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Amos Cunningham

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Life
« on: March 27, 2012, 04:13:50 PM »
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Hey bros and hos, I'm just looking for some peer review here, nothing fdr related just some good old philosophy. All criticism is welcome, I want to be right, not just seen to be right and I think I could often lay out my thoughts more clearly. But without further ado...

When a new life comes into existence it's potential which would otherwise be infinite is determined by the physical form into which it has sprung. The instant when it comes into being (or should that be becoming?) it is a blank slate but every second thereafter it's individuality begins to be etched on that slate by whatever physical form it inhabits and by forces external to said physical form as interpreted by it's senses and indirectly through non sensory influences that change it physical form; it's enviroment.
 Given the metaphysical axioms that one must accept if he is to make any asertion about reality- that of the existance of matter, energy, time and causality- you can't get something from nothing and so it must be the case that the potential for life (life-force if you will) is inherent in all matter and, I would speculate, in energy aswell (I think of matter and energy as different manifestations of the same thing as they can be converted from one to the other and back) and odviously as effected by time (if it is correct to talk about time in that way).
 I propose then that what we think of as life (biological) is merely the instance of the arangement of matter and energy that allows the "life force" to blossom and that learning which is such a foundational part of our makeup is the way that order springs from chaos within us, as order is so wont to do, or a drive toward complexity that is fundamental to existence.
"In your world we are all pony and we all shit rainbow" Vinciboy545 adressing Stefan Molyneux.

futile bread machine

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Re: Life
« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2012, 08:58:56 AM »
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I by and large agree with what you have written. Having said that I have a slight hesitance (if thats the right word) to some of the vocabulary that you have used: For example, potential in the way that you have described it doesnt exist in reality. It is a concept that is made up by human beings.

Also, I think that it would be useful to define what you mean by 'life'. The best definition for this and for that matter, the best arguments for what you have written about the drive towards order and complexity that I have seen are from Erwin Schrödinger's What is Life which should easily be available as a pdf I think.


Amos Cunningham

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Re: Life
« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2012, 03:56:13 PM »
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I by and large agree with what you have written. Having said that I have a slight hesitance (if thats the right word) to some of the vocabulary that you have used: For example, potential in the way that you have described it doesnt exist in reality. It is a concept that is made up by human beings.

Also, I think that it would be useful to define what you mean by 'life'. The best definition for this and for that matter, the best arguments for what you have written about the drive towards order and complexity that I have seen are from Erwin Schrödinger's What is Life which should easily be available as a pdf I think.

Cool, yeah I think your right about my wording there, I found that bit to be among the weaker parts of what I wrote, and reading back some of it seems out of context. I could have explained myself much better all round but the thoughts were still fairly fresh at the time and so; word vomit. I should take my time with these things. Thanks for the feedback and link I'll have to give that a read. As to what I mean by life, I had an answer but I need to go off and think about it a bit more. (Oh yeah! taking my own advice!)
"In your world we are all pony and we all shit rainbow" Vinciboy545 adressing Stefan Molyneux.

Amos Cunningham

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Re: Life
« Reply #4 on: April 24, 2012, 03:59:56 PM »
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...it is a blank slate...
How are instincts accounted for?
Instincts would be a atribute of the physical brain as opposed to the conciousness.
"In your world we are all pony and we all shit rainbow" Vinciboy545 adressing Stefan Molyneux.

0bject1ve

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Re: Life
« Reply #5 on: April 29, 2012, 07:44:33 AM »
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Relevant excerpt from Bill Gaede's 'Why God Doesn't Exist' ; Chapter 8 ; Section 4:
 
4.0 Why is the word life so difficult to define?
In 1952, Miller and Urey tested the possibility of life having started solely as a result of physical and chemical processes without the intervention of supernatural forces. 56 In a now classic experiment they circulated a mixture of hydrogen, methane, ammonia, and sterilized water past an electric discharge in an attempt to reproduce the conditions that scientists believe generated life on Earth some 3.5 billion years ago. The religious community would have probably expected a bug to crawl out of the flask, and privately smirked at Man’s clumsy attempt at playing God. Suffice to say that no bug crawled out. After a week, the experimenters merely created simple organic compounds and amino acids in the solution, nothing more than ‘a few molecules.’

