What's Life Got to Do with It?

What’s Life Got to Do with It?

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What’s Life Got to Do with It?

A provocative inquiry into where to draw the line on life. 

“In the end the scientific definition of life is more of a qualitative fluid spectrum than it is a quantitative set of solid categories, with varying opinions on how objects like viruses, crystals, and computers fall along the line. If organization and self regulation are the metric for this spectrum, gemstones probably lay somewhere between a pile of sand and a virus, and in a very limited sense can be referred to as alive, whatever that may mean.”

HT Hans Youngmann. Oh, and sorry, Tina Turner.

#life   #artificiallife   

Originally shared by Margaret Siemers (Siemers Rafter Room)

Can an inanimate object such as a crystal actually be alive?

Oceanside Jewelers gives us something to consider in another of his excellent blog postings. 



  1. Is Keith Richards “alive”?  Hmm.  That might need some serious scientific review.

  2. From the article: “The fundamental argument that can be made in favor crystals as life is that they avoid entropy, the tendency in nature to move from highly ordered states to random, undifferentiated ones.”

    Crystals are not only able to “avoid entropy”, they are capable of expressing centropy!

    From the article: “On the other hand, crystals lack another fundamental characteristic of life, the ability to adapt and respond directly to the environment.”

    Crystals are not only alive, they adapt! They are what I call a proxy life form. They are not life as we know it (as well as the author), but they are alive just the same. This will eventually be proven when we have a better understanding of the dynamics and structure involved.

  3. carey g. butler what do you mean about crystals adapting? I thought to be alive, they would have to metabolize food for energy, be capable of reproducing, maintain themselves, AND respond to stimuli (one time I taught a high school biology, so now I am a real expert! LOL). Now a crystal can reproduce itself in a manner of speaking but it cannot really do the other things can it? Of course a crystal does grow where there is room to grow but that is not really adaptation to changing conditions is it? I guess there could be some other definition of “life” you would propose.

  4. Cade Johnson Are you clear that the crystalline form and function are found everywhere in our universe and ‘reappears’ on multiple ‘levels’ (holarchic plateaus)? Why would that be if there wasn’t something to their meaning? Think of how water reveals its inner structure when exposed to lower temperature… The crystal lattice is ubiquitous and subtly nested in our existence.

    This isn’t just esoteric blah blah, rather results from over 30 years of independent research.

    I’m not trying to convince you, but if you could find it within yourself to be open to alternative explanations for evidence (what real science used to do), then you might just learn something new. Otherwise, believe what you want. My time is coming… until then, just relax and think that I’m some kind of quack. I’m the proverbial guy people like to ignore until it’s too late. 😉

  5. carey g. butler I did not mean to call you a quack, etc. – I was just conversing. But what is a “holarchic plateau”? I cannot find any mention of this phrase in a Google search, but you seem to associate significance to it.

    I think the human mind is well equipped to detect order or patterns in our surroundings – sometimes even when there IS no pattern. But I look out my back door at the jungle and I do not see much crystalline perfection there! How are cystalline form and function to be found in the chaos of my existence? (I would photograph my work table as an example – messy – but I cannot find my camera)

    I do not think it is a logical necessity that things have “meaning”. Why would you think otherwise?

  6. Cade Johnson The ‘Chaos’ you see is the ‘Cosmos’ I see. Vested interest in the mainstream trendy want us to focus on chaotic and complex systems, because those who proliferate those views are primarily left-brainers who usually have other issues as well (profit among other reasons).

    It is, by the way, their nightmare we are living right now with artificial war and artificial terror all over the world. (Kind of fits in with the #AI farce [synthetic intelligence], doesn’t it? We even have artificial poverty #Austerity ) Nothing is as it seems, when greed enters into the picture (banksters). They have taken the adornment of humanity (science) and made it into a harlot for sale to the highest bidder (carbon taxes, for example).

    A holarchic plateau is known; only not in the mainstream trendy. It describes those places where emergence (only one part of the evolutionary process) seems to be most apparent. The mainstream trendy is also unable to define emergence, because it doesn’t understand it.

    The crystalline form and function is found even in the words you use and the thoughts you think. I refer you to this very short (1 minute) video:

  7. I think I am one of those left brainers you mention, though I am not particularly profit-driven. I appreciate your replies, but I think our world views are pretty divergent. Anyway, have a good day! 🙂

  8. Cade Johnson I think we do share at least one view: the universe is capable of being understood to some extent, right? Where we differ is that you seem to accept the right-brain take on our reality. I believe that BOTH left and right are needed. It’s even a natural constant! The universe always answers our questions in accordance to how we frame them.

    Have a great day.

