Monday, May 4, 2009

A few thoughts on Life the Universe and Everything. Part I. LIFE

I have been giving thought on what it means to be alive. I don't mean in terms of what we should be doing or anything metaphysical like that but what is life? If I strip myself down to the very basics beyond which there is no me I am left with two distinct entities. Awareness and Identity. They are insepperable but distinct. A true duality.

Awareness tells me what I am. This is important because it does not automatically tell me what anything else is. It is distinct from perception. Perception after all is unaware of the outside world, reality is all supposition. My eyes do not see anything they change chemically in response to light, I am aware of these changes not whatever the light is bouncing off of. This may seem like semantics but it becomes relevant later. For know it is enough to say that awareness is personal it concerns what I am, even though perception relates to other identities.

Identity is a sense of self, it is the essence of what I am supposed to be. This includes personality, memory and conditioning but it is more than that it is a certainty against which awareness is measured.

Awareness changes constantly it is the what, Identity is the why. Thought is the gap between them. Thought does not exist as a thing it is a byproduct of the interaction between awareness and Identity. I believe this is not a human quality, but a function of life. Humans having the greatest awareness and identity (in theory) possess the greatest capacity for thought (again in theory) but our mind is no different in it's essence than the nucleus of a cell.

A cell has awareness. It reacts to its environment therefore it is aware of its environment. A cell also has Identity it knows what it is supposed to be. If a cell is aware that it has increased n temperature and its identity tells it that it is supposed to be cooler, it will make a decision and take action. Chemical processes will begin that cause it to shed excess heat. The same is true if it is aware that a chemical is inside its membrane and its identity tells it that chemical should not be there actions will be taken to expel the chemical. This is thought. This is will. I think it is the totality of thought, everything else is just a matter of scale and complexity.

I think this is also the nature of adaptation and the engine that drives evolution. Let us pretend, and remember I am using philosophy not biology, that mutation is not random or even coincidental but that it is self directed. Take as an example the first multi cellular organism. Take a cell that knows what it is, it can sense changes in its composition, it also knows what it is supposed to be, it's genetic blueprint. Let us make one assumption. Let us say that when this cell divides its awareness will become the new cells identity.

This cell has another cell pressed against it. This causes a huge amount of information to enter the cells awareness. The presence of this other cell causes changes of temperature, pressure and chemical composition to take place. The other cells waste intrudes upon the membrane of the first cell, enzymes pass through, many other things happen. Of course this happens to the other cell as well. Both cells respond to these changes by trying to return to their identity state. They produce enzymes to reduce the increased temperature, they try to excrete the excess waste and neutralize the foreign enzymes, it tries to expand to its original shape. It adapts to the presence of the other cell. Then poof division time, some cells would divide at different times than their intruding neighbor. These cells would find their identity tuned to a presence which is no longer there. Their awareness would tell them that they are lacking a source of heat and pressure and enzymes and a million other things. It would then begin to adapt ways to reproduce the conditions its identity says it should have. Perhaps by latching on to another cell in a parasitic fashion. However some of these pairs could divide at the same time. Their new identity would be perfectly suited to being pressed together. In fact their identity would be exactly that. Now instead of adapting to push the other cell away and restore itself to a single celled state it would adapt to maintain the two celled state. Anything that it became aware of that altered its identity would become a problem to be solved since both cells were doing this it would be synergistic.

The two cells are not identical remember they are merely linked. They may have adapted towards one another in very different ways. Cell one may have found that it needed to excrete excess waste to allow for the wastes it was absorbing from cell two. Cell two could have adapted to pass waste directly to cell one rather than passing it through other portions of its membrane. Over the life span of these cells they will have adapted to respond to conditions. Consuming nutrients, excreted waste, controlling temperature, all based on the identity they inherited when they were first replicated. Poof division time again, now all of the adaptations they have made become the identity of a new pair which is now further specialized for having a cell pressed up against it. The pair could also now be linked to fission at the same time. This refinement could continue indefinitely.

This sort of adaption through awareness could extend to all sorts of changes. A rapid change in environmental temperature. The cells awareness indicates it has become hotter, its identity tells it it is supposed to be cooler. It begins excreting heat to try and cool itself. Poof division time, the old cells awareness becomes the new cells identity. Now this temperature is not too hot it is just right or at least the cell thinks so however the cell doesn't function well at this temperature say it is unable to excrete waste as well. Unlike its predecessor it no longer is aware that it should cool down it thinks the temperature is perfect, so it begins producing excess enzymes to help it increase its ability to process waste. Poof division time the new cell is now well adapted to the new temperature and functions normally.

Of course this is simplistic. A cell is aware of vast information and requires a certain balance to function. Adapting could take hundreds or thousands of replications to normalize. Many cell lines would die without replicating. However this one assumption awareness and identity as the basis for consciousness turns adaptation from a process of random mutation to a clear and precisely guided mechanism. Perhaps that is what is encoded in the double helix, awareness and identity. Natural selection would still determine which organisms survived or not but evolution would be ongoing at the cellular level, we wouldn't see it happening because what is happening is what we have always seen happening. Every action a cell takes in response to its environment is evolution at work. Evolution is not the thing that creates or organizes life. It is life.

To be continued sometime.

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