Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Life! Tell me about it.

One question has haunted me ever since I was a kid - 'How do we know that stones are not alive?'. I can hear the laughter but hold on a minute. Try to recall how we were taught to recognize life in school. There are certain characteristics of living beings by which we are taught to recognize life within them like growth, reproduction, metabolism etc. Scientists have come up with an elegant way to recognize life which is a decrease in entropy compared to the environment. Now entropy is the degree of disorderliness but to measure it we need to define it and the classic measure of entropy is temperature. But what if there are paradigms of order which do not involve temperature. Think about it, aren't these qualities anthropomorphic? Human Beings like most other animals build their model of the world by comparison and the first thing they compare their environment with is themselves. So obviously our model of the world will be defined and hence limited by us. To be able to really understand and know the world around us, we need to be able to view the world through glasses uncoloured by anything. We need to be able to look at the world as if for the first time, time and again.

Coming to the question of life, I believe that the most common characteristic of life should be not entropy but consciousness for we are easily capable of creating machines that may appear to be growing, reproducing etc. A living being first needs to be conscious of its environment to be able to display the characteristics of life as defined by us. But defining life as a presence of consciousness presents us with the problem of measurement and detection. Therefore we probably need to revert to the aforementioned characteristics (growth et al) to detect life. To those that think all we've done is go on a wild goose chase and ended up at the place we began, I say nay. What we've done is unclog our vision and allowed ourselves to see the world, not as we believe it is but as a possibility. No one can disprove that stones are conscious and hence alive and that is enough for me to imagine a world where every single atom is conscious and the experience of the organisms we call life is only the collective consciousness of all the matter contained within them. Adios and keep dreaming.

No comments: