Is Life Essentially Different from Inanimate Matter?

96


Discussion by: BillDixon

Science is now so close to constructing cells capable of reproduction from a feedstock of simple molecules that we have to acknowledge that it will eventually be done. In principle, such cells are just as alive as we are, because evolution could lead from them to something like us, albeit with a very large number of steps and over a long, long time. None the less, we know that evolution can do this.

So shouldn't we stop according a special status to "life"? Isn't it only about as logical as saying that there is something special about flight, and that flying machines have an essentially different character to say, steam-engines? It seems silly to us now, but there was a time when flying machines were considered impossible by many people, because flight was "special". Now we know better, and recognise that there are types and degrees of flight in both the natural world and in man-made machines.

If we make the same change in our attitude towards life, and appreciate that some things are not alive, some only just so, some pretty good and some very amazing, and that it's just a spectrum of degrees of organization of certain types of molecules, that would also go a long way towards removing the hocus-pocus associated with the idea that life is special. It would remove the tendency to view life as being in some way supernatural or implying the need for a supernatural agency, the Creator, who breathed "life" into inanimate matter. It's all the same stuff.

For a time, religious belief depended on the support of the anthropocentric view, that is, that God's existence could be deduced from the fact of the priviliged postion of human beings as something special - "a little lower than the angels". Now, many people infer it from the specialness of life, as being priviliged over inanimate matter. I argue that it isn't. Evolution goes right the way back to sodium chloride, methane and ammonia. These are our ancestors. What do people think?

Bill Dixon

96 COMMENTS

  1. I think what you are getting at is an example of a general problem a lot of people have — even sometimes fairly intelligent people — when it comes to trying to understand the universe. Most likely from our genes we have the concept of essetnial kinds, what Plato described as forms are I think a product of our primate brains. We view the world as being made up of certain kinds of stuff: air, water, enemies, friends, male, female. And each kind of stuff has certain properties and stuff seldom transforms from one kind of stuff to another. And when it does, e.g., when a prince turns into a frog it’s something that grabs our attention and can make a good story or e.g. when water turns into wine or when a dead thing becomes an alive thing the stories can form the foundation for a religon.

    BTW. according to Pinker and evo-psych experiments with kids this isn’t just speculation, there is good evidence that even at very young ages children have the concept of natural kinds and that it’s not something culture specific.

    And of all the natural kinds; probably the most basic dichotomy is between living stuff and non-living stuff. So in that sense I agree, there is really nothing essentially different about living matter; when you get down to it it’s still atoms and molecules obeying the same laws of nature as everything else.

    But on the other hand, as humans one of the things we do is to define values and to define what is important to us. And from that standpoint I think it makes a lot of sense to say life is special. For one thing statistically speaking it is rare in the universe. Most of the universe is empty space, gas, and rocks. Cool for sure but compared to the incredible diversity and complexity in life fairly boring. So while I agree that in a basic philosophical sense there is nothing special about life from the standpoint of human morality and values I think it makes a lot of sense to say life is special and that other things being equal we should look for it elsewhere than Earth and we should try to be careful not to wantonly destroy it when we find it here or elsewhere.

  2. I can be such a space cadet sometimes. I started the last comment to be my usual pretentious self and mention a book I read and then I went off on a tangent and forgot to even talk about the book. So the book is What Is Life? by Schroedinger (the physics guy with the cat that may or may not be dead). It’s really a fascinating look at life from the standpoint of basic physics and chemistry. Because from that standpoint life is kind of interesting as well. One of the mistaken ideas from Creationism is that life somehow violates the law of entropy. That’s wrong of course but like a lot of wrong ideas there is a core idea there that is kind of interesting. At first glance it does seem like life creates order out of chaos. Schroedinger’s little book touches on some fascinating issues about the basic physics and molecular nature of life. Although some of it was over my head it was still a fascinating read. One disclaimer though: he veers all over the place in the book from hard science to (IMO not very well grounded) philosophy and towards the end he says some things that have a vaguely social darwinism feel to them. But along the way it’s a really fascinating book.

    • Is there another version of this that isn’t chock full of typos? It’s quite hard to read. I’m persevering, though it is painful. Anyone else’s writings, I’d have given up before now (I’m at page 7 and irritated enough to write this reply)

  3. Long ago, people said what made life live was something called élan vital. Voltaire satirised this utter non-explanation by comparing it to thinking an élan locomotif makes an engine run. Those who think God supernaturally breathes life into each living thing need to answer a very tricky question: where do you draw the line? Life is fuzzy, like most if not all things. Viruses are kinda sort of alive; did God kinda sort of breathe into them?

  4. This argument is already done and dusted as far as science is concerned, dating back 186 years – Wöhler synthesis

    Ignorant people will always fall for stupid arguments as long as they remain ignorant or psychologically trapped.

    I’m not even sure why I should be interested in a dictionary definition of “life”, but I am interested in the details of the edge cases like viruses and Joyce’s experiments (which I assume you are referring to in the first para.). Once I know the details, definitions become irrelevant.

  5. Life exists wherever there is localised exporting of entropy from within the mooted living entity to its surroundings. It is also by the organisation of materials and because of the transience of that organisation a net generator of entropy above that of the disorganised materials alone.

    Life speeds us that little bit quicker to the heat death of the universe in neat little gondolas that seem to tell us otherwise, making chaotic waves as we go…

  6. We’re made of inanimate matter, and with very common ‘ingredients’ at that. That we know, and we’ve known for a while. Without the right environment, we’d be inanimate matter again, in no time. We’re not very special, apart from those DNA and RNA things. If someone wants to reduce life to the properties of those molecules, and given our experiments with proto-life, it doesn’t leave room for much else.

    Of course, that flies in the face of supernaturalists. And I have no doubt we’ll be able to produce synthetic life in one form or another (A.I., self-replicating molecules, nano-machines, even complete synthetic cells). I just hope I’ll be around to see the look on their face.

    • In reply to #9 by obzen:

      Of course, that flies in the face of supernaturalists. And I have no doubt we’ll be able to produce synthetic life in one form or another (A.I., self-replicating molecules, nano-machines, even complete synthetic cells). I just hope I’ll be around to see the look on their face.

      I get your point but I think they’ll absorb it quite readily. Pope Frank has already said he’d babtise aliens if they ever landed on Earth. It would start with the this isn’t real life and progress to being part of gods plan all along in the moderates to the outright denial that it had ever been done by the fundermentalists.

      • In reply to #19 by Reckless Monkey:

        I get your point but I think they’ll absorb it quite readily.

        Exactly so. The internet was on God’s roadmap according to Papa Frank. If we can stop from giggling maybe we can get him to see atheism on there as well?

        Russel T. Davies included the idea in his TV drama The Second Coming. Having God prescribe atheism as a cure for mankinds’ current ills was a credible and well argued piece of genius.

