They wrote mostly long essays in obscure philosopher's jargon, but one day decided to go ahead and explain everything very simply; they wrote The Tree of Knowledge, which summarizes their philosophy in the style of a children's book. Very worth reading if you're into these kinds of questions. I found a PDF here:
Should I be?
If (a) it makes copies of itself, (b) the copies inherit traits from the original, (c) the traits are subject to variation/mutation, and (d) the success of the copies at making further copies depends on those traits which are inherited, then evolution must occur.
Every other definition seems to me over-complex and ad-hoc; like specific things we have noticed which tend to be true about most life on Earth, but which might not be true for special cases, or for some other hypothetical extraterrestrial life which we might discover someday.
This definition is an unambiguous binary classifier, and it seems to correctly categorize everything we would intuitively call "alive". (Also, under this definition, viruses are unambiguously life).
your definition loses your purported binary classification when examined through rigor
> (a) it makes copies of itself
what about those forms of life that are unable to procreate, or choose to abstain? also 'copies' is ambiguous: see (b);
> (b) the copies inherit traits from the original
seems an unecessary condition.. if one is to accept the first than this is redundant, also it is confusing because you say 'inherit traits' and 'copies', a copy should inherit all traits, so which are we talking about? copies or trait inheriting progeny? if 'copies' is intentional what about forms of life unable to make exact copies of itself, like humanity?
> (c) the traits are subject to variation/mutation
if 'variation/mutation' is random one possibility would need to be completely foregoing the 'variation/mutation'
if 'variation/mutation' is deterministic then are there deterministic models of 'variation/mutation' that you would leave out of your definition for life?
(d) the success of the copies at making further copies depends on those traits which are inherited, then evolution must occur
what about life that fails in its own ability to continue to evolve but heavily affords other life to evolve further.. i'm thinking something like wheat that is scientifically controlled in its evolution because we forced its evolution to a sweet spot that for years helped humanity to evolve as we wanted
surely we must include mules in life.
Always test your definition against fire and crystals.
Crystals: Do not mutate, or if by some twisting of definition you say they do (e.g. defects are propagated through the lattice), the success of propagation doesn't depend on the inherited traits.
Having said that, the long term stability of that path is definitely debatable!
It doesn't. Evolution is indeed a greedy algorithm, and cannot plan.
EDIT: I'm confused about the downvotes. To be really concrete, the swimmers in Darwin Pond seem to me to satisfy all of OP's criteria for life. Do they not?
My feeling after watching this is that we are slowly getting there (which will also mean jump starting in a dish a self replicating thing from inorganic matter).
It's awe-inspiring and impressive that it works, and that it likely evolved from goo, but I am legitimately curious if anyone actually disagrees with the statement above in a justifiable way.
The Eiffel Tower is "simply" a bunch of puddled iron. On an even more reductionist level, it's simply a bunch of quarks, as are you.
While "Both you and the Eiffel Tower are simply bunches of quarks." is a true description (according to modern physics), it's not a very useful one. It says nothing about why the Eiffel Tower is different from other bunches of quarks, and definitely says nothing about (e.g.) what kind of reaction you might have to visiting Paris and climbing the Eiffel Tower. Would you be scared (acrophobic)? Exhilarated? Bored? The "bunch of quarks" description is of absolutely no help there.
Reductionist models have their uses, but attempting to use them to explain everything is a grievous mistake.
Except that in this case, the molecular details of life are useful. If you want to know why people need salt you need to know about ion channels. (This is in contrast to your Eiffel Tower example, where you don't gain much insight by looking at molecules than you knew at the material-science level.)
Yes we are automatons ("a really smart meat" per Ready Player One) but is that all there is to human life?
1. To me the mystery lies in the awareness.
Modern neuroscience/psychology/cognitive science/ are aware that subconscious accounts for most of brain's activity.
The aware part is such a small part that it is reasonable to ask whether it is needed at all.
Anecdotally we all have heard stories of people doing things on auto-pilot unaware of doing them(driving, blacked out shenanigans, etc).
Thus I can very well imagine a Chalmer's zombie which functions identical to most humans.
The biggest problem with simple reductionist strategy into automatons is what it means for morals/ethics.
It's not only that everything becomes "vae victis" or localized majority consensus. No globals left not even the golden rule.
Even worse everything becomes almost nonsensical.
Nihilist ISIS suicide bombers trying to escape the matrix then make as much sense as Elon Musk trying to expand humanity to Mars.
Just some automatons trying to make sense of it all.
We know what someone without awareness looks like, we call them coma patients.
