AN INTRODUCTION TO LIFE
By Roland Watson
"And in my mind as I was floating, far above the clouds,
some children laughed I'd fall for certain, for thinking that I'd live forever."
Muzzle, by the Smashing Pumpkins.
We are now approaching the end of the University of Life. If you made it this far, I believe I can assume - one - that you have a great desire to learn; two - that the website has some merit; and three - that you are not afraid of philosophy. This is because the subject of form is the subject of philosophy.
At this point, we have been through a lot of it. We have covered: what we can know, or only believe, including whether there is good reason to or not, which is the philosophical field of epistemology; of how we behave - or the field of ethics; how we organize into groups, which is social theory and economic and political philosophy; and even a bit of the nature of existence and the universe, which is the subject of metaphysics and, of course, science. To complete the review of form, then, I will close with a more detailed examination of the last.
In other words, what is going on, really!? What is life, and the universe? How are they related? And why do they, and you and I, exist?
A small warning: The remaining articles are some of the most complex and difficult of all. I will summarize, and then attempt to go beyond, the various fields that comprise theoretical physics; deep religion, including the core beliefs of Christianity and the religions of the East; and the study of consciousness and its evolution, including understanding the dream state. The articles may take a bit of work to get through, but I hope you will find that the reward for doing so is worth the effort.
What is life?
I'll start with life. Life, like death, is many things, including different things to different people. It has, seemingly, a physical reality; certain common behavioral characteristics; and also our own subjective interpretation of it. And, as a system, certain aspects of it are understandable from the inside, through being alive, but others - including the view of it as a totality - are not, simply because it is impossible to be both alive and not - to be beyond life - at the same time.
At the physical level life starts as a complex form of chemical organization, a molecule - or collection of molecules - a "macromolecule," and which has the ability to reproduce. Through this ability a new form of development begins, which includes such stages as growth and motion, and which we call evolution. But, the question is: how did the initial ability of reproduction begin, and, did some other step precede it? Is there such a thing as the "spark" of life, and if so, where did it come from? Is it a product of this universe, or somehow of another?
Life does not exist at all, at least as we consider it, at the sub-atomic and atomic levels. But, it somehow inhabits larger levels, molecular and beyond. But many molecular forms of matter are not alive. The question, then, is what extra factor occurs in those that are?
It would appear that life is something that is neither energy nor matter, but which somehow occupies and serves to energize matter. Said another way, life is energized, or animate, matter. Our normal interpretation of this is that life, as such, is separate and distinct from both. We are predisposed to view it as an insubstantial element, and it is this view that is the metaphysical origin of the idea of the soul. Indeed, I reinforced this view when I talked about a "life force." However, I would add that if it is a soul, every living thing has one, and also that there is no reason or evidence whatsoever to assume that it survives our death, including as a means for punishing us for our behavior in life.
But, assuming for the moment the existence of such a life force or spark, the question remains: where does it come from? Does it flow into this universe from another "life-source" universe - or unknown part of this universe? Indeed, maybe in some way you did ask to be born, and your droplet of life somehow fell into this universe. Or, did it merely begin. Is life a spontaneous singularity, a "special" type of chemical reaction?
To this I would say, first, is the question even relevant? Life simply is. A complete explanation of it is epistemologically precluded. However, I would add that while this issue is unknowable, and hence irresolvable, the latter view appears more consistent with the "conservation laws" of physics, and the related idea that the universe is "self-contained." Each life form is also its own universe: its own self-organization. All life is self-contained.
The other side of the question is: what is death? Is it simply life used up, or the migration of life back to its source, or elsewhere? At this point, it is worth recalling our expanded definition of life, which includes not only reproducing organisms, but also systems which can give birth to them: planets, and the universe. Given this, the end of life may be viewed as its inevitable, and ineffable, recombination with the universe: with universal life.
In the universe there is energy and matter, which Einstein proved are directly linked - precisely, that they are proportional to each other via the speed of light squared. What this means is that they are effectively varying forms of the same thing. But, if this is the case, if energy equals matter, then life, as energized matter, is also energized energy. But how is energy energized? Is there energy that also is matter, and another "super energy" which somehow affects them?
Life, the universe, everything, are merely different forms of energy, including, potentially, forms such as super energy, of which we have no understanding. Indeed, it may even be the case that space and time do not have separate realities. Rather, that they are necessary characteristics manifested by energy.
Under this scenario there would be no such thing as "void," or empty space. Also, this would explain why, while there are "quanta" of energy, there appears to be no such thing as a quantum of space, or of time, or space-time. In a sense there is nothing but energy, but it does have various forms and states, and it undergoes numerous processes.
We have also seen that in the universe life, animate life, is the rarest form of energy. And, of all life, self-conscious life is the rarest of all. However, to extend the above point further, if everything is energy, then everything, in a fundamental sense, is alive. At this level life is a function, or the predicate, of material existence. Therefore, atoms - the atoms in dirt and stones, in elements themselves - are alive, too. And, like ungerminated seeds, they are waiting to form part of an animate system. Furthermore, while they await their chance they are not static, either. Their sub-atomic particles interact continually. Even more, they are immortal. Although they may change through such interactions, they never die.
For behavior, we have seen that life is not only a firing mechanism that makes an organism alive; it is also one of the determinants of its actions. This, again, is the idea that life is will, not evolution or movement or even the ability to reproduce. Will precedes all of this. Life passes directly to will, and thence to thought, and courage, and action. Life is the will to think and the courage to act - including for others.
