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“Innate” chemistry is fascinating. The combinations of elements, molecules and beyond seem to be endless. Chemistry, in all its diverse syntheses, gives us unlimited forms, shapes, compound properties and behaviors/reactions.
We claim that atoms, molecules and amino acids are not “alive.”
We retain the idea that life is a mystery. Our current belief, still, is that life somehow emerged from innate chemistry. By our definition, “dead” chemistry crossed a chemical composition “line” and became “alive.”
This concept is as absurd as the proposition that entities, at the quantum level, appear to or can spring from “nothing.” It is the description of our observation that is in error.
Roughly, we describe a life form or life as a living system that integrates critical functionalities:
|1. It maintains an identity over time by localizing all its components;|
|2. It uses energy from its environment in order to maintain itself, grow and reproduce;|
|3. Innate processes can be modified during production;|
|4. Innate properties enable selection and thus evolution as part of the reproduction process;|
|5. Living systems are sensitive to the environment;|
|6. Living systems are self organizing;|
|7. Living systems have purposeful behavior.|
But perceptions and definitions of life are manmade. Nature does not define life. In the universe and in local environments – solar systems, planets and biospheres – all things are only structures of energy and atoms, dark energy and dark matter, and structures yet undiscovered.
The ideas and descriptions that maintaining an identity, having metabolism, using energy from the environment and self-reproduction are requirements for life is not written or prescribed by nature. These definitions are our observations and attempt to associate natural similarities between entities. They have nothing to do with external reality.
Nowhere will we discover laws of nature, independent from us, which rule any of the properties we define or describe: “this is innate chemistry…this is life.”
The problem of understanding how life emerged or what it is is not in the property of life, but in our inadequate definition.
The existence and behavior of protocells should have, by now, awakened us to recognize that we need to redefine “life.” If they have life-like properties, if they resemble and quack like a duck, perhaps they are a duck. I posit that they are life.
For millennia we believed that life could only exist under certain conditions. We described those conditions – moderate temperatures, sunlight, oxygen and water. But within the last few decades that conception was incrementally shattered. At the bottom of the ocean, life forms exist at hydrothermal vents, under extreme pressures and temperatures.
Extremophiles are organisms that thrive and exist within impossible environments: boiling water holes, frozen lakes, and toxic waste dumps. There are extremophiles that live at the bottom of Ace Lake in Antarctica, oxygen starved and at temperatures of 33°F – where life surely could not exist and conditions certainly cannot support it. We were wrong. The variety of extremophiles and their environments across the planet are innumerable.
We are slowly giving up the idea that life can only exist under conditions we ourselves need and have observed. We are slowly giving up the idea that the compositions of life forms have to be like ours. It is time to relinquish our archaic view of innate chemistry vs. life.
Let’s forego our limiting parameters and definitions of life. I speculate and propose that all things in the universe are entities of life – from the components of a singular atom to more complex structures. We can continue to differentiate these components or materials, in order to aid our understanding of their structure. But all that differentiates one from another is their form and composition.
This should be a next step in the evolution of our understanding what is around us. Although this concept seems to threaten the very core idea that life is something unique and special, all that is threatened is our myopic vision.
We can still continue to believe that we are unique and of ultimate importance in the universe, if we choose, but hopefully that comparison between us and all things around us will eventually dissolve, too.
I am convinced this concept will be the new understanding of who and what we are. It instantly solves some of our most pressing past and present philosophical and scientific mysteries and questions:
|1. What is life?|
|2. What are we?|
|3. How did life start?|
|4. Where did life come from?|
|5. Is life unique to our planet?|
When we re-conceptualize and accept that all matter and each of its constituents is a “living” entity, each structure is only a variant form of life, each having its own properties, each simple or complex, we will have a better holistic understanding of the building blocks and composition of universal matter.
Every sub-atomic component, atom, compound and the trillions of combinations which are assembled, and continue to aggregate is a life form, a piece of that building block and process we call life.
(This Article is under development.)
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