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"Why is defining life so frustratingly difficult? Why have scientists and philosophers failed for centuries to find a specific physical property or set of properties that clearly separates the living from the inanimate? Because such a property does not exist. Life is a concept that we invented. On the most fundamental level, all matter that exists is an arrangement of atoms and their constituent particles. These arrangements fall onto an immense spectrum of complexity, from a single hydrogen atom to something as intricate as a brain. In trying to define life, we have drawn a line at an arbitrary level of complexity and declared that everything above that border is alive and everything below it is not. In truth, this division does not exist outside the mind. There is no threshold at which a collection of atoms suddenly becomes alive, no categorical distinction between the living and inanimate, no Frankensteinian spark. We have failed to define life because there was never anything to define in the first place."

By: Ferris Jabr (quoted from an article published in Scientific American)

Requesting your comments.

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1 hour ago, Salsabeel said:

"Why is defining life so frustratingly difficult? Why have scientists and philosophers failed for centuries to find a specific physical property or set of properties that clearly separates the living from the inanimate? Because such a property does not exist. Life is a concept that we invented. On the most fundamental level, all matter that exists is an arrangement of atoms and their constituent particles. These arrangements fall onto an immense spectrum of complexity, from a single hydrogen atom to something as intricate as a brain. In trying to define life, we have drawn a line at an arbitrary level of complexity and declared that everything above that border is alive and everything below it is not. In truth, this division does not exist outside the mind. There is no threshold at which a collection of atoms suddenly becomes alive, no categorical distinction between the living and inanimate, no Frankensteinian spark. We have failed to define life because there was never anything to define in the first place."

By: Ferris Jabr (quoted from an article published in Scientific American)

Requesting your comments.

Heh, If life was invented by us then The Holy Prophet and Ahlulbayt would have talked about Allah giving us life and explaining why. Interesting quote though. :)

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1 hour ago, Salsabeel said:

Salamun Alaykum,

the writer has made a good observation (regarding how there is no fine line between living and non-living) but his conclusion ( "because such a property does not exist. Life is a concept that we invented") does not necessarily follow.

His confusion comes from conflating quality with quantity (or if I can say, his confusion comes from his reducing quality to mere quantity).  A materialist presupposes this reduction and believes in the primacy of quantit over quality.  For the materialist is is the aggregates or parts that come together that ultimately constitute the essence of a thing.  The apple is nothing but atoms arranged in a particular fashion (same with a stone, a tree, a human, and a mountain).  And, if I may add, most people, even if they call themselves religious, are materialists by default... unfortunately this just has to do with the times we live in, more specifically the end of the Kali Yuga.

Getting back to the apple, the materialist would say that the qualities that are immediately experienced from the apple (like as sweetness, redness, freshness, smoothness, roundness etc..) are just epiphenomena (which means that these qualities are in themselves nothing and that their reality is found in a combination or an arrangement of molecules or atoms or energy (or whatever parts there are).  So if one has this assumption then it will necessarily be the case that he will reach this conclusion: "because such a property (life) does not exist. Life is a concept that we invented"

Then you have dualists who believe both are real.  

I am of the view that it is in fact the reverse that is true (matter in itself doesn't exist or exists only in a relative sense).  Unfortunately I have to butcher this topic because I don't have any more time to continue this fascinating discussion.  I will have to end here for now.

 

masalam

ethereal

 

 

Edited by eThErEaL

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Just now, IbnMariam said:

It's disgusting to see how this naturalistic, godless mindset has spread. Life doesn't exist? Then neither does the mind, nor emotions, and so the author has contradicted his own conclusion with the first four words of his article "I have been fascinated".

He will say that his fascination and life is simply the result of a certain arrangement of molecules coming together.  He wouldn't say it doesn't exist at all...  but he would say it has no intrinsic existence.  

