Status Updates posted by Edtharan
I am responding to your reply in the thread about water and evolution, but so as not to hijack the thread, I though I would respond with a private message.
So my point is, it seems atoms do not make life, atoms are not alive, so no quantity or arrangement of a non-living substance will ever become alive. You see where I am going with this.
Actually yes. this is an example of a logical fallacy called: The Continuum Fallacy ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuum_fallacy ).
It is also an example of the Elan Vital theory, which has been completely falsified.
The Elan vital theory proposed that there was "something" other than just matter and energy, or just some property of the atoms in living things that made them alive. However, experiments have shown that no such substance or property exists (including by experimenters that were convinced that it really did exist, but then had to change their position in light of the failures of their experiments).
There is no difference between living and non living matter, besides the processes it undergoes.
Because of this the term "Alive" is misused. When referring to thing being "Alive" most people still use the term as it was when the Elan Vital theory was popular. But, as science is not a popularity contest (instead it is a reality check), then the way that people use the term "Alive" is wrong.
Being "Alive" is no more than a complex chemical reaction.
To most people this seems counter intuitive, but no experiment that has ever been done has shown a difference between the matter that make up living thing to that which makes up non living things. There has also been no experiment that has shown that there is some "extra" substance that in in living things that is not present in non living things.
In fact, there have been experiments that show that it is impossible for such things to exist.
The basis of this is that if there is some "Thing" or substance that makes living organisms "Alive", then it must have an effect that can be measured (as how else could we tell if it is "Alive" or not?). If it has an effect, it can be measured. If it can be measured (or its effects can be measured) then we can determine its existence.
As experiments have show that no effect that occurs with living matter is not present in non living matter, then this means that there can not be any Elan Vital.
Remember, if it has an effect (makes living matter "alive") then we can detect it. As experiments have shown that there is no effect, then the conclusion is that it does not exist.
There is no difference between Non Living Matter and Living Matter.
This means that it must come down to the way it is arranged and the processes that occur due to the standard laws of physics.
We all know that computers are not alive, but I understand where you are trying to go with this, yet in the end no matter what arrangement of parts that are done to a computer it will never become alive. I am sure that someone will jump at this statement and bring up artificial intelligence, which is OK, but lets try and not get to far off the topic.
Yes, computers are not alive, but they could be if they were complex enough and had the right processes applied to them.
I am not talking about Artificial Intelligence (as a computer programmer I have an interest in AI and have done quite a bit of research on it). What I am talking about is another, but not as known, branch called: Artificial Life.
The main goal of Artificial Life (AL) is to simulate living systems to produce solution to problems. For example Genetic Algorithms (Wikipedia) are commonly used. In AL, they do not specifically attempt to create a living computer, but in many cases it can raise questions about what that boarder actually is.
For example, if you were to name everything you ascribe to a living organism, it can be reproduced within a computer. Reproduction, variation, evolution, metabolism, waste, etc. Even the basic chemical reactions of living systems can be reproduced in a computer (although we are some ways yet to simulating a whole organisms like this, but give it around 10 years and we will have the computing power to do so). However, we have been able to do each step along the way by themselves (this is also how we know that there is no elan vital as the behaviour of these parts in a real organism would be different to the computer simulation, which they are not).
This is the question I have, how can anyone say that atoms become alive, there has to be more to life than just a bunch of atoms.
What I think I need to talk about is Emergence. Emergence is whereby the behaviours of a complex system can not be (easily) derived from the behaviours of the components of the system.
Emergence is a well studied phenomena. It is also quite easy to demonstrate:
Take for example: Conway's Game of Life (Wikipedia).
In this, there are only a few simple rules:
1. Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if by loneliness.
2. Any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overcrowding.
3. Any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives, unchanged, to the next generation.
4. Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours comes to life.
The interesting thing is that these rules don't state that you can construct a Universal Turing Machine (computer) using the rules of Conway's Game of Life. But you can!
There is no way that you can determine this just from studying the rules of the system and the individual components of the system. It is only when processes occur on a specific arrangement of the components does this behaviour reveal itself.
So you can see that this really does occur, here is the actual design of this Universal Turning Machine (computer): http://rendell-attic.org/gol/tm.htm.
The incredible thing is, that it would be possible to write a program for this Game of Life Computer that ran the latest version of Windows! And yet, none of this is specified by the Rules or components.
This is Emergence. The ability for the Game of Life to be able to create a Computer within it "Emerges" from the interactions of the system.
Life is also the result of the "Emergence" from the underlying system (the arrangement of the atoms and the processes/rules by which it operates).
Just as in the "Game of Life" a behaviour emerged that, although didn't violate the rules by which it operated and contained no extra "thing" that produced a computer, Life is a behaviour that, although doesn't violate the rules by which the system operates (chemistry) and does not have an extra "thing" (elan vital).
And yes, I have had a Conway's Game of Life Universal Turing Machine running. It is very cool to watch.