For many believers, this failed experiment serves as evidence of our inability to match God’s life-giving powers. Therefore, one pertinent question is whether the experiment of these researchers failed or was successful. Did Miller and Urey create life? In order to answer these questions, we must first define what we mean by life. To this day, theorists are wrestling with this definition and with the interpretation of the Urey/Miller experiment.

4.1 The functional definition of life

Asked what he meant by life, Dyson replied:

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“ For the purposes of this discussion, life is defined as a material system that can acquire, store, process, and use information to organize its activities. In this broad view, the essence of life is information, but information is not synonymous with life. To be alive, a system must not only hold information but process and use it. It is the active use of information, and not the passive storage, that constitutes life.” 57

Not surprisingly, he ended up talking about mud pies and dust clouds:

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“ your memories and mental processes are down-loaded from your brain into a computer… If the computer is made of silicon, the transhuman condition is silicon-based life. Silicon-based life is a possible form for life in a cold universe to adopt… Another possible form of life is the Black Cloud… The Black Cloud lives in the vacuum of space and is composed of dust-grains instead of cells. It derives its energy from gravitation or starlight, and acquires chemical nutrients from the naturally occurring interstellar dust.” 57

This is yet another example of the surrealistic results obtained by relying on functional or operational definitions (Ch. 1, Sec. 6.2.2.1). The lamebrains who call themselves scientists always seek a definition that is ‘useful’ for the present purposes (i.e., ad hoc) rather than one that they can use consistently.

A more common ‘functional’ or ‘operational’ definition of life is related not to information, but to biological attributes:

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“ Properties common to the known organisms found on Earth… are that they are carbon-andwater- based, are cellular with complex organization, undergo metabolism, possess a capacity to grow, respond to stimuli, reproduce and, through natural selection, adapt in succeeding generations.” 58

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“ all free-living organisms are autonomous agents… an autonomous agent is something that can both reproduce itself and do at least one thermodynamic work cycle. It turns out that this is true of all free-living cells, excepting weird special cases.” 59

However, these function-related definitions have many exceptions among organisms biologists consider to be living, which reinforces that we cannot use functional or operational definitions in science.

Operational definitions lead to incongruous conclusions. For instance, some researchers may be tempted to believe that the dots in some games of life are alive simply because they are born, grow, and reproduce. 60 This would not be a problem until we have to differentiate between ‘real’ life (humans, trees, bacteria) and artificial dots. For that matter, we could also argue that rocks are living beings because they adhere to all these rules. Igneous rocks are ‘inseminated’ in the Earth’s upper mantle, where the heat and pressure slowly incubates them for millions of years. The magma cools and solidifies as the rock begins its ‘growing’ stage inside Gaia’s womb. The moment comes when tectonic plates slowly grind the rock to the Earth’s crust or the rock is spitted onto the surface in the form of volcanic lava or ash. Thus ‘born,’ surface rocks are subjected to erosion by wind and rain forming gravel, sand, and mud. Rocks, then, oxidize for eons by ‘breathing’ oxygen. Sedimentary and igneous rocks then either contribute to the landmass or are dragged back into Hades where they ‘die.’ Heat and pressure in subduction zones along tectonic plates create new metamorphic rocks, and volcanic upheavals push some rocks back to the surface, where the process starts all over again for most rocks. 61 An extraterrestrial, who didn’t know any better, would conclude that silicon-based life-forms on Earth move, grow, reproduce, oxidize, disintegrate, turn into new entities and are reborn over periods of millions of years while carbon-based organisms do so over much shorter intervals of time. Where, pray tell, do we draw the line on the definition of life? The bottom line is that there is yet no consensus on the word life in the scientific community.

