What actually is life?



The Spark of Life

One of the most precious and often unnoticed things in the universe we take for granted as we go about our daily business, is life itself. If we stand still in the street for a few moments and consciously look around us for things that are living, it suddenly becomes apparent that our immediate environment is teeming with life. Apart from fellow humans, every animal, creature or insect from a dog or a bird, to a spider or an ant abound around us. Other forms of plant life are equally abundant from a tree to a blade of grass or even a speck of moss growing on a roof. Unseen life in the form of bacteria to microbes are everywhere including inside our own bodies. With so many forms of life around us, its remarkable that mankind still does not know what life actually is.

We certainly know the difference between something that is living and something that is dead but what we do not know is what that something is. I will not get involved in religious argument about the “soul” or other planes of existence, none of which I accept, as common sense dictates there is no difference between a dead person or a dead leaf. Both become non-living organic material.

 I find it strange that so much speculation is given to the possibility of finding extra terrestrial forms of life in the universe without our even understanding what life actually is. I do accept it is inevitable that other life forms will exist in the universe be it animal, plant, bacterial or something we have never even thought about, but how can we effectively think about other life forms without understanding what life actually is itself.

It is possible to identify common characteristics between all known living things but they do not explain what life is. Those characteristics are;

All known living things;

1. Need to take in energy.
2. Need to get rid of waste.
3. Grow and develop.
4. Respond to their environment.
5. Reproduce and pass their traits onto their offspring.
• 6. Evolve over time in response to their environment.

So far it has not been possible for mankind to create life although many have tried. I do not necessarily mean the Frankenstein dream of a humanoid monster roaming the streets but on a more basic level of say an amoeba. While the molecular and chemical structure of a simple single cell  may be known, even if it is possible to recreate that structure, at the moment, the result would still be a dead simple single cell. The spark of life whatever that may be would still be missing.

It may well be that life turns out to be part of a natural occurring process that starts spontaneously rather like the same process which I believe the mind to be. (See “Does the mind really exist“). The simplest analogy I can give of this is that of lighting a match. When we strike a match, a combination of events cause heat from friction in turn to cause additional heat to be produced from a chemical reaction in the head of the match. The heat generated causes a flame to appear that continues while there is sufficient heat, fuel and oxygen and disappears once again once when either heat, fuel or oxygen are no longer available. We do  not ask where the flame came from or where it goes to, we accept it only exists as long as the burning or combustion process is able to continue.

If life did or does occur as part of a process caused by a natural combination of events, it still means that scientists do not yet fully understand what that process or combination of events are.

I cannot help but wonder that with so little understood about the process of life, why does mankind so actively take part in the process of destroying that which he is so far, unable to create?

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