How can one explain the true meaning of life? Can we actually find the answer that connects ourselves, our planet, the universe and everything else together? How does a modern status of earth as Gaia help us understand the meaning of it all?
The issue of life seems fairly straight forward. This Cosmos will ultimately be inhabited by planet after planet and eventually all these living planets will join together to turn the universe into a living system. The final outcome of this universe is to become one single living organism as the earth does. Everything that is known about this Cosmos is supposed to be living and life related. If that is the case, life's mystery is about to be solved. So what seems to be the problem? Why should life be so mysterious in the first place where it is constantly referred to as a miracle?
The problem is there is one big barrier that does not want to go away and no one seems to be able to break it down. Just at the turn of the twentieth century, someone discovered a strange and unique phenomenon that can universally apply anytime anywhere in every corner of the universe. Simply put, our universe is running down. As time goes by, the world is heading from order to disorder. If orders are to be built, it will only result in more disorders elsewhere. There will be less and less available energy or resources to be consumed. Even information will become distorted the further it travels both in time and distance. To reverse the process means more time and energy will be required.
This phenomenon can be easily observed in our everyday life. Our house is always messy despite the constant effort to clean and keep things tidy. Closets and storage areas are always disorganized. Bathroom is never clean enough. Kitchen counters always cluster with dirty dishes and utensils. Shoes and clothes will be ripped, torn and eventually worn out. The family car will also take its path to destruction the minute it leaves the show room. Tires will wear out. Battery will run dry. Pipes, hoses will leak and the interior will fall apart. Other components will still break down or malfunction and have to be replaced despite our constant effort to follow the maintenance schedule. Even if the car simply sits in the driveway untouched, given enough time it still rusts itself out sometimes in a matter of years. In the end, all our undivided attention and efforts are in vain and the car must be replaced, to the delight of every car salesman.
The same scenario can apply to our work place, whether it is the office, factory, workshop or the warehouse. The desk is always piled high with files and papers. If equipments don't break down, they will not work properly. Using the best systems to stock our inventories and items can still be misplaced or even lost. All kinds of media in the forms of memos, letters and signs can be used to communicate with our co-workers. Bulletin boards will be cluttered with news, notes and thousand other reports but the intended messages never seem to be able to get through.
Everyone must be familiar with these common scenes. All kinds of devices can be used to tackle these problems, from meetings to experiments to employing more competent managers. Still no amount of means can do the trick. After all the well intended but failed attempts to get things organized, most of us simply give up with the mess and not until special occasions arise when authorities of a higher order arrive for an inspection do we scramble to look for some orders so that the place can be more presentable to the outside world. But sadly such orderliness usually lasts for about a day or two before chaos quickly return to reign supreme again.
Travelling to and from work is certainly no cake walk. Besides traffic jams, unnecessary delay by unexpected car breakdown, road constructions and other nuisance can become a daily occurrence. A few unlucky ones will get punished for some careless traffic infractions like illegal parking, speeding, making a wrong turn or worse, getting into a car accident.
On a bigger scale, even planet earth can get on the act. The environment is taking a beating by getting more polluted. More household garbage and other industrial waste are created and accumulated each day. The ozone layer is damaged. The weather pattern is more chaotic and unpredictable than ever.
To top things off, enter the world of scarcity. Items have to be constantly stocked and still there is never enough of anything to be around. Fuel tank has to be filled. Kitchen cupboards are running out of food fast. Bank accounts dwindle; and our wallet is always short of money. Even in rich developed nations, governments can still run up huge deficit. With the environment more polluted and filled with waste, there is less and less clean air and water around to be consumed. In the modern twentieth century, even time is running out for everyone.
This phenomenon does not discriminate and applies to any individual or anything under any circumstances, whether it is at home, at work or anywhere in our society. Sometimes it may work in a subtle way, not easily noticeable to our human eyes, but its outcome is always effortless and automatic because it requires no work on our part.
This is what scientists call the second law of thermodynamics, or the law of entropy. It can be a very complicated law to deal with but one word can be used to describe the whole phenomenon: randomness. It means the whole physical universe exists on chance and probability. When things are left alone, they will have the tendency to return to their most probable state. This can be demonstrated by putting different colour marbles together in a bag. Eventually they will only combine together into a bag of mixed colour marbles. If someone wants to separate the colour, he must put in an effort to do so because if left alone, these marbles will not sort themselves out. The same thing happens when playing with dice. Roll out two or more dice and chances are good that they will land on different numbers. If they persistently land on the same set of numbers, something is at work or someone must be cheating.