In his definition of life, Pears attempts to draw a distinction between organism and being. 62 In his view, organism refers to the body whereas being refers to the ‘soul.’ When a baby is still in the embryo stage, it is ‘living’ in the sense of organism, but is this really what we understand by the term human being? Pears argues that by defining the word life so narrowly as to include only biological functions, we leave out ‘feeling’ and ‘experience’ and what it means to be human. A person who is in a coma may be said to be ‘living’, but what kind of life is that?

The answers to Pears’s concerns are simple. He can define the word life in any way he wants for the purposes of ordinary speech, but if he wants to have a scientific definition, he just has to make sure that he can use the word life consistently in his dissertation. Now, what ‘being’ does a bacteria or a tree have? Pears’ definition would restrict the word life to humans. If we accept his prescription, we would conclude that the only living entities on our planet are those of our own species!

Further inspection reveals that Pears has a political agenda in mind. His definition is carefully tailored to determine at what point a fetus becomes human – a legal (and idealistic) issue – and not a fundamental question of nature. His definition has nothing to do with science. It has solely to do with politics.

So? What then is the correct definition of the word life?

4.2 The definition of life

The first thing I should mention is that life is not a static concept. We need to see something moving to call it life. Therefore, following the prescription for definitions I proposed in Chapter 1, I will attempt to circumscribe and delimit the word life in such a way that it excludes inanimate matter. If we wish to use the word life consistently (i.e., scientifically), it must also be objective. The definition of life irrevocably invokes a process:

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“ Life is that perfection in a living being in virtue of which it is capable of self-movement or immanent action. Motion, thus understood includes, besides change of locality, all alterations in quality or quantity, and all transition from potentiality to actuality.” 63

This definition is not too far off. The problem is that the proponent gives lip service to it and misuses it in his dissertation:

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“ There are three grades of life essentially distinct: vegetative, sentient or animal, and intellectual or spiritual life” 63

How do we reconcile ‘self-movement’ with ‘intellectual’? What does one have to do with the other? Is the proponent saying that the mind itself moves like a turtle moves? It is the inconsistent use of definitions that leads to these ludicrous conclusions.

Let’s introduce the scientific definition of life with a thought experiment…



Thought Experiment: The definition of life

Given sufficient information, the mind can predict the motion of heavenly bodies, of rocks and minerals, and of atoms and molecules. Without a mind to ponder nature, the Universe is simply an automated pinball machine. Inanimate matter relies primarily on the force of gravity and on chemical bonding processes to move about. It does not need conscience. Meanwhile, somewhere in the middle of Heaven, the Watchmaker is bored, watching His perpetual and predictable mechanical time machine do its thing.

Suddenly, in a localized region in the nowhere of space, a strange kind of complex molecule randomly and spontaneously self-assembles. It all occurs in geological time, but what is time for a Watchmaker, especially for the one who created time itself? What is strange about this molecule is that it moves in a direction that cannot be explained by chemical or gravitational processes alone. This illegal motion is barely perceptible to the Glory of the Heavens; it is but an Angstrom in endless light-years of space. The Almighty’s curiosity is deeply aroused because He cannot predict the entity’s next move. He approaches with intense curiosity to study this macro-molecule up close.

Gravitation and chemical bonding predict that atoms, molecules, and celestial spheres will move according to the physical laws laid down by the Creator, but these complex molecules behave strangely indeed. They may go sideways or up when rules of chemical reactions and gravitation predict that they will move down. The Maker has somehow lost control over His carefully planned experiment.

But God is pleased! His Creation has unexpectedly acquired "free will": near magical, self-propelled, unpredictable motion.



Rocks are passive actors in the universe. Denied the ability to self-propel and entirely at the mercy of identifiable external forces, their motion is predictable. With life, on the other hand, a group of atoms for the first time develops unpredictable, anti-gravitational motion. The following are my proposals for increasing complexities of motion.

