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View Diary: Have you ever seen another moon in an alien sky? (155 comments)

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  •  How does "single system" = living organism? (4+ / 0-)
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    ozsea1, duhban, pvasileff, side pocket

    By definition anything that is causally linked is part of the same system, and science holds that definition to encompass the entire universe just by axiom / Occam's Razor.  Once we have a quantitative thermodynamic definition of life, we'll be able to empirically test its existence everywhere, but just saying that balances occur in nature is utterly meaningless, and limiting the scope to a single planet is utterly arbitrary and unjustifiable.

    You would either have to hold that not only is the entire universe a living organism - again, a scientifically meaningless supposition since it adds nothing to objective understanding (the causal how of what happens, not what moral quality we choose to give it) - but that every possible combination of every sub-system of the universe is likewise alive, which is an equally meaningless claim to make.  I don't disagree on a philosophical level, but the position has absolutely no objective value and cannot yield any information.  Yet.

    I suspect that once we do have a quantitative definition of life we'll find it in a lot of surprising places, in phenomena that our intuition would never identify as being alive, but there will be huge gaps between those places both in space and in terms of how long a time the definitive processes take place over.  However, the attempt to ascribe "will" or corrective purpose to changes in systemic balance is not even philosophical, but sheer religious fallacy - there is no basis whatsoever to claim that planetwide adaptive feedbacks exist or have even had time to evolve beyond the straightforward physical consequences of a species causing radical environmental changes.  

    If we hamper our own survival, then it's just that - we hamper our own survival, it's not some magical or gestalten life force punishing us or responding to rid itself of us.  If you jump off a cliff, there's no divine conspiracy to kill you - kinetic energy accumulates and is then released asymmetrically as flesh encounters obstructions harder than itself.  And really, we haven't even proven that what we already describe as life is anything special, or likewise just the illusion of complexity arising from large numbers of simple occurrences as perceived by organs existing as a result of those occurrences.  

    You can't use a computer to compute itself or something similarly complex, let alone something more complex, so at some point there's just a fudge factor - a simplification that allows for the process not to bog down in calculations beyond its raw capacity.  That's where magical thinking enters human consciousness, and it's not a reflection of anything real.

    Everything there is to know about the GOP: They're the Bad Guys.

    by Troubadour on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 10:34:01 AM PDT

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    •  here's a definition of life for you: (0+ / 0-)

      Self-replicating energy converters, that process and propagate information, and that are subject to natural selection.  

      "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

      by G2geek on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 09:17:33 PM PDT

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      •  Fire is self-replicating and converts energy (0+ / 0-)

        and everything in the universe "processes" and "propagates" information and is subject to natural selection based on its relationship to the environment.  Fire propagates faster where there is more and better fuel, invades individual objects along paths best suited to subsequent propagation much like an infection, and clears ground for new growth to fuel subsequent fire.  

        At this point in our understanding, the only definitions of life are either totally subjective or else so broad that they describe everything in the universe.  And really, some of the things you're defining life as being don't actually apply to it - nothing is fully "self" propagating: Energy and materials from the environment have to come into play, and who's to say where the line is to be drawn between a straightforward non-living process and one that is information-dense enough to be considered alive?  It's totally arbitrary.

        Everything there is to know about the GOP: They're the Bad Guys.

        by Troubadour on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 09:22:03 AM PDT

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    •  straw-men produce goo: (0+ / 0-)

      The statement that "Earth is a living organism" and its derivations such as "the universe is a living organism," are mis-statements, straw men, and over-generalizations to the point of mush.  

      The hypothesis  is more accurately stated as "Earth's ecosystems exhibit behaviors that are characteristic of a single organism."  The transition from that to "the universe's ecosystems" first requires another step that you and others have omitted:  ascertaining whether in fact there are "ecological" interactions in the universe at-large, specifically the transmission of organisms between planets and star systems (e.g. transpermia, including human colonization since after all humans are organisms).  

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      The assumption that one has to extend an ecological hypothesis into the cosmos at-large, and until such time as that's been done it has to be considered untestable, is an exercise in setting a goal that is for now unachievable as a way of putting off a conclusion that is a-priori uncomfortable.

      As a matter of fact I do consider that Earth is only one ecological niche, and that if any form of transpermia is correct (including human colonization of other planets in our star system, and in other star systems), then the universe at-large can be considered as at least comparable to an ecosystem but with very large time delays built-in.  

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      A purely thermodynamic definition of life will prove to be incomplete, as there is no thermodynamic penalty for semantic information among humans (any given ordered configuration of bits as compared to any other), and thus it's likely that there are ranges of configurations of ordered bits used by other organisms that are also orthogonal to thermodynamics.

      However, thermodynamics is only one axis of measurement; there are others (e.g. kinetics), and there will eventually be rigorous methods of objectively quantifying semantic information (the present approaches leave much to be desired) and its equivalents.  

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      "Ascribing 'will' (to ecological processes)" is another straw-man.  Nobody who is the slightest bit serious is doing that.  We're ascribing "emergent behavior" to ecosystems, which is a subtle but important distinction.  

      Once again, Lovelock's unfortunate choice of names produces an emotional bias against the hypothesis, per your language "sheer religious fallacy."  If you keep finding religion every time you turn over a stone in the garden, you're going to have to conclude that salamanders and toads and possibly ants also have religion, since they're under those stones too;-)

      Also you have the relationship backwards when it comes to us hampering our own survival.  If Gaia is correct, the ecosystems upon which we depend are far more resilient than if Gaia is not correct.  This because our impact on ecosystems will be offset somewhat by their own adaptations as each component organism and interaction seeks its own advantages and thereby promotes conditions favorable to itself.  

      So oddly enough, if Gaia is correct, we can "get away with" a greater degree of ecological impact than if Gaia is incorrect.  So far that seems to be the case.  But testing the hypothesis to its breaking point is like using live humans in automobile crash tests: an ethical limit rather than a strictly scientific one.

      "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

      by G2geek on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 09:49:53 PM PDT

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