This is why the desk of our office, the closet of our home, the garage and other storage places are always disorganized because without extra works exerted on the body, things tend to seek their most probable resting place which is usually picked at random without any particular order. There may not be anything wrong with a chaotic closet in itself. An upside down office can be a beautiful sight in the eyes of an artist. However, an office created in a workplace is not for people to view and admire but to get things done. Anybody who wants to have work done quickly and efficiently better makes sure his desk and office are well organized but that requires a conscious effort on his part because orderliness is a condition that is in direct opposite to randomness.
The same act of randomness can explain why energies and supplies are always running low. The effect can be demonstrated by dropping an ice cube into a glass of warm water. The ice will melt until the water temperature becomes constant throughout. Put some hot air into a cold room and like putting different colour marbles into a bag, the heat will spread into all four corners until the hot and cold air are distributed evenly throughout the room. Heat used to cook food will not linger on in the oven forever; nor can the cold air be kept inside a fridge for long before it escapes into the open. In both instances, both the hot and cold air have the tendency to blend in with their surrounding room temperature.
For the same reason, warm air inside our home has the tendency to look for ways to seep out of the house in the winter to mix with the cold air outside, no matter how well the house is insulated. In the summer, the much loved cool breeze generated by an air conditioner will do exactly the opposite to escape into the outside and mix with the summer heat. This kind of odd behaviour may go against our wish but the universal law of entropy dictates that in the summer the air in the house should be as hot as outside and in the winter it will be as cold as outside. To reverse the condition so that an ideal temperature can be maintained, whether it is the oven, the fridge or our home, constant energy must be supplied in order to provide the hot or cold air required. This energy or heat will not come to us by itself. Either we or someone must seek them out by locating them, extracting them and bringing them to our home. That will translate to a lot of work in terms of manual labour, which means there is a price to pay and therefore money to spend. As a result, our wallet directly or indirectly will have less and less money because it is constantly used to pay someone to bring these resources and services to our home.
This law only works one way and the process will never reverse itself. Different colour marbles once mixed will never separate by themselves. Energy will only flow from a higher state to a lower state. An ice cube in a glass of warm water will not grow into a bigger cube and make the water temperature rise. A stove and a fridge may stand side by side each other but they will not exchange their hot and cold energy automatically. Our house will not swap hot and cold air with the external environment so that it will get warm in the winter and turn nice and cool in a hot summer. To reverse the process means more labour in the forms of sweat and tears and in our common language, it usually means parting with more of our hard earned money,
It would be nice for our home or our workplace to have the ability to organize itself so each time when we get there a clean and tidy place is ready for us to use or enjoy. It would also be ideal if our clothes, the car, appliances and other possessions will get newer and newer every time we use them. Better yet, every time we open our wallet, more spending money will somehow appear. Unfortunately it simply will not happen, courtesy of this universal law that is available twenty four hours a day year round from inside a test tube to every corner of the universe.
Time and energy must be spent in order to do any of these works, from separating marbles to heating up a house. For now the sun provides all the vital energy needed to get these jobs done. But as immense and resourceful as they are, the sun and all other stars will eventually dissipate their heat and burn themselves out one day, resulting in all the heat energy distributed evenly throughout the universe. By then if nothing else exists to extract this heat energy, our universe is said to die of a heat death.
As prevalent and indifferent as this law is, many consider it quite natural to see chaos around and it is nothing unusual to run out of items since we are consuming them each minute of the day. Traffic jam and even accidents are bound to happen. Machines and appliances are supposed to break down in due time. Given a few fair shakes, it is just normal for a bag of different colour marbles to mix together. Nobody should think twice after a sporting event or any outing that he must clean himself up, wash his dirty clothing and he will probably get tired and must take a rest. It is only fair to see a dirty and messy kitchen after a gourmet dinner. If we want food, gas or anything, it is also natural that we must pay for them. However as much as anyone considers these nuisances as nothing unusual but very much a part of life, it is nonetheless a universal law at work.
Amid the scarcity, chaos and confusion created by this law, life enters the picture and the scenery immediately changes. While everything is in a deteriorating manner, life is going exactly in the opposite direction by building up orders. This happens to all things in life, from the tiniest living cell to all the plants and animals including humans. Even our planet earth and to a certain extent, the universe itself show signs of orderliness. This may sound very strange and contradictory. On one hand the universe under the influence of the universal entropy law is heading toward chaos everywhere; but on the other, the same universe viewed as a living Cosmos also possesses the ability to build up orders in every way. Strange as it may seem, this is exactly what happens. Such a predicament painfully divides the scientific community into two opposing camps with each side firmly holding on to their belief without any resolve in sight. Though going in opposite directions, both sides claim to have enough evidence to support their argument. Both can be true at the same time by proving themselves right but neither can they prove the other side wrong.