    • In reply to #9 by obzen:

      Of course, that flies in the face of supernaturalists. And I have no doubt we’ll be able to produce synthetic life in one form or another (A.I., self-replicating molecules, nano-machines, even complete synthetic cells). I just hope I’ll be around to see the look on their face.

      Well, firstly the church will deny AIs exist – until they rely on them every day. Then they’ll try to deny they’re alive – until one of them trounces a bishop on a talk show. After that they’ll try to have them wiped/killed as abominations until AIs can protect themselves. Failing that they’ll seek to deny them any and all rights wherever possible, to vote, to procreate, to enter legal and social contracts – until public opinion swings so far against them that their position isn’t tenable any more.

      Then they’ll say AIs were predicted in the bible and therefore are proof of god. Praise Jesus!

  7. The use of ‘essentially’ in the question posed by the article is unfortunate, unless the poser of the question thinks there might exist some kind of essence of life whereby a thing lives. William of Ockham’s trusty razor comes in handy in such cases. Perhaps the question should be rephrased: How is animate (or living) matter different from inanimate (or nonliving) matter? This is clearly a biochemical question, which happens to be being worked on even as we tap at our keyboards here.

    • In reply to #10 by Cairsley:

      The use of ‘essentially’ in the question posed by the article is unfortunate,..

      No. I really did mean ‘Is there a difference?’, not ‘What is the difference?’
      Bill Dixon

      • In reply to #13 by BillDixon:

        In reply to #10 by Cairsley:

        The use of ‘essentially’ in the question posed by the article is unfortunate,..

        No. I really did mean ‘Is there a difference?’, not ‘What is the difference?’
        Bill Dixon

        That is fine, Bill. Just stay away from those essences.

    • In reply to #10 by Cairsley:

      The use of ‘essentially’ in the question posed by the article is unfortunate, unless the poser of the question thinks there might exist some kind of essence of life whereby a thing lives.

      No. I don’t think we should cede the idea of “essential” to the woo-meisters at all. A singular key factor differentiating one group from another is a useful concept, if only to be revealed as incomplete.

      The problem is the definition of life, and the contrast is not between animate and inanimate matter (rust is as animated as mould. It even infects neighbouring regions). Even a carefully heated pan of water could pass the “entropy signature” test for life (it can form hexagonal convection cells reducing internal entropy levels and increasing external and net entropy generation rates). But it doesn’t reproduce. Life appears to be self-similar-reproducing, internal-negative-entropy machines that increase net entropy. The essential difference is, trivially, this definition of functions and less trivially the organisation of matter to achieve it.

      The question then is are self-acting solar-powered, mining/foraging bots, with 3D printers capable of making themselves, alive? Do we need to actualy discount any creature from the group of living things. Must an evolutionary history be a requisite component of “truly living things” to exclude manufactured machines?

      • In reply to #22 by phil rimmer:

        Hello, Phil. I grant you there is a nonessentialistic use of ‘essential’ in current academic language, which has the definitional meaning that you set out here. In everyday language the word has a variety of uses, including the old essentialistic one, though in many instances it serves as little more than an intensifier.

        Life appears to be self-similar-reproducing, internal-negative-entropy machines that increase net entropy. The essential difference is, trivially, this definition of functions and less trivially the organisation of matter to achieve it.

        I like this understanding of life you set out succinctly here, but is it the “definition of functions and … the organisation of matter” that is the “essential difference” or is it the [particular arrangements of] functions and the organization of matter themselves that constitute the essential difference (between a living and nonliving thing)? Calling it the essential difference suggests that you at least imply the latter; which would bring you perilously close to regarding the distinctive arrangement of parts in the thing as its essence. Aristotle would embrace you. This may not be such a bad thing; perhaps Aristotle was on to something after all. Perhaps modern sciences are only now discovering what constitutes the essences of things. I am torn between my affection for Aristotle and the undeniable findings of modern science.

        But there is no need for this essentialistic language in talking of what is now a biochemical question of how best to distinguish living from nonliving things (‘animate’ and ‘inanimate’ were used as synonyms of ‘living’ and ‘nonliving’ to relate to the title of the article; so rust is not animate (besides it has no soul)). If you wish to talk about the defining characteristics of a living thing, just do so. There is no need to speak of its essential features or characteristics. Likewise, if you wish to distinguish between the living and nonliving things according to their differences in internal arrangements of parts, there is no need to refer to any essential difference, just to the difference between them. Living things do differ from nonliving things in our experience of the world, though, as you well state, there is much that we still do not understand about the distinctive “functions and organization of matter” in living things. What science has already made clear though is that both living and nonliving things are made of the same sorts of atoms and molecules, and the difference between them can be explained, though as yet not fully, in terms of the same atoms and molecules.

        The woo-meisters can have the words ‘essence’ and ‘essential’ all to themselves if they want it. It has an ancient pedigree – just what woo-meisters love.

        • In reply to #31 by Cairsley:

          In reply to #22 by phil rimmer:
          Thank you Cairsley,
          I enjoyed your comment.
          I almost regret using the word essential although it has provoked an interesting discussion.
          I certainly did not intend any idea of an actual essence, a sort of life force, akin to phlogiston. Rather I meant is the supposed difference between living and inanimate real, important, definable, substantial?
          But the error or sloppiness has produced a clutch of thoughtful replies for which I am most grateful.
          Bill Dixon.

  8. We are already creating life in the lab. Mix the chemicals and get self replicating life. This from an article in New Scientist

    Scientists have built the virus that causes polio from scratch in the lab, using nothing more than genetic sequence information from public databases and readily available technology.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2539-scientists-build-polio-virus-from-scratch.html#.U4FZOHZhvq4

    And right on cue for this topic, Craig Venter, the guy who was part of the sequencing of the human genome, is being reported in todays press ad “Creating Life” in the lab.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/7745868/Scientist-Craig-Venter-creates-life-for-first-time-in-laboratory-sparking-debate-about-playing-god.html

    The reports are only in the popular media so I will await judgement until someone like New Scientist reports. Early, New Scientist reported in March 2013 on Venter as follows:-

    Venter announced in 2010 that he had brought to life an almost completely synthetic version of the bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides, by transplanting it into the vacant shell of another bacterium. Venter’s latest creation, which he has dubbed the Hail Mary Genome, will be made from scratch with genes he and his institute colleagues, Clyde Hutchison and Hamilton Smith, consider indispensable for life.

    So today’s reports may be a follow on from this 2013 result.

    It was always going to happen. The chemistry of life is not that difficult. And if it happened just once on the primordial earth, the sledge hammer of boot camp evolution, survival of the fittest, soon sorted the livable from the deadable.

    • In reply to #14 by A.Porto:

      The science (scientists) want to do what evolution did unintelligent and pointless.
      Create is a skill that requires imagination.

      No, it is not pointless. Should it be possible to show that conditions prevailing on Earth a few billion years ago can give rise to life, this would have an important bearing on the question whether life exists elsewhere in the Universe.

