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What is life

What is life

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The question: what is life, is analyzed in philosophical terms matter and form. It is shown that a purely reductionist view can not explain the unity of living beings. The whole is more that the sum of its parts. As shown by Anderson, modern physics seems to confirm this view.

The question: what is life, is analyzed in philosophical terms matter and form. It is shown that a purely reductionist view can not explain the unity of living beings. The whole is more that the sum of its parts. As shown by Anderson, modern physics seems to confirm this view.

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What is life

  1. 1. What is life? Alfred Driessen University of Twente A.Driessen@utwente.nl Alfred Driessen What is life? Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics 801what-is-life.ppt slide 1 date: 5 January 2008
  2. 2. Content What is life? 1. Introduction 2. What can we learn from philosophy? 3. More is different (P.W. Anderson) 4. Philosophical reflections 5. Conclusions Alfred Driessen What is life? Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics 801what-is-life.ppt slide 2 date: 4 January 2008
  3. 3. Game of Life (Conway 1970) Game of life: Cellular Automaton Rules 1. Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if by loneliness. 2. Any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overcrowding. 3. Any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives, unchanged, to the next generation. 4. Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours comes to life. Alfred Driessen What is life? Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics 801what-is-life.ppt slide 3 date: 4 January 2008
  4. 4. Powers of ten (movie 1977) Alfred Driessen What is life? Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics 801what-is-life.ppt slide 4 date: 4 January 2008
  5. 5. Unity of living objects comparison stone and living object (cow) division of stone: result two (smaller) stones division of cow: two parts of a cow's cadaver Alfred Driessen What is life? Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics 801what-is-life.ppt slide 5 date: 4 January 2008
  6. 6. Unity of living objects comparison stone and living object (cow) division of stone: result two (smaller) stones division of cow: two parts of a cow's cadaver Alfred Driessen What is life? Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics 801what-is-life.ppt slide 6 date: 4 January 2008
  7. 7. View of Science on Life P.W. Anderson*): hierarchy of sciences according to: elementary entities of science X obey the laws of science Y Does this imply science X is applied science Y? *) Science, 177, pp 393-396 (1972) Alfred Driessen What is life? Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics 801what-is-life.ppt slide 7 date: 4 January 2008
  8. 8. The vision of philosophers Raphael, the school of Athens (Vatican museum) Alfred Driessen What is life? Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics 801what-is-life.ppt slide 8 date: 4 January 2008
  9. 9. Life according to Aristotle (384-322 BC) By life we mean self-nutrition and growth with its correlative decay. De anima, book II, Three levels: plants, animals, human beings How to explain unity of living object? Aristotle: hylomorphism Life is supported by a principle of life, the form (Greek morphe) which informs a certain material (hylo) such that it is a living organism. Form of living object: psyche (soul) That what is real is the whole, the parts exist only virtually. What is the difference between real and virtual? Has to be determined by experience Alfred Driessen What is life? Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics 801what-is-life.ppt slide 9 date: 5 January 2008
  10. 10. A modern analogue to material and form hardware - software software is always implemented in some hardware, for example: program file: on memory-stick on CD on hard-disk as code written on paper hardware, which is switched-on, has always certain information, i.e. software for example: tv monitor movie tele-text 'snow' if only noise at input In Aristotelian language: information, the form, has to be implemented in some kind of hardware, the material, otherwise it is not real, it is virtual, virtual reality Alfred Driessen What is life? Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics 801what-is-life.ppt slide 10 date: 5 January 2008
  11. 11. P.W. Anderson: More is different*) Theoretical Physicist, born: 1923, Nobel prize 1977 Distinction between reductionism and constructionism The reductionist hypothesis does not by any means imply a "constructionist" one: The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe. *) Science, 177, pp 393-396 (1972) Alfred Driessen What is life? Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics 801what-is-life.ppt slide 11 date: 5 January 2008
  12. 12. Example I: a mechanical clock The clock and its parts: once assembled, all parts are clearly visible and distinguishable Alfred Driessen What is life? Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics 801what-is-life.ppt slide 12 date: 5 January 2008
  13. 13. Example II: quantum mechanical system Quantum mechanics: there are systems, that can be decomposed in its parts; as long as the system remains, however, the parts can not be distinguished, neither theoretically nor experimentally examples: -- superconductivity: Bose-Einstein condensation of Cooper pairs -- superfluidity: Bose-Einstein condensation of helium atoms -- entangled photons technical term: superposition, the particles are in a superposition state Alfred Driessen What is life? Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics 801what-is-life.ppt slide 13 date: 5 January 2008
  14. 14. Philosophical reflection There are two ways of considering the relation between the whole and its parts: I) The whole adds nothing essential to the parts and the fundamental laws governing these. Extreme statement: Der Mensch ist was er ißt (Karl Marx) (Man is what he is eating) II) The whole has something (new laws, for example) beyond the constitutive parts and the laws governing these. In both cases, the whole can be reduced to its parts; in II) the whole can not be constructed from the parts without additional input. Alfred Driessen What is life? Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics 801what-is-life.ppt slide 14 date: 5 January 2008
  15. 15. Philosophical reflection about life There is a strong unity exclusively observed in living objects. Already in some relatively simple systems unity can not constructed exclusively from its parts and the laws governing these. It should be expected that the most complex systems known to us, i.e. living objects, can also not be constructed from its parts and the laws governing these. This line of argumentation is supported by: Aristotle Quantum mechanics everyday experience Alfred Driessen What is life? Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics 801what-is-life.ppt slide 15 date: 5 January 2008

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