  9. Interesting back and forth, carey g. butler​ And Cade Johnson​. Sometimes it’s hard talking about areas where we might diverge with one another on coffee beliefs, but I’m glad you are able to keep it civil.

    Carey, I actually had to look up “centropy” to make sure my assumption of what it meant was right. Here’s what I got:

    In thermodynamics, centropy is a thermodynamic antonym-metaphor type of term posited to refer toenergetic tendency for particles of a system to come together in an organized manner. The term ‘centropy’ is a combination of ‘centration’, meaning concentration, and ‘negative entropy’, meaning order.

    Are you familiar with the term “autopoeisis”, and if so, how do you see these as different? I think I intuit a difference but would like to hear your thoughts first.

  10. Gideon Rosenblatt Thank you for taking the time to check these things out.

    Yes, centropy comprises a contrapositional relationship to entropy (contraposition = essentially it is that which is not entropy or anything else). That is also to say that each contain the seed of the other.

    Autopoeisis is known to me. It is a system theoretical idea that the creation of a set of initial conditions in which, by means of emergence, more advanced expressions of evolution manifest themselves automatically. It has also been enhanced to include the capacities of reproduction and self-referential cohesion. Life is more than autopoeisis can offer. In fact, autopoeisis is a mechanistic expression of only half of what life comprises! Agency is ‘lonesome’ without its primary contrapositive communion. Agency answers how? (ontology) – communion answers why? (epistemology)

    For me the paradigm is a desperate attempt to explain consciousness (as well as punctuated emergence) without being able to define what consciousness and emergence are and from whence they come!

    I do not subscribe to it. It also cannot explain emergence (although it thinks it does!).

    Systems Theory as well as Chaos Theory  both contain grievous deficits.

  11. Gideon Rosenblatt I would add one other aspect that is being overlooked which for me is blatantly absent on the landscape: why does no one wonder why terms like ‘centropy’ and ‘holarchy’ are not out there in the mainstream trendy?

    We have so many lemmings repeating what they’ve been taught (and doing so with religious fervor!), that no one stops and asks if what they’ve learned really is the best explanation for the evidence/data!

    They never ask themselves if the version they have learned may in fact be wrong or intentionally false (which is often the case!)!

    Where is their scientific skepticism?

  12. carey g. butler it could be that there is no evidence for centropy and that is why it is not being considered? Entropy explains a lot of processes, but is there something other than thermodynamic “Free Energy” that acts to cause local reductions in Entropy? In the field of science, the whole concept of energy is pretty new, but it is also very effective and a correspondingly difficult paradigm to replace.

    I still do not know what holarchy means – I think a little bit of hologram (whole or 3D image) and a little of monarchy (a single ruler) – but whole rule does not give me a concept that has currency. How can there be a holarchic plateau?

  13. Cade Johnson Centropy is just as descriptive and essential as is its contrapositive entropy. Your lack of knowledge about centropy doesn’t reduce it’s importance anymore than your lack of knowledge of something else would! Also the lack of teaching this concept is intentional. That’s a different subject though.

    Holarchy is built from an idea that diverges from the standard hierarchy paradigm. These differences are not superficial like today’s neo-liberal touchy-feely dislike of hierarchy (everyone is supposed to be equal – even when they are not) that lies at the root of failed systems like Common Core (no child left behind, even if we have to bring the brightest down to the level of the least capable). I’m not even talking about dominance hierarchy, with its own set of problems, yet either!

    A holarchy (natural holarchy [without ranking/dominator/pathological hierarchy]) is composed of strata of holons (see #6 and #10 here for definition: https://plus.google.com/104704674433954659866/posts/LzCWr4K7aYL) whose very claim to exist is in terms of increasing ‘wholeness’ when compared with its underlying (prerequisite) stratum. For example the ‘knowosphere’ (human intelligence, for example) completely presupposes the existence of a ‘biosphere’, and so on.

    Each ‘layer’ transcends and includes the former to build orders of increasing wholeness.

    If you destroyed all of the molecules in the universe, then all of the higher levels, such as cells and organisms, would be destroyed. Those holons in lower strata, such as atoms and sub-atomic fields (NOT particles!!!), would still exist.

  14. Cade Johnson, here’s one way I’ve described a holon before: “A holon is something that is simultaneously a whole and a part. Your lungs are a whole organ, and a part of your body. Leaves, branches and trees are also holons: parts nested in parts, coming together as a whole.”


    It’s a way of looking at systems that is actually quite powerful. A perspective shift, really. If you’re interested in learning more, there’s a great primer by Ervin Laszlo called The Systems View of the World; it has a lot about holons in it. 