Predictable Level I motion is due solely to gravitational force.

Predictable Level II motion relies on atomic bonding, i.e., covalent, ionic, metallic, etc.

Predictable Level III motion relies on intermolecular bonding. This level of motion includes optical activity, Van der Waals forces, or any motion that arises as a result of the shape or configuration of a molecule.

Unpredictable Level IV motion is voluntary, self-propelled or proper motion independent of external forces or factors: motion willed by the brain. 

Life is that which has naturally developed self-propelled or proper (Level IV) motion, that is, motion not solely dependent on gravitational forces, chemical reactions or electrostatic or polarized charges. Life is voluntary, anti-gravitational motion. A more general way of putting it is that life is unpredictable motion. Death is the conversion of a cell back into a conglomeration of molecules.

Death is the end of a cell’s self-propulsion.

This definition of life is dynamic (as it is supposed to be), but not ‘functional’. A functional definition is merely a useful or ‘working’ definition, designed retroactively for the limited purposes at hand.

Pursuant to my definition, 2-D smileys that some ‘scientists’ nurture and observe reproduce on a screen are not alive. 64 At first impression, the dots seem to qualify as objects because they have shape. A closer look, however, reveals that what actually has shape is not the bright smiley, but rather the pixel, a tiny portion of the screen. A smiley does not have a surface and consequently no ability to displace genuine matter from the volume of space it allegedly occupies. A dot does not self-propel against gravity because it is not affected by gravity. Each dot is simply a bright spot on the screen, a light that turns on during raster scan. The reason pixels do not qualify as life is that they do not exist (i.e., they do not have location). The apparent motion of the dots is strictly an optical illusion.

It would seem that conscience underlies proper motion. You would think that an object cannot take a step against gravity unless it goes through a decision-making process. The reverse, however, is true: motion precedes conscience. A carnivorous plant does not lure an insect with its sticky flower nor do the plant's implacable leaves close in on the hapless victim following a cold, calculated reasoning process. It has developed this ability through trial and error. There is such a thing as a headless horseman: self-propelled motion does not necessitate of ‘conscience’! The muscles of a frog continue to twitch after the spinal cord has been severed. A sperm has a control center, but not a sophisticated brain, yet it moves upstream at incredible speeds.

So at what level of development did inanimate atoms acquire Level IV motion?

In 1952, Miller and Urey created Level III anti-gravitational motion. For the first time in a controlled experiment a man-made molecule (an amino acid) moved in a direction not entirely dependent on gravitational forces and chemical processes. Amino acids have, in addition, two extra degrees of freedom of movement. One is provided by electrostatic charges. Certain amino acid molecules have R groups that are either negatively or positively charged; thus, they repulse or attract oppositely charged molecules. Other amino acids exhibit polarization of ‘charges’. As a result of these charge displacements the molecules can bind electro-statically to negative or negatively polarized groups, specifically to the asymmetric water molecule. They do so by forming a hydrogen bond, which involves sharing of a hydrogen atom.

The amino acids that Miller and Urey ‘created’ are repeatable structures found in proteins, viruses, and DNA, all of which are essentially larger chains of carbon-based molecules. Viruses and DNA have the ability to replicate once they are inside a cell, but not until the cell do we see independent self-propulsion. For example, a virus does not self-propel outside the cell and must wait for the cell to approach. 65 It is inside the cell’s body where the virus thrives, multiplies, and becomes parasitic. DNA, proteins, and viruses are active molecules capable only of predictable Level I, II, and III motions. Consequently, they (and anything more basic) do not meet the definition of life. These abilities are mimicked just as well by their cousins – the crystals – which also grow, replicate and, hence, move as a result of external forces. 66 Think of viruses as carbon-based ‘crystals’.

