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.