Archives for posts with tag: Life

We learn about what we call reality by
analyzing the information we acquire through our senses.

We.
We, the human people.
We, the conscious human people.
We, because nobody has ever been able to become conscious – as in aware of their own self, by their own. Alone…

Learn.
We are not the only ones who are able to learn.
Our dogs learn our ways. And we continuously learn about more and more living organisms being able to learn. And to remember what they have learned. To fine tune their behavior according to the circumstances into which they happen to live.

What we call reality.
First and fore-most, reality is a concept. We call it ‘reality’. And many other names…
Believers call it ‘god’, scientists call it ‘physical world’ and the scientists who happen to believe are convinced that by studying the reality they will eventually divine the will of the Lord.
The believers being convinced that whatever exists, is here because the Lord wished it into existence.
So, basically, the main difference between the believers and the nonbelievers is the fact that the believers are convinced that the ‘out-there’, the ‘source of it all’, has a conscience of it’s own. A will of it’s own…

By analyzing.
We have been able to build our conscience – our ability to ‘observe ourselves while observing other phenomena’ (Maturana, 2005), because we have a big enough brain, the ability to share complex and meaningful information using language and the ability to put in practice some of our wishes/thoughts through the use of our hands.
At a certain point in its evolution, human conscience has become sophisticated enough to need explanations. It was no longer satisfied with mere ‘connections’ – If… then…, it had started to wonder about why-s. ‘Why does this happen as it does?’ ‘Will it happen again tomorrow?’
Using our by then already established ability to speak up their minds, our ancestors shared among themselves these ‘anxieties’. Discussed them around the fire-place. Started to analyze. The reality. What they perceived to be real. The ‘thing’ which continuously generates the circumstances in which we – all of us, have to make do.

Information.
In order to analyze, the analyst – each and everyone of us, has to separate the meaningful information from the surrounding noise. In order to do that, we have started by coining the very concept of (useful/meaningful) information. As being different from ‘noise’. The difference consisting, obviously, in us being able to find its use and/or pinpoint its meaning.

We acquire.
Information is acquired on an individual basis. For an ‘event’ to become information, it has to be ‘noticed’ by an individual. It has not only to be sensed but also identified as useful/meaningful. Different from ‘noise’.
Which process of identification implying methods which had been agreed upon by the members of the community. Music would be a good example of how various groups of people make the difference between sublime/abhorrent and white-noise. While ‘use of language’ is a very poignant example of how people can both share information and mislead one-another.

Senses.
Everything that we know, had entered our mind through our senses.
Before setting it aside as information or discard it as noise, we have to get in contact with it as a sensation.
Or as a thought. A conjecture. A few pieces of information which put together have given birth, inside our individual mind, to new information. To ‘something else’ which passes the threshold into being information. At least according to our own mind…

Which transforms our minds into our famous sixth sense.
In the sense that our individual minds are capable of building ‘sensations’ on their own. Starting from information that has already been stashed in our memory.
Which brings us to the third reality.

We have – in the sense that we have agreed upon its existence, the surrounding reality. The things we – as in most of us, consider to be real. The mountains we climb, the air we breathe, the pebbles which happen to sneak into our shoes. The reality which is being studied by science. The reality to which we have access through our senses. Our minds and our sense enhancers – scientific instruments, included.

We also have the ‘out-there’. The things we know we’ll never be able to grasp. During our lives! The things our followers might be able to figure out…

And each of us has their own reality.
Individually built even if ‘carved’ from the same (type of) material as the reality shared by the rest of us.
Individually built even if using more or less the same (culturally accrued) methods.
Individually built even if neither of us is alone.

H.M. Romesin, 2005, The origin and conservation of self‐consciousness: Reflections on four questions by Heinz von Foerster

A planned after-thought.
Rumsfeld is both wrong and right. There are unknown unknowns but they are no longer unknown since we speak about them…
Which actually proofs the limits of our languaging.
The imprecision of the manner in which we gather, share and analyze information.

Why is this happening to me?

Because you’re alive, because of the previously made decisions and because of ‘hazard’.

You notice what’s happening around you – not necessarily to you, because you’re alive. A sensitive animal. And you try to make something out of it – to find meaning, because you are conscious. A conscious human being.

Everything around you – assuming you live in the civilized world, is man-made. The consequence of previously made decisions. The consequence of culture – string of accrued decisions, and the consequence of culturally influenced present day decisions. Decisions which are being made, by us, as we speak.

