WTF is this "life" everybody talks about, anyway?
July 13, 2022 at 6:25 pm #43682
“Life begins at conception.” “Life begins with self-awareness.” “Life begins at birth.” “Life begins at 60.”
That list reveals one thing above all: We don’t really know what life is or we wouldn’t find ourselves defining it in so many incompatible ways. By contrast, if you want to define, say, “cat,” you’ll find very little incongruency between the different definitions. And that’s true for most things one wants to define.
It’s easier to define life in terms of what it’s not. It’s simply not being dead. We all know that there’s a time somewhere forward in time, sooner or later, when we’ll no longer be alive. Even that’s a kind of strange way of talking because there will no longer be a “we” or an “I” to no longer exist.
So, what is life? And does life actually exist outside a dictionary?
(This is especially important in those states seeking to regulate or ban abortions.)July 13, 2022 at 6:31 pm #43684
Recently read that our bodies continue to move for up to a year after dying.July 13, 2022 at 7:03 pm #43686
Recently read that our bodies continue to move for up to a year after dying.
The body moves, but is it being moved or just moves?
Anyway, I wish I could unread that.July 13, 2022 at 7:32 pm #43687July 13, 2022 at 9:49 pm #43688
The medical term for cadaver mobility is “a case of the creepy crawlies”.July 13, 2022 at 11:10 pm #43689
Finally and with gratitude theists have proof the soul escapes albeit in a slow departure.July 13, 2022 at 11:14 pm #43690
Yes, it happens when their god intervenes with a miracle but I think it is much faster than you suggest 🙂July 15, 2022 at 4:23 am #43696
I’ve mentioned before, years ago even, “beginning of life” definitions and “end of life” definitions are related in ways.
There’s not as much end of life controversy over definitions, although many here will remember opportunistic politicians jumping into the fray over Terry Shiavo falling into a coma in 1990 in Florida, which she never came out of. By 1998 her ex-husband petitioned the court to remove her feeding tube, which was fought against by other family, doctors, and lawyers. Feeding tubes were removed and reinserted a few times over subsequent years, keeping her “alive” in her coma until March 2005. By 2003 it had become an ongoing, national story, with Governor Jeb Bush stepping in to order her feeding tube reinserted, and the state congress involving itself in new legislation.
At first I cared about the case, feeling sure that she should have been let go very early on, until I started thinking that since she’s already brain dead, it probably didn’t matter to her what was happening! To me, this was now more of a gruesome kind of soap opera until she was finally allowed to die in 2005.
The bigger story to me was about all the self-righteous, vicious personal feuds and political grandstanding that resulted. And then Sarah Palin entered national stage right, around 2008, coining the phrase “death panels” to describe her predicted result of health care rationing if certain health care reform being debated at the time came to fruition. My mind went immediately to the Shiavo case, and when Palin become a vice presidential nominee for the 2012 presidential election, I printed out a “Palin/Shiavo 2012” bumper sticker. Yeah, I’m into dark humor and felt pretty cynical about conservative “thinkers”. I saw a lot of perplexed stares in my rear view mirror, and probably just imagined a few, self-conscious and socially retarded as I was at the time. Most of them probably just didn’t get it.
Anyway, it became crystal clear how each state writes its own laws on how to legislate, and sometimes intervene into end-of-life decisions, and it wasn’t long before I realized this was how beginning-of-life laws were just the other side of the coin, except when SCOTUS intervened. Now that it’s back to the states, so is the mayhem in law making, and mothers have to suffer again.
Definitions of life are arbitrary, and largely self-serving, emotionalized fodder for the politicians. More to the point, in my opinion, are definitions of “personhood” that relate to issues of life and death transitions. “Personhood” is the main issue that both sides of the abortion debate are avoiding, and that politicians are pandering to and profiting from.
July 15, 2022 at 4:16 pm #43698
- This reply was modified 3 weeks, 5 days ago by PopeBeanie. Reason: over a dozen edits and clarifications, in several re-edits
I think on problem when discussing and defining “life” is our natural tendency to want our answers to be neat, discrete, and totally lacking in ambiguity. But one bumps into gray areas once one gets into certain areas outside classical physics and chemistry and into the somewhat less solid sciences such as biology. Example: Are viruses alive?
For about 100 years, the scientific community has repeatedly changed its collective mind over what viruses are. First seen as poisons, then as life-forms, then biological chemicals, viruses today are thought of as being in a gray area between living and nonliving: they cannot replicate on their own but can do so in truly living cells and can also affect the behavior of their hosts profoundly. The categorization of viruses as nonliving during much of the modern era of biological science has had an unintended consequence: it has led most researchers to ignore viruses in the study of evolution. Finally, however, scientists are beginning to appreciate viruses as fundamental players in the history of life. (source: Scientific American: Are Viruses Alive?)
July 18, 2022 at 4:05 pm #43735
- This reply was modified 3 weeks, 4 days ago by Unseen.
Yeah, WTF is this “life” crap and why does Monty Python wants me to look on the bright side of it?July 18, 2022 at 7:08 pm #43744
Hi Noel….I think it might be better when you are sitting back looking at it with one hand on the throttle 🙂July 18, 2022 at 8:56 pm #43748
I wonder what answer Steve Bannon would give to the question this time next week? 🙂July 19, 2022 at 12:25 am #43749
Hey Reg. Hope all has been good. Been awol for a while. Guess it’s that thing called life rearing it’s ugly head. No doubt this life crap looks so much better leaning on the throttle while listening to Albert King. But WtF I retired and the country went to shit.July 19, 2022 at 8:52 am #43750
Yeah…I’m not touching the definition of life (or even death) with a 10 meter poll.July 19, 2022 at 5:46 pm #43751
If you wanted to define ‘cat’ along temporal lines, you’d run into similar issues. At what point in the evolutionary timeline did cats become cats, distinct from their predecessors as a species (or family with the broader definition of ‘cat’)? Go back far enough in the line of ancestry, and one of those ancestors will eventually definitively not be a cat, yet there is no clear singular point where we can say one parent is not a cat while their child is. Every living being is a midpoint between two other points on an evolutionary timeline with the exception of abiogenesis and extinction. Cats are in the process of emerging from non-cats and becoming non-cats.
Some aspects of biology are concise. Many are not. Life can be defined in functional terms relatively easily. That definition will be useful for distinguishing vast amounts of life from non-life. There will always be grey areas (e.g. viruses), but it’s not like that makes it any more difficult to categorize a rabbit or a rock in terms of living or not.
What does an individual mean when they talk about ‘life’? Your guess is as good as mine. When someone talks about the sanctity of life, for instance, I think they’re biting off more than they can chew, especially if that’s a major driver for their moral code. That’s a concept that’s quite difficult to make both internally consistent and morally consistent. Or there are contextual definitions of life such as when a person is dead medically or legally, both of which may differ from each other and from the fundamental/ taxonomical biological definition of life.
I guess what I am saying is, most definitions of life will be functional with fuzzy edges. The pursuit of concision or hard-edged definitions isn’t always worthwhile.
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