The anecdotal stories of people doing things and not remembering them does not mean they were unaware at the moment, it just points to the glitches in the memory processes. Alcohol interferes with ability to record short term to long term memory, among other things. As for driving on “auto-pilot”, it is your brain tuning out all-too-familiar sights and not recording them as not containing any new information.
Your brain is very good at optimizing things, and the more routine-bound your life becomes, the less new information comes in that it considers worthy of recording - if it sees an instance of a pattern it has seen a thousand times, it categorizes that commute to work as that pattern and does not bother recording it unless something out of ordinary happens.
That also explains why time seems to pass faster as you get older - there are less and less genuinely new experiences and encounters coming in for your brain to record and remember as interesting, so time flies by faster and faster.
Awareness is not binary. My friend going into diabetic coma exhibits a degree of awareness until you realize her answers to my questions have stopped and you have to call the ambulance.
I do agree that the brain optimizes routine things, thus my question is it not possible to function without awareness (ie sleepwalking through life).
I am going from books like these: https://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Flesh-Embodied-Challenge-W...
Here's a premise: Most(90+%) of our thought occurs subconsciously . Is it not possible function 100% subconsiously?
Think about sleeping on a math problem and the solution coming to you suddenly.
The implications start getting dangerously close to http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html
"keep track of opinions that get people in trouble, and start asking, could this be true? Ok, it may be heretical (or whatever modern equivalent), but might it also be true?"
As more and more psychopaths learn that there is no global ruleset the more entropy we get.
If everyone learns that there is no difference between suicide and drinking coffee(via Sartre), then the number of suicides will inevitably rise.
There are people who supported certain presidential candidate(s) just for the lolz. They were proud of their nihilism.
"Automaton" is another potentially problematic word. Wiki tells me it means, literally, "acting of one's own will" - which we do - but most people would use it to refer to something that lacks some essential component of being human, which definitionally we don't. It is not a compliment to be called an automaton.
I suspect it is because our two brains (while identical physically) would have differing quantum states such that the superstructure of active connections would be impossible to measure perfectly - and therefore impossible to duplicate perfectly.
That said, i do appreciate the horror of being a wound up automaton, but i think this is a mistake to think of humans as primarily rational. Hubris, even, might be a good name for it. We are influenced by thousands of arbitrary signals every day and react in mostly normal ways; this doesn't seem to scare people at all. That is: even if we have a full mechanism of free will, we don't have functional free will, as humans are clearly influenced by many unconscious factors.
I'd have to look at Jefferson's writings again to confirm, but i thought "god" in a deism sense was portrayed, in many senses, as a scientist himself watching the progress of the universe, not an author laying out a grand, anthropomorphic, meaning-laden story. That is: even the clockwork deists were not explicitly deterministic!
Not necessarily. Quantum physics says that certain things are unpredictable. I consider indeterminism separate from the "truly random", with the former being generated via an algorithm and the latter being produced via no algorithm whatsoever. It may be the case that since the measuring system (the experimenter) is necessarily entangled with the measured system, the information needed to perfectly predict eigenstate selection is inaccessible, and thus appears perfectly random, since it is formally unpredictable. What would be interesting though is if someone devised an experiment to ascertain whether eigenstate selection is predictable in a universal sense although not necessarily predictable to us since we're part of the system that is being predicted. How such an experiment would be devised is beyond me though.
If there was a PRNG deciding the outcome of measurements, it would have to have the mathematical moving parts exist somewhere as hidden variables. Hidden variables are outlawed by Bell's theorem and a couple of other things. Therefore, the randomness must be stateless and truly random.
Local hidden variables. I see nothing wrong with non-locality; it's basically been confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt by now. That "closeness" occurs within Hilbert space rather than its projection into position space is ultimately no problem for a PRNG.
"living systems may be defined as open systems maintained in steady-states, far-from-equilibrium, due to matter-energy flows in which informed (genetically) autocatalytic cycles extract energy, build complex internal structures, allowing growth even as they create greater entropy in their environments, and capable, over multigenerational time, of evolution."
Also, life has a stake in reducing a stream of inputs into 'gated' processes, because life exists by providing a stable interface for its replicator core.
However, this doesn't mean that the stream of inputs in all cases reduces to 'gated' processes.
I agree that most of what makes up life is a grand, replicating automaton, but I think there is a soft core to it that retains the controlled unpredictability of a solution in brownian motion or a population in genetic drift.
A simple practical example of this would be bacteria around a hydrothermal vent; it's the boundary between the high energy source (signal) and the low-energy empty space around it where life thrives.