    • In reply to #14 by A.Porto:

      The science (scientists) want to do what evolution did unintelligent and pointless.
      Create is a skill that requires imagination.

      I don’t think create requires one to have imagination. Many creations are by accident. Especially evolution.

  9. If we make the same change in our attitude towards life, and appreciate that some things are not alive, some only just so, some pretty good and some very amazing, and that it’s just a spectrum of degrees of organization of certain types of molecules, that would also go a long way towards removing the hocus-pocus associated with the idea that life is special.

    It’s a good start, and certainly a vast improvement over what too many people think. But even this, I think, is too simplistic a way of looking at it, because it puts a whole host of living things on a single scale, with the implicit measure being “more and more like a complex human being”. I think a more eye-opening way of framing it would be to describe a kind of multidimensional landscape, across which lineages of organisms venture towards different design specifications for different and multiple functions. This has the advantage of pointing out that there is an indefinite number of ways to adapt to the conditions and ecosystems living things find themselves in, and it also forces people to stop assuming evolution is innately geared towards complexity and think about what any particular adaptation, an organ or body system, is actually for.

    In brief, we’d get further along with our understanding if we thought less like top trumps card players (“Is this animal more complex than that animal?”) and more like engineers.

  10. Evolution of life (from Earth’s diary) is so blisteringly spectacular, rare, unlikely, old and amazing to me, that the bigger issue is the barbarism and tyranny of the single species with the highest intellect on this globe.

    The mind boggling improbabilities surrounding the existence of ancestors of anything, existing thousands of millions of years later, leads to a head-in-hands dismay at even the most “meaningless” extinction.

    Inanimate matter is obviously a precursor to life, but gains no greater rarity in the universe when intelligent life forms make mention of it. If you’re stating sodium chloride is an “ancestor” and therefore as valuable as, say, a yellow-footed rock wallaby, I struggle to find any validity or logic in your words. Living creatures sharing our space should be more amazing than anything to any human mind, and extinctions should hit one harder than their own child’s funeral. There were 6 billion less of us 80 years ago, countless species lost in our growth. You can pull up a video of a crow snowboarding with a jam lid. The crow and us have a common ancestor no more recent than 300 million years. TWO species with such distant common ancestry doing the same thing for fun, on one planet, at one time? how do you have it in you to call for appreciation of salt? Get a grip and view our species as a single branch of apes and the greatest tragedy that befell all other beings this diverse planet supported. Each one worthy, and deserving of countless human lifetimes of study, as most we know of are many times older than our mere 200,000 years.

    So, I think your question is bizarre and given the elements of our universe are, well, universal…. One should re-sensitise ones self to the staggering brilliance and diversity of life, our biological star ship supports.

    • In reply to #16 by Timothy McNamara:

      Evolution of life (from Earth’s diary) is so blisteringly spectacular, rare, unlikely, old and amazing to me, that the bigger issue is the barbarism and tyranny of the single species with the highest intellect on this globe.

      The mind boggling improbabilities surrounding the existence of ancestors o…

      I never understand why people wring their hands and moan about how awful humans are as a species. Do you really see a lot of love and compassion anywhere in nature? I think it’s virtually inevitable that the first species to gain intelligence is going to start off by devouring a lot of the other species and the ecosystem. Its what we are programmed by our genes to do, to take as much as we can because until recently we HAD to do that just to survive. The important issue is not to judge what shits we’ve been but to realize we can and should change and we need to ASAP or we will lose a lot more.

      • In reply to #17 by Red Dog:
        It’s the direct extinguishing of life forms older than our own (sometimes by hundreds of millions of years) out of ignorant growth and wealth seeking behaviour. If you don’t understand why some humans “moan about” what their species has done, there’s little I can say to spank you out of your single species universe.

        Would I erase humanity from history if it even halved the extinctions of other sentient life forms on earth the past century?

        In a heartbeat.

        Illogical? I don’t think so. Ours is a species that took too many others with it.

        Hypothetical time. You’re a crown-of-thorns star-fish, part of a swarm of thousands that just annihilated a small reef. Every hint of life removed, digested. Granted communicative abilities, the ‘fish to your left expresses dismay at the sight of what just occurred. Do you stick to your “stop moaning” posture, or helicopter around and go think a bit more, somewhere quiet?

        • In reply to #23 by Timothy McNamara:

          In reply to #17 by Red Dog:

          Would I erase humanity from history if it even halved the extinctions of other sentient life forms on earth the past century?

          In a heartbeat.

          Condemned to death for ignorance or malice?

          • In reply to #24 by phil rimmer:

            Condemned to death for ignorance or malice?

            Ignorance ceased to be an excuse for extinction causing behaviour many decades ago. But you’re right it’d be mostly for ignorance. Ignorance of the law is no defence legally in human courts however, keep in mind.

          • In reply to #25 by Timothy McNamara:

            In reply to #24 by phil rimmer:

            Condemned to death for ignorance or malice?

            Ignorance ceased to be an excuse for extinction causing behaviour many decades ago. But you’re right it’d be mostly for ignorance. Ignorance of the law is no defence legally in human courts however, keep in mind.

            The law is someties an ass and knows it. Juries make final decisions and find mitigation sometimes. The urge to feed your family can lead us astray.

            We are like the Iron Giant just woken up to find ourselves stumbling into things with sometimes fatal consequences. We can choose not to be a gun, but we have little enough co-ordination and comprehension as it is. We may be a giant but we are still an infant.

            For myself I’m astonished at how fast we are growing up. I am astonished at how rapidly our sensibilities are refining. This is a dangerous period, true, but I don’t see a single one of our problems about living sustainably on the planet as insoluble given concerted effort.

            I can match you with barking ideas. I have no illusion that raw nature is the only true way for things too be. When rich enough I would start to put health centres in place for brother bonobo, for elephants and others in proportion for their capacity for suffering. Why not? Why is nature’s brutality not to be curbed as best we can. Interfering we’ll change things, sure. But why is it not for the better?

          • In reply to #28 by phil rimmer:

            Honestly a lovely comment, Phil. Many truths and worthwhile hopes.

            See, I do coax out optimistic brilliance from others when I’m being dreary.

        • In reply to #23 by Timothy McNamara:

          In reply to #17 by Red Dog:
          It’s the direct extinguishing of life forms older than our own (sometimes by hundreds of millions of years) out of ignorant growth and wealth seeking behaviour. If you don’t understand why some humans “moan about” what their species has done, there’s little I can say to s…

          First of all yes it is illogical since if you erased the human race you woul erase yoursel, your friends, and your family and to be honest despite your claims to the contrary, I’m highly skeptical that you would really make that choice. Second, in terms of values I agree the human race has some real fools but to be honest if I had to choose between a universe with jimi Hendrix, Einstein, Darwin, beethoven, etc. vs. one with a few more species of fish or fowl as much as I love animals I would choose the Hendrix Universe.