The first entity to acquire unpredictable Level IV motion is the cell; the cell is the fundamental unit of life. Its internal compartments compete and cooperate with each other according to their type and degree of specialization. Membranes serve as filters. Cytoplasmic structures differentiate for specific cellular functions (such as muscles or nerves). And nuclei – which coincidentally consist of intertwined threads called the chromatin network – operate as information centers. Unicellular organisms – such as bacteria – are the first forms that can be said to have come alive because their motion is internally driven by constituent chains of specialized molecules. The cell is the first entity that has the complexity to move of its own free will against gravity. It is the cell’s higher degree of complexity that distinguishes it from inert carbon-based matter. Whether a cell has conscience or is just a mechanical device is a question I will leave for the religionists.

It would be unethical, however, to elude the questions the devil’s advocate is sure to throw at the definition. Is a self-propelled toy car run by batteries alive? How about the most perfect robot we can conceive? Is a magnet alive because it moves against gravity when it is attracted by another piece of metal? Is fire alive because it climbs upwards to the second floor?

The toy car, the robot, and the magnet have predictable motion, and both the car and the robot are artificial rather than natural. They have not developed mobility as a result of a long, natural process, but acquired it surreptitiously from the generous hand of man. Therefore, none of these qualifies under my definition of life. A robot will be alive the day it acquires free will, which will be the day that man genuinely creates life from scratch. Fire, for its part, is not a stand-alone entity. Fire is a process where an atom is oxidized. This inert atom is not what moves. What moves (from the perspective of an observer) is the oxidation of molecules.

Theorists have for years been investigating and attempting to create anti-gravity. We can now finally help them out. What they have been searching for all these years is called life. Life is unpredictable, anti-gravitational motion.

Amos Cunningham

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Re: Life
« Reply #6 on: May 03, 2012, 02:10:21 AM »
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@El Dude  Whoa, that's quite the reply! I'm not sure I agree with all of it but I'll need a while to properly respond. Welcome to the boards by the way.
"In your world we are all pony and we all shit rainbow" Vinciboy545 adressing Stefan Molyneux.

0bject1ve

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Re: Life
« Reply #7 on: May 03, 2012, 04:20:02 AM »
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Thanks!

I just thought it would be relevant. Science and philosophy is almost entirely about rigorous definitions.

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Re: Life
« Reply #8 on: May 03, 2012, 06:37:07 AM »
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...it is a blank slate...
How are instincts accounted for?
Instincts would be a atribute of the physical brain as opposed to the conciousness.

The problem I see with this statement is that you seem to be implying that consciousness is immaterial, giving it supernatural-type qualities. As a materialist, I see this view as unsupported.

But to address the original question, if we are to be strict about the meaning of "blank slate" then instincts cannot be a part of it. As soon as we acknowledge instincts, we no longer have a blank slate.

This is not to deny your point however, that every second we live, we are being affected by our environment, ala writing on a scroll. It's true, just not the whole story, but it's perhaps a bit pedantic of me to point this out because I doubt anyone really is strictly a determinist or behaviorist, anyway. xD

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its potential which would otherwise be infinite is determined by the physical form into which it has sprung

The problem I see with this, as well, is that you are separating the life from its living body, the mind from the matter, whereas I think only that which exists is physical. And it is the thing itself which is physical. I always say, "I am my body"; I don't see myself as limited by my body - that would be to mistakenly identify myself.

To suggest that there exists a "life force" as a sort of type of matter of its own means that it is possible to find a way to observe it. I'm not sure if you would agree?

El Dude's suggestion about what life is is interesting. I'm 50/50 on it myself.

I might propose that life is just a conceptual device. Empirically speaking, life is not much different from death, except in what it means to us collectively. But empirically, without regard to meaning, a man who has "died" can still be brought back to "life" on the hospital table before his body starts to decompose.

Realize that before we go looking for a concept called "life", it must to be observed in the universe. Concepts do not precede the universe. Existence precedes essence. You don't look at a puppy and go asking, "Is that life?" ("Does that fit into my category?") You start by asking, "That there. What is that?" and then try to classify it. Better yet, think of it like this: when exploring a territory, you don't start by drawing a map randomly and then trying to follow it. You explore the world and then you make a map of the world. The map does not replace the territory.

