About the Boundary between ‘Alive’ and ‘Dead’

We tend to divide the world into a dead (material) part and an alive (biological) part. We call everything in the biological world from animals to bacteria a ‘them’, basically acknowledge them a personality with some kind of intrinsic motivation. But we are not quite sure about viruses, what makes them an interesting case. And everything smaller, macromolecules like DNA, proteins and the whole world of chemicals, is called an ‘it’.

I suggest, that we make this distinction just because we are multicellular beings, who have to die!

In the world of single-celled organisms like Paramecium there is no death by old age.

1_Arturo_Agostino_Paramecium_division_middle   (photo by Arturo Agostino)

They just divide further and further. And this is true for the whole microbial world, as long as the microbes don’t form multicellular structures. When they start building things like that,

Dicty4   multicellular spore containers of Dictyostelium

then programmed cell death comes into play. Cells collude, some form the structure and die, others transform into spores. The spores then get spread from the top of the structure, when it opens.

So, where is the boundary between dead and alive? It is entirely subjective! Death is a relative occurrence in the biological world, just a transformation between levels of aliveness…

What about the levels below – chemicals reactions and the atomic physics underlying them? It’s all part of the game! Every molecule has its specific properties that allow certain interactions, one may say, its ‘will’. Its will is challenged every time, when it encounters other molecules, to either allow or reject a reaction. Why not call this chemical a life form? (I certainly would have enjoyed more to study chemistry and molecular biology, when this metaphor would have been used there. And it would change the behavior of humans who work in these fields a lot…)

Or, to draw a more tangible conclusion: Rocks are not dead!

Alan Watts said it very nicely, what I mean:

They (rocks) contain the potentiality of people in it, the same way seeds of acorn will develop into a plant, when the circumstances are alright.

This is abstract, but totally consistent with the insights of chemistry and biology about the origins of life!

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