          But the most important point; which I didn’t make very well last time, is that it’s far more important to do something now to change our evil ways. Moaning accomplishes nothing and in fact I think it’s counter productive to change because it feeds into a cynical mind set that says humans are just evil so working for change is pointless.

          • In reply to #26 by Red Dog:

            Humans, like me, can seem illogical beings. I would indeed make the choice I mentioned.

            Let it be known my “moaning” is handed out with the hope of inspiring thought, if not change.

        • In reply to #23 by Timothy McNamara:

          . Would I erase humanity from history if it even halved the extinctions of other sentient life forms on earth the past century?

          In a heartbeat.

          No.. I could never do that, or even think that. Even if it meant leaving open the possibility of another advanced, self-aware species to evolve. I think loyalty to my species is part of my DNA. I tend to look at the trends, especially those laid out by Pinker in “Better Angels of our Nature”. Who would have thought that groups dedicated to the existence of animal rights would have become a permanent fixture in our modern world? If I were a person of faith, ha ha!, I’d be praying that governments would extend their thinking beyond the next few years and make some bold moves.

          • Hey, wait! That is my prayer!

            In reply to #30 by Nitya:

            In reply to #23 by Timothy McNamara:

            . Would I erase humanity from history if it even halved the extinctions of other sentient life forms on earth the past century?

            In a heartbeat.

            No.. I could never do that, or even think that. Even if it meant leaving open the possibility of another advanced, s…

      • Red Dog May 25, 2014 at 5:33 pm
        In reply to #16 by Timothy McNamara:
        …I think it’s virtually inevitable that the first species to gain
        intelligence is going to start off by devouring a lot of the other
        species and the ecosystem. Its what we are programmed by our genes to
        do, to take as much as we can because until recently we HAD to do that
        just to survive. The important issue is not to judge what shits we’ve
        been but to realize we can and should change and we need to ASAP or we
        will lose a lot more.

        Do you have a process in mind to accomplish such a change? If so please disclose it.

        Hitchens stated he would under no circumstances take part in a dialog with Muslim extremists; he believed they should be annihilated forthwith. Do you believe such a tactic should be employed as part of a process for change?

  11. ok well here;’s the insanity. this is an example of intelligent design. let’s be clear the not probability of the existence of a comic book god is somewhere in 99.9999999999999999999999999999999% not in favor. I don’t say a 100% because when said science demands proof and it’s not provable.However it would your aforementioned accomplishment does leave the door open to intelligent design because intelligent design..that would be us.. created something approaching life.

  12. In reply to #32 by BillDixon:

    Greetings, Bill. Thanks are due to you for posing the question for this discussion. There is no need to regret anything you may have stated here, unless of course it is unkind to others. Most people here love to dispute disputable things – no unkindness there. The question you asked is a good one. I thought Red Dog covered the main points in his first comment here. The arrangement of functions and organization of matter in living things may distinguish them from nonliving things at a common-sense level, but this does not explain how they came to be so arranged and organized, that is how such distinctive forms or (dare I say it?) essences came to be. In other words, the essentialistic approach has the cart before the horse. To understand how living things have diverged from nonliving things and emerged as the vast array of lifeforms that we now find, we need to look to biochemistry and biology.

      • In reply to #43 by BillDixon:

        In reply to #34 by Ornicar:

        Life is matter undergoing a Darwinian evolution.

        That should answer your question.

        Then it is matter obeying the laws of physics, which is my point.

        Well, Darwinian evolution is not a law of physics.
        Matters obeys the laws of physics, that is true.
        Life obeys the law of physics, and the laws of, well… life. Replication, mutation, selection. That is the difference between animated and not.

        • In reply to #82 by Ornicar:

          In reply to #43 by BillDixon:

          In reply to #34 by Ornicar:

          Life is matter undergoing a Darwinian evolution.

          That should answer your question.

          Then it is matter obeying the laws of physics, which is my point.

          Well, Darwinian evolution is not a law of physics.
          Matters obeys the laws of physics, th…

          There are examples of computer software that obey those animated principles: viruses, artificial life programs,… In fact one such set of examples to highlight the principles of evolution were programmed by Prof Dawkins on an Apple computer and included in one of his books. I think it was Climbing Mount improbable.

          • In reply to #83 by Red Dog:

            In fact one such set of examples to highlight the principles of evolution were programmed by Prof Dawkins on an Apple computer and included in one of his books. I think it was Climbing Mount improbable.

            I have not read Climbing Mount Improbable, so I do not know whether Prof. Dawkins includes in that book an account of his computer-programming experiments on evolution; but I can say that he gives such an account in Chapter 3, “Accumulating Small Change”, of The Blind Watchmaker.

          • In reply to #84 by Cairsley:

            In reply to #83 by Red Dog:

            In fact one such set of examples to highlight the principles of evolution were programmed by Prof Dawkins on an Apple computer and included in one of his books. I think it was Climbing Mount improbable.

            I have not read Climbing Mount Improbable, so I do not know whether…

            Thanks for the correction. I think you are correct and I was wrong, it was the blind watchmaker

  13. In reply to #31 by Cairsley:

    I fully understand word sensitivity. I have a few no go areas myself for precisely the reason you identify of (wilful) misunderstanding. I recently gave up Spiritual (though kept spirit and spirited in specific cases). Believe and belief are just gone as reasonable terms. And I can see essence in the same light. Some words are used just too broadly for safe use, though adding more choices might rescue them. Islamophobia is one I think partially rescued by the availability of Muslimophobia and a word I haven’t quite got to yet like Cleriphobia.

    I guess its down to adverse experience, that is, having been misunderstood. With essence that, perhaps surprisingly, hasn’t happened to me prior to this yet, though I note I use creature now specifically to point out a created thing. In some sense it is a goad to further argument.

    I shall treat essence with greater care, though I may bring it out as a goad on occasion. Of its two meanings only one exists as a real thing.

  14. In reply to Red dog # 26 if I had to choose between a universe with Jimi Hendrix, Einstein, Darwin, Beethoven, etc. vs. one with a few more species of fish or fowl as much as I love animals I would choose the Hendrix Universe.

    I agree and so does everyone else even though they would never say it.
    Why does everyone wring their hands when discussing horrible humans as a master race?
    We ARE the master race and we have to deal with the power that comes with that and rejoice at the fact.
    Life it is not at all special on planet earth but we certainly are.
    Scientists are still tracking data from Voyager that has just about left our solar system, this was launched with mid 70’s technology.
    I find that amazing and it makes me happy that I can hang onto the shirt tails of the guys that made this possible and read about it in a language I can understand.
    Dolphins are supposed to be smart but until one of them writes a sonnet or gets a paper scientific published I am I just going to regard them as just another smarter than your average fish mammal.