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1 minute ago, eThErEaL said:

He will say that his fascination and life is simply the result of a certain arrangement of molecules coming together.  He wouldn't say it doesn't exist at all...  but he would say it has no intrinsic existence.  

the good old science of the gaps, he will try to have his cake and eat it

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19 minutes ago, eThErEaL said:

He will say that his fascination and life is simply the result of a certain arrangement of molecules coming together.  He wouldn't say it doesn't exist at all...  but he would say it has no intrinsic existence.  

not to mention how everything is now physically predetermined, thus free will is out the window, and nobody is ever responsible for what they do being the logical conclusion

Edited by IbnMariam
determined > predetermined*

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Just now, IbnMariam said:

not to mention how everything is now physically determined, thus free will is out the window, and nobody is ever responsible for what they do being the logical conclusion

Some will argue it is still possible to have free will...

but others will say, free will is impossible and so it's too bad we don't like that fact!  If you don't like it then you can continue to delude yourself by entertaining the false notion that you are free and that life is a bed of roses and that there is a buddy in the sky who is like our daddy and that he will take care of us no matter what.  

 

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Just now, eThErEaL said:

Some will argue it is still possible to have free will...

but others will say, free will is impossible and so it's too bad we don't like that fact!  If you don't like it then you can continue to delude yourself by entertaining the false notion that you are free and that life is a bed of roses and that there is a buddy in the sky who is like our daddy and that he will take care of us no matter what.  

 

and I'd say: don't blame me for my delusions, I don't have the free will to decide what I do and think, I'm just a predetermined arrangement of spatiotemporal physical substance.

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1 minute ago, IbnMariam said:

and I'd say: don't blame me for my delusions, I don't have the free will to decide what I do and think, I'm just a predetermined arrangement of spatiotemporal physical substance.

Exactly.  He would say, I don't blame you for being stupid.

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16 minutes ago, IbnMariam said:

define stupid bearing in mind this deterministic worldview

It is not that they deny qualities.  They just don't belive these qualities have any intrinsic existence.  So for all intents and purposes their practical day to day life is pretty much going to continue in a normal way.  It is not like they will stop liking sweets or chocolates or that they will stop falling in love.  It isn't like they will not be able to discern between those who are more intelligent and those that are not so intelligent.   

Edited by eThErEaL

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Just now, eThErEaL said:

It is not that they deny qualities.  They just don't belive these qualities have any intrinsic existence.  So for all intents and purposes their practical day to day life is pretty much going to continue in a normal way.  It is not like they will stop liking sweets or chocolates or that they will stop falling in love.  

So it's like I said, they want to have their cake and eat it.

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10 minutes ago, IbnMariam said:

So it's like I said, they want to have their cake and eat it.

Right.  It really captures what kufr is.  A kafir is one who covers or conceals the Truth by not showing appreciation or by not being grateful to the One who is the Synthesis of all qualities or the One in Whom all qualities are One and Unlimited.  

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2 hours ago, Salsabeel said:

 

Requesting your comments.

Two quick comments.   He says its difficult to define life.  Well its difficult to define a lot of things, including science (look up the demarcation problem)... therefore science doesnt exist?

He says there's no clear cut off the separates life from non-life.  For the sake of argument, lets grant this is true.  Why does there have to be a clear cut off?  Theres no clear cut-off that separates the colour red from the colour orange, or a table from a pile of logs, or even a good argument from a bad argument: Is a good argument one that 51% plausible, or 60% plausible, or 90% plausible.  If its 51% plausible, why not 50.9% etc.  Therefore there are no arguments, and the argument he gave doesnt exist?

 

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46 minutes ago, .InshAllah. said:

Two quick comments.   He says its difficult to define life.  Well its difficult to define a lot of things, including science (look up the demarcation problem)... therefore science doesnt exist?

He says there's no clear cut off the separates life from non-life.  For the sake of argument, lets grant this is true.  Why does there have to be a clear cut off?  Theres no clear cut-off that separates the colour red from the colour orange, or a table from a pile of logs, or even a good argument from a bad argument: Is a good argument one that 51% plausible, or 60% plausible, or 90% plausible.  If its 51% plausible, why not 50.9% etc.  Therefore there are no arguments, and the argument he gave doesnt exist?

 

The nature of qualities are such that they can only be directly experienced in such a way that there is no separation between subject and object or the knower and the known.  So anything used to capture a quality (including the language I am using) will necessarily be fraught with limitations or will not be "precise" for lack of a better term..in other words it will not get at the reality of the experience or quality itself.  This is why the word "red" or the words in the very definition of the word "red" cannot be the quality that is directly experienced.  When I am talking about words, I really mean concepts which are not qualities but are "representations" of qualities.  Concepts are objects that are known by a subject (and because there is this gap between subject and object this knowledge is called indirect knowledge).          