Your life, and everything in it, has been shaped by hazard.
You could have been born a slave somewhere a few centuries ago or you could have been born as the only child of Kim Il Sun.
You could have been born healthy – I hope you were, or you could have been the victim of a rare genetic abnormality.

We can’t, none of us, do anything about ‘hazard’.
We can’t change culture. But we can reinterpret it. Learn more from it than blindly following rules.
We can make better decisions.

And, for starters, we may decide to stop killing each-other. To stop hurting each-other. To stop bullying each-other.
NB. ‘Stop killing’ doesn’t mean give up defending ourselves. ‘Stop hurting’ doesn’t mean giving up.
‘Stop bullying’ doesn’t mean the bully has stopped bullying because the victim caved in.

What we really need to do is to stop all forms of aggression.

Let me put this another way.

Nobody can survive alone.
Not for a considerable amount of time, anyway.

“It takes nothing to join the crowd”.
To join, maybe… but if you choose to remain, you must ‘follow the rules’.

So yes, it takes everything to stand alone… Your very life!
And the ‘membership price’ is your ‘absolute’ freedom…

Hard to make up your mind, eh?
Then let me raise up a few points.

I started this argument by mentioning that nobody can live alone. Not for long and not very comfortably. No matter how hard you may prepare yourself.
Don’t kid yourself. All those hermits and preppers you hear about – on ‘social media’!, are able to do that because of modern technology. Which technology has been developed by somebody else…
On the other hand, most individuals are able to survive, alone or in small groups, while jumping from ‘one boat to another’. Think emigration, for instance. Or ‘acculturation’.

But no crowd will ever survive its members leaving in droves!

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Reality is tricky.

It includes us. Each of us!

Yet we perceive it as being ‘exterior’. As including the others but not ‘me’. ‘I’ determine what’s real and what not, hence I’m above ‘mere’ reality.

We perceive ourselves as being distinct from the (rest of the) reality yet each of us continuously shares substance and energy with it. We breathe, eat, drink, excrete. We bask in the sun whenever we can during winter and use wind and water to cool ourselves down during hot summer days.

We feel overwhelmed whenever we think about it yet we constantly chip away at it. We build shelters and roads, we grow crops and raise animals, we dig up minerals and transform them into consumer goods. In time, we had displaced most of the ‘Nature’ we have evolved in and replaced it with ‘Man Made’.

Berger and Luckmann had famously – yet somewhat convolutedly, demonstrated that ‘reality’ was a (social) construct.
That what we know about the reality and what we have built based on that knowledge are the consequences of our common effort.

What I’m interested in is the ‘complicated’ manner in which we, each of us, interact with ‘reality’.

We grow up learning about reality. From those around us.
During this process, we simultaneously accumulate knowledge and develop the instrument with which we gauge reality. Our consciences.
Along with this process we also change, together with our teachers and siblings, the very reality we learn about.

Interesting, isn’t it?

We depend, for our dear life, on something we don’t fully understand.
We extract sustenance from it and throw back at it the results of our cravings.
Since our individual knowledge is severely limited, we depend on others – our peers, to complement our understanding of what’s going on around us. Yet in our attempts to fulfill our cravings we mislead some of our siblings.

Reality has been shaped by life from the very first moment. Only in those times, the process was driven exclusively by ‘needs’. The living things of yore did change their reality only they were doing exclusively what they had to in order to survive.
Nowadays, while the rest of the living world continue to follow the ‘time proven traditions’, we – the conscient, and presumably rational, humans, transform the reality according to our wishes.
While we don’t exactly understand what’s going on….

Then how come we’re so snug about the whole thing?

And what’s the meaning of the Adenium Obesum I used to illustrate this post?
I live in Romania. The Desert Rose is a native of the Arabian Desert. Yet one grows, and flowers, in my home.
Only because I afford to heat my ‘shelter’ during winter. And to spend some of my time caring for it.
I don’t really need that plant in order to survive. Yet I’ve changed the reality around me to such an extent that that plant is able to thrive. Almost 4000 km straight North from its native desert….
I’ve been taking care of it for some 4 years now. And I’ve learned only 5 minutes ago that its sap is toxic… What was I telling you about us not being fully aware of our actions?

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You cannot explore the limits of something without knowning what that something is.
You might not know how that thing works, or came to be, but you need to have at least some idea about what that thing is!

So, ‘What conscience is?’

Huh?!?

‘Cognitive function…’, ‘ability to tell right from wrong’, ‘self awareness’… you name it.
Rathern confusing, isn’t it?
Specially when you already had a clear idea about what the word used to mean… Or was that only an impression?!? An ilussion, actually?

Let me introduce you to my version of things.

