A place to share small bits of thoughts and observations
Saturday, May 20, 2017
Why living things came to be
One question I had for a long time that has seemed very bizarre to me, was about the relationship of the phenomenon of life, to existence (the existence of the universe, of everything in it).
On one hand it seems like Life (and specifically consciousness) is a fundamental "force" of nature, and yet the existence of life this evolved seems optional in a way, something that emerged completely randomly, that could either exist or not exist and the universe would continue as usual.
So I asked myself is there is a fundamental force or principle about existence that eventually forces life to be created, when given enough time. And actually I think that yes, there is such a principle.
See we think of the theory of evolution as something that explains why some life forms evolve from others, and why some perish and other persist, but actually I think it also explains why life exists to begin with and why it came into being.
So here are my thoughts..: The basic alternative in the universe is existence or no-existence. Things that exist have a certain identity. (So much I know from Objectivism). But then here is the kicker: Things that are able to keep their identity and keep their existence going will exist, and things that cannot do so will disintegrate (change identity) and cease to exist (their previous identity will cease to exist).
LIFE is something that has the power to maintain its identity through time and in face of different forces through replication. Therefore, unlike many other things in the universe it has the capacity to continue to exist as a certain identity.
In this way, it is no different than a mountain that continues to exist through various forces and weather conditions. Only the mountain has no internal mechanism to maintain its identity; genes DO.
And so... the existence of life is very much a fundamental force in existence, because it is the thing that *exists* more than anything else. It continues to exist as a specific identity more than anything else.
And see, it is so incredibly elusive, why something like this should happen, but if you go back to the most fundamental duality of all - existence or lack of existence, you realize that under that fundamental alternative, the things that ultimately remain in existence are those who are best at surviving as a thing with a specific identity. And that provides the "force" for why life evolves and continues to evolve into something more and more efficient in terms of surviving.
Starting from just self replicating RNA strands into single cells into simple organisms, into animals with consciousness, into animals that have a self regulating consciousness (a distinction Harry Binswanger identifies).
Our self regulating consciousness (human consciousness) is the most efficient so far at surviving (as humans).
So, in that way, we are perhaps the thing that exists "the most", we are the best thing in existence because creatures like us continue to exist while mountains and seas disintegrate.
Consciousness is then an inevitable creation, and not random at all. It is a logical consequence of existence, as a tool that serves the existence of a specific identity.
It's still very difficult for me to really comprehend this, and I'm still not sure this is not all a pile of baloney, but boy, what an interesting idea this is.
Added after discussion:
You gotta ask yourself what is the reason behind evolution. Why is there a very specific direction to evolution?
It's not something to take for granted, that a chemical or a bunch of chemicals would form continually more and more complex structures. I think it's because, once something is formed with the ability to survive as a specific identity, as opposed to not surviving or losing its identity, then statistically, that is the thing that will exist over time.
And since the universe has infinite time, it's just a question of time until a cluster of molecules will form that has an internal mechanism for survival as a specific identity.
Because, everything else that is not capable of keeping its identity dissipates.
I think it's incredibly tricky. I've been thinking about it for a long time, and still can't get myself to feel that it is 100% correct. But I think logically, there is a valid point here that also explains WHY we have evolution.
Otherwise, why would something as crazy as evolution even happen, or why would it have such a specific direction?
Easier to think of life initially not as "life" but as just a cluster of molecules. Statistically speaking, if you put two types of molecules side by side, one with the ability to adapt survive and maintain its identity and the other without that ability (or that ability to a limited capacity, the way a rock keeps its structure by the atomic and molecular forces that keep it from falling apart, until lava erupts or an earthquake breaks the rock), well life is a type of molecule that can continue to exist in face of different forces.
Statistically, it will stick around while the rock loses its identity.
And then lastly, what better way for something to survive than to have knowledge of its environment? That's why there is consciousness. Consciousness allows for better adaptation.
A self regulating consciousness is even better.
So really when you think of it, consciousness is something to be expected.
There is no ambition. That's the tricky thing that is so hard to grasp, in my opinion. The transition of thinking of the world as something that has values, a mind and a purpose, to somethign that simply IS. How can something that simply exists, without preference or purpose one way or the other come to be the home of such purposeful creatures such as ourselves?
