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 stargazer1000
Joined: 1/16/2008
Msg: 1
A new definition for "life"Page 1 of 1    
I'm immediately cautious about anything too complicated, however, does seem to be some logic to it...

From http://www.space.com/searchforlife/life-new-defintion-am-100211.html


Biology is often called the study of life, yet in the history of the field, experts have never agreed on just what, exactly, life is.

Many attempts to classify life focus on a list of requirements, such as the ability to reproduce, to carry out metabolic reactions, to grow, to defend against injury, and others. Yet exceptions to each of those can be made for things that are generally accepted to be alive. For example, mules and worker bees cannot reproduce, but surely they are alive. And bacteria, when frozen, are completely inactive but still are alive.

Biologist Gerard Jagers op Akkerhuis of Wageningen University in the Netherlands has come up with a novel solution that does not ask life to meet a long list of abilities.

"People have focused on facultative properties like breathing or moving, and then say if we combine a few of those properties we are close to having defined life, but there are always exceptions," Jagers op Akkerhuis said. "What [my idea] does is it turns the whole thing completely upside down. I focus on the minimal absolutely necessary properties and I don't care about any facultative properties."

Instead, he defines life in terms of a concept he calls an operator. This name was introduced to relate to both physical particles (atoms and molecules) and organisms. The operators are entities that, as the result of specific self-organization processes, stand out from the surrounding environment. All living things, like humans and hummingbirds, as well as some non-living things, such as atoms and molecules, would be operators.

To qualify as life, Jagers op Akkerhuis requires an operator to be equally or more complex than a cell.

"From the level of the cellular operator and up, everything is a living operator, is life," Jagers op Akkerhuis said. "I define life by means of operators. And I have the operators ranked by their level of complexity."

Complexity, in this formulation, can be measured by levels of "closure" — a kind of circle pattern that connects the beginning and end of a process or structure. "You have functional closure, in which the products of a process fall into the set of the ingredients," Jagers op Akkerhuis said. "Then there is structural closure, which results in a spatially closed entity."

For example, in a cell, the, membrane is the structural closure. Its functional closure, Jagers op Akkerhuis said, is the set of so-called autocatalytic enzymes, which are chemicals that react in a self-perpetuating cycle. The end-product of the reaction is also what drives the reaction (the catalyst).

Using these concepts, the theory builds up a strict hierarchy of operators by increasing the levels of closure step by step. To create the ranking, Jagers op Akkerhuis focuses on an idea called "first-next possible closure," so every next level operator in the hierarchy has exactly one additional level of closure.

In the case of a human being, the functional closure is the brain's network of interacting neurons (cycles of cycles leading to a "hypercyclic neural network," Jagers op Akkerhuis said). But a brain without sensors to interact with the physical world is useless. Therefore a structural closure co-evolved, in the form of an interface of sensors, both for perceiving the world (e.g. smell, sight, taste, sensory perception, etc.) and for being active in the world (the motor neurons directing muscle activity). These closures, on top of the closure of multicellularity, define a new level of life.

If all this is a little heady, the scientist says he understands the idea is complex and may take some getting used to.

"I think the operator hierarchy offers a very fundamental, new way of defining life. It may, however, require some time before other people start recognizing its value," Jagers op Akkerhuis told Roelof Kleis for the Wageningen University journal.

One scientist, Rob Hengeveld of the Dutch Vrije Universiteit, took issue with the definition in an essay published in the proceedings of the First International Conference on the Evolution and Development of the Universe in October 2008.

"This theory and definition will confuse our biological issues even more by their circularity of reasoning," he wrote. "Recognizing something as living depends on criteria derived from known, recent living systems; a bean is a bean because it is bean shaped."

But Jagers op Akkerhuis said this is a common misconception.

The construction of the operator hierarchy is recursive in the sense that every operator depends on its preceding level operator, but this hierarchical architecture precludes circularity of reasoning, he said. Plus, the operator theory includes both living and non-living operators.

Another common misconception, Jagers op Akkerhuis said, is the idea that in order to define life it's enough to understand the origin of life. "This is a problematic trend, because the first cell lacks many properties that define life at higher levels in the operator hierarchy," he said.