Everything that surrounds us has a ‘discrete’ nature.

Both matter and energy are, ultimatelly, made of quanta.
Certain theoretical considerations suggest that time and space are multiple of Planck time and space units, respectivelly. Any lenght, in time and/or space, smaller than a Planck unit not having any sense. The argument being the facts that the speed of light is limited and that matter/energy itself (which fills the space and generates time) is of a discrete nature. As in ‘made of quanta’.

And this ‘discrete nature of things’ is visible at every level.

We have quanta, quarks and other elementary particles, atoms, molecules/crystals. And ‘objects’.
We have substances, membranes, cells, organisms, species. And individuals.

When our scientifically minded forefathers first tried to make some sense of what we had already learned about the world, they had come up with the notion of ‘states of matter aggregation’. Or ‘phases of matter’.
At first, there were three of them. Solid, Liquid and Gaseous.
Currently, we recognize five. Solid, Liquid, Gaseous, Plasma and Bose-Einstein Condensate. The first four are deemed to be ‘natural’ while the last is considered to have been ‘made by man’.

The main difference between them being the manner in which the components ‘stick’ to each other. The amount of force with which each of them interacts with its neighbors.
The same ‘level of internal interaction’ governs the way in which various ‘objects’ interact when they ‘meet’. Two clouds of gas interact differently than two bodies of water. Which interact differently than two rocks. Furthermore, a stream of gas interacts differently with a liquid than with a solid object. And so on….

My point being that the ‘phase of matter’ one object belongs to determines the manner in which that object interacts with its exterior.

‘OK, somewhat interesting but rather hard to follow… anyway, what has any of this to do with ‘conscience’?!?’

Given what I’ve already written, where would you put a living organism? In what ‘phase of matter’?
Is it solid? Liquid? Gaseous? Plasmatic?!? Or, given the fact that it contains all three ‘classic’ phases it’s closer to a Bose-Einstein condensate?

For lack of a better word, I consider ‘conscience’ to be a ‘state of matter aggregation’.

We’ve associated ‘being conscious’ with self awareness. With the human version of self-awareness… the one described by Humberto Maturana. ‘The learned ability to observe ourselves in the act of observing‘.
I suggest that we point our attention towards any other living organism. And notice that it acts as if it was aware of itself. It keeps its inside separate from the outside. It choses what to ingest. What of it to digest. And what to excrete. Sometimes even where to excrete. Then it passes the instructions according to which it had performed all these tasks towards the next generations.

Or would it be more suitable to consider ‘life’ itself as a ‘state of matter aggregation’? And consciousness as a property of life? As hardness is for solids and viscosity is for fluids/gases?

‘And what about ‘the discrete nature of things’? What has this to do with ‘conscience’?’

You see, I’ve just proposed ‘conscience’ as ‘state of matter’. That ‘phase’ where life takes place.
That place where individual organisms interact, among themselves and with their environment, attempting to survive. And to pass on the information contained in them.
We, humans, have taken ‘conscience’ to the next level. Our conscience is far more than the natural tendency to uphold the functionality of the individual organism. We observe ourselves in the act of observing. We set what is good, and bad, for us. We set goals.

Sometimes without being aware that our goals might hurt us.
The individual ‘us’.
And the collective us.
The collective us which makes us, individuals, possible.

Primum non nocere!

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As much as I love writing, I do have to eat.
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https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3501646

Becoming mature implies giving up a lot of things.

A lot of the erstwhile held convictions.
No matter how they had happened to accure on you.

For instance, growing up means giving up the widely held belief that growing old will, eventually, ‘open up’ your mind.
That living long enough will transform each of us into a wise person.

Living is nothing but an opportunity.
What happens during that time depends heavily on ‘Lady Luck’.
And, of course, on what each of us is able to make of the opportunities presented by the afore mentioned Lady Luck.

In dear memory of Petre Anghel,
my Teacher,
who had passed away before we had the chance to finish discussing this subject.

‘From virus? What?!? And from which one?’

From none in particular.
From all of them, since all viruses are nothing but information!

‘Huh???’

Most biologists consider viruses to be something ‘in between’. Not exactly ‘life’, since they cannot replicate themselves, but something more than mere matter.

Only this approach sets very straight limits to how we understand life itself.
Or should I rather use ‘narrow’ instead of ‘straight’?
‘Narrow’ as in ‘not wide enough’ minded?

“Information which perpetuates itself”.

Does this sound right for you?