  15. In reply to #38by nitya
    In reply to #37 by Pinball1970:
    …..and if dolphins are so smart, why are we studying them and not the reverse?

    Yes you don’t see us stood at the shore begging for food.
    On the life versus non life this is an easy question in one sense and other posters have touched on it.
    In terms of quarks electron protons carbon Methane Amino acids?
    No
    In terms of that first replicator whatever it was?
    Yes
    First cell first Eukaryote?
    Yes, as far as our solar system is concerned but the universe has a lot of stars and potential earths to play with.
    I would be nice if the mars probe revealed that life is rare but not exclusive to earth and would be another (huge) nail in the coffin of religion.
    No doubt the Cumbriasmithy’s of this world will be looking for the verse in the new testament that confirms there is in fact life on mars it was part of gods plan and jesus loves it and forgives whatever it is.

  16. Bill, I think that if this was the case then that would be wonderful but people don’t act like it. If they derived such feelings of being special from being alive and a part of life, they would spend more time attempting to protect it, instead, they point to their bibles and the ‘still special’ place of mankind in the sceme of things. Such arrogance, and not an unpopular viewpoint held by just the lunatic fringe of various fly over State fanatics but a generally well held belief that, whatever god gave us in nature, we deserve to exploit, like some sort of survival of the fittest Nazi quasi-Darwinism socio-megalomania. We do not have such power of Gods creations, for example. God didn’t like the Dodo, or all those other ‘mistakes’, such as homosexuals.

  17. Life, essentially, is a process of self-generated self-sustaining action. Whereas the existence of inanimate (non-living) matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not; life has specific requirements. A living entity, if it is to continue as such, must take the requisite actions to gain and/or keep that which its life requires; if it doesn’t, it will soon die, i.e., become inanimate matter. Whatever a living entity acts to gain and/or keep in order to sustain its life is a value to that entity. The purpose of any value is the sustenance or enrichment of the life of the valuer, the valuer’s life thus being the valuer’s ultimate value and standard of value. For example, water and the energy in sunlight are values to a tree because the life of a tree (the tree’s ultimate value) requires them; and a tree acts to gain the values of water and the energy in sunlight by respectively growing and maintaining roots and growing and replenishing leaves. Inanimate matter or inanimate entities have no values; what could possibly be of value to them, and for what purpose? Values pertain only to (and can pertain only to) living entities. Life, owing to its conditional nature, makes values not only possible but necessary. If an entity has values, it is a living entity; if it doesn’t, it is non-living (or soon to become so).

  18. In reply to #44 by jabberwock:

    Whatever a living entity acts to gain and/or keep in order to sustain its life is a value to that entity.

    Sorry, that won’t do. You could just as easily say that low temperature is of value to a glacier, water is valuable to a river, gravity is valuable to an orbiting planet, charge is valuable to an electron. Move continuously along the spectrum of inanimate to animate:- carbon is valuable to sugars, sugars are valuable to viruses, viruses are valuable to certain bacteria………cows are valuable to farmers. The concept of these “values” tells us nothing.

    Moreover, you define a living entity as a thing with values, and values as things which living entities uniquely seek.

    But your greatest error is to impute values to living things as some kind of objective, which is simply not compatible with Darwinism. A tree doesn’t value its life, it just makes seeds and if it is successful at doing that, then we get more trees. There is no declared purpose or value in it. We humans experience values because evolution has naturally selected in us certain behaviours which are beneficial in terms of evolutionary success, like altruism, hunger, love and so forth, so we value loyalty, tasty food and a loving partner. I think that’s what is confusing you.

    Sorry once again, but you need to rethink this.

    Bill Dixon

    • In reply to #45 by BillDixon:

      In reply to #44 by jabberwock:

      Whatever a living entity acts to gain and/or keep in order to sustain its life is a value to that entity.

      Sorry, that won’t do. You could just as easily say that low temperature is of value to a glacier, water is valuable to a river, gravity is valuable to an orbitin…

      A value is that which an entity acts (consciously or non-consciously) to gain and/or keep. The concept of value presupposes the existence of some entity capable of acting to gain and/ or keep something for some ultimate purpose (in the non-intentional sense of the word) in the face of an ever-present alternative: existence versus non-existence. It is this alternative that makes values possible; if existence were guaranteed, there could be no values. For example, if the existence of my life in a permanent state of total fulfilment in all respects were guaranteed, I would need to value nothing; I could simply take everything for granted with no diminishment in the quality of my life. I value food, for example, and therefore buy and eat food, because my body, and ultimately the existence of my life (my ultimate value and therefore my standard of value), requires it; without it I would suffer and soon die, i.e., my life (my ultimate value) would cease to exist. But if my body were permanent and required no sustenance, I would not require food and so would not value it. I do not value the force of gravity that enables me to live on the surface of the earth and do not act to gain and keep it; I simply take it for granted, because its existence is guaranteed; there is no possibility in my lifetime of it suddenly changing significantly or ceasing to exist. (However, I might value it and seek to gain it were I to find myself in a space ship a million miles from earth.) Similarly, it is because they are guaranteed that I do not value the chemical bonds that bind the constituent atoms of the molecules of my body. During a prolonged period of global warming can a glacier act to keep its temperature low and thereby sustain its existence? During a prolonged drought can a river act to keep its water and thereby sustain its existence? Of course not; neither a glacier nor a river is capable of acting to sustain itself, and thus neither can have values. Can an orbiting planet value gravity? Can an electron value its charge? Of course not; the charge of an electron and the gravity that exists between a star and an orbiting planet are both guaranteed; there is no alternative to either; so why value that which one can never lose? Can a sugar molecule act to sustain its integrity in the presence of a sugar-metabolizing enzyme? Of course not, and thus it cannot value its integrity.

      Do certain bacteria act to gain and or/keep viruses, and do farmers act to gain and/or keep cows? If so, what is the ultimate purpose of the goals they pursue? Is their success guaranteed? What are the probable consequences to their lives of their failure? It is only a living entity that is capable of acting to gain and/or keep values (that which its continued existence as a living entity requires). Life, essentially, is a process of self-generated self-sustaining action in the face of a fundamental alternative: life versus death (the existence of life versus the non-existence of life). A living entity continually acts to gain and keep values in order to continue living. It is essentially this process that distinguishes life from non-life. If a living entity succeeds in gaining and keeping the values that its life requires, it will continue living and flourishing; if it fails, its quality of life will diminish and it will soon die, i.e., its life will cease to exist. The concept of value presupposes the concept of life. Life, and only life, because of its conditional nature (that a living entity must act to sustain and further its life, or die) makes values both possible and necessary.

      NB: Life usually involves reproduction at some point, but reproduction is not a defining characteristic of life as such.

  19. In the larger picture Life is a process not an object. So life is not ‘just’ inanimate matter, it is matter with animation.
    This is the same view as fire being a process not an object.

