You propaply get lots of all kinds of mail and I doupt you have the intrest on answering (or reading) pretty much any of them, but I just kind of stumbled on your site and I just got this urge to ask you that how do you suppose life began? and how would you determine life?
I personaly am realy not sure, but I somewhat think that there isnt any line between living an non-living “things”. For example, i dont basicly know if we are so different from some planet or other “system” for example (functionaly speaking – planets dont actualy reproduce etc. but i dont see why reproducing should be quality to measure life) But for example bacteria funktion already pretty similary to us – since as i see it, we are just one hell of an complex circuitry to all kinds of wires and chemical stuff. Eaven more problematic creatures are the viruses, since they dont “do” anything, since they just make our cells do crazy stuff – but so do drugs, so if drugs get enough complex, can they be called alive? I dont think so, but just a tought..
As for how life began, i just cant figure anything concrete, one theory that i have been thinking would be something like chemical reactions starting to loop, and get more and more complex (there was atleast lots of time, but.. ) Anyway, i am propaply litle too young and immature to grasp the concept, actualy, at all, but your site was just so inspiring that i had to try something.
I read all of my mail, and I welcome all of it — particularly that which asks interesting questions like yours.
How to determine if something is alive is a pain, from both a philosophical and scientific standpoint. The textbook answer is that something is alive if it is organized, metabolizes, grows, adapts, reacts to stimulus, maintains its internal environment, and reproduces. One can argue that viruses, fire, and even some kinds of computer software have these characteristics, but they are not considered to be alive.
But enough with textbooks. You asked my opinion.
I’d say that there is a line between living and non-living matter, and that although the line is fuzzy there are some things that are clearly on one side (dogs) or the other (rocks). What’s most important to me is not whether something is alive in a scientific sense but how we treat something that is alive in a philosophical sense. You touch on this when you point out that living and non-living things are much the same in a chemical sense — the dog and the rock may have many of the same elements, just organized differently. What’s important is that we assign moral value to living things because we, ourselves, are living.
I think before killing something I consider alive — yes, even bugs. That doesn’t mean I never squish a cockroach, but it does mean that I don’t do it thoughtlessly. I have no problem putting out a fire, however, because to me it has no life in any morally important way. Viruses are a bit on the line, but the harm they cause makes me not worry about disposing of them, whether you can argue that they are alive or not.
How did life begin? There are plenty of theories, and unfortunately we don’t have enough information right now to discover which is correct. At some point there had to be a set of circumstances that facilitated the organization of chemicals in a way that led to self-replicating thingies. Yep, that’s pretty vague, and it’s pretty much in line with what you are thinking. If I were a biochemist I’m sure I could give you a better possibility.
Thanks for writing, and for the nice words about the site.