Theory of Intelligent Design, the best explanation of Origins

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Theory of Intelligent Design, the best explanation of Origins » Origin of life » Paul Davies : What is life ?

Paul Davies : What is life ?

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1 Paul Davies : What is life ? on Tue Jan 07, 2014 11:31 pm


What is life ?

Paul Davies:

Growth and development.
Information content. 
Hardware/software entanglement. 
Permanence and change. 

Autonomy is one important characteristic of life. But there are many others, including the following:

Reproduction. A living organism should be able to reproduce. However, some nonliving things, like crystals and bush fires, can reproduce, whereas viruses, which many people would regard as living, are unable to multiply on their own. Mules are certainly living, even though, being sterile, they cannot reproduce. A successful offspring is more than a mere facsimile of the original; it also includes a copy of the replication apparatus. To propagate their genes beyond the next generation, organisms must replicate the means of replication, as well as replicating the genes themselves.

Metabolism. To be considered as properly alive, an organism has to do something. Every organism processes chemicals through complicated sequences of reactions, and as a result garners energy to enable it to carry out tasks, such as movement and reproduction. This chemical processing and energy liberation is called metabolism. However, metabolism cannot be equated with life. Some micro-organisms can become completely dormant for long periods of time, with their vital functions shut down. We would be reluctant to pronounce them dead if it is possible for them to be revived.

Nutrition. This is closely related to metabolism. Seal up a living organism in a box for long enough and in due course it will cease to function and eventually die. Crucial to life is a continual throughput of matter and energy. For example, animals eat, plants photosynthesize. But a flow of matter and energy alone fails to capture the real business of life. The Great Red Spot of Jupiter is a fluid vortex sustained by a flow of matter and energy. Nobody suggests it is alive. In addition, it is not energy as such that life needs, but something like useful, or free, energy. More on this later.

Complexity. All known forms of life are amazingly complex. Even single-celled organisms such as bacteria are veritable beehives of activity involving millions of components. In part, it is this complexity that guarantees the unpredictability of organisms. On the other hand, a hurricane and a galaxy are also very complex. Hurricanes are notoriously unpredictable. Many nonliving physical systems are what scientists call chaotic -- their behavior is too complicated to predict, and may even be random.

Organization. Maybe it is not complexity per se that is significant, but organized complexity. The components of an organism must cooperate with each other or the organism will cease to function as a coherent unity. For example, a set of arteries and veins are not much use without a heart to pump blood through them. A pair of legs will offer little locomotive advantage if each leg moves on its own, without reference to the other. Even within individual cells the degree of cooperation is astonishing. Molecules don't simply career about haphazardly, but show all the hallmarks of a factory assembly line, with a high degree of specialization, a division of labor, and a command-and-control structure.

Growth and development. Individual organisms grow and ecosystems tend to spread (if conditions are right). But many nonliving things grow too (crystals, rust, clouds). A subtler yet altogether more significant property of living things, treated as a class, is development. The remarkable story of life on Earth is one of gradual evolutionary adaptation, as a result of variety and novelty. Variation is the key. It is replication combined with variation that leads to Darwinian evolution. We might consider turning the problem upside down and say: if it evolves in the way Darwin described, it lives.

Information content. In recent years scientists have stressed the analogy between living organisms and computers. Crucially, the information needed to replicate an organism is passed on in the genes from parent to offspring. So life is information technology writ small. But, again, information as such is not enough. Though there is information aplenty in the positions of the fallen leaves in a forest, it doesn't mean anything. To qualify for the description of living, information must be meaningful to the system that receives it: there must be a "context." In other words, the information must be specified. But where does this context itself come from, and how does a meaningful specification arise spontaneously in nature?

Hardware/software entanglement. As we shall see, all life of the sort found on Earth stems from a deal struck between two very different classes of molecules: nucleic acids and proteins. These groups complement each other in terms of their chemical properties, but the contract goes much deeper than that, to the very heart of what is meant by life. Nucleic acids store life's software; the proteins are the real workers and constitute the hardware. The two chemical realms can support each other only because there is a highly specific and refined communication channel between them mediated by a code, the so-called genetic code. This code, and the communication channel -- both advanced products of evolution -- have the effect of entangling the hardware and software aspects of life in a baffling and almost paradoxical manner.

Permanence and change. A further paradox of life concerns the strange conjunction of permanence and change. This ancient puzzle is sometimes referred to by philosophers as the problem of being versus becoming. The job of genes is to replicate, to conserve the genetic message. But without variation, adaptation is impossible and the genes will eventually get snuffed out: adapt or die is the Darwinian imperative. How do conservation and change coexist in one system? This contradiction lies at the heart of biology. Life flourishes on Earth because of the creative tension that exists between these conflicting demands; we still do not fully understand how the game is played out.

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2 Re: Paul Davies : What is life ? on Fri Dec 25, 2015 6:45 am


The 7 Characteristics of Life:

1. Living Things are Composed of Cells:

Single-cell organisms have everything they need to be self-sufficient.
In multicellular organisms, specialization increases until some cells do only certain things.
2. Living Things Have Different

levels of cellular organization
Levels of Organization:
Both molecular and cellular organization.
Living things must be able to organize simple substances into complex ones.
Living things organize cells at several levels:
Tissue - a group of cells that perform a common function.
Organ - a group of tissues that perform a common function.
Organ system - a group of organs that perform a common function.
Organism - any complete living thing.
3. Living Things Use Energy: Earth's energy source is the Sun

Living things take in energy and use it for maintenance and growth.
4. Living Things Respond To Their Environment:

Living things will make changes in response to a stimulus in their environment.
A behavior is a complex set of responses.
5. Living Things Grow:

Cell division - the orderly formation of new cells.
Cell enlargement - the increase in size of a cell. Cells grow to a certain size and then divide.
An organism gets larger as the number of its cells increases.
6. Living Things Reproduce: reproduction

Reproduction is not essential for the survival of individual organisms, but must occur for a species to survive.
All living things reproduce in one of the following ways:
Asexual repoduction - Producing offspring without the use of gametes.
Sexual reproduction - Producing offspring by the joining of sex cells.
7. Living Things Adapt To Their Environment:

Adaptations are traits giving an organism an advantage in a certain environment.
Variation of individuals is important for a healthy species.

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