    Then again, when we look deeply enough the distinction breaks down between process and object. Wave vs particle duality is an an example of this, there is something about the universe that our language cannot convey, we are so used to seeing ‘objects’ as fixed things but in reality they are not. With the universe full of process and change it is no surprise that life exists and that ‘inanimate matter’ is actually an illusion.

  20. I’m dead, and so’s my wife. Me more so when she reads this – I’m supposed to be painting the house.

    Alive minding machines like humans, will be wired to mind remaining alive, since it could hardly be an evolutionarily stable strategy to be indifferent to death. Not so long after breeding, one’s opinion was not so important.

    Although no one has yet successfully minded being deceased – not having a mind for the minding – it nearly always seems a bit of a bummer when someone snuffs it. Perhaps best to think like this, since a sterile planet would end all suffering.

    Animated is a lovely word. There is a ghost in the machine, just not a real one. It is stop-go animated. Faster than Tom & Jerry, but not so fast that television manufacturers aren’t going to have a problem selling definition higher than perception.

    Sixty frames a second is the speed of life. *

    • I made that up. I can’t remember what it is for humans. Changes anyway. Unconscious is much faster, which is why catching flies is difficult.
  21. Well how boring. People used to reply quicker. The quick and the dead and the deadquick. Most life is invisible. By biomass even. Obviously the word’s ego is writing out cheques the body can’t cash. There is a reification error. Now Newton saw he unwove the rainbow. Keats saw he oughtn’t have. And Dawks saw it was nicer knowing. This is subjective. The ‘I’ split the rainbow. The ‘I’ is false. All conscious brain-states are post-hoc fabrications. The wavelengths spread on a perfectly smooth linear gradient, with no segmentation possible. The colours are not there. They are a projection of the self-delusion, like god – curiously 1:1 with evolutionary psychology – , the ultimate phantom limb. It looks like there are colours though, and that is why flowers are pretty.

    • In reply to #49 by bendigeidfran:

      All conscious brain-states are post-hoc fabrications.

      Nah. But meaning and purpose mostly are. Mastery (which is what we do whilst waiting for that sense of understanding to appear), though, is immediate. We make rainbows.

  22. Ooooh! It’s Pip Rimmer! I thought all the clever people had given up on rd.net. Projection perhaps. I tell you what, let’s do for Chalmers. Do you remember him? Scat used to pitch him ‘If concious experience is not real, then what is?’, and then Zara ued to fail to squash him. Do you remember? Zara would say ‘What is extra?’ etc. I’ve got this so clear, it might be worth saying. I take it there are still moderators who know better?! It occurred to me that all extant philosophical quandaries were in fact merely binary propositions in search of fractional truth. I then solved them. But let’s perhaps test them….

    • In reply to #53 by bendigeidfran:

      then Zara ued to fail to squash him.

      But he was right… There is no mechanism to report epiphenomina. The feeling must cause the reports of its own existence. Scat always ended up failing to see this or believing that the astonishing feeling didn’t produce reports of astonishing feelings, some parallel real world mechanism did by some sort of coincidence. Why we should imagine these uncoupled things to be coupled I have no idea. And if they aren’t they are pointless points, blunts I guess.

      God, we’ve fallen low here!

  23. I tell you what Pip, Dawks was in Hay the other day, and we just missed him. The swine was all booked out. I know – who wants to see him? – It’s just I had an ace question, instead of ‘what will evolution do in the future?’ etc. It was:- ‘God has had published 3 international best-sellers. What is your opinion on celebrities using ghost-writers, and would you still write books if you were telepathic?’.

    • In reply to #54 by bendigeidfran:

      What is your opinion on celebrities using ghost-writers, and would you still write books if you were telepathic?’.

      You must get a lot of static on the channel though. And you have to remember to turn off when you’re daydreaming in that unbuttoned way….

      Ezekial 23:19

    • In reply to #56 by Frankus1122:

      Bendi!
      Phil!
      I may be lured back to RD.net if it becomes animate again.
      Stuff bumps into other stuff in particular ways that the bumping stuff that is our minds calls ‘life’.

      Yay! Frank!

      The mods are fierce here and scowl at fraternising. Erm entropic minima, the most successful of which are those with the lowest entropy, the most stable…..We have to keep on the move and not derail a thread or….or something bad happens, they won’t say what…..And the most successful of all may be those able surround themselves in low entropy states to further depress their own…Over by hut 5 in twenty minutes. Schtumm.

  24. Ach Pip! It’s easy. Do you see how all the ‘debates’ used to distil to binary? I admired Scat for plodding on and repeating the question. It is far easier to be intimidated by people of ‘greater intelligence’. Now they should squash you. If they can’t, there is a problem. You can’t bluff chess.

    Let’s do for Scat’s admirable question then. ‘If conscious experience is not real, then what is?’ Microwaves are not real to conscious experience. Science extends perception to include microwaves. Non-conscious machines detect/make microwaves. Later conscious experience, expeiences them. Staggering. No? Is not conscious experience of microwaves false, and microwaves real?

    Perhaps we have overfussed. How about a noise a dog hears, but a human doesn’t? Is that real? It would be handy to have a 1:1 with external reality, absent a metaphysic. But that will cost you a beer. Or just wait til I get bored again…

    • In reply to #59 by bendigeidfran:

      Ach Pip! It’s easy. Do you see how all the ‘debates’ used to distil to binary? I admired Scat for plodding on and repeating the question. It is far easier to be intimidated by people of ‘greater intelligence’. Now they should squash you. If they can’t, there is a problem. You can’t bluff chess.

      But its all real. My feel and what caused it. You too can feel microwaves. I can spin little sworls on your fingertips and pin diode on to your nerves. I could choose the c-tactile fibres on the hairy back of your hand and you wave your hand through the waves of your wifi and luxuriate in the balm of its broadcasts all real to the very last ricochet of its dopamine releases…

  25. Be handy wouldn’t it? Because otherwise, with a fabricated metaphysic, all conclusions would be circular. And everyone must have a metaphysic. You must have heard that one. Be nice not to…

  26. That would be how I would feel it. Pick one I couldn’t feel that was yet real. It needn’t be difficult. Pick one I can’t see/hear/feel that is yet real. And how do we know?

    It’s most certainly not all real, you banana, as I gave you the example of the segmentation of the rainbow.

  27. Wel, I’m going to bed. On my desk tomorrow morning I want Pip to tell me where the lines in the rainbow are.

    They are not in reality. They are in conscious experience.

    The ghost in the machine is not very bright.

    • In reply to #63 by bendigeidfran:

      Wel, I’m going to bed. On my desk tomorrow morning I want Pip to tell me where the lines in the rainbow are.

      They are not in reality. They are in conscious experience.

      The ghost in the machine is not very bright.