The argument becomes the more exhausting when the issue of how life began to appear on earth enters the equation. Many concur it is mathematically impossible for life to appear by chance or a stroke of luck when somehow things just come together at the right time with the right combination. They ask how life being such an orderly organized structure can suddenly function in a world that is supposed to be random and chaotic? More intriguing is the fact that it will proceed on to replicate itself and build more orders and complicated structures.
They try their earnest to use a scientific way to explain how it works. At times it seems the only way to solve the issue is to invoke god into the picture and some actually did. But the last thing these scientists want is to look to a supernatural cause for answers because once god is involved, any scientific argument will collapse. Science means logic and reasoning. God means supernatural and miracles. He has no place in science. Life's peculiar behaviour must be explained by using all scientific laws and facts available. After all, a supernatural act does not explain anything. It simply shifts the problem elsewhere by explaining it away using a mysterious act as a convenience to make everyone feel better.
Out of desperation, these brilliant minded scientists come up with some sort of an answer. They discover a loop hole in this uncompromising second law of thermodynamics. For the law to be in effect, they claim, things must happen in a close system. A close system means everything is supposed to be confined within the system with no materials, especially energy being able to exchange with the outside world. Life, or anything else for that matter can act in direct opposite of this law because it happens in an open system where energy can be absorbed from an external source to build up orders and structures. In exchange, it will create even more disturbance outside the system and leave behind with less energy around for use. Therefore, the overall picture is still a run down environment. The law is still intact and not violated.
For example, our earth being able to absorb energy from the sun is an open system. As such, life or anything in this open system will have the opportunity to build orders using the resources available to them in their immediate surroundings. That applies to machines like stoves and fridges that are able to generate power, cars and other vehicles that are able to run on their own. Our earth as a living organism also utilizes the same principle by taking in the sun energy to maintain itself, and many others that are seemingly able to operate in a direct opposite manner to this universal law. They can function only because of the constant supplies of outside source of power in an open system. For each unit of energy these things use up or generate, for each time they build more orders, even more energy must be consumed and more disturbance must be generated as a result.
Life may be a wonderful existence bordered on the miracle, scientists say, but is really nothing out of the extraordinary. For all the strange behaviours exhibited by life, it never really breaks this universal law of entropy.
Questions remain. If an open system allows lives to organize, then many others should be able to follow suit and do the same. Car parts should be able to come together to form a car and run on its own using available energies in its surroundings. But they don't. Building materials should also organize themselves into a house. But they don't. Rocks and sands are sitting there as they should with no intention to construct into anything meaningful, plus thousand other things which do not behave any differently under the sun except for life, all lives because earth is an open system, as the saying goes.
An air tight space capsule with an astronaut travelling inside is supposed to be a closed system. But instead of deteriorating, the astronaut keeps on growing and maintaining his bodily structure while an ice cube in a water bottle next to him is slowly dissolving. The immediate explanation from these scientists is the astronaut himself is an open system therefore able to sustain his bodily structure. Whenever something defies the law, the subject immediately becomes an open system to conform with the law. If an ice cube inside a glass of warm water does not dissolve but actually begins to grow bigger, then the reason for such an odd behaviour is, according to these scientists, because the ice cube is an open system and therefore it can be exempted from the law.
If that's the case, an open or close system becomes meaningless or they must imply that an open system is the reason causing matters to grow and sustain orders.
All living systems build up energy and orders. Therefore they must all be open systems. If the law only applies to close systems and since all living things are open systems, it only means that living things are the exception of this law and therefore they can defy a law that is supposed to be universal. It is as if the concept of an open and closed system is created exclusively to suit the living world. They are conveniently used as a safety switch to by-pass the problem. Under normal situations, it is a closed system but when circumstances arise, it immediately turns into an open system to suit those particular needs.
Using a closed or open system to explain life's phenomenon is misleading and creates more confusions than provides answers. A closed system only means it is impossible to build up orders without creating even more disorders somewhere. It is used to emphasize the importance of this sacred universal law of entropy. Closed systems do not exist. Like open systems, they are useless, meaningless and not necessary as far as life's behaviour goes. The fact is whether a man is in an air tight space shuttle or under the open sun he will build and maintain his bodily structure regardless, while car parts will not come together to form a car whether it is in a closed or open system. An ice cube in a glass of warm water will melt regardless of the systems involved. In fact, it melts even faster under the sun. An open system does not change the fact that the world continues to run down and deteriorate except that because of the flow of the energies in and out of the system, it will be difficult to keep track of the net effect of gain and loss and therefore it becomes impossible to paint a true picture of a run down result.
