Sunday, March 19, 2006

Blabberings about Life, Existence, Reality

"my "understanding"" of "life":

first a few preliminary definitions:
+ mind: the activity of a brain. in the same sense as software running on a computer.
+ understanding: a model existing in a mind. in the same sense as the "data" part of software. there are no exact bounderies between mind and model. the sole purpose of the mind is to create and maintain data-structures that we call "concepts".
+ my understanding: the complete collection of concepts contained in the mind running on the brain that is connected to the fingers that are typing this via certain specific kind of cells. cells constitute a class of mass-energy structures. This is a working definition. The concept of "I" or "me" is different for different people. It is contingent on what you define "cells" as, and plug that into my above definition.

"Life" then is the maximal common set of rules or conditions that a certain class of mass-energy structures obey or satisfy. These mass-energy structures exhibit certain emergent patterns that are so similar to the patterns in our own history, that to some extent we identify ourselves as members of the same "family" or class. "Life" is a word (symbol) we use to denote the above-mentioned class. The task of defining life is equivalent to the task of defining the exact boundaries of the above class. This ultimately, depends on the mind that is contemplating the question. for example I might be willing to include virii as living organisms, while others may not. this difference of opinion translates into a difference in the definition of life.

If you really wanted to ask the "reason why" life exists, that is a whole different question. I'd answer that it is a statistical inevitability, that it exists because of the probabilistic physical laws. Rest assured that I do not claim that we KNOW all these physical laws. I use them in my explanation without instantiating them.

If you then ask me the reason why these laws are the way they are, you are really asking me "what is their cause" (that's why we answer "why" with "because"). In answer to that, i'd say that cause is a temporal concept, and has no meaning independent of the concept of time. Since space-time and thus the physical laws governing space-time contain the concept of time, you're really asking me what the cause of "time" is. This is a meaningless question, because cause can only exist within time. Time just IS, atleast it has no "cause", and so "why does time exist?" CANNOT have a mentally satisfactory answer.

If you wanted to ask whether there is anything more to life than mass-energy? I'd say yes, that something is "structure". it is not just mass-energy, but a WAY in which some mass-energy is organized within space-time.
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Although I believe explanation in terms of physical concepts is usually more elegant, I do not automatically discredit things like "spirit", "soul", or even "god" or "God". I just think most of these concepts are easily understood as purely physical phenomena. These are just concepts; models/data-structures that our mind(s) create(s) in reaction to observation; no more or less real than any other concepts. "Intrinsic" or "external" are really cosmetic terms. They depend on how you define "observer". Can the observer be unambiguously seperated from the observed?

There is no cause without effect, and vice versa. Cause if and only if effect. Ultimately it is just a global, distributed, probabilistic (maybe even non-deterministic) algorithm that makes pain / pleasure / conceptualization / philosophy / existence / etc. statistically inevitable. This algorithm did not "begin", it always was. What is it's cause? Only things that have beginnings have causes.
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That the universe had a "beginning" poses the following problem to me: what caused it to "begin"? Whatever that was, did it not "exist"? If it existed, by your essentiality of "beginning", it must have begun. if "time began", what caused it to "begin"? Was that cause not an event? An event makes sense only in a temporal framework, so time existed before time began? Ad infinitum.

Even if the big bang was a finite event in time, it does not imply that there was no universe "before" that.

Personally I think the big bang can be viewed as the logarithmic (or similarly curved) shape of space-time, rather than some isolated event. In this interpretation, we are still "in the big-bang", just that we are in the relatively horizontal region.