What Is Life?
August 30, 2009
I found this very interesting article the other day that discusses the underlying ideal behind the very definition, OUR own definition, of Life. As any avid reader of mine by now will know, I’ve covered quite a bit concerning how most of what we take for granted came about. However, there is a big gap in the actually workings behind how Life exactly came about.
And there is good reason for this omittance. The main reason being that… While it is somewhat obvious how the substance from which cells are built might have generally came about i.e. the natural laws of physical chemistry being what they are, thereby sanctioning the formation of organic molecules near stars in nebula as well as in seemingly hostile atmospheric conditions (like RNA bases and protiens)… Plus the way lipid molecules readily form vesicles in polar solvents… The question of how they came to work together, in whatever monumental mountain of chance that “won” through the odds of all the non-functional prototypes, to produce Life as we know it, that ran rife and became the stromatolites. Well… We’re still are aghast as to what the actual definition of Life IS.
So rather than pondering deeply over this, presenting a myriad of possibilities to the reader, most of which might only serve to confuse my own vague understanding of how this “great” celestial event might actually have come about… OR perhaps exclude many pertinent issues concerning currently debated theories (mainly due to my limited reading on the subject) of what actually constitutes Life…
I’d instead like to present this germane article, writen by an expert in the field, which ‘ever-so-delicately’ skates around self-rightous cocksured presumption by precluding any arrogance from a self-pronounced, all emcompassing “universal” definition of what Life should be and/or actually is… And beautifully tackles the multifaceted view of Life from many of the varied perceptive stances the world over. For its egalitarian content eloquently covers this great topic in a way that science alone could not ever hope to: throught an equimonious flow of philosophical adage… Adage that I would hope appeals to all current, sensible and ‘open’ scientific minds alike, without tangling one’s mind in sophomoric pretentions.
Writen by Robert Hazen for New Scientist, it clarifies as best as we might currently hope for, one of the deepest and greatest challenges faced by science today – to understand where Life, as we know it, came from and how it might have come about.
No human discovery could have more profound ramifications than finding what’s known in the business as a “second genesis” – an origin of life independent of that on Earth. With our present sample of one known living world, the possibility remains that Earth is unique and that we are utterly alone in the universe. But if we find a second genesis in our own cosmic backyard, then we will know that life is a universal imperative. The unproven conviction that the cosmos teems with life drives many of us in the nascent discipline of astrobiology – a field that one wit described as “the only science without a subject matter”.
Earthbound biologists are exceptionally good at finding life. A single cell, a snippet of DNA, even an idiosyncratic collection of carbon-based molecules can point unambiguously to the presence of living beings, but those are signs of Earth life. What if life elsewhere is different, based on an exotic alien anatomy and biochemistry? Unlike Justice Potter Stewart, who in his 1964 Supreme Court ruling on obscenity boasted some proficiency at recognising pornography, “I know it when I see it”, I think the chances are good that we won’t know alien life when we see it. So what exactly is life, and how can we detect it?
About Robert Hazen:
In his laboratory, Robinson Professor Robert Hazen pursues the question of how complexity arose during the genesis of life, but the term “emergent complexity” seems to apply equally well in describing his own multifaceted career.
With a wide span of academic interests, publication of 12 books, as well as numerous popular science articles and a side career as a professional musician, Hazen’s curriculum vitae is unique not just in its length, but in its diversity.
His resume, which starts at “Scientific Research and Education,” takes on a new tone at “Professional Experience — Symphonic Trumpeter.” It becomes more colorful with each additional heading, from “Popular Writing in History and Science” (e.g., Newsweek and Scientific American) to “Selected Television Appearances” (e.g., “The Today Show,” “NOVA” and “Nightwatch”).
“Bob has a very complex life,” says fellow Robinson Professor James Trefil, with whom Hazen has written two books. “He basically has five full-time jobs.”
To find out more about Robert and his work, please click here.