The whole point of meditation and prayer is to transcned our subject-object duality using our heart.  If we keep conceptualizing things and even the very names of God, then we aren't really doing any meaningful worship.   

Edited by eThErEaL

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Don't forget consciousness. Don't only think about the physical.

Read:

http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199556182.001.0001/acprof-9780199556182

https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-soul-hypothesis-9781441152244/

Look up David Chalmers.

If you need help understanding some of the arguments, ask.

Edited by Muhammed Ali

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The headline is just sensationalism. The point is that there is no easy demarcation between living and not living, and it's interesting but not useful to most of us. 

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7 hours ago, Salsabeel said:

Requesting your comments

Salam

Typical materialist reductionism, reducing form to matter. Other examples include:

Knowledge doesn't exist, it's just a bunch of signals in one's neurological system

Love doesn't exist, it's a hormone thing

Free will doesn't exist, it's a combination of both (signals and hormones)

And so on.

Aside from its old nature -the disscution about the role of form/matter exists, at least, from the time of Aristotle- there are a couple of problems with this line of explanation, the least of which might be this:

granted this is all correct, but how can we deny a fresh, first hand human experience, by simply appealing to its causes and origins? It's like a person is dying of HIV, we say "no, death doesn't exist, it's just a virus!"

Saying "life doesn't exist, because we discovered its material origins/or the origins of its mental concept" is even more ridiculous than saying "death doesn't exist, because we discovered its causes."

If you say life is just a mental construct, then death would be a mental construct too, and all the rest becomes as absurd as it initially seems.

Some days ago, I had a discussion with someone who would deny the existence of free will, based on the same line of explanation. But it's fallacious. Material origin of a human experience, doesn't negate its existence, nor does it make that experience just a mental construct. Let alone that the whole material reductionism is problematic (apart from the conclusion they try to arrive at)

Edited by mesbah

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7 hours ago, Salsabeel said:

"Why is defining life so frustratingly difficult? Why have scientists and philosophers failed for centuries to find a specific physical property or set of properties that clearly separates the living from the inanimate? Because such a property does not exist. Life is a concept that we invented. On the most fundamental level, all matter that exists is an arrangement of atoms and their constituent particles. These arrangements fall onto an immense spectrum of complexity, from a single hydrogen atom to something as intricate as a brain. In trying to define life, we have drawn a line at an arbitrary level of complexity and declared that everything above that border is alive and everything below it is not. In truth, this division does not exist outside the mind. There is no threshold at which a collection of atoms suddenly becomes alive, no categorical distinction between the living and inanimate, no Frankensteinian spark. We have failed to define life because there was never anything to define in the first place."

By: Ferris Jabr (quoted from an article published in Scientific American)

Requesting your comments.

We have failed to define it precisely, because its induced by something above physical reality so in reality all the stuff you talked about regarding elements and atoms are  a matter of the body which in itself is an inanimate object but it becomes functional when the abstract self is attached to it. You can not deny life for its something known to exist necessarily to almost all people.

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8 hours ago, Salsabeel said:

Allah clearly says in Quran that He created life and death. 

Now our denial or inability to define it is different question. Different people define life differently. 

But in reality life exists and we see and feel it daily. 

Now  what level of complex  arrangement of atoms is needed to manifest life in it.May be today we are not able to specify the level arrangements of  atoms needed to express life. But that doesn't mean life do not exist. 

Edited by islam25

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This might be a question for @Jebreil

Seems to be more of a philosophical discussion than a scientific one (or more of a soft science question than a hard science question).

We generally equate life with a certain level of sentience or awareness of things around us. That in combination with self replicating molecules.  @notme Would a self replicating robot be considered alive? I kind of think it would.

Where do you draw that line between life and non-life? Its like asking where you draw the line between an african elephant and an indian elephant. The line may not be clear at all, and would only exist arbitrarily on a molecular level. But as @.InshAllah. said, just because the line is gray or somewhat abstract or even somewhat arbitrary, doesnt mean that there isnt a clear difference between the starting point (life) and the finish (non life).

Otherwise, nice article, thanks for sharing.

Edited by iCambrian

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