Friday, October 28, 2016


Is a light bulb a living being?  We speak of them being dead or “giving” light.  We joke about their relationships with various humans.  ("How many X does it take to change a lightbulb?")  But in the end they are among Lakoff’s metaphors, only seeming to be alive, at least when a stream of electrons is traveling through them.  

We know that “reality” outside our bodies is waves and something that seems solid, but is really composed of constructs of molecules which are themselves composed of atoms which again are made of mysterious energy particles.  Electrons, the outermost shell of particle/energy, determine many characteristics that we detect through organs that spell them out with code that is finally made into perception by the brain receiving these electro-chemical codes.  They ARE electricity.

The body is a process with code running through it, much like a lightbulb with energy streaming through it.  In fact, if the energy that feeds a lightbulb gets into our code stream, it can disrupt or kill us.  A nasty shock.

The planet never stops transforming in many ways, some abrupt and drastic, like an earthquake or volcanic eruption, and others quite subtle responses that would take a long time or instruments to detect.  Living creatures are prepared to respond to these changes in order to survive.  That’s what the body’s stream of code is for.  It tells us what to do in seven or eight categories as follows:

Nutrition and respiration are closely related concepts. Respiration is a chemical reaction by which living things convert food into energy. On the other hand, nutrition is the ability to take food into the body. Animals demonstrate nutrition by eating plants or other animals, but plants demonstrate nutrition by making their own food from sunlight.  [This list omits hydration, but without being fluid, living things die, sooner than if nutrition stops, but later than if respiration stops.]

Sensitivity is the ability to notice and react to changes in the environment. When a mouse runs into its hole after seeing a hawk, it is showing sensitivity. Plants also show sensitivity when they grow toward the light. Sensitivity is sometimes called irritability.

Movement occurs in both plants and animals. In the case of animals, it often refers to a change in location, as when a deer runs or a bird flies. However, movement can also refer to the motion of a single part of an organism. Plants show movement when a leaf bud opens or when a flower closes at night.

Reproduction means that living things can produce offspring, while growth means that living things can become larger or increase the number of cells in their bodies. 

Excretion is the ability to clear waste from the body. For example, humans excrete nitrogen when they urinate and carbon dioxide when they breathe out. Plants excrete oxygen through their leaves.

“Some biologists list homeostasis as an eighth characteristic of life. Homeostasis means living things can keep the environment inside their bodies constant. The ability of humans to keep a constant body temperature by sweating in the heat and shivering in the cold is an example of homeostasis.”

In short, life is a matter of interaction with the environment, which might or might not be conscious.  In fact, MOST of what goes on in the brain and body is not at all conscious.  We cannot approach the idea of what is alive by saying a lightbulb has no consciousness, cannot reflect on its life.  It does interact with the environment, producing light and heat, but only if energy is supplied in a stream from outside as electricity.  A flame is closer to being alive because it IS interacting with the environment, until it reaches the limit of its energy, which is determined by its fuel.

One way of sorting living beings is according to their sources of energy, which are drawn from the environment according to their abilities.  In general, plants draw their energy from light and animals draw theirs from other beings, both plants and animals.  More recently we realize that some living beings, rather humble ones, can draw energy from chemicals like those spewing in fumeroles under the sea.  Living beings create and sustain themselves with what they take from the environment.

“Plants are eukaryotes, with their DNA contained in a membrane-bound nucleus along with other membrane-bound organelles, such as mitochondria, chloroplasts and vacuoles. Their chloroplasts give them the ability to generate energy and carbohydrates from water, sunlight and carbon dioxide.

“Archaea and bacteria are prokaryotes that lack cell nuclei and membrane-bound organelles, while protists are eukaryotes that possess both of these features. Archaea and bacteria are always single celled, while a small number of protists are multicellular organisms. 

“The distinction between prokaryotes and eukaryotes is the deepest division in the realm of life on Earth. Together, they include every life form ever discovered. Though the two groups share a common ancestry, there are basic differences between them. Eukaryotes have nucleated cells and identifiable cell structures called organelles, while prokaryotes are more variable in their cellular structure and lack a discrete nucleus, according to”

In the terms of categories that scientists use, all living creatures are capable of reproducing themselves or else they would not go on existing.  But the reproducing machinery, whether done by “budding” (creating another little version right out of their substance without making changes) or through sex (doing a mix and match for the new version by unzipping chromosomes and swapping them between two donors), can stutter so that the new version is slightly different.

The developmental path taken by that new being is shaped by environment and in that shaping, sometimes the stuttered version (mutation) is a better fit.  Better has nothing to do with morality or force, but with suitability or, more plainly, survival.  By the time animals are self-conscious and self-determining, they are capable of calculating survival strategies and choosing among them.  Even little mammals like mice.

All this adds up to a thing we call “identity” which is significant in terms of the part of the environment that consists of an aggregation of ourselves, we humans, however we got shaped into cultures that survive.  Since we are all animals, dependent on sources of energy from the environment, if the environment changes too suddenly, too deeply, if we cannot get what we need to survive whether it is fish or air or electricity, then we die.  If we must compete with other humans, the result may be war or famine.

This is the reality deep within our stories, learning what we must do to survive and the consequences of our choices.  That is the raw simplicity under our incandescent spirituality.  A lightbulb knows no stories.  But a lightbulb has a limited lifespan and so do humans.  Thus our life stories are urgent.

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