Making the switch to thinking of life as something that happens simply because it is more probable to happen is difficult because our mind doesn't normally function this way. Now what do I mean? It really takes thinking about it in an entirely different way. Don't think of "life" as having the property of evolution. Like a weird type of material that has "ambition". No no.
This of it this way... If you have a bucket, and in the bucket you have lots of different materials/ molecules. You put this bucket in your lab and constantly apply different forces to it. Different materials in your bucket will be affected by those forces differently. When you open the bucket to look inside after a while, you see that some of the original materials changed form as a result of those forces, and some maintained their previous identity, because those forces did not influence them (they were "resistant" to those forces). You open the bucket later, and you notice another molecule that through a certain chain reaction replicates itself (causes other molecules in its vacinity to create an identical one). Now, every time you open your bucket to look, this molecule will be there and might even grow in numbers, because it creates more copies of itself. (To be continued in the next post)
Why is this thing likely to happen? Well, because, so long as your system goes through sufficient change (so long as there is energy input, and the same forces are acting on it through time), only those materials that can adapt, or withstand, or move out of the way, or not be taken apart/ changed by those forces will be in your bucket. It's not that the bucket wants these materials to be there; The bucket couldn't give a damn. It's just that, those molecules that change form as a result of the forces, well, they change form, meaning, they're no longer in your bucket. And those molecules that don't change form, OR replicate, or are somehow able to dodge those forces and maintain their identity, they will, well, maintain their identity.
And so what ends up happening, is that every time you open your bucket to look at what's there, those pesky persistent self replicating molecules will be there. Not because the bucket wants them to be there, but just because they "survive".
There is nothing that makes "survival" "good", except that, that which does not survive is no longer there. And that which DOES survive, is. And so over many many many years, the things that will remain in the bucket are simply those who "survive" with a certain identity.Nothing "wants" them to survive, they just do because they happen to be a stable "solution" to the challenge of those local forces in that system.
In this way, mountains are also a stable "solution" to the local forces in our system. However life has the property of greater adaptability. In other words we have one hell of a strategy to "keep existing in the bucket".
If a system has no energy input or no internal forces, or in other words, if a system has no CHANGE, then life cannot form there. For the same reason that evolution would stop or slow down if the living conditions remained identical through time (I think! not 100% sure).
Species evolve when the conditions change. On islands where a species was isolated for a long time, you tend to not see much evolvement (if I'm not mistaken). Because that system becomes very stable and stagnant, until something else emerges that can survive better. Then that species has competition and they need to evolve in order to compete with the new "intruder".
But then we have to switch back to the realistic way of thinking about it, which is not through "someone needs to compete", but rather, those who can't maintain their identity in the new environment will cease to exist. To the "universe", that is a neutral occurrence. Things just are.
But to sum it all up, my point is that, the emergence of life from inanimate matter is inevitable, because life is, I think, the ultimate solution to the challenge of "staying in the bucket". And if you have infinite time, eventually something with this "strategy" for "survival" will emerge, and once it does it will evolve. It will evolve for the same reason it was formed to begin with, because over time those things without an ability to maintain a "non-fragile" form disappear.
I think this guarantees, that if you have another planet with similar conditions to earth, that life with the same or a similar DNA mechanism will evolve. Possibly, in other systems, there will be a different solution for a self replicating material, or an adaptable material. But with infinite time and sufficient change, only the things with the best survivability will remain.
You could say the universe applies a constant "pressure" on things to survive. Except, there is no pressure. It's simpler than that - things just act and react and just are... either as molecules or photons or cats.
But we can see how different "survival solutions" form when we look at all the different life forms. Each one best suited to its local environment. Fish are awesome at surviving in water for example.
In other parts of the universe you're going to have other conditions, but the same basic "pressure to survive".
Part 2, 5/2/2017
I was thinking of something interesting this morning and wrote it down. Very philosophical thoughts about life - why we exist, why we exist as we are, why do we have a lifespan? Why is that lifespan a certain number of years, as it is. Why not less or more?
So then, regarding why not *more* - That's like, one hell of an interesting question, but that's not what I thought of today. Today I thought of why not LESS. Why don't we just exist for 10 years, say, instead of 100?
