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The purpose of life


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#41 phantom   Moderators   -  Reputation: 7414

Posted 16 July 2012 - 05:19 AM

If humanity has a purpose, than, I'd guess we are the product of intelligent design. If that is the case, then who, or whatever designed us is pretty damn smart..


Compare the components of the human body to other creatures and you'll soon see that, brain aside, we are pretty poorly constructed so I'd question the 'pretty damn smart' bit somewhat ;)

(and even brain wise we aren't that special - lets face it members of the Corvidae family can solve problems which would probably fox some humans ;))

Edited by phantom, 16 July 2012 - 05:21 AM.


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#42 GninjaGnome   Members   -  Reputation: 182

Posted 16 July 2012 - 07:40 AM

Poor construction may also be perfect construction is this case. We're ideally designed to be dependent on the environment we must create. We're smart enough to find a way to consume everything around us, but lack the ability to control our consumption. We even take pride in it individually.

I guess that's kind of a depressing thought thou, so you could look at humanity as more of a balance to life. ..bit of a Taoist approach I guess.

#43 taby   Members   -  Reputation: 336

Posted 16 July 2012 - 11:02 PM

Once again, cut short for time (will be better in a few days). I just can't believe that this conversation kept going. :) Funny, we saw Brave today, and afterward I was discussing legends and the trickster archetype with my daughter. Those tricky ravens and foxes. ;)

Edited by taby, 16 July 2012 - 11:02 PM.


#44 taby   Members   -  Reputation: 336

Posted 17 July 2012 - 11:15 AM

I'm not sure that we are. How do you get "copies of systems and processes are never perfect" from "one may not precisely measure the momentum and position of a particle at the same instant?"


I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 2. What is it? There's a pretty good chance that your guess won't be perfect. Between 1 and 1.1? Better chance, but it likely still won't be perfect. I wish I had Max Planck's book on the subject to quote from, but I don't. Surely you're being coy though, since there are plenty of Wikipedia articles related to tunneling and the no-cloning principle. Posted Image In any case, I'm just not sure how you could possibly expect to always perfectly replicate a system when you can never have perfect data describing its components (ie. the components aren't actually perfectly defined to begin with). Sorry, but I'm just not getting your point of view.

That said, it was clearly a bad decision to bring that complicated aspect up. It would be much simpler to mention damage to processes by photons as an example of how mutations can occur.

To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.


LOL. Of course, in the new version of the Conan movie, the purpose of life is to make good alloys. Oh, how we've progressed as a society in 20-30 years. It warms my heart.

Edited by taby, 17 July 2012 - 04:55 PM.


#45 taby   Members   -  Reputation: 336

Posted 17 July 2012 - 11:23 AM


Surely you're not going to accuse me of saying that smoke and fire are alive. LOL.


Smoke might not fit but a fire isn't a million miles away from life.

Consider;
Life consumes resources, replicates and spreads and produces waste.
A fire consumes resources, it replicates and spreads as it consumes them and produces waste.

The properties of a fire are not unlike those of a bacterium, all be it on a simpler scale and yet bacteria are, last I checked, considered 'alive'.


While it's true that there are convection cells in a flame, I am thinking more in terms of wood on fire. It's wood that's "eating" the oxygen and photons, and it's wood's nice neat low entropy processes that are being ripped apart by photons of relatively high energy flying every which direction. When I think of a live plant cell on fire, I think of a nice, ordered process where energy flows mostly along a few well defined paths being converted into a disordered mess.

Thinking of this particular process (wood on fire) got me to thinking that:
1) Processes generate heat, and at least some of that heat that cannot be used again for work, otherwise there would be perpetual motion machines.
2) Heat relies on photons.
3) Photons cause mutation.
4) High temperature processes overtake low temperature processes, otherwise heat would spontaneously flow from cold regions to hot regions.

... which leads me to think:

Poor construction may also be perfect construction is this case. We're ideally designed to be dependent on the environment we must create. We're smart enough to find a way to consume everything around us, but lack the ability to control our consumption. We even take pride in it individually.
I guess that's kind of a depressing thought thou, so you could look at humanity as more of a balance to life. ..bit of a Taoist approach I guess.