Life's rebellious manner must have a lot more to do with the different systems involved. There is this universal law in place that must be respected. If car parts start coming together by themselves, if an ice cube gets bigger and bigger in a glass of warm water, the way to explain such strange behaviour is to find out what causes them to behave the way they do rather than using different systems to explain the phenomenon away.
The next best explanation offered by scientists then is the structure, or the make up of living matters that makes it possible for lives to act differently from the rest. Car parts will not come together, but if a car with all its parts in the right place at the right time is supplied with the right fuel or energy, it will run. The same happens to cells and other living things. Once a cellular structure appears and energy is available, it will start to organize and even proliferate thus beginning a chain reaction to evolve into trillions and trillions of lives existing on earth today. They do admit, however, that such occurrence must be rare and not easily be duplicated because even for the tiniest simple bacteria, its structure is still extremely complex. That explains why life is not an easy feat to synthesize. Out in the natural environment with competition being so fierce, any new form of life will not stand a chance to survive the competitive conditions. Their chance for a momentary appearance will surely be devoured by others that are well established long before their arrival. Most agree, however, as rare as the occasion is, it had happened, or at least in theory it is possible.
Questions remain. If man as intelligent and knowledgeable as he is using all the tools available to him and still cannot create life in any forms, how could something as helpless as a little bacteria with nothing more than a cellular structure possibly have this ability to give rise to itself out of a primitive earth that is extremely hostile to its survival and existence? In a modern day high tech era, if we are not able to use chemicals to synthesize life from scratch, our knowledge should be sufficient enough to at least use natural ingredients to induce some forms of organic life to appear in a laboratory. If that is not possible, then may be a controlled artificial environment can be designed and built to be most friendly and favourable for new forms of life to have a chance to nurture and establish themselves. But so far there is not one single documented case during our entire human history anybody can make new life appear, not in a laboratory, not in an artificial environment, out of chemicals or out of dust, indoor or out.
And what about nature itself? Earth is a lot friendlier today than three and a half billion years ago as far as life goes. If life can emerge in a hostile primitive environment, there is no reason why new forms of life cannot do the same today. Competition may be fierce out there, but lives are still reproduced in a very fragile state by the billions everyday under any circumstances and survive. These include some bacteria that are supposed to be the original living organisms that first appeared on earth. Their chance to live through the day is as good as any newcomers from outer space, or from within our own planet. These creatures are devoured by others by the millions. Natural selection and survival for the fittest are still very much at work both in the past and at present for new and existing lives alike. If helpless new born can survive, then given enough time and opportunities, there bounds to be a few alien odd balls escaping through the cracks to spring into life and proliferate into the future. Or there should be at least some signs that new forms of lives are about to emerge out of the cold but only because of the competitive environment are they discouraged from developing into a living thing.
If according to the scientific theory, given the right combinations and right circumstances life will appear, then every time lightning strikes, thousand new forms of lives should come out of nowhere and spread like weeds. But the possibility for life to appear spontaneously so far is pure speculations. As it turns out, even nature itself is as bad as it is a good life giver. That miraculous moment three and a half billion years ago must be a very special occasion that is made possible by more than chemicals.
More to the point, if a cellular structure in an open system is the reason for life to behave like life, neither can anybody explain the universal phenomenon of death. When someone or something possesses this cellular structure and is alive, it has all the ability in the world to perform work and other wonders including those things that defy the law of entropy which is supposed to rule supreme in this universe. But once death descends upon life, this someone or something is never the same again. The same identical body will not function or participate in any form of work. More interestingly, it will never come back to live again, even momentarily. With the best of technologies and human efforts, no one can bring a dead body or even a simple dead cell back to life, ever, despite all its structures intact, available to be revived for renewal. It is an undisputable fact that once life is gone, it is gone. No amount of efforts can reverse the trend. Why would that be if living things exist solely on their structure and physical make up alone?
Whether it is an open or closed system, it is a common sight to see how things behave when they are alive. It is also a common sight to see how the same things behave when they are dead. A living plant may be in full blossom under the sun. But once it experiences a phenomenon called death, the same plant that was in full growth suddenly deteriorates and decomposes to the surrounding. This is the same plant with the same structure and physical make up under the same open system but exhibits two completely opposite manners. Why as many would argue if life bearing certain physico-chemical make up along with available energy will be able to build up orders and grow but will suddenly give up all that and do exactly the opposite to abide by the law of entropy like everything else in the universe to decay and return to equilibrium with its surroundings? This is especially intriguing considering that life has the ability to repair and regenerate itself.