I think I got myself a partial answer to this question. And ACTUALLY, the reason why we have a long lifespan is the same reason why species become more complex.
(Humans have a more sophisticated brain compared to all other animals)
In essence, since our environment is full of different forces and there is lots of change - A more complex structure has a better chance of being able to respond successfully to all these variations in the environment compared to something very simple. However, complexity takes TIME to build. Literally - it takes time to get created - ** that is why living organisms have a lifespan, and are more likely to exist than mere self replicating RNA strands.**
The resulting complexity that gets created develops better resistance/adaptability than a mere molecule, which fragilely depends on its micro environment staying the same.
It is not complexity per-se, but rather the accumulation of survival techniques. a replicating RNA strand has an awesome way to make sure that this type of entity remains in existence. But what about a self replicating RNA molecule that also has the ability to move toward the materials that are required for replication? Even better. What about one that can move, replicate, and also detect the right temperature the replication requires? Even more likely to survive than the first. Complexity works because it is a result of accumulation of survival techniques. We have a lifespan because the thing that ends up being created is more suitable to staying in existence (or making more of its type).
The same applies to a single organism. A tree starts out fragile, but as it accumulates more materials from the environment, it develops a tougher bark and deeper roots that prevent it from toppling over when there's a storm.
Our lifespan is dictated on one hand by how much time it takes to build that complexity. Because that complexity has better chance to survive.
a continuation to all the posts I was making about life (living things) and why living things came to be and why we are the way we are... Another thought I had (or realization), is that living things are like inanimate objects in a fundamental sense. "what what what?" I'll explain.
I'll start by shortly describing an article I read a couple of years ago. The article made the claim that living things are best at dispersing energy, and that we came to be as a result of our ability to interact with the energy input in the most efficient way. It was an attempt to explain how life came to be as a result of deterministic forces, similar to how a rock would fall down when it becomes sufficiently detached from a mountain.
I think that what the article described was true, but as part of a bigger picture. Also, another approach says that our existence is all about our genes - I don't think that's the whole picture either. We don't exist as proteins, we exist as full bodies.
When you examine our bodies, you discover that the development of our bodies (and other living things) depends heavily not on one force in our environment, but on nearly all the dominant forces in our environment. Our bodies, cells and our DNA is such that it is responsive to gravity, to sunlight, to the 24 hour light to dark cycle, to the amount of oxygen in the environment and other chemicals - to the presence of other living things, and so on.
Inanimate objects, their shape at any given moment, is ALSO a result of the various forces that acted on them and left their mark. Their shape is a record of the past. (of wind grinding down a layer, or a certain chemical deposit that was in the rain that year and so on). The same is true of living things, but in an additional way.
In one way, the superficial one, our shape is also determined by the effect of past forces. If something heavy falls on you it damages the tissue. But also, our genes carry the summary of the accumulative effect of all those recurring forces over nearly 4 billions years. The thing that makes living things fundamentally different is that we replicate. The replication is key to everything.
See because, if you ask yourself what is likely to be in existence, something that automatically replicates itself, or something that doesn't, you find that, by simple logic, living things exist because they are more likely to exist than something that does not replicate. The universe doesn't "care" what exists in it; it is simply the case that some things are more likely to be here than others. Something that is capable of replication given a certain environment is likely to remain in existence. OK now, the more suitable something is to the environment, or the more it replicates (or any balance of both), assures that this type of thing will continue to exist.
Now if the thing that replicates also has the capacity to adapt to the environment better, it will be even more likely to exist than just a simple molecule that replicates. Now how these molecular reactions came to be is a result of having virtually endless time for this coincidence to come about - and since there is enough energy and change in the environment to continue to allow new chemical reactions to happen, eventually something was formed that was more likely to stay.
So you start with a self replicating molecule, but then the molecule that replicates, but also has a molecular configuration that is a little better at electrically attracting molecules from the environment that are required for the replication will be even more likely to remain in existence than the first one. And since there is endless time for this to develop - over time you get a set of molecules that is highly adaptive to the environment (that's what we essentially are, a complex set of molecules that is highly adaptive).
Living things are complex because the array of forces acting on us is complex - we are as complex as the sum of the existing forces, *just like the shape of a mountain is complex because its shape is determined by an accumulation of hundreds of thousands of years of being affected by the environment*.