5) Heat-generating processes are naturally (self-)mutating, and (self-)improving. It's really no shock that life (self-sustaining/self-replicating heat transfer / entropy generators) emerged, since it's just an application of 1-4. It's really no shock that life went from single-cell bacteria (nibbling at the environment, generating a little heat transfer and a little entropy) to giant cow-eating humans (devouring the environment, generating a whole lot of heat transfer and entropy, detonating nuclear bombs, etc). It's also no shock that humans generate a lot of entropy through thought rather than through brute force. If we kept on going with nuclear bombs, it sure would generate a lot of entropy yeah, but it could annihilate humanity, and that's slightly counterproductive when it comes to sustaining good little heat engines.

Unfortunately, none of this leads me to simple explanations for death drive, Hamilton's rule -- that "thing" that leads us into an "undead" state, "paralyzed", and perfectly "altruistic" in the most extreme cases where the life drive simply does not compensate.

Edited by taby, 17 July 2012 - 01:42 PM.


#46 taby   Members   -  Reputation: 336

Posted 17 July 2012 - 02:25 PM

...


That was very informative, and thanks for that. I have only one problem with the full reversibility argument: gravitation may indeed be anathema to diffusion, but black holes have maximal entropy, not minimal. Clearly, it (diffusion / "anti-diffusion") is not as symmetric as some "rock star" physicists make it out to be -- they take microscopic concepts and automatically assume that they always apply to all macroscopic scenarios.

The truth is that pure theory and phenomenology may not be as disparate as oil and water, but they're definitely not water and water. Of course, the full truth rarely sells books, because the truth is most often as boring as all hell.

Edited by taby, 17 July 2012 - 02:34 PM.


#47 phantom   Moderators   -  Reputation: 7414

Posted 17 July 2012 - 05:45 PM

5) Heat-generating processes are naturally (self-)mutating, and (self-)improving. It's really no shock that life (self-sustaining/self-replicating heat transfer / entropy generators) emerged, since it's just an application of 1-4. It's really no shock that life went from single-cell bacteria (nibbling at the environment, generating a little heat transfer and a little entropy) to giant cow-eating humans (devouring the environment, generating a whole lot of heat transfer and entropy, detonating nuclear bombs, etc). It's also no shock that humans generate a lot of entropy through thought rather than through brute force. If we kept on going with nuclear bombs, it sure would generate a lot of entropy yeah, but it could annihilate humanity, and that's slightly counterproductive when it comes to sustaining good little heat engines.


The thing is, you don't need life for that... hell, we aren't even that good at it when compared to say the great big ball of nuclear fission 8 light minutes from our current location.. of which our planet captures a tiny amount of energy it puts out every second to drive the processes here.

In cosmic scale terms 'life' is hardly a blip on the radar - if life didn't exist the universe might well reach the point of heat death a few moments later, thats all.

The whole premise of a 'purpose to life' sets the idea that 'life' is someone 'special' but it really isn't... bunch of chemical reactions blundering around until they fail... that's all life is. There is no 'purpose', no 'plan', no great 'reason for being' - life is just a biochemical accident brought about by having a bloody great area for chemicals to interact with making this chance outcome basically a sure thing.

Chemistry and maths... that's all it is...to ascribe any more to it is to reach from science into the realm of myths and fairytales used to comfort people that the universe isn't just a big uncaring 'thing' which will spin on regards of our continued existance.
(and frankly if it did care it would probably be trying to send big rocks our way right now to wipe us out and generally improve if not the quality of the universe then certainly the level of intelligence kicking around... I mean, sweet monkey lord humans are stupid stupid creatures...)

Edited by phantom, 17 July 2012 - 05:50 PM.


#48 taby   Members   -  Reputation: 336

Posted 17 July 2012 - 08:26 PM

It's like every time I compare a living cell to another relatively low entropy substance like room temperature dirt, someone brings up the idea of a relatively high entropy star. Perhaps there's an unconscious unwillingness to admit that dirt does not generally form a "mechanical" process in the form of a cell. Dirt may form Voronoi cells simply due to roughly spherically symmetric pressure, but those cells are not really full of mechanical contraptions. I'm simply at a loss as to the source of this deflection. Perhaps it's a phobia of religion, although I'd still be at a loss as to why it's on display here since I didn't ever really bring up the idea of a creator or whatnot, let alone promote it. Alas, we've also already covered the difference between "what does life aim to achieve" and "what does life achieve", and the difference between a "stable" and "unstable" cell, and the difference between a cell and non-cell in terms of a manifestation of the concept of a system, and the difference between the heat death with and without life, and thus the difference between a fairly objective examination and an existential pat on the back. As for the ratio of living to dead matter in the universe, I'm not sure if anyone was really debating that, or really debating whether a human gives off more heat than a star.

