. I’m not certain how many of the 15 seats will be held by Democrats, but it will certainly be a majority.
The Chronicle should stop subscribing to the fiction that these people don’t have a party identification and provide readers with a party lineup on Council. The Harris County Democratic Party should celebrate the Democratic gain in picking up Michael Berry’s Council seat and the party should consider injecting open partisanship into 2009 city races.
The only bond issue voted down in Harris County was the one for a new jail. It’s hard the know the reason why and the margin was thin, but this rejection may serve as one more clue that Harris County will be voting Democratic in 2008.
It was good to see the success of bond issues for a number of purposes in Harris County and in the statewide Texas issues. You can’t have needed services unless you are willing to spend some money.
In Cincinnati, Ohio, the new City Council is the old City Council with all nine incumbents returned. The Council of five Democrats, two Republicans and two third-party Charterites is a bit to the right of the city as a whole. Two, and maybe three, of the Democrats are fairly conservative. Also, again there will be just two blacks on the Council in what now must be a majority black city.
It was good to see a Democrat win the Kentucky governorship.
In Australia, interest rates have been raised just a few weeks before the upcoming late November election. Right-wing Prime Minister John Howard is on the ropes and this is not expected to help. Mr. Howard’s defeat and a Labor government in Canberra would be excellent.