Inquiry into the Ultimate Source of You
Updated: Dec 28, 2019
Life is the basis of everything we know, everything we are. It is not an assertion being made, but an observation; my observation which is a testament to my life. What does a corpse observe? What does it know?
Life is essential. Life is beautiful. Life is ever-changing. Life is also very peculiar, a special kind of peculiar — because it is something that we consider so obvious that we rarely try to question it, to analyse it, to marvel about it. Like a leaf in a tropical rain forest, its grandeur remains ignored despite its astonishing abundance, ironically, because of its astonishing abundance. But anyone who has scrutinized a leaf with a curious eye would understand that there is nothing obvious about a leaf. It is a miracle of the highest order. Is it a miracle of coincidence? Like a coin that stands on its edge after a toss? Or a miracle of life? Or is life in itself a coincidence?
This series is an attempt to elicit an observation of life; to theorize what life may be. And to induce some inferences about its nature. This observation may be elusive, subjective and inevitably incomplete. But if the very basis of our existence isn’t worth a genuine analysis, what is! Is life of a plant different from life of a human? Is life of an amoeba different from life of an animal? You are welcome to introspect what you think your life is. Examine if you are confusing an expression or consequence of life as life itself!
A revelation is only as enlightening as the mystery was perplexing. A solution is only as relieving as the question was troublesome.
Question is the original potential for knowledge. Observation and the resulting solution is a bridge between the two.
The first chapter of this series attempts to establish this question, to generate a vacuum, the original potential. The following chapters will be only as inspiring as the potential is profound. These chapters will focus on what we can find about life within the human domain, how it relates to other domains and what can be theorized about it. But of course, the subject is not limited to observations and inferences this series covers. These are mere jump starters; nucleation sites for your observation.
As a first step, one may begin by observing contrast between what resembles life (what appears alive) and what does not. Naturally, life ought to be the differentiating factor between these. To undertake a query into the nature of life, let us begin with an axiom, a starting point — Human beings are alive, at least until they die. This axiom bypasses all concepts of death and what happens after it, bypasses assertions about life of animals and plants and everything else, bypasses anything that may be a faulty assumption to begin with, rendering the whole process mistaken. There is only one assumption. It only states that you, right now, as a self-conscious entity are alive. This is the starting point. To challenge this axiom is beyond the scope of this series. The query for understanding life will be developed by observing, understanding and inferring from this axiom.
Human beings are alive, at least until they die!
Life here does not mean the mundane social and psychological systems that we cherish or endure. Observation of an ‘alive’ human body against a presumably ‘not alive’ stone will indicate towards some effects of life. Our body is a combination and assembly of several biochemical compositions (bone, muscle, tissue and all matter in body are biochemical compositions), intricately designed for very specific purposes on microscopic and macroscopic levels, functioning together with phenomenal sophistication. The body undertakes intelligent processes that function in a specific manner towards a specific objective. Mind and psyche are also consequences of this intelligence. Isn’t this intelligence the entirety of our knowledge about human life?
Growth of the body is one of the objectives of this intelligence. The body grows and maintains itself by consuming external matter — keeps what is needed by it and expels what is not. We don’t know exactly why these processes are the way they are; just that they are! These intelligent processes seize upon death. From this, it may not be inferred as to what life is; but at least that it is the basis of these processes. These processes are evidence and consequence of life.
It may also be observed that the conscious self you feel yourself to be is a small fraction of this intelligence at work. Aforementioned processes and states of immense complexity are maintained without the conscious intervention of the being. Did you attempt to increase the white blood cell count in your body last time you got hurt? Did you attempt to increase your heartbeat rate because your body needed more oxygen while running? Did you attempt to grow your bone structure for repairing a fracture? The examples are endless.
Ordinary consciousness that one feels (and imagines oneself to be) is only that aspect of intelligence which needs to interact with surroundings for sustenance. Verify this with your own example. You will realize that all bodily systems which need not interact with external systems directly are subconscious systems. The ordinary consciousness pertains to the surface of our body but life pertains to its entire existence. A body may be kept ‘alive’ without any consciousness being perceived by the being. It may be inferred that consciousness is not life, only a small fraction of its consequence; with a specific purpose.
It could be concluded that consciousness is a consequence of intelligence and intelligence is a consequence of life!
Are you ‘life’? Are you ‘intelligence’? Or are you the consciousness you feel?
If intelligent design and behavior are proofs of life, does that imply everything with an intelligent behavior has life? Consider this:
The atoms and molecules in a chemical reaction behave in specific, complex manner, with a precision that allows repeat-ability. This behavior is unquestionably intelligent. Does it make the chemicals alive and chemical reactions life processes?
Atoms come together and combine to form heavier atoms in a star. These combine in a specific manner and release a specific amount of energy. Does that make nuclear reactions life processes?
Several materials exhibit a signature atomic arrangement under any given conditions. Atoms maintain a stable state only with a specific number of electrons. Does that make atoms alive?
Above is an example each of chemical, nuclear and physical processes in nature. Intelligence of behavior is characteristic of all of them. Would you consider atoms and molecules alive then? If not, what is it that makes humans alive and these processes not?
Of course there can be some arguments, but can they draw a conclusive line between human processes and ‘laboratory’ processes? Here are some:
But these are just the interplay properties! — Are properties not specific and complex! Any process in human body also functions in accordance with the properties of materials involved. Does that imply that a human being is just an interplay of properties as well? As in axiom stated, we assume that is it not. But unlike the human body these are not self-sustaining processes — During laboratory observation, these processes are viewed singularly. Any process of human body, when viewed singularly, is also not self-sustaining. Each bodily process is ephemeral but contributes to a sustenance of the whole. Do chemical, physical and nuclear processes not contribute to the sustenance of our planet as their whole? If yes, shouldn’t these be as much an evidence of life as human processes? But atoms and molecules do not have a consciousness in their natural state! — That would be more of a convenient assumption than an observation. Have you ever experienced any consciousness other than your own? One assumes that other humans and animals have a consciousness as an extension of one’s own experience — due to this similarly of behavior and actions shared with them. Atoms and molecules are intelligent systems of a different order than humans and animals. That need not imply that they do not have a consciousness. Perhaps they do, perhaps don’t. But unlike entities of nature that perform these intelligent processes, human lives are very dynamic! One can observe the presence of a conscious will in humans but not in other entities. — Humans exist on a particular scale of time. And all observations remain within the periphery of this scale. Other entities of nature may perform acts of will on a scale of time beyond human observation. Plant and insect life are examples that function on a different but not very distant scale of time than humans. Over a short observation, plants do not appear to possess a dynamic will. But they act consciously — in response to external situations and are well known to be ‘alive’. A tiny insect with a life span of a few hours is entitled to be certain that plants do not behave consciously. The basis of this argument of conscious will is same as that for the insect.
Although these arguments highlight possible differences, they do not prove anything conclusively. Specific factors exhibit and justify that human beings are alive. Other entities mentioned above are known to characterize similar factors. It is not being asserted that any of these entities has life or any processes are alive processes. Just that the differentiating factor is not very easy to find. One may observe life where it is but cannot draw a line as to where it is not.
The following chapters of this series do not claim to draw this distinction conclusively or to define life. They dive deeper into observation of human life, its processes and throw some light on possibilities of its nature. As every chapter strives to study a specific aspect of human life and its basis, a better understanding of the principal of our existence may be developed. The next chapter ‘Lineage of Intelligence’ has already been published.