Life is the exertion of will in the interaction of the observer with the observed. At the quantum level, it is the collapse of the "waveform" of all possibilities to one reality. In effect, you choose which reality to bring into being. Life, in fact, is freedom, beginning with being free of the inanimate.
In addition, life appears to have a motive or underlying force, to be striving to some end. This is a final addition to survival, enjoyment, the conservation of energy, and the quest for maximum diversity. Up to now, the steps in this process have included its formation, reproduction, and evolution to self-consciousness, which is the stage at which reason, the most refined manifestation of will, begins to be exhibited. But, is this the end of the process? I think not, but to defer this subject for the moment, let's see what the determinists have to say, about what I have described so far.
Their view is that life has to want to live. It is programmed this way by its instincts, and such developments merely represent continuing refinements in its ability to survive. But to this I would say: where did the instincts come from, and is it not possible that they serve some other, deeper purpose? Moreover, is something which is completely predestined even alive? Life is the antithesis of determinism. It is energy - we are energy - and as energy it can do, it has the capability to do, anything. In addition, it has to be based on chance and probabilities. This is the only way for it to be free, to make choices of its own from among the many options that are available, and in consideration of their risks and rewards, including by making choices that involve great risks.
Is life good?
Another critical issue is: is life good? I described earlier how life is beautiful, which is an aspect of being good, but is this all there is to it? For instance, what is "good"? Is it an end, or a means, or both? And, how is it measured: by its beauty - or truth, or if it yields happiness, or justice?
Life - human life - is filled with moments that we perceive as good, and a few that are even unimaginably great: the moments in life that are most worth living for. It is difficult to argue against having these experiences, including using this as the basis for continuing to live, to get the chance to have more of them in the future.
Life is also regularly bad, even unspeakably bad, but it is worth noting that many if not most of these moments are of our own making. Hence, they are avoidable, or the chance outcomes of free choice, of risks willingly taken.
The other argument against life, of course, is death, but - first - it, your specific death, is unknown, and this could end up being good or bad both on the surface - its actual circumstances, and by way of its larger consequences, if any, meaning heaven or hell, or nothing at all. Secondly, it is unavoidable. You can meet it now, through suicide, or play out your choices and chances, both for the good and the great. Given the inevitability of death, the latter is the logical option.
Finally, if life is the rarest thing of all, then to be alive is the rarest opportunity. This is actually the clearest and most definitive response to what is known as existentialism, which is the view that in many ways life is absurd and full of despair. But, while this regularly is true, life's rarity is significant, perhaps the most significant thing of all. It is so precious, you should love every second of it. Perhaps love, of life, is the practical answer to the mystery of the universe.
Of course, to say that life is good, in general, is an important conclusion, but there is also the question of specifics. By this I mean that life - good or not - is what you make it. In other words, are you having a good life?
Does life have value?
A related question is: does life have value, and - by extension - what is the value of a human life? I might add, would a clone have less value? The fact that life is rare and beautiful, and good, would seem to imply that it does have value, but there are other arguments as well.
The paradox of life is that while it may be rare in the universe, it is not rare on earth at all, particularly human life. For example, if you were to kill all the people walking on one side of a busy city street, such as Fifth Avenue in New York City at 1 p.m. on a sunny spring day, would it make any difference? The answer is, certainly, to the people who didn't make it, but in a larger sense, no. It wouldn't matter who was there: the President, your mother, or even me. Anyone can be replaced. Perhaps we are in the insect phase of the human experience after all.
Then there is the famous statement: All is vanity. This is the idea that nothing lasts. No matter who you are, how important or powerful or wealthy you may be, it is all fleeting. At some point you will die, and in a few short years - three generations in your own family - no one will remember you at all. It will be as if you had never existed.
In my examination of life, I have tried to ask the hardest questions I can think of, even those with unpalatable answers, or none at all. I might add, an unwillingness to ask difficult questions signals the death of intellectual inquiry. But, to the question of does life have value, the answer is: absolutely and unequivocally. Value starts with the individual. We are all its judge. My life, everyone and everything's life, actually, has value to me, and this is irreducible. It cannot be eliminated or argued away, even by another person who thinks that it has none. Indeed, this is a curious phenomenon. In this case the absolute, the fact that life absolutely has value, rests on the subjective, on the perspectives of individuals.
The premise of the University of Life is that all people - all forms of life - are equal. We can now see that this starts with equality in value. At its base level this is a constant. We are different - even a clone is different, and doing different things. One person farms a field, another runs a nation. However, there is no difference in value between us.
One aspect of modern society, though, is that it does not think this way, as evidenced by the calculations of the insurance industry. This is yet another measure of social development. Any society where it is possible to calculate a difference in value for people is flawed.
Of course, the paradox again is that while we may be equal in value, we want to be different in some way, too. And, our behavior enables this. It leads to such relative differences. But these are in personal characteristics, and originality, not in value. Even ethical distinctions, such as I behave more ethically than you - perhaps not!, do not change the fact that we have the same innate value - although you may have to undergo punishment by society if your behavior is severely unethical.
The underlying idea here is that even personal development should not have a selfish motivation. You do want to feel good about yourself, to have positive self-esteem. You do want to be unique, and ethical. But, your goal in this process is not to do it to make yourself better, as in having more value, than others.
The next article is an introduction to the universe.
© Roland Watson 2015