More on defining life…..The definition is getting even broader
I honestly thought that I would be leaving this one behind, at least for now, but a couple of discussions have come up recently that touched on other perspectives of this ever evolving topic. Regardless of the point of view, all are welcome at the table. I am just so happy that others are out there talking about this. So just a couple of short entries to leave with you.
1) I was recently fortunate to have exchanged a couple of correspondences with Canadian Radio Astronomer- Ken Tapping from the National Research Council’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, Penticton, B.C. I have subscribed to Ken’s newsletter for a couple of years now and enjoy his accessible writing style on various aspects of astronomy and the exploration of space. His most recent article “Life Out There?” (September 14th) was especially informative and thought provoking. His tongue in cheek coining of the term “cosmic flatulence” ( in relation to analyzing the biosignature of exoplanets to look for organically produced methane) was so clever and amusing, I had to drop him an email to tell him how much I enjoyed the article. We exchanged some thoughts of this topic and Ken reflected that while it has been interesting to see the debate on what defines life enter the scientific main stream, it has also become more complicated. He shared my feeling that the discussion is indeed timely as we are now “out there” looking for signs of “life”. And it does need to go beyond the “life as we know it” approach. He mentioned that we need to go back and discuss what does life, no matter now bizarre it may seem to us, actually need? And to get back to “basic basics” and make some sort of definition for life and what it needs. He adds “A lot depends on whether life is a natural property of the universe or if it is a strange instability that just happens to have arisen in only one place.” As I said in my response to him, the only thing that scares me more than finding intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe is NOT finding intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe! And having to accept that we are all there is…Now there is something to contemplate …
As a non- scientist venturing into an arena that is a lot about science, it was great to have some of my thoughts and concerns on this topic validated by a “real” scientist. Thanks for that, Ken 🙂 I hope that we can have further discussions in the future.
You can find Ken’s columns at the NRC website: http://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/eng/publications/nrc_pubs/tapping/
2) And to complicate the discussion even further, I caught a local broadcast on CBC radio this morning (October 5th episode of “The Current” with Anna Maria Tremonti ) called “Digitizing Brain and Consciousness is Possible Says Brain Scientist”. This would obviously refer to human life but raises the philosophical and ethical issue of how we define who is “alive” to a whole new level! The short version is that future technology will allow us (or more specifically those of us who are rich enough to afford the technology) to download our brain—that is, our memories and consciousness — to a computer prior to death and then live on in a “digital afterlife”..The ultimate goal is to then connect that to a new body (presumably robotic? ) and then “live” forever—or at least a lot longer than our biological counterparts –who –according to the scientist interviewed –could eventually become irrelevant. What??? OK—my organically based brain is still trying to process that one! But, at some point in time, our definition of “life” as it relates to artificial intelligence should become as important as our need to define life elsewhere in the Universe. The first thing that hits me with the digital afterlife concept is the decidedly non scientific concept of a soul. I’m pretty sure that you can’t download a soul but I’m always ready to be proven wrong!
You can listen to this episode at The Current’s website at http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent. Would love to know what you think.
How would you define “life”? Please jump in anytime and join the conversation.