In discussing the definition of life, the conversation inevitably turns to the philosophical. A simple question, 'what is life' has taken the brightest minds of all time thousands of years to search for answers, which largely only lead to more questions. Science looks to define life largely to properly identify it as humankind searches the cosmos for another sample.
In an article on NASA's website titled: Life's working definition: Does it Work, the space agency, as of 2003, defines life in the following:
Living things tend to be complex and highly organized. They have the ability to take in energy from the environment and transform it for growth and reproduction. Organisms tend toward homeostasis: an equilibrium of parameters that define their internal environment. Living creatures respond, and their stimulation fosters a reaction-like motion, recoil, and in advanced forms, learning. Life is reproductive, as some kind of copying is needed for evolution to take hold through a population's mutation and natural selection. To grow and develop, living creatures need foremost to be consumers, since growth includes changing biomass, creating new individuals, and the shedding of waste.
NASA's definition would surely allow for humans to point at a an unknown substance on a world far away and say "yes, that is life," or "Nope, just another speck of dust." In the essence of being philosophical, what if most things are life? Could it be that all forms of energy is/are actually alive and that, as stated by the first law of thermodynamics, cannot be created or destroyed, but only change forms?
As scientists, the first law of thermodynamics is a concept we are introduced to early in our educations. We are also taught the KISS principle, or "keep it simple, stupid." Thinking about the first law of thermodynamics philosophically, could it not be a simple answer to the question that asks to define life? As presumably the most advance species in the universe, are we so selfish to think that life is so rare? Could it be that life is never ending, and instead only changes from one form to another, eventually even wondering the universe as fine particles?
The thought had been raised regarding evolution and its impact on defining life. Most specifically the topic of Darwinian evolution and supra-Darwinian evolution was discussed. The discussions brought to mind recent pop culture movies like Transformer and Lucy where in Transformers, the essence of the robots’ life is referred to as “the All-spark.” In Lucy, after being dosed with a new street drug, Lucy, played by Scarlett Johansson, was able to access 100% of her brain power, and transcend the physical world to be everywhere. Looking at life through the eye of the first law of thermodynamics, would this not all be possible, if not probable courses of evolution beyond Darwin? In reference to the Transformers, could it be something like the all-spark that allows our intelligence?
I like how you brought up pop culture. I think it helped your argument a lot and I also helped me to understand your point better. The concept of 100 percent access to brain power as being the next step in evolution, is something that I have never thought about and I think that it is an interesting concept.
I am not sure if I fully agree that all forms of energy are alive. As of now, I think that energy might have to be in a certain form or organization before it can become alive. That being said, I definitely think that it is a big part of what makes life.
I like the idea of expanding our idea of what life is. Since we only one sample size of what life is there are other possibilities to forms of life.
That being said connecting life to the first law of thermodynamics seems like bridging gap that's not there. Like we discussed in class concerning the second law of thermodynamics should we relate that to the origin of life.