One benefit of his theory, Jagers op Akkerhuis said, is that it allows easy elimination of many red herrings, such as flames and computer viruses, which have proved to be pesky possible qualifiers in other definitions of life.

But these things cannot be life under the operator hierarchy simply because they are not operators, Jagers op Akkerhuis said — the interactions of their parts do not create the required first-next possible closure.
 andso.itgoes
Joined: 11/1/2009
Msg: 2
A new definition for life
Posted: 2/12/2010 6:20:06 AM
So is my car an operator? My refrigerator?My computer? Despite any anthropomorphic qualities I may assign them on a lonely Friday night, I doubt they are alive.
 JustDukky
Joined: 7/8/2004
Msg: 3
A new definition for life
Posted: 2/12/2010 8:06:39 AM

Despite any anthropomorphic qualities I may assign them on a lonely Friday night, I doubt they are alive.

In the old days, if someone stopped breathing they were deemed dead (some people were even buried alive because they didn't fog a mirror held to the nose). Does a lack of breath mean a man isn't alive? It's OK to doubt, but how can you say with conviction that a machine can't be sentient, and therefore "alive" by some definitions?...You can't. If you "kill" something because you didn't think it was alive, you haven't broken the law, but in the absence of certainty of your believe, can you really free yourself from the moral question of whether or not you have killed something unjustly?
 stargazer1000
Joined: 1/16/2008
Msg: 4
A new definition for life
Posted: 2/12/2010 8:22:02 AM
I think we're missing the point...in his scale of what constitutes "life," the minimum unit is the cell which is identifiably life. From the cells in your skin to basic bacteria. So while atoms are elements of life, and everything else, they are not 'life.' However, it would seem to leave out viruses and phages and yet they have characteristics of life.

So certainly not the last word, by any means.
 andso.itgoes
Joined: 11/1/2009
Msg: 5
A new definition for life
Posted: 2/12/2010 8:39:41 AM
I am unclear on your definition of operator. Give me examples of things that are not alive then.
 JustDukky
Joined: 7/8/2004
Msg: 6
A new definition for life
Posted: 2/12/2010 8:46:32 AM
@ gazer

the minimum unit is the cell which is identifiably life.

I'm arguing a principle of functional equivalence. If a rubber ducky is functionally equivalent to a duck, can we really say it isn't because a rubber dukky isn't organized by some definition employing hierarchal structure, like cells?

A 2x3 two dimensional matrix can be functionally represented by a linear one-dimensional array of 1x6. It is correct to say it is no longer a 2x3 matrix, but if it is functionally equivalent, what's the difference? So life need not be defined as a hierarchy of operators, but only as the functional equivalent of such a hierarchy...Kapish?

Once that is understood, we can construct inorganic, functionally equivalent "beings" by replacing cells with their inorganic functional equivalents. If such a "being" is constructed based on a sentient model (like a human being), how is that being not the functional (and feeling) equivalent of a human being? I submit that it is in fact the equivalent of a human being in terms of sentience, thought, moral agency, etc., and therefore ought be accorded the same rights accorded biological beings, like people. We have just constructed the machine equivalent of a man (an android?)

Getting back to the principle of functional equivalence can we prove that the android MUST be constructed based on hierarchal building blocks, or is it possible to construct it using the principle of functional equivalence (replacing the interacting "cells" of the brain with functionally equivalent software, for instance) I suggest that this is in fact possible and therefore the definition of life need not be based on a hierarchy of operators, as he suggests in his new definition.
 stargazer1000
Joined: 1/16/2008
Msg: 7
A new definition for life
Posted: 2/12/2010 8:58:20 AM

I am unclear on your definition of operator. Give me examples of things that are not alive then.


Well, first of all, it's not MY definition. I just posted it as an interesting viewpoint and an attempt to answer a signficant question. However, from what I read, Akkerhuis seems to set the MINIMUM unit of "life" as the cell.


"From the level of the cellular operator and up, everything is a living operator, is life," Jagers op Akkerhuis said. "I define life by means of operators. And I have the operators ranked by their level of complexity."


