Elephant Ear with Tear
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Elephant Ear with Tear • Posted: Oct 28, 2007 16:53:50Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

The difference between what is alive and what is not is not well understood nor well defined. Self-organizing and self-replicating are two traits ascribed to living things, but those are relative terms. Descendants of sexually reproducing eukaryotes are certainly not identical replicants. And inorganic crystals, though self-organizing during precipitation from solution, are usually not described as living.

To be sure, a poet contemplating nature's handiwork will invariably comment with wonder at the intricate design of natural things. Colors coordinate, forms flow, patterns excite, motion has purpose, and rich aromas distinguish. Overwhelmingly harmonious complexity inspires homage to that which must have created such.

But reason and sense seem as much a function of what is inherent to nature as of how the mind perceives meaning from sensory inputs. A biologist viewing the same bit of nature might ponder the intricacies of photosynthesis, respiration, and ATP cycles, puzzle at the mysteries of cell differentiation, specialization, and homeostatic collaboration, or perhaps wonder at the biological nature of consciousness, culture, and instinct. Different concepts, different kinds of understanding, significantly different types of wonderment.

One might be tempted to ask if there is actually a significant difference between what lives and what does not, or if perhaps our thinking might be tripping over erroneous preconceptions.

There is. We just don't know what it is.

Saturday, July 14th, 2007