0bject1ve

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Re: Life
« Reply #9 on: May 03, 2012, 06:43:32 AM »
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Consciousness IS immaterial, because it is a concept.

Concepts don't exist by definition. A concept relates multiple objects (two or more).

For example, "justice" doesn't exist, "love" doesn't exist. These are concepts we use to relate and compare. Life is also a concept.

A brain exists, i.e. it is an object. What consciousness "means", physically speaking, is that it alludes to electrical signals flying around the brain.

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Re: Life
« Reply #10 on: May 03, 2012, 02:32:16 PM »
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Quote
What consciousness "means", physically speaking, is that it alludes to electrical signals flying around the brain.

Exactly.

To clarify, I don't think Amos was referring to consciousness, the concept. I think he was referring to consciousness, the thing:

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When a new life comes into existence it's potential which would otherwise be infinite is determined by the physical form into which it has sprung. The instant when it comes into being (or should that be becoming?) it is a blank slate
Quote
How are instincts accounted for?
Quote
Instincts would be a atribute of the physical brain as opposed to the conciousness.
« Last Edit: May 03, 2012, 02:46:12 PM by Black Swan »

Amos Cunningham

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Re: Life
« Reply #11 on: May 04, 2012, 04:03:34 AM »
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Quote
What consciousness "means", physically speaking, is that it alludes to electrical signals flying around the brain.

Exactly.

To clarify, I don't think Amos was referring to consciousness, the concept. I think he was referring to consciousness, the thing:

Quote
When a new life comes into existence it's potential which would otherwise be infinite is determined by the physical form into which it has sprung. The instant when it comes into being (or should that be becoming?) it is a blank slate
Quote
How are instincts accounted for?
Quote
Instincts would be a atribute of the physical brain as opposed to the conciousness.
The best metaphor I can think of atm to discribe how I think of it is this; the brain is like guitar strings and conciousness is the sound they make when they vibrate. It's not a perfect metaphor I don't think but it should do to illsustrate the point.
"In your world we are all pony and we all shit rainbow" Vinciboy545 adressing Stefan Molyneux.

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Re: Life
« Reply #12 on: May 04, 2012, 07:28:20 AM »
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It has (as usual) taken a few days to really understand your post, El Dude. Great food for thought. I think I'll state my definition of life before trying to make sense of Bill Geade's stuff fully: I think that life = Material/information capable of self replication and mutation in some form. This is what separates inanimate matter from the various living beings, while still being useful enough in the context of artificial intelligence that we might encounter in the future (ie, self replicating nanobots).

Having said that, I'm not sure to what extent just pointing out whats different between inanimate matter and living things is useful as a definition of life. Geade provides an interesting angle of looking at this.

As for consciousness, I think Daniel Dennett explains this wonderfully. From what I understand, consciousness is like a top ten bestseller list of thoughts inside our heads and something like what Amos, Blackie and El Dude were alluding to. The degree to which one can write books/thoughts is the degree to which someone is conscious. So the analogy would be something like: neural activity == ability to write. consciousness == bestseller list.

0bject1ve

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Re: Life
« Reply #13 on: May 04, 2012, 12:03:36 PM »
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Haha, it's OK I take a few days understanding my own posts sometimes... :D

0bject1ve

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Re: Life
« Reply #14 on: May 04, 2012, 01:27:27 PM »
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Quote
To clarify, I don't think Amos was referring to consciousness, the concept. I think he was referring to consciousness, the thing:


The thing is... (arf), it's NOT a thing! Can't be — but let me explain.

I can't hold "a" consciousness in my hand. Consciousness refers (alludes) to our general internal experience of whatever physical (chemical, electrical) process is going on inside that big squidgy object we call "brain" (mine is small and particularly squidgy; must be all those video games...).