So the cell is life because its level of complexity is sufficiently complex that it can be considered life. Although some things have seemingly similar levels of complexity, they are not "life" in that they do not have a structure based on the cell.

At least, that's my interpretation of what he's trying to say. And it's far from the last word.
 stargazer1000
Joined: 1/16/2008
Msg: 8
A new definition for life
Posted: 2/12/2010 9:01:20 AM

Once that is understood, we can construct inorganic, functionally equivalent "beings" by replacing cells with their inorganic functional equivalents. If such a "being" is constructed based on a sentient model (like a human being), how is that being not the functional (and feeling) equivalent of a human being? I submit that it is in fact the equivalent of a human being in terms of sentience, thought, moral agency, etc., and therefore ought be accorded the same rights accorded biological beings, like people. We have just constructed the machine equivalent of a man


An interesting point. If we ever reach the point of creating a conscious machine, what does that mean for the rights and status of sentient "non-life?"
 JustDukky
Joined: 7/8/2004
Msg: 9
A new definition for life
Posted: 2/12/2010 9:19:35 AM
If we ever reach the point of creating a conscious machine, what does that mean for the rights and status of sentient "non-life?"

My point exactly. How do we know we haven't already done so and only consider it "non-life" because it is a machine? Are we that full of hubris as a species) that we decide arbitrarily that something isn't alive or sentient because we simply say so, without having any real knowledge of that machine's "perception" or "experience"? who are we to say something isn't alive when we can't even universally define what IS?

How do we know we aren't just software ourselves, living in a virtual reality created by software? How do we know we aren't just "living" in some nth level of "nested" virtual realities?
 TheDownwardSpiral
Joined: 1/24/2010
Msg: 10
A new definition for life
Posted: 2/12/2010 12:13:01 PM
THE BARBIE DOLL THEORY!!!! They are us and we are them!! My cousin and I came up with that like... 10 years ago, high as kites!! The basis is we are designed by a higher life source to act as they see fit. Everything is preordained and nothing in our reality is actually real. Kinda a strange thought. That our veins are like the wires, and our perception of reality is just the software ran through our CPU (the brain). If you have ever seen the movie Avatar, it would be kind of like US being the Avatar to these highly intelligent beings. (hence the Barbie-Dolls, since we were around the age of just stopping playing with our toys i.e. about 14...we were sheltered as youths :P ). It's kind of a weird thought, but in some strange sense, even to this day, I can't help but wonder if this thing we call "life" is just some weird experiment. I know I am not alone in that one. :) That, or perhaps I should have waited until later to experiment with narcotics. Either which way, it was a blast laughing about our little "epiphany". :) Food for thought. :)
 NothingLeftToBurn
Joined: 6/11/2007
Msg: 11
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A new definition for life
Posted: 2/13/2010 5:41:05 AM
I think we're missing the point...in his scale of what constitutes "life," the minimum unit is the cell which is identifiably life. From the cells in your skin to basic bacteria. So while atoms are elements of life, and everything else, they are not 'life.' However, it would seem to leave out viruses and phages and yet they have characteristics of life.

So certainly not the last word, by any means.


It seems logical to follow that atoms, the basic building blocks of life, are alive, because things like humans, which are made up of atoms, are alive. But then you get into stuff like rocks, which are also made up of atoms, and they don't appear to be alive.

And the thing that gets me is how do you get life from something that is seemingly dead like an atom? You can't get life from non-life. You just can't! If atoms are dead, trillions of atoms doesn't mean life, logically. I can think of three possible conclusions:

1. Atoms are dead, but we haven't discovered the mechanism that makes animals tic.
2. Atoms are alive. Therefore everything is alive.
3. We're all robots!

Muwhahahhaha
 exogenist
Joined: 6/10/2009
Msg: 12
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A new definition for life
Posted: 2/13/2010 9:57:07 AM

1. Atoms are dead, but we haven't discovered the mechanism that makes animals tic.
2. Atoms are alive. Therefore everything is alive.
3. We're all robots!


None of the above and all the above. Think of it like the sonic the hedgehog game where the real you is sitting behind a TV playing a game with a controller. Everything has the potential of sentient conscious life. Not everything has enough freedom to allow for something like that to happen.

