Mortality

May 30-31,’16 ~ QofDay~ Incarnation

Do you regard mortality, or the fact that everyone born into this incarnation will eventually die (with the possible exception of Ted Howard… of course), as a blessing or a curse?

{Why – Thank you Andrew! Nice to be so understood 😉 }

Why should everyone die?

In a very real sense, every cell alive today has been alive for some 4 billion years.
OK – the particular group of cells that is us is considerably younger, and I am reasonably confident that we will soon have the technology to extend the lifespan of the massive collections of cells that are us indefinitely into the future.
To me it is neither blessing nor curse – it is just what is.

As to the second law of thermodynamics, we only had that hypothesis available for a hundred or so years.
There’s enough stuff in the Sun to keep us going for a few billion more.

If we can discover the second law in the last few years, surely in another few billion we will discover some useful way of avoiding its consequences.

Resort to second law arguments is a failure of imagination in my understanding 😉

We can be a bit more creative that that – surely!!!

[followed by]

Hi OM,

Be very clear.
I did not say that all cells that have ever lived are alive. That is clearly false. Most cells that have lived have in fact died. That is clearly true.

I did say that in a very real sense, all cells alive right now, have been alive for about 4 billion years. Sure, lots of different mechanisms have resulted in change of the DNA present. Sure the atoms are changing constantly. And the fact that there is a lipid bag containing a molecular soup has not changed.

[followed by]

I accept that cells are alive.
They can replicate.
They can metabolise.
They can alter behaviour in response to environment in ways the promote survival.
That’s a fairly useful set of definitions for life.

Apoptosis is a mechanism that has evolved in cells that are part of large collections, where if a cell’s behaviour becomes too much of a threat to the collection, the cell has mechanisms that kill it. Such behaviours can be strongly selected for at the level of the collection.
Evolution can and does work at many different levels, simultaneously. Even quite a few biologists have trouble with that notion. 😉

[followed by 12 June]

Hi OM,

There is a constant turnover of molecules within cells. Most of the molecules change quite frequently, new ones coming in, or being built by various processes, old ones being broken down, or passing out through the cell membrane by some process. So that it is true that most molecules in the cell are replaced.

It is also true that most cell types are constantly replicating at some rate, that is sufficient to replace those that die for whatever reason.

Cells do divide, but when they do so, there is no clear distinction that one of the two is the “old” one, and the other is new. Each one gets half the original, in a very real sense both are the same cell in that first instant, and thereafter each is on a slightly different path, subject to slightly different experiences.

Then there are various mechanism by which cells can exchange genetic material, including the haplo-diploid life cycle of most complex organisms – where we have two separate life cycle phases, where the cell does a special type of division that halves the number of chromosomes, then at some later time joins with another cell to make a new diploid cell (zygote), which then grows into an embryo, etc.
Yet from the perspective of the cell being a lipid bag of molecular soup, it is all just variations on a theme. The existence of the cell continues.

We as human beings are massive collections of cells.
We live in various sizes of communities.

So evolution at the genetic level can and does occur at every one of those levels, nuclear, cellular, individual, family, and higher levels of community and ecosystem organisation. The strengths of influence on any one characteristic can vary enormously with context.
Evolution is a simple concept in one sense, but because of its recursive nature gets extremely complex very quickly in practice.

Biology is extremely complex – many levels, about 20 in the average human being. Nothing at all like they teach in high school biology.

I started to get some sort of a handle on it after spending some time computer programming, and some time working with chaos theory, complexity theory, and computational theory.

One of the hardest ideas to get to grips with is the idea of boundaries, and the fact that such things can influence things even if they are only present very rarely. So they can be completely absent most of the time, yet if they make a big difference on some of the few occasions they are present, they can have a big impact on the frequency of replicators in the population. And replicators can occur at many different levels, with different degrees of stability.

So amazingly dimensional.
So many influences.
So many different attractors.
So many different localising maxima and minima.

So many different levels of answer to “Why” questions.

In the face of such uncertainty, such complexity, its easy to understand why simplifying heuristics are so common.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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