What is Life-itself?

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What is Life-itself? By Norm Hirst 2006

The phrase “Life It Self” came to our attention as the titles of two books by Robert Rosen, a mathematical biologist. The book titles are “Life It Self” and “Essays on Life It Self”. I believe that Rosen meant the phrase to mean life in all its forms. In any event, that is what we intend by it. We mean that which is essential and common to life in all its forms.

It is common today to emphasize a carbon base as if all life has a carbon base. If we speak of the ecosystem as living it must seem strange since the ecosystem is not carbon based. Worse yet, if we speak of the economy as living that must seem absurd. God forbid we should mention that the cosmos might be living! A carbon base is not a requirement for life. All that can be said for it is that everything we assumed to be living has a carbon base. But now, I have read that sulfur based life forms have been found at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Clearly we need to expand our definition of life.

Life is an ongoing process with functional abilities missing in non-living processes. To identify the living we need to consider whether an entity functions with the functionality of life or with only the functionality of non-life. The Gaia hypothesis shows the ecosystem works with living functionality. That biodiversity is necessary for the way the ecosystem manages energy is convincing. As we ignorantly diminish biodiversity we may lose our life support. Regarding the economy I have read that some economists today are saying they can not understand economics until they learn more about how life functions. Finally the living cosmos! Thinking of matter as being fundamental may be a blunder. Rosen demonstrated that physics can not be the most fundamental science. It is a special case. We await the most fundamental science from which physics can be derived. It will be a science that grapples with the functions of life.

The living process is made up of totally interconnected and interactive organisms. An organism is a focus for coherent acts. The coherence conditions are just now being discovered beginning with quantum coherence. Organisms are powered by electron flows (electricity) and proton flows (proticity). The incredible speed of proton jumps makes organisms holistic. Everything is functioning simultaneously. Appearances to the contrary not withstanding there are no parts. Organisms are self-creating (autopoietic). Autopoiesis requires self-reference. Self-reference creates havoc with traditional logic suggesting that traditional logic is inappropriate for life. Fortunately there are now epilogics showing that thought processes compatible with traditional logic are historical accidents. There are new and better ways to think ready for discovery

Self-reference introduces paradox. Life itself requires paradox, i.e., both poles of categorical contrasts. For 25 centuries logic has been thought of as truth preserving. Paradox has been banished from logic. New logics show that paradox does no harm. It is resolved by oscillations. It leads to creativity. Life is creative and evolutionary. Life can adapt to new realities and it can create new realities.

“Evolutionary” raises thoughts of Darwin. There is a lot of talk these days about random processes and survival of the fittest. I think these ideas are utter nonsense. When I mentioned it to my son George he asked if I had ever read “Origin of the Species”. I have not, he has! He informed me that Darwin never wrote what people think he did. I find that easy to believe. There are a lot of erroneous myths, misunderstandings and crazy ideas. Once upon a time they may have made sense. In terms of what is now being discovered they must be discarded.

First I would challenge and discard the dreary view of reality we have all inherited. I mean the view that makes matter fundamental and physics the most basic science. First there is a lifeless planet. The search for how life started was going strong fifty years ago. The only “answers” I have seen are embarrassingly ineffective. For example, lightening hit a pond of chemicals and life began. Really?! What if we reversed the question? What if the earth started as the locus of living energies that created its form in matter? As we learn more about life itself I believe the solution to that question will be easy.

Next I would discard Darwinism. Since I do not know what Darwin wrote I don’t mean to discard Darwin, only what Darwinism has become. Darwinism features a struggle for life. To me this moves our worldview from dreary to downright depressing. Life is seen as an epiphenomenon resulting from a random accident and struggling to survive. Where is the meaning? What makes the struggle worthwhile?

Now I quote from a chapter by Reinhard Eichelbeck in the book “What is Life”.

“… in nature cooperation and communication are more important than struggle and competition. This is shown by a multitude of impressive examples: social associations, symbiosis, cooperation between animals and animals, animals and plants, plants and plants and plants and fungi can be found in all spheres of life everywhere in the world.”

Let’s all give up the notions of struggle and competition and enjoy our lives. No, you don’t have to give up sports. Sports are supposed to be games. Games are autotelic. That means winning or losing shouldn’t have consequences beyond the game. Competition to determine if someone is guilty of a crime is obscene. Cooperation is how the courts should work. I have read that in Italy prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to cooperate in determining truth. In adversarial systems winning depends on factors that have little to do with guilt or innocence.