What is Life?

090111TGT_dsc8286sIt is always difficult to define things we do not fully understand. Things like God, or good, or love or life. But it’s worth a try because we need to all know what we are talking about when we use these words. As life is the subject of this exercise, I will do my best to define it, but with the understanding that we do not fully understand life. If we did, we could create new life from its raw materials, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and all that. Up to now we only can make new life from old life.

A life form, or a living thing, is able to do the processes that are necessary to sustain itself and reproduce itself if the environment provides the things it needs to survive. Different life forms require different environments (things like temperature and chemical components).

One way to define life is to say that a living thing has sensory ability — that is the ability to sense its environment — and to respond to that environment in a way that keeps the living thing — alive.

A “unit of life,” this is not a technical term; it means one living thing. You are a unit of life; so am I. We all know that life forms are extremely variable. There are units of life all over the place, from the flies in your desert to the bacteria in my pond.

We also know that life, as a subunit of The Creation or the universe,is arranged in a hierarchy, that is, life exists in levels of organization.

The most basic unit of life is a cell. The cell maintains its own life in a nonliving universe. It is able to do this because it is composed of organelles and molecules and atoms that it uses to maintain a healthy balance between itself and its environment. It would be easy to have a very long and enjoyable debate about whether or not these subcellular components are “living”, but we will not because our purpose here is to point out the hierarchy of living things in the nonliving universe. Maybe we will talk about them later.

The next higher unit of life is the multicellular organism. That could be a plant or animal or fungus or you, or me, or a few other types of organisms. The next higher self-sustaining form of life is the ecosystem, and the whole earth ecosystem is made up of many smaller ecosystems. Just in the same way that we are made up of cells.

The largest, most complex, highest unit of life is the whole earth ecosystem, and it stays alive — just as we do — by using energy and information to maintain a healthy balance among all its parts.

091028TGT_dsc4864s“(God) continues from age to age, and is present from infinity to infinity; he rules all things and he knows what happens and what is able to happen.” Isaac Newton

That is a personal opinion of Isaac Newton, the physicist who also gave us a fact-based scientific understanding of gravity as one of the foundational laws of nature. Without gravity, the universe would not function as it does, with planets whizzing around suns and organized in solar systems and galaxies. Newton described gravity and spent much of his life studying it’s effects, and measuring the ways in which gravity relates to the organization of the universe.

Without gravity and the other laws of physics, life as we know it could not exist on earth. The earth moves around the sun and spins on its axis, creating day and night and all the seasonal variations in light and temperature that permit water to flow and to drop from the clouds, generating an earthly island of moderate conditions in a universe of extremes. The sweet, wet earth upon which life can exist. Without gravity, none of this would exist. But of course you know that gravity does not exist only on earth; it exists throughout the universe. Otherwise the earth ecosystem could not have grown and we would not exist.

Scientists did not create gravity, of course, and human power can not change a “law of nature.” Other universal “natural laws” are also required for life to exist, for example the natural laws of thermodynamics that describe the flow of energy through the entire system.

Isn’t it strange so many people believe that human power controls life on earth?

It has taken a week to get back to book 18 on this blog, but you will be happy to know that the mouse pigment genetics book has cleared the editor, except for two pictures and is on its way to publication (or did I mention that before?). Startup_CMYK

So now we can concentrate on something more interesting — the most basic principles of biology – as promised, and I will try to post on every Monday and Thursday morning.

Here is the story of one of our readers. If you let me know what you think about this subject (outlined in a previous blog below) or any other subject you a too will help to make the book better. ☺

“The statement below is so profound and important.

‘The lesson we can understand from these two realities is that we are not the most powerful force in the universe and we must conform to universal laws if we are to survive.’

“I think this is what human beings have the most trouble with, realizing they are not that important in the scheme of things. It is human beings who must fit themselves into the boundaries of the earth and universe not the other way around if they want to survive. The human race has a very hard time with that. They want control or to pretend they are in control. As a species we have made ourselves grandiose and have assumed power we do not have, while abdicating our duty to lesser powers we can influence for the good of humanity and the earth. I would go into why I think it is like this but, I’m sure you have your own ideas on that one and I’m not sure it matters why. We are here now, at this place and have to change if we want to survive as a species. People always talk about the earth collapsing, they seldom admit the earth will go on sans human life with great ease whether we survive or not.

“I still remember the first time I realized how unimportant the human race really is. It was when I went to the Grand Canyon at around 11 years old. I felt like this was some huge birthmark on earth, then realized it was not a birthmark and thought about the millions of years it took for this awesome, huge chasm to form. It was really an experience for me. I remember looking down and seeing a bug crawling across the sand, and I thought..that bug is just as important as I am. After several minutes of introspection, I thought, the bug might be more important than I am, and then related myself to a grain of sand. Funny, kids have this ability but most adults lose it. Maybe because as children we aren’t in control of anything much or haven’t been taught that being in control is so important.

“Lessons in simple science combined with realities of modern life and scientific discoveries are what we need. Human beings have idiotically held on to archaic, superstitious beliefs for so long, it has come to pass that most of the people think we are a lot more powerful or important, than we are. We have the ability to save ourselves, if we will just pay attention to the present and open our eyes to our surroundings and realize what we can change and what we can’t change!”

But how to know, when we the public have access to almost no scientific information. Even public radio and public TV convert the factual science into metaphors because they think, or perhaps hope, that we the public can not understand the reality.

And because, I personally suspect, they prefer to retain the power of the knowledge in their own hands, rather than share it with the people.

And the men say: “It’s all about power.” And the women believe them.

No — it is not all about power. 091028TGTB_dsc4856s.

It is all about balance.