I'm pretty sure that we've then also effectively covered that there was no possibility of stable cells (read: life) just after the Big Bang, let alone subatomic particles, atoms and molecules, that the universe has cooled since then, that there is indeed some cold matter now, and that there is now a possibility for improvement in terms of heat generation -- we would not be having this conversation if the universe was still thousands or bajillions of degrees everywhere, nor would be we having this conversation if relatively low heat was not a source of mutation for stable cells.

Again, I'm not saying that life makes a critical difference in terms of the timing of the heat death (just like optimizing a few instructions out of trillions would not make Microsoft Word run magnitudes of order faster in general), just a difference. It's like people are adamantly insisting that the entropy of a room full of stacked papers would increase at the same rate regardless of whether or not there was a toddler running amok.

Edited by taby, 17 July 2012 - 09:16 PM.


#49 ApochPiQ   Moderators   -  Reputation: 16079

Posted 17 July 2012 - 11:01 PM

Why are you so insistent on ascribing some kind of significance to the idea of life? It's just the product of natural processes, time, and sheer mathematics. Nothing else.

Nobody's arguing that life (in forms that we're familiar with) does not act to decrease entropy in certain circumstances - but that's only if you consider isolated parts of the system. If you consider the universe as a whole, life has no bearing whatsoever on entropic change, because of conservation of energy. To produce entropy-decreasing (or, better, order-increasing) change, we must steal energy in some form from some other source. It's all a giant zero-sum game.

I don't mean this as a personal slight, but it seems like you're desperately reaching for some feeling of accomplishment or something for being alive. Hate to disappoint you, but...

#50 taby   Members   -  Reputation: 336

Posted 18 July 2012 - 09:31 AM

That's what's a tad frustrating: After a few revisions of my use of language, I ascribed practically no special significance to life; it should naturally emerge simply due to the laws of thermodynamics and the fact that photons knock things about. If I had really wanted to ascribe a pre-determined purpose, I wouldn't have rephrased the question. However though, I still can't see why it's problematic to draw a distinction between living and non-living systems. There is a distinction, on many scales, and that really has nothing to do with ascribing any sort of pre-determined purpose; I thought that we got over that stumbling block almost a week ago, but I see that I am wrong about that. So, I'm perfectly fine with the notion that living matter is just a bunch of little machines, but I'm not fine at all with the notion that dirt is also bunch of little machines in precisely the same sense. For one, these little machines denote regular, cyclical action, and dirt isn't really like that. Surely this is not just a psychological distinction.

While I agree with the notion of conservation of energy (at scales much less than cosmological, anyway), I can't agree with any kind of strict assertion that dS/dt = 0 for living matter, and dS/dt >= 0 for non-living matter, especially since the distinction between living and non-living matter is being ignored in the first place. To be sure, dS = dQ/T is guaranteed to be greater than 0, what with most living matter giving off heat to their environment most of the time, and with their environments having non-infinite temperature by default; surely we've all felt cold once or twice, and surely we've all generated some heat from the binding energy found in the microscopic components of our food rather than from the free photons impinging our skin.

As for "reasons for living", I've read enough existential philosophy to know that "God is dead, and you're the only one who can form your own personal substitute". I most often go to my family and friends and the forest to look for this substitute, not to strangers on the Internet (though trying to participate on gamedev.net here and there is pretty damn fun, I have to admit, and so would a lot of people, I assume, so I'm not exactly being singular here). This is what's also a little frustrationg: I've also pointed this out a handful of times now. So what's with all the striving to assert things contrary to what's already been said? Is that intentional? I'm not sure either way (although I'm leading toward doubt, because people here are generally decent), and until I know for sure (which is likely never), I won't take it personally. I think it is worth noting at this point in time that I specifically opened this thread with the notion that I'd like to look deeper than philosophy and biology, and go into the raw physics of it all. This fixation on the philosophy and biology was not mine. Perhaps if I had gone about vehemently stomping out any mention of religion by those people here who initially brought it up (ie: not I) instead of just effectively letting it slide with minimal friction, I'd have set a different, more "respectable" tone. So, personally, I think that the notion of any kind of afterlife is equivalent to the notion of induction into incarceration via rites of slave labour. I also think that most religions' concept of morality with regard to suicide is impractical; it often serves to force the death drive to manifest itself as the external phenomena known as murder and war. And yet, even though I think that most religions are incorrect interpretations of reality, do I entirely dismiss the possibility that the universe was created? No. Anyone subscribing to a different point of view is welcome to open a different thread in order to discuss it, because it's not really the focus here. Anyway, regardless of what anyone may think, I am deeply grateful for the conversation given in this thread, and I've made a note of that multiple times.