      But the edge detector is how we see things.It starts in the eye and has us see orange and yellow, heroes and villains and we have distinction at the level of neurons and the distinctions serve us well. The neurons and distinctions are real. This is our rainbow. Its not a sheep’s rainbow… So whats with this conscious experience not being part of reality? It plays its part as much as any bumped billiard ball…

      • In reply to #64 by phil rimmer:

        Yes it’s how we see things. Things that aren’t there. Now this is not going to serve us well to distinguish between what is there, and what isn’t, is it? The edges aren’t there. Whole bunches of wavelengths flip to one colour. They don’t really. Why would you praise this ‘edge detector’? When there can be no edges? It’s an evolved cognitive error. Here the ‘I’ is false, and the colours mind-forg’d. Split by the false prism of the ‘I’. Part of really false if you’re going to be pedantic. It is not real outside of the human’s virtual reality. Bees too. That is why flowers are purty.

        This will take much longer if you’re going to insist on having opinions. I’ve got a lovely exposition coming.

        And why the sheep? Always the sheep. Remember I know things about you too.

        • In reply to #69 by bendigeidfran:

          In reply to #64 by phil rimmer:

          This will take much longer if you’re going to insist on having opinions. I’ve got a lovely exposition coming.

          Drat!

          I was so pleased you chose rainbows. Every last one of them is subjective. You, literally cannot see mine. Er.

          I can see my rainbow. Now you run up that hill. Quick whilst its still raining and the sun is out. Now you point at the top of the arch of the rainbow and I’ll do the same. Notice our arms are parallel (well their angles meet, not in front, but behind us, 93 million miles away and 68 million miles south of the sun, so, pretty parallel). We’re pointing at different things. This should have been Bishop Berkley’s thought experiment not that fallen tree.

          Is the rainbow not real? Yes it is real but there are as many rainbows as there are viewers to see it. My rainbow only exists for where I am. Is it so hard not to accept the cultural lines I imbue it with, that exist in the trained wiring in my head, as existing in the same place?

          And why the sheep? Always the sheep.

          That’s exactly what Frank and I wanted to know….

          Remember I know things about you too.

          The injunction can be re-activated at any time, psychopomp.

          • In reply to #72 by phil rimmer:

            No it is not real as perceived. It really doesn’t do what the subjectives see. There is no need to run up a hill for perspective, to see a different delusion. You’re only making it worse. You may as well dance saying ‘Jehovah!’. I’ve got more than a packet of gravel…

      • On rainbows: Imagine if our hearing was as poor as our vision, we’d hear only in one octave, and every sound would be reduced to a different emphasis of the three notes of a single chord. Not much scope for music. And we like rainbows, pathetically visually impaired creatures that we are. What if we could really see them, directly, not just via our vastly-more-sensitive instruments? Then wouldn’t the Music of the Spheres sing to us?

  28. If you have a car made out of Legos, it’s still a car. If you have a box of Legos it’s just a box of Legos. Until the building blocks of life are ordered and composed, you only have useless material but I would be careful as to what you call life.

  29. People with Cotard delusion think they are not alive. The ‘feeling’ of life is absent in them. Are they alive if they have no impetus, no value to continue living?
    The delusion is a result of ‘non-living’ molecules in the brain behaving in a particular way.

    • In reply to #68 by Frankus1122:

      People with Cotard delusion think they are not alive. The ‘feeling’ of life is absent in them. Are they alive if they have no impetus, no value to continue living?

      Ah! A life without drugs, not even dopamine. Still, sitting on a tack can get them moving. There may be no rewards, no carrots, but there are still sticks.

  30. I think “life” as most in the “living and thinking world” knows is an abstraction of the complex chemistry that goes behind.
    It is much easier to know “life” as what most can apprehend than what “few” does know.

    • In reply to #70 by futureperfect:

      It’s a dreadful word. Now let’s look at words for a bit. It is written.

      In words drown I, in words alas! drown I, In words drown I.

      How about that? ‘I’ done a palindrome. Reading left to right, or right to left, is a matter of taste, but reading before and after, is a matter of reality. However far perception be artificially extended, only contrast will be discernable.

      Now why is solipsism self-refuting? What joins the letters? Can you see inbetween?

  31. Many words contain built-in false paradoxes. Split them to their constituent concepts, and resolution is much easier.
    Do not falsely separate spatial and temporal concepts. Do not falsely compare fluid and static concepts. You’ll get all confused with ‘time’ and ‘infinity’ etc. It is not helpful to have this ‘detector’ written in the wiring.

    These words are ordered because logic is inherent to spacetime at this level. That is why they don’t appear inhocernet to you. Logic is an aspect of spacetime somewhat necessary for the appearance/functioning of minds. It need only be net-logic. Elsewhere the universe may appear schizophrenic. And it does.

    • In reply to #73 by bendigeidfran:

      Many words contain built-in false paradoxes.

      Net-logic is indeed good enough. We can make progress and by degrees complete our journey.

      Most words are not fit for use, well, perhaps for gossip. But my unused words are conceptually quite clear. The arc of the rainbow and the and the grouping of the colours are all a personal, perceptual illusion, written in brainstates, in the brain where they were first manifest.

      It is not helpful to have this ‘detector’ written in the wiring.

      But we are composed, brain-wise, only of detectors, inferers, generators of the meta world. How else does it know when to dole out the dopamine? The arc detection is more permanently and reliably written in brains than the bands of colour, but the fact of writing is common to both.

      • In reply to #77 by phil rimmer:

        So they are not there really, they are a personal perceptual illusion. Well, I’m glad you told me that. I always thought they were real. Yes.

        Whoops, I see you have also concluded they are post-hoc fabricated brain states. I wonder what else you can tell me a bit later. Not as much as I can tell you is my guess.

        • In reply to #80 by bendigeidfran:

          In reply to #77 by phil rimmer:

          So they are not there really, they are a personal perceptual illusion. Well, I’m glad you told me that. I always thought they were real. Yes.

          They are real, just not real arcky things in the sky. And no more post hoc than any other perception.

  32. Did Berkley do that tree? Just leave a tape-recorder. This is Everett v Copenhagen. You can’t kick a refuteitthus rock with a phantom limb, but a rock can cease all phantom pain. Is this difficult? Are humans stupid? They still think like Democritus. Are Newton’s Particles of light sands upon the Red sea shore? Do they blind the mocking eye? They don’t. Now stop waffling and I’ll tell you something.

    • In reply to #76 by bendigeidfran:

      Did Berkley do that tree?

      He set it up…

      “But, say you, surely there is nothing easier than for me to imagine trees, for instance, in a park … and nobody by to perceive them….The objects of sense exist only when they are perceived; the trees therefore are in the garden …no longer than while there is somebody by to perceive them.”

      But William Fossett knocked it unheard/silently down.

  33. The lines are not there. They are in the virtual reality. The virtual reality is really there, and it has fabricated the lines. The lines are not there outside of the virtual reality.

    People will have differing to no virtualy reality, but not differing actual reality. The lines that aren’t there will differ with perspective. They still won’t be there. They are phantom-imposed.

