Self Replicating Patterns?

Marquis
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Self Replicating Patterns?

As far as I know, there is no scientific consensus on how to define "life".

 

What we do know, however, is that there is tremendous opportinity for creating superstition around this issue. It can also be quite lucrative to do so, which begs the question of what kind of incentive that motivates all possible permutations of the issue on how to define life.

 

My personal vote goes to "self replicating patterns". They can exist on a wide variety of complexity levels, with or without humanely detectable awareness. For instance clay. Or rock crystals. Both of which seem to have "purpose"; they assimilate elements from their surroundings into their structure so that they grow.

 

Obviously, there is a giant leap from rock crystals to complex organisms, but what they have in common is that they are self replicating patterns. In the case of the organism, though, we are talking about a composite of many different but coordinated patterns that each and own has "purpose" although in essence they are not much different from clay or rock crystal.

 

The point here being that "evolution" seems to me to be about organising self replicating patterns into ever more complex structures (that in and of themselves are self replicating patterns), perhaps as a function of some natural force that we have yet to identify (in the scientific sense). From the subatomic world of weirdness and to galactic clusters, natural forces organise "stuff" into patterns - and in my opinion, this is what constitutes "life".

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ronin-dog
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I understand your point, and

I understand your point, and it is quite interesting. Where do we draw the line between life and non-life, especially complex chemicals.

I wouldn't go as far as you though... I think life needs to be a bit more complex that that. There are many chemical reactions which would fit your rule and I just don't see them as "life".

Personally I think viruses exist in the grey area. By themselves they are nothing, effectively dead. They don't show properties of life until they come into contact with a living cell and even then the cell does all of the work...

If you include all self replicating patterns do you include memes?

A very thought provoking topic.

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Marquis
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ronin-dog wrote:do you

ronin-dog wrote:

do you include memes?

 

Yes of course! I would even say that "memes" (and other, more rudimentary patterns of an abstract - non physical - nature) that are arranged in multilayers may account for the phenomenon of "awareness" (which may be something as basic as a plant's ability to detect sunlight) and, ultimately, consciousness. I am not quite sure how to classify different variables of the entire spectrum of possible self-replicating patterns though. Maybe there is some kind of saturation point at each level which triggers the introduction of a next "level" of structures?

 

I personally do not draw any line between "life" and "non-life". I only observe different levels of awareness, starting with the most basic "will to exist and self replicate" at a subatomic level, then gradually increasing in complexity as interactive processes between "clusters" of such "wills" occur.

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BobSpence
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I think seeing a 'will to

I think seeing a 'will to exist and self replicate' is going a bit far, or perhaps not going far enough in grasping the implications of the fundamental Darwinian algorithm of natural selection.

All that is required is the capabability to self-replicate, coupled with the Darwinian algorithm, and those patterns which by chance survive and replicate more successfully will dominate, no will or drive required.

I think the tendency to see agency and purpose behind things we don't quite understand is a useful trait for survival in the world of predators lurking in the undergrowth we evolved in, but is a distraction from the real insight of Darwin, that apparent purpose and design are derivative, not primary driving principles.

Have you read much Dennett? He has a lot of deeply insightful things to say on this topic.

 

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Marquis
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BobSpence1 wrote:a 'will to

BobSpence1 wrote:

a 'will to exist and self replicate' is going a bit far

 

We are probably entering an argument on words here. I do not mean any personalised will, only "direction" if you like, such as that which you can find between adversely charged particles (magnetism). I am no mathematician, but I imagine "life" to be a fractal consequence of a really very simple set of initial conditions to a vastly complicated dynamic system (although I am no 'Big Bang' enthusiast either!). The bits that are narcissistically interesting for the human species is of course the level of organisation when "consciousness" seems to enter the picture. I kind of like the Arabic parable about the dervish that suddenly appears out of a cloud in a sandstorm, using all its available time as a cohesive entity to question existence.

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Bob's right. There's no will

Bob's right. There's no will or drive, it's just an algorithm. In fact, I spent a few years trying to figure this one out too, and I came to the position that it is the process which defines life, not any particular properties of the matter involved.

The process as I've identified it is the one described by Dawkins when he talks about memes, and by the artificial intelligence community when discussing evolutionary algorithms, such as genetic algorithms and genetic programming. The five major components to the process are: generation, communication, variation, selection, iteration. Generation is the exponential part of the process where one becomes two, two become four, four become eight, etc. Communication is the part of the process where the information defining one generation is copied to the next generation. Variation introduces changes in the communication. Selection is where the environment forces limitations on which lineages survive. And iteration simply means that the process repeats over and over. Eliminate any of those components, and the process will no longer produce evolution, i.e. life.

Others have different lists of components. The simplest I've seen is simply 'inheritance with variation', but I like splitting it into the five components I've listed because it helps identify corner-cases and discriminate between life and non-life much easier. For examples, using my criteria, viruses are clearly a form of life, whereas prions are clearly not. Memes are a form of life, but the game of Telephone is not, and neither is repeatedly photo-copying pieces of paper. Cells are alive, but not cars, nor crystals, nor fire.

Life is an information process with a specific algorithm. That's all that is necessary to make sense of biology. Bonus that it also makes sense of culture and abiogenesis (chemical evolution).

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Marquis
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natural wrote:viruses are

natural wrote:

viruses are clearly a form of life, whereas prions are clearly not. Memes are a form of life, but the game of Telephone is not, and neither is repeatedly photo-copying pieces of paper. Cells are alive, but not cars, nor crystals, nor fire.

 

This is very fascinating. Personally, I would define all dynamic processes to be "alive" (albeit not always contained in an organic or inorganic unit). In order to understand evolution - for such an autistic mind as my own - I will have to start with very simple processes and variables, the gradually increase the complexity of the pattern. There is a joke hiding somewhere in here, based in my college days of economics - when I was taught that the complexity of a system is moderated by its profitability. How much more "evolutionist" than that can you get?


 

"The idea of God is the sole wrong for which I cannot forgive mankind." (Alphonse Donatien De Sade)

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