If it at all helps clear up any further mystery with regard to my mode of operation: I'm trying to kill the legacy of Lacan in order to clear up some loose ends on a novel in progress (yes, I realize that I am in desperate need of an editor), not kill myself.

FWIW, I think it's pretty ironic and comical (in the sense that I'm laughing at my own self) that most of the frustration seen here likely stems from the repetitious (non-distinct) communications. Perhaps, later, after some more self-reflection, I'll end up taking that as an indication of some kind of inherent desire to increase entropy (ie. S = ln(1) = 0 = frustrating).

Edited by taby, 18 July 2012 - 11:20 AM.


#51 Oberon_Command   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1938

Posted 18 July 2012 - 11:29 AM


I'm not sure that we are. How do you get "copies of systems and processes are never perfect" from "one may not precisely measure the momentum and position of a particle at the same instant?"


I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 2. What is it? There's a pretty good chance that your guess won't be perfect. Between 1 and 1.1? Better chance, but it likely still won't be perfect. I wish I had Max Planck's book on the subject to quote from, but I don't. Surely you're being coy though, since there are plenty of Wikipedia articles related to tunneling and the no-cloning principle. Posted Image


I was not. I was pointing out that "copies of systems and processes are never perfect" is not the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle that I was taught. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle that I was taught is "one may not precisely measure the momentum and position of a particle at the same instant." I made the guess (which was demonstrated to be correct) that you must be presenting a statement which was deduced from the principle as opposed to the principle itself, so I was also asking that you show the logical deduction you used to arrive at the statement you were claiming was the "Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle". The wiki on quantum tunneling had two sentences that showed a connection, but I would have preferred a more in-depth derivation.

My overarching point is that using a term one party understands (via common knowledge as taught in first-year chemistry class) to mean one thing, to mean something implied by that thing is not conducive to useful communication.

Edited by Oberon_Command, 18 July 2012 - 11:46 AM.


#52 ApochPiQ   Moderators   -  Reputation: 16079

Posted 18 July 2012 - 11:54 AM

Perhaps the problem is that you continue to think of "life" as if it were a boolean flag. It's not. It's a continuum.

#53 Net Gnome   Members   -  Reputation: 773

Posted 18 July 2012 - 12:44 PM

life is just an interesting perpetuating chain reaction, thats all. We are just chaos manifest. A combination of base entropy such that entropy of a higher order may occur.

Edited by Net Gnome, 18 July 2012 - 01:57 PM.


#54 szecs   Members   -  Reputation: 2176

Posted 18 July 2012 - 12:59 PM

Perhaps the problem is that you continue to think of "life" as if it were a boolean flag. It's not. It's a continuum.

This.
I still don't get the difference between a heat generating machine and a living organism in this heat generating sense.
This has been repeatedly told: definition of life is very arbitrary. Death too. Maybe it's an urban legend, but some tractions of our guts "live" 2-3 hours (?) longer than us. We can't even be sure what part of our body is really "us" and alive. There are dead cells all over me, yet, my whole "entity" is considered to be ONE living entity. That's not an obvious thing at all.

EDIT: I don't get why my ideas that look okay in my head come off like bullshit... Maybe because my thoughts are BS. Anyhoo, who cares about what life is? I'm hungry->I eat. I'm thirsty->I drink. I love bean and potato, that's life and reality.

Edited by szecs, 18 July 2012 - 01:06 PM.


#55 Ravyne   GDNet+   -  Reputation: 7859

Posted 18 July 2012 - 01:21 PM

If you are talking about 'life' collectively, then I think the purpose is progeny (offspring: biological, material, intellectual and otherwise) and expansion of territory and influence -- we've left caves, crossed rivers, borders, and oceans, and will one day get off this rock called Earth if we aren't depleted or destroyed first.

If you are talking about 'life' in terms of an individual, I think the purpose of life is to be happy with oneself. Being happy with oneself does not necessarily mean that one is selfish, and in point of fact most people take joy and meaning in being selfless to some degree, or in bringing value or joy to others. Various doctrines make claims of judgement, punishment or reward for this life, rebirth, and other forms of afterlife. If you believe that then your happiness in this life is influenced by your goal of achieving good standing towards the 'after' and that's great -- whether that be Christian Heaven or Viking Valhalla, different means to different ends -- but as far as anyone knows for certain, this life is the one we can count on, and we should make the most of it for ourselves.