  15. I’m somewhat surprised that you have such a negative response to autopoeisis, carey g. butler. In simplest terms, I see it as “self organization,” and as such, I think it’s a very useful frame for thinking about transitions from physics, chemistry and biology. Embedded in the idea of self organization is some capacity for feedback with the environment. Did you ever read Humberto Maturana and Fancisco Varela’s work, The Tree of Knowledge

    Tell me more about your thinking about agency and communion. I’m quite interested, and the timing is, well, uncanny

  16. Gideon Rosenblatt I’ve stated why I’m not satisfied with autopoesis. Sure it helps to model and frame common general processes between disciplines, but it requires our assistance to make that work (our sentience and especially, creativity).

    It cannot know what it hasn’t seen before in its own terms unless we frame that something into those terms. It contains no sentience and is purely mechanistic recursion (again only half of what’s necessary).

    It even contains no real sense of self as subjection, rather as a nexus of intersubjection around a ‘plural self’ of system.

    The Tree of Knowledge is excellent to learn from, but suffers from all of these objections I present here and more.

    I’ll explain about agency and communion next, but it would be good to resolve this issue first. Even if we agree to disagree.

  17. So, it would seem, carey g. butler, that you are defining life more in terms of some form of sentience, and perhaps even consciousness…am I misunderstanding you?

  18. Gideon Rosenblatt Life contains awareness of self. It’s not necessarily sophonce, but sapience of some measure.

  19. carey g. butler, you got me thinking about these distinctions, and it led me to this page, which is spurring some additional thoughts/insights. Just thought I’d share with you to see if it does the same:


  20. Gideon Rosenblatt

    Thank you Gideon. I find myself brain fatigued thinking too much about life and computers. Thereby, I am going to go be a human and get outside, talk to people, have some coffee, interact, listen to listen, smell the fresh crisp winter air, brush my horses and throw a frizbee for my dog ;D Cheers MicheleElys

  21. Gideon Rosenblatt

    Yes, that’s a good link.

    It should confirm to everyone reading this that other kinds of cognition do in fact exist! The kind of cognition varies though. A virus has cognition that’s different than bacteria, and so on.

    Therefore, and I have demonstrated this experimentally with language, that crystal lattices also partake in cognition and are therefore alive!

    I do not agree that computer programs participate in cognition as your link suggests. We must always differentiate between holons, artifacts (that which came to be by means of or from holons), and heaps (like rocks). Programs are artifacts.

  22. Gideon Rosenblatt Is this topic now played out? I was hoping we could continue where we left off. Perhaps you’re busy. I don’t mind… I shall gladly divert my attention elsewhere.

  23. Just bushwhacked a bit with some other things, carey g. butler. 

    So, I take it you don’t believe it’s possible for us to be part of a holon where the next level up in complexity includes our artifacts? 

  24. Gideon Rosenblatt Where did I say that?

    Yes, I can imagine a time when we create cognition capable artifacts, but that has nothing to do with complexity.

    Complexity is a coping mechanism for a missing comprehensive philosophy of mind and an inadequate metaphysical foundation. Also, there has been framing alterations on what we know about what we know.

  25. Oh, I was just going off the comment about holons and artifacts, carey g. butler. 

    And actually, I’m not talking about cognition capable artifacts (though I think that will come), but rather systems that include us and them as something more complex, where we, and they, will will be a whole, as well as a part in the larger system. And by complexity, I mean it more in the sense of the next level up in the holon. 

  26. Gideon Rosenblatt Can you be more specific? We already have ‘systems’ that include us as well as being a part of things. What do you mean in particular?

    PS: I modified my comment just above to make it more complete. Please note my changes by adding the last sentence and the one before it.

  27. Exactly. Take Amazon or Google as an example. 

  28. Gideon Rosenblatt How are they “more than us” as you put it? I could infer your meaning, but would rather have it in your terms and perspective.

  29. It’s actually a very long story, carey g. butler, and something I’ve actually written up in some detail but have yet to publish. This conversation is making me think it may be time to finally go back an finish it. If you’re interested, I’d be happy to drop you an early draft. 

  30. Gideon Rosenblatt Sure, I’d like that. Is that also why you desire more information on agency and communion as you referred to above?

  31. Well, no, not really, carey g. butler. As I say, I kind of set this aside (a year ago, I now see). But these are topics I’m generally interested in and try to read up on in the wide mix of other stuff I follow. 

    The agency and communion is more a personal thing – some epiphanies over the last week or so… 

    I’ll drop you a note when I get this piece on “the conscious organization” cleaned up enough. I’m first publishing a piece on simulated love though – so that’s first. Glad you’re interested. 

  32. Gideon Rosenblatt Do you want to suspend this discussion until then?

  33. Sure. Plus, I’ve a feeling there will be other opportunities, carey g. butler. 🙂

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