What, then, does it mean to be alive? or, for that matter, what does it mean to be dead?

Recently, I came across a 5 minute 56 second Youtube video called: What is life? Is death real?. Three sentences, in particular, intrigued me:

  • "Imagine driving a car at 100 km/h while constantly rebuilding every single part of it with stuff you collect from the street. That is what cells do. But no part of the cell is alive; everything is dead matter moved by the laws of the universe.”

How, I wonder, do brief statements having sufficient generality and validity to be deemed “a law of the universe” move matter in and through the universe? If, however. laws of the universe don’t move matter in and through the universe, what does?

I note that human distinctions between living things and dead things is common. And, although wikipedia, at Life tells me: “There is currently no consensus regarding the definition of life”, humans seem to have the desire and ability to make a distinction between living and dead stuff, and have come up with rules that govern the acceptable treatment of living and formerly living dead stuff. [I choose to characterize the different kinds of “stuff” as “living” or “non-living” and distinguish the non-living stuff into two kinds:: stuff that lived and then died, and stuff that has never lived.]

So, given living and non-living stuff, I note that mainstream scientists have composed a list of attributes that living things have in common, e.g.

  • Individual living things:
    • Have one or more cells;
    • Metabolize things, i.e. do things to and with other things;
    • Maintain homeostasis, i.e. regulate their internal environments;
    • Grow;
    • Reproduce;
    • Respond to external stimuli; and
    • Evolve.

Notes: Everything in the Cosmos is either living, non-living, debatable, or undetermined/undecidable. Crystals and mountains grow but are not living things. Some might say that glaciers also grow, but I think the jury’s still out on that claim.

The video that I linked to helps me understand why, IMO, some atheists reduce living things to objects/things like “stardust” or “puddles” or even “subsets of dimensionless points of mass”. [That’s not a criticism; it’s just an opinion based on limited observation.]


You tell us whats more to it, them.

I know who “You” refers to, i.e. me.
I don’t know who “us” refers to, and am not inclined to take instructions from folks I don’t know; especially instructions to tell the folks “whats more to it, them” when I’m not sure what “it” or “them” refer to.

Suture self

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There certainly is a lot of nothing buttery that goes on amongst many nons. It probably annoys me more than it does you. Everything is nothing but … something that underlies it. Except that it isn’t true. In the video he notes that everything inside the cell is dead. So if live things are made up of dead things then what we really are must be dead. Clearly wrong.

And there are those believers who live (or at least talk) as though the only thing that mattered was the life to come after death. Or who reduce what their relationship to what is greater to something as simple as being childlike.

I think it behooves us all not to reduce who or what we are to nothing but … anything.


Life is a self-organizing process in an interactive relationship with an environment which is simultaneously independent of the environment and sensitive to it. The living organism maintains a separate organization by selectively absorbing things from the environment to incorporate them into its own dynamic structure, but also grows, adapts, learns and develops in response to environmental changes. Thus the living organism does things for its own reasons in response to events in the environment, making choices in what it becomes among a number of possibilities.

The living process can end by failing in this delicate balancing act of both independence and sensitivity. Thus it dies when it either becomes either too independent (at the expense of sensitivity) or too sensitive (at the expense of independence) – i.e. dead both when it becomes unresponsive to the environment or when it becomes dominated by the environment. But life and death is not just an either or distinction but highly quantitative. The principle aim of growth, adaptation, learning, and development is to become both more sensitive and more independent. This is achieved through a great variety of means, though one of the more important means is that of hierarchical organization.

One thing to notice about this explanation is that there is no mention of the medium in which this process occurs and thus it can happen in a variety of mediums. The medium of biochemistry of the biological sciences is one possible medium but another medium might be that of information such as the neuro-linguistic information organized in the human mind.

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I’m reminded of one of the first classes at uni where the professor asked us to discuss what life is. We had a list containing multicellular organisms, bacteria, vira, prions etc. to discuss. I think we all had a feeling we would have the correct answer handed to us at some point. But university was really less education and more investigation compared to what we were used to. The point was that sometimes we use a word like “living being” while forgetting that it is not very well defined. The same thing comes up when discussing morals where “the right thing to do” is not at all clear.

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Its kind of like night and day. Its a fuzzy line between.

The old ideas about a vital force or breath of life dont work.

I think it will never be possible to define life.

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Also, I think I found out from watching WLC talk to Alex CosmicSkeptic that I’m a mereological nihilist, so for me our vague definitions is all that we have.

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I think just the opposite, that mathematical modelling of the process is not only possible but is something we will do in the near future. Why? Because I think we have most of pieces already.

“We shall see,” as inspector clouseau would say, " what we shall see".

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