#56 taby   Members   -  Reputation: 336

Posted 18 July 2012 - 09:47 PM

In an attempt to appreciate that there is no distinction between living matter and dirt, I've decided to subsist on silt for a week.

#57 szecs   Members   -  Reputation: 2176

Posted 18 July 2012 - 10:33 PM

In an attempt to appreciate that there is no distinction between living matter and dirt, I've decided to subsist on silt for a week.

You could subsist on simple proteins and vitamins too. Are they living?
Or you could subsist on Amanita phalloides, They are surely living. Wait, don't do that.

Nitpicking on the definition of life offends you for some reason, but that definition is the very foundation of this whole conversation.
And the point, that there is no clear definition is also important. It doesn't mean that it can't be defined, but our knowledge is not enough I guess. For example we still haven't found life or still unable to detect life outside our planet.

#58 mikeman   Members   -  Reputation: 2254

Posted 19 July 2012 - 05:34 AM

The whole premise of a 'purpose to life' sets the idea that 'life' is someone 'special' but it really isn't... bunch of chemical reactions blundering around until they fail... that's all life is


While I generally agree, I think that this statement needs some more strong proof than what we have today. We assert that life or the human "psyche" is nothing more than a series of complex physical/chemical reactions, because we can't imagine what else it could be, from a materialistic viewpoint, but is this enough to close the argument? I'm not sure. As of yet, we can't cure, for instance, schizophrenia or depression, just treat the symptoms with various degrees of success and with several unwanted and sometimes severe side-effects. Even religious people don't deny that there is a significant physical/chemical/biological component to what we call "human", but they insist that there is something "hidden", the "soul", which accounts for the apparent disrepancy between "blind" physical phenomena and the human behaviour. I disagree with them, but I do think that until we actually strongly prove that chemistry is all that is there, they can still opine that there could be an extra-physical component in a species that is capable of understanding and harnessing nature itself.

#59 shurcool   Members   -  Reputation: 439

Posted 15 August 2012 - 07:05 PM

The "what is the meaning of life" question is extremely overloaded, so the answer will be vastly different depending on which sense/meaning you refer to.

If humans were created by some intelligent creature, there'd be the purpose with which it created us.

If humans came to be completely on their own, via random chemical processes, there could still be meaning to life, and that is to survive by reproducing and taking care of threats (wild animals, meters headed for Earth, etc.). On an individual level, it could be to maximize happiness/minimize pain, but that could be a direct result of evolution finding the semi-optimal way to ensure survival.


I wanted to make an observation regarding fire, which was mentioned here earlier. It does have similar properties to viruses and life forms such as humans. However, while it is easily created (humans are not so easily created... well, relatively speaking), it might not be as efficient at surviving. A wild forest fire can last a while, but it doesn't outlast animals/humans on Earth.

But consider this.

Take 3 planets: Earth, Mars, and a hypothetical Fireplanet.

The raw materials and environment conditions on Earth are conducive for humans and animal-like creatures, and fire doesn't survive as well here.

On Mars (so far) it seems the environment conditions and raw materials are not very conducive for humans/animals. However, there could be some underground worms that are very fit to survive on Mars (and happened to develop in some way).

A hypothetical Fireplanet could be made in a way that ensures the chemical reaction "fire" is a very well fit for survival, while neither humans/animals can survive there (perhaps because the fire has taken over the entire planet and killed everyone else). Oh, the Sun could be an example of such a 'planet'.

While fire might be considered a "dumb" life form, in the sense it doesn't "think", plan ahead or have feelings, nevertheless it's able to perpetuate and "survive" quite well in the form of stars. Given its inability to plan, it's unlikely fire would plan an attack on humans, but if some star had a collision course with Earth... Humans might lose just because we're so tiny.

#60 Oberon_Command   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1938

Posted 15 August 2012 - 08:39 PM

While fire might be considered a "dumb" life form, in the sense it doesn't "think", plan ahead or have feelings, nevertheless it's able to perpetuate and "survive" quite well in the form of stars. Given its inability to plan, it's unlikely fire would plan an attack on humans, but if some star had a collision course with Earth... Humans might lose just because we're so tiny.


Stars aren't actually fire - their energy source is nuclear fusion. Fire is a purely chemical process.




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