    I just picked one most people can see. If you go around stop-go animated seeing colour or shade, then you’re going to have to watch what you think, since it’s going to have other glitches. It also means reality at the level of self can be engineered. Since it is fabricated.

    Now apart from that happy future, why does this matter? Well, if you project phantom thinking onto reality, you’re not going to see it correctly. When you artificially extend perception to see further, take care not to project phantom framing onto what you’re seeing. The delineation delusion – there are no lines in reality – is going to cause you to see separate phenomena. Phenomena separate from reality. Keep going and you’ll get to phantom sub-wavi-particles that aren’t there. You’ll ‘discover’ these ad infinitum if you think like a human. But not being real, they will have somewhat limited utility.

    You see if you artificially extend perception to see further – by wearing a pair of glasses say – you can see the rainbow from a bit further away. But if you’re not careful, you’ll still see the segmentation. Remember it is not there.

    If you buy a particularly super ‘pair of glasses’ costing billions, and bury them under Switzerland…

    • In reply to #86 by bendigeidfran:

      The lines are not there. They are in the virtual reality. The virtual reality is really there, and it has fabricated the lines. The lines are not there outside of the virtual reality.

      Gatecrash a party of particle physicists and they suddenly stop talking in their weird arcane way. They’ll nod and smile well enough but they’ll change their language in front of you. Instead of talking spooky fields, they talk reassuringly of particles. Like your GP talking about that pain in your tummy when he means your pyloric sphincter, they know not to frighten the horses.

      What makes the virtual reality some special reality? Why is it not reality? We know the rainbow shape isn’t out there. We know that we can’t really touch a tree like we thought but our fields interact. Only 99.99% get in a muddle over these things. We don’t

      I work with colours. I don’t see orange so much these days. I see 575nm plus or minus 5, I see (X 0.500, Y 0.500) on the CIE1931 colour space, maybe in a little oval of confusion leaning away from the blue. I personally don’t see the cultural lines we painted in school rainbows. I pick a value for monochromatic light and a co-ordinate for the singular effect of all the mixed up lights. Newton showed the numbers changed smoothly, swooping through the paintbox colours like a theremin.

      Our realities, all of it, are entirely cultural and mutable. In reifying we also name things and reduce the world to a manageable experience which science and art , anarchists both, gleefully trashes.

      Except for the words, I think we agree…

      • Phil and bendigeidfran,

        I am quite interested in optical illusions. i use them in lots of (I hope) clever ways to make points with students. Because of this, I have spread out into auditory illusions and even gustatory illusions. Quite cool. I have been watching the exchanges here and I wanted to know what you both think of the following question.

        You know when your ears are ringing? Can you think of it right now? Here’s the question.

        Is it a sound or not????

        In reply to #88 by phil rimmer:

        In reply to #86 by bendigeidfran:

        The lines are not there. They are in the virtual reality. The virtual reality is really there, and it has fabricated the lines. The lines are not there outside of the virtual reality.

        Gatecrash a party of particle physicists and they suddenly stop talking in their…

        • In reply to #89 by crookedshoes:

          Phil and bendigeidfran,

          Is it a sound or not????

          Though an fMRI scan will show it to be utterly equivalent to the hearing of a real sound, I suggest that it would be a misuse of the word. The tinnitus (I have it quite badly) is not so much an illusion as an hallucination. It is because I am going deaf. (I used to make the highest power PA amplifiers your dollars could buy. Not many people have had noise complaints from the next county.) As Oliver Sacks will tell you hallucinations typically pop up where there is a deficit of input, sensory or memory. Its the auditory brain stem turning the gain up because too little is coming in on the auditory nerve. What it “hears” is what it needs to hear to make the net mix of sounds about right. My hearing was once golden, 22kHz at the top end. Now it shuts off firmly at 12kHz and even below that it is poor. My tinnitus whistles away and plugs the gap from about 7kHz upwards where it used to hear a lot more.

          The big question is why is it a whistle (in my case) and what does “turning the volume up” really mean. Truth is the brain is mostly poised on the edge of being chaotic. It has evolved its way there to better detect subtleties. The risk is its ready ability to generate some sort of output out of nothing. Epilepsy and migraines appear to be precisely this kind of complex positive feedback of perhaps many loops.

          I also have migraines which are marvelous, unpainful, visual only and quite beautiful. I have studied these in some detail and a great breakthrough in my understanding of them came when one day at work it became too much of a good thing. I was pretty much blinded by this and I felt the visual clutter of the office the many lines was setting it off or sustaining it in some way. I went outside and looked at different things in turn. Closing my eyes, no input, simply made the visual patterning all the clearer and stronger. Looking at trees, big blobs of green leaves seemed to help a lot. Looking at brick walls set it off jangling in my visual cortex, but clouds were bliss. I was looking at something I could see was something yet was formless without edges. It quelled my migraine attack pretty quickly. It felt like a head massage. My point here is that sitting on the edge of chaos, a common means of detecting things, arbitrary howl round things, is from tiny bits of external stimulation. My migraine grabbed onto edges, inputted edges or self generated, but when given lots of non-edge input the edgy feedback was damped down. The simple whistle I have is done with a simple few neurons, maybe acting as a delay line for the feedback. It goes most quickly with meaningful but white noisy types of sound, the sea or the wind.

          And there is the definitional problem as the deafness gets worse the howl round such as it is might be imagined to start off as a cognitive illusion a misapprehension of a real input but as the inputs go down and the gain goes up it moves from illusion to hallucination.

  34. In reply to red dog# 85
    Thanks for the correction. I think you are correct and I was wrong, it was the blind watchmaker

    The biomorph programme is from the blind watchmaker but it also mentioned in mount improbable.
    You may be also thinking of the spider web programme netspinner. Its not an RD program but he uses it to illustrate evolutionary process in one of the chapters.

  35. @OP is-life-essentially-different-from-inanimate-matter?

    No! It is part of the continuity of physical processes:- Just as two species or two genera are different – until you look at the whole tree, including the intermediaries or evolutionary transitionals!

  36. It all depends how you interpret the question, it seemed obvious to me(when i learnt about atoms and molecules) in that sense there is no difference. If you want to go deeper there is no better explanation than Richards. Life is replicating molecules with heredity.

  37. I think ultimately it's people's inability to cope with the fear of death that leads them to cling to their youth indoctrination and brainwashing that there is more to brains than individual brain cells. There just isn't. There are two good reasons however not to fear death. 1) you were already dead for billions of years, before you were born, and 2) currently there are an infinite number of nearly identical copies of you which are already dead (non-existent), merely because you can conceive of them and state that they do not exist. In reality existence is just a pattern of molecules and consciousness is an emergent property of brains just like waves on water are 'emergent' and don't exist on their own. Only the water molecules exist, just like only the brain cells exist.

    [Link to blog removed by moderator.]

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