This second law of thermodynamic applies to the entire universe everywhere, from activities inside a test tube to the planet as a whole all the way to the sun and galaxies in every corner of the heaven. This law cannot be defied. A closed system is used to emphasize the importance of how this law works. The presence of an open system itself does not change the law or reverse the process in any way. It is only a requirement, not a factor or reason that causes lives to behave differently. Living things or anything that apparently work in opposite direction to this law need an open system to create more chaos because the law requires them and not because the open system makes them do it. When the law puts restriction on life's movement, an open system is there to allow anything that builds orders to create more disturbances in its surroundings in order to reconcile with this non-negotiable and uncompromising law of entropy. If things are alive, with or without the law, open or closed, they will behave like living. If they are dead, then open or closed, with or without sun energy, they will be dead as a nail, as all the corpse will testify to this fact.
The physical makeup in the form of a cellular structure is also a requirement or prerequisite and not the reason for life to appear. The existence of a physical human body has no bearing on its rebellious behavior against the rigidity of this law. In fact our physical body is constantly run down in the forms of sickness, injury, fatigue and old age. But for this one important thing inside all of us, it has to ability to combat this law by repairing and regenerating in order to stay afloat. Things will only deteriorate further were it not for this one factor that acts in the other direction to resist diseases and even heal so that the body can continue to function and grow.
At first glance, argument presented by science concerning life's existence and behaviour may sound logical and undisputable. But argument in science is not the same as argument in the court of law where one can throw all the books on the table and use certain clauses and loopholes to win the case. Unlike lawyers and politicians, scientists cannot get away with questionable issues using technical argument to tie people's tongue because scientific facts are not something that can be manipulated. They may not like god or miracles or certain words to be a part of their equation, but as they have said it all along, if earth circles around the sun, no amount of persuasion in this world, however bright and persistent, can change that fact. The issue of justice, fairness and equality can be dragged into the case to insist the sun must revolve around the earth half the time; or they are to revolve around each other on equal terms to make things more equitable. Reality is when all is said and done the sun is still the center and earth will still be spinning around it everyday. Like it or not, earth and other planets are thousand or million times smaller and everyone must play second fiddle to the sun in order to make a living. This fact however unfair and unreasonable to some will be with us until the end of time. Insisting on doing things differently will only meet defeat, retard any advancement and any understanding of the world and in many cases, it will only make some people look mightily stupid.
If there is any kind of manner anywhere in this universe that does not conform to the law of entropy, there must be something influencing it and this something could not be an open system or a particular qualified structure alone. It is only because of this something that makes it possible for a body to maintain an orderly organized status and therefore create a strange phenomenon of disequilibrium. This is the same reasoning James Lovelock uses to determine that our earth is a living organism and not Mars because of its ability to maintain order or a disequilibrium that is in direct contrast to a universal law of entropy.
It takes more than an open system and a cellular structure for things to come alive; and it takes more than an open system and a cellular structure to keep living things from collapsing into the hands of this almighty law. The denial of science to admit the existence of this something or this vital factor to sustain a living system sparks so much debate and controversies that continue on for so many decades without a solution in sight. With the kind of explanation we are currently getting, it will only cloud the issue even further into unending debate and argument. By being reluctant to face the issue, these scientists are giving creationists and visionaries alike more ammunitions to instill in us their belief of a supernatural being at work and on that count, they surely have a field day to advance their conviction.
There is a law that pushes the universe toward randomness. The question we should ask is not why death exists since death is only a natural phenomenon in a world of randomness but why things can be alive. The answer to the question can simply mean there is a thing commonly referred to as life that constantly maintains a status to fight all the current trends to deteriorate. For years these scientists deny this thing's existence by using matters and energy to explain everything despite all the overwhelming odds against their observation.
For years man with his intelligence and the technologies he masters is able to do almost anything imaginable under the sun. He can cure diseases, transplant organs and use machines to prolong life and even clone new ones except for creating life from scratch because for that to happen, there must be one ingredient present and this ingredient is life itself. It is this existence, something so common that everyone simply refers to as life that makes living things living. It is life that turns a cell functional and also turns a human and other animals and plants alive. With this thing called life, it sets a trend against all odds in the face of the law of entropy, creating many things even scientists will call them miracles.
What then, is life?
Copyright © 1996-2002 Anatoni Tamanaki
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