We. humans, are individual human beings. ‘Social’, indeed, but, nevertheless, individual. It’s our individual-ness which sets us apart from our nearest cousins. Chimps and bonobos.
It’s our individual-ness which sets the parameters of our world-view. That being the reason for our attempt to define life as a characteristic of the individual organisms which happen to be alive.

This being the moment when I feel the urge to direct your attention upon a seminal book.

Hmmm… the Origin of Species…

If evolution is about ‘Species’, then what about life itself being more about species than about individuals?

What about life being more about the process through which information is passed along from one generation to another than about an individual organism being alive or not?

In this sense, ‘virus’ would belong to the realm of the living, right?

Let me start by attempting to answer this question in a logical manner.

Theoretically, individuals have the right to defend their lives. And properties. In some jurisdictions, the defender might even shoot the trespasser.
On the other hand, it is a lot harder to identify an example where property might end up purposefully damaged in a lawful manner while life is being defended. ‘Purposefully’ as in property being targeted in an attempt to fulfill the goal of defending life.
When groups of people are involved, things are even more complicated.
Is a community entitled – using the police force, a “well regulated militia” or even ‘spontaneously’, to inflict bodily harm to a group of people who randomly destroys property? What becomes different when the destruction occurs during a protest ‘gone wrong’?
The way I see it, things are more complicated at the social level because of the number of people involved. At the individual level, things are simple. The guy who trespasses is the one who gets hurt. The defender is the only person who might inflict injury and the one who will answer for the act. When there are more people involved…. Some protest peacefully, others do the damage… and who knows who gets clobbered – or shot, by the police?!? Same thing looking from the ‘other’ side. The owner of a property might have decided to protect it in a different manner than the police … or even not at all…
To wrap it up, there’s no single answer for this question. On the individual level, the actors/agents must decide on the spot. Considering the specifics of each incident. While being ready to accept the consequences. On the social level, neither murder nor property damage are acceptable and must be dealt with in a very thoughtful, but firm, manner.

As usual, logic can take us only this far. Far from the essence…

What are we doing here?
How can we even attempt to compare life with property?
Do they belong to the same category?
Can we sell a human being? Do houses have souls?
What’s happening to us?

Existence takes place ‘inside’ while things happen in-between.

Survival is a matter of preserving, ‘as is’, what already exists while evolution is about change and might involve ‘dismissal’.

Everything may survive while only ‘living’ things are capable of evolving on their own.

At some point, evolving organisms became complex enough to ‘feel’.
Not only complicated enough to react in an orderly – a.k.a. pre-programmed, manner but also to generate emotional reactions – which can be remembered, when certain things happen in their vicinity. Things which are important for the survival of the feeling organisms. As a consequence of the ‘feeling’ process, data regarding the happened occurrences are stored by the feeling organisms as information. Which information may help the organism in its struggle to survive. Using that information, that organism might become a ‘better version’ of itself.

At a further point in the evolution of ‘things’, organisms have added another layer of complexity.
They have become complex enough to ‘think’. As in complex enough to attempt to maximize the effects of the information they have at their disposal.

That was when ‘facts’ had been identified as being ‘things’ which had had consequences, when data had been identified as being information and when the thinkers had discovered that thinking was driven by sentiment.

Which sentiment is nothing but an evolution of the ‘survival instinct’.
Present in any living organism.
Which survival instinct is nothing but the living equivalent of something the physicists have identified as inertia.

Go figure….

What if our self awareness, otherwise known as conscience, has evolved in order to understand, accept and mitigate randomness?

There’s no evolution – hence no life, without randomness.
Yet life, anyway you look at it, is about maintaining a certain degree of order.

Whenever there’s so much randomness that life can no longer adapt to it… evolution stops.
Whenever structures become so big/rigid that they find it harder and harder to evolve, they eventually succumb to an otherwise survivable amount of randomness. Dinosaurs and too big to fail corporations versus mice and flexible operators.

In a nutshell, self-awareness is about not being ‘fooled by randomness‘.

And to avoid the deepest pitfall we’ll encounter during this never ending journey – randomness will always be wider than our individual ability to encompass it, we must keep remembering that conscience is selfish. Untrained, it is more about protecting itself than about helping the entire ‘individual’ to survive.

‘What?!?’

Yes, it’s hard to believe!
But what other explanation is there for so many of us continuing to smoke after finding out, the hard way, that this habit might actually kill us?
I use this example simply because I still remember the cigarette I smoked when I last visited the grave where rests a woman I loved dearly. And who is no longer with us because of lung cancer.

Too often our conscience will prefer to rationalize away new information than accept that past choices could have been better.

I’m certain all of you are already too familiar with ‘confirmation bias‘.

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