So if we're being scientific and rigorous and not using colloquial/informal speech:

Object = 'thingy' = 'physical entity': that which has shape (architecture).

Concept: that without shape (architecture). (More specifically: 'that which relates two or more objects', but that's out of context for now.)

Exist: shape + location. (E.g. an icon 'object' on my LCD has shape, but hopefully doesn't exist! Because it has no true location, i.e. it's an optical trick; it's 2d – a surface. What exists are LCD atoms, atoms in our retina vibrating, etc.).

Test: a heart has shape, but love does not. We can hold a heart in our hand, but not love. These definitions become scientific because they can be used consistently and in context.

So yes, whatever the brain does (i.e. verb, alluding to motion) is a mechanical (physical) process for sure, 100%. We're not going to invoke shapeless spirits, super-strings, souls, angels...

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I think that life = Material/information [..]


Imagine a movie of physical objects moving around. That'll be our "theory" i.e. of how a brain "produces" what we experience as consciousness. The process (i.e. electrical fibres "lighting up", molecules vibrating, or whatever) doesn't exist, but the discrete objects in our theory do.

E.g. electricity, brain, molecule, atom. Etc.

We move our hypothesized objects to explain a mechanical process. This is important because otherwise we end up with circular reasoning or en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reification. This is what most of academia / the establishment does.

I use "consciousness" to refer specifically to human life, because we can use reason to form concepts. I use it pretty much synonymously with "will", "intention", "thought", "mind", etc.

Information isn't material, i.e. it ain't matter/stuff/things/objects — it's a concept; it has no physical shape. Do genes "pass on" information?! Instincts? No! It's just a metaphor the establishment uses.

What genes "pass on" is hopefully a physical object! At least if we want to explain the physical process and we're not only interested in inputs/outcomes aka pragmatism (i.e. research, technology). The unanswered scientific question is; what does this process look like? What is a gene, physically speaking? What gives rise to behavioural instinct — like a stupid spider building its beautiful, intricate web without any 'tuition' (arf)? And so on.

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[...] capable of self replication and mutation in some form. This is what separates inanimate matter from the various living beings, while still being useful enough in the context of artificial intelligence that we might encounter in the future


We must be objective (enough) to close all loopholes too, i.e. so we can use it consistently in a theory (rational explanation). Bill nicely summarizes the problem here:

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[...] function-related definitions have many exceptions among organisms biologists consider to be living, which reinforces that we cannot use functional or operational definitions in science. Operational definitions lead to incongruous conclusions. For instance, some researchers may be tempted to believe that the dots in some games of life are alive simply because they are born, grow, and reproduce. 60 This
would not be a problem until we have to differentiate between ‘real’ life (humans, trees, bacteria) and artificial dots. For that matter, we could also argue that rocks are living beings because they adhere to all these rules. Igneous rocks are ‘inseminated’ in the Earth’s upper mantle, where the heat and pressure slowly incubates them for millions of years. The magma cools and solidifies as the rock begins its ‘growing’ stage inside Gaia’s womb. The moment comes when tectonic plates slowly grind the rock to the Earth’s crust or the rock is spitted onto the surface in the form of volcanic lava or ash. Thus ‘born,’ surface rocks are subjected to erosion by wind and rain forming gravel, sand, and mud. Rocks, then, oxidize for eons by ‘breathing’ oxygen. Sedimentary and igneous rocks then either contribute to the landmass or are dragged back into Hades where they ‘die.’ Heat and pressure in subduction zones along tectonic plates create new metamorphic rocks, and volcanic upheavals push some rocks back to the surface, where the process starts all over again for most rocks. 61 An extraterrestrial, who didn’t know any better, would conclude that silicon-based life-forms on Earth move, grow, reproduce, oxidize, disintegrate, turn into new entities and are reborn over periods of millions of years while carbon-based organisms do so over much shorter intervals of time.


Sorry for the Wall of Text!
« Last Edit: May 04, 2012, 01:33:28 PM by El Dude »