I'm sure if life could, it would control the whole damn universe.
 NothingLeftToBurn
Joined: 6/11/2007
Msg: 13
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A new definition for life
Posted: 2/13/2010 10:32:35 AM
Ok, not everything has enough freedom to move freely in a three dimensional space and time, like us humans do. But....is everything consciously alive?

Because it seems to me that some people have a test for whether something if alive or not, and that is whether or not it can move freely, which is quite dumb obviously, because trees are alive- the tough question is are they conscious?
 monalee1
Joined: 10/22/2007
Msg: 14
A new definition for life
Posted: 2/14/2010 10:15:19 AM
hi.. being alive and having a soul is very different... a tree would be alive yet I doubt that it has consciousness>> not that I would care to argue it, it is just imho... I was yawning through most of the article because I found it silly beyond words, just saying that man complicates that which God Makes Simple... blessings
 exogenist
Joined: 6/10/2009
Msg: 15
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A new definition for life
Posted: 2/14/2010 10:41:41 AM
Its the type of consciousness. What use does a tree have to think like a human?

What I'm trying to get across is the movement from the very limiting view of consciousness associated with sentient intelligent life to a view that focuses on the fundamentals of consciousness and life.

Note that in the article one makes use of the cell as the fundamental unit. Also note the Monad by which Pythagoras and later Leibniz describes as the fundamental unit. Also note the calculus and the derivative...I hope a pattern in starting to emerge in the mind of the reader. What separates our definition of life may be the limit by which a complex system can adapt to and change the environment around it as associated with the information availble to it and its environment. A stone doesn't seem to be conscious because its structure/system is extremely limited in what it can do by itself.

Consciousness may be a fuzzy hierarchy rather than conscious or not conscious (much like energy levels and entropy. There's a very scary and interesting relation there.) I agree with the article in this sense for what we would define at a certain level of consciousness.

I highly recommend one reads the eternal golden braid as I think it explains it better than I can hope to understand.
 stargazer1000
Joined: 1/16/2008
Msg: 16
A new definition for life
Posted: 2/14/2010 11:05:50 AM

Consciousness may be a fuzzy hierarchy rather than conscious or not conscious (much like energy levels and entropy. There's a very scary and interesting relation there.) I agree with the article in this sense for what we would define at a certain level of consciousness.



However, the scientist in the article does not seek to define "consciousness" but the basic definition of "life." Consciousness is an entirely different question and only muddies the water.
 xlr8ingmargo
Joined: 7/28/2009
Msg: 17
A new definition for life
Posted: 2/14/2010 8:21:59 PM
Ohmmm...
I am having those kind of thoughts again...
A different level of what?
Come on guys life is what we make it.
Must you explain everything in the universe with math and science?
If I applied that to sex I'd never get laid.
Maybe thats why I do~
 fissionfusion
Joined: 8/30/2009
Msg: 18
A new definition for life
Posted: 2/14/2010 8:41:55 PM
Life is just another term, imo, for a government. I ruthlessly govern over the millions of little cells, which make up my body. When they start to die, I brush them off (bye bye dandruff). When they start to get weak, I kill them so I can bring in new ones.

Life*, is very weird.
 exogenist
Joined: 6/10/2009
Msg: 19
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A new definition for life
Posted: 2/16/2010 12:02:00 AM

However, the scientist in the article does not seek to define "consciousness" but the basic definition of "life." Consciousness is an entirely different question and only muddies the water.


I agree. I said different levels of consciousness. The article says:

I define life by means of operators. And I have the operators ranked by their level of complexity.

So let me correct myself and say that the fuzzy hierarchy deals with operators ranked by their level of complexity.

Given that a human being consists of more than one cell I have missed your point much like the tree

I like what the article says:

Complexity, in this formulation, can be measured by levels of "closure" — a kind of circle pattern that connects the beginning and end of a process or structure. "You have functional closure, in which the products of a process fall into the set of the ingredients," Jagers op Akkerhuis said. "Then there is structural closure, which results in a spatially closed entity."


Humans maybe made up of many different cells but my point is the level of total system complexity as compared with that of a tree, or stone.
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