“Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted.” (2)
I have had an epiphany about Life. Now I see Life is a Process. The purpose is the process; the process is the product.
Here is a true story which has given me an analogy to this epiphany: In 1947, a very special train was assembled to contain the nation’s greatest treasures and wisdom, among which was the originals of The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of The United States. (3) The Freedom Train traveled to cities across the country carrying this wisdom-treasure. The train passed through the small towns without stopping. A teacher from such a community, upon learning that these jewels of wisdom would not stop, persuaded the conductor to at least go slowly through their station in order that the students could have been near the treasures. The school children were assembled on the station platform to only watch and to pay their respects while the train containing the wisdom-documents pass through without their inspection.
The students were certainly not witnesses to the origin of this process, could not examine the treasure on the train – but were expected to believe in them –and could not know what happened at the end of the journey. In this analogy of life, I often feel as one of the students at the station thirsting for the truth on the train but without as adequate inspection. We must make judgments and decisions without all of the information we seek. We are like the blind men, each describing a different part of the elephant. (4)
This is our circumstance with Life; we didn’t see the beginning, we don’t see the end. We can only describe what we experience and what other observers tell us of their observations. I can describe my experience and I can reflect on what others say about it. I can not say: I know The Truth.
But does the total of my observation added to what others have written or tell me- does it add up to the total truth of what I am trying to describe?
Unanswered questions remain; where was I before I was born and what follows Life? I am a scientist. I have explored the reports of the greatest of scientists (as well as the philosophers and theologians). I believe I understand the process. I believe there is an irrepressible, unrelenting force for the reproduction and survival of life. I do not comprehend the force.
In retirement, I have studied many reports and books which few others have the time to read. (5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15) If my reader wants to read one book, I suggest : To Explain the World, by Steven Weinberg. I have not found the answer to all of my questions. I have accepted our predicament of incomplete knowledge. For years, I have studied Life. My earliest memories were learning. My charge from the beginning: to learn everything possible. all day, every day. I was told: every person I met was a lesson, a positive source or an example of mistakes. Reading was a sacred responsibility. Throughout my life, I have had a great wealth of “teachable moments” and numerous outstanding teachers. I know a lot about life from the laboratory and medical practice.
The train (process) originated and was moving before I was here and continues after I get off of the train. Our conscious self is only a passenger in a physical body, of which the physical components are changing continuously. At best, we are temporary passengers on the process/train.
The sharpest point for debate is the historical point when non-living chemicals merged and became “living” nucleic acids (DNA) manifesting a new force characterized by an irrepressible self-replication. It is believed this unique instant occurred six billion years ago. What is irrefutable is: this force has remained irrepressible, producing a myriad of variants of life forms: including microbes, dinosaurs, cats, dogs, peacocks, zebras, homo sapiens, and whales! Many species have become extinct, but there are countless variants and individuals flourishing!
Since life began, it has survived volcanos, earthquakes, ice ages, meteors, tsunamis, floods and drought for billions of years. What was the source of this force and why is it so irrepressible?
There are two views characterizing the force of life: teleological versus mechanistic random- chaos.
Richard Dawkins and Peter Hoffman are advocates of random chaos as the explanation of the force. The teleological discussion dates from Aristotle and extends to the present in Addy Pross’ book. Both Hoffman and Pross present extensive nanometer molecular biology with their explanations.
I have written a discussion of this in “Life Is Still Inexplicable” refer to
I am a child on the train station watching the Freedom Train which has come from a distance source, has slowed down for me to see a little of it (even allowed me a brief ride) and is moving on to a direction beyond me.
A parting question: Consider this: the greatest scientists who share Dawkin’s and Hoffman’s solely mechanistic, random-chaos view of the origin of life, have manifested in their encyclopedic study and meticulous manuscript authoring, an enormous motivative force driving their work. This force (subjective) is not subject to an objective evaluation. Is not this the inexplicable subjective force of life which science can not explain (but some deny)?
Addy Pross’ conclusion serves to give us sound attitude: “Each individual is part of a nuclear family, which, in turn, is part of an extended family, which is part of a local community, which is part of larger groups of the human organization. The survival of the community requires far more than the individual. Reproductively speaking, individuals are incomplete. Biologically speaking, our individuality is actually non-existent.” That’s why a new pregnancy catches our attention. That powerful and compulsive news resonates with our fundamental selves.
“Just as importantly, we are also emotionally incomplete. Various psychological elements also connect us to the network. We obsessively need to be with others. We think of ourselves as individuals, but we are really just components of a network.” [Our “lifeboat” is not just many individuals, but an ever-expanding living network.] “The irrepressible force of life leaves no stone unturned in seeking ways to extend the invaluable larger Life [of which we are the stewards]. We obsessively need to be with others. We think we are separate, but we are one. We think of ourselves as individuals, but we are really just components of a network.”(13) Life has a purpose; the purpose is the process; the process is the product. 30
Charles Clanton Rogers, AB, MD, FACR. Emeritus Professor
August 16, 2015
(1) Ralph Waldo Emerson
(2) Often attributed to Albert Einstein
(3)The Freedom Train was temporary home to America’s most precious documents and other unique treasures, including the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, one of the 13 original copies of the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, the Iwo Jima flag, the German and Japanese surrender documents that ended World War II, and a precious original of the Magna Carta, written in the year 1215 as the first guarantee of the individual Rights of Englishmen that a King could not deny. The train’s first public display stop occurred in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 17, 1947. From there, the train traveled in a route that took it up to New England, down the Atlantic coast to Florida, across the nation’s southern states to California, up the Pacific coast to Washington, then across the northern states to Minnesota. After touring the perimeter of the nation, the train moved inland from Minnesota to Colorado then Kansas and Missouri, north to Wisconsin, then south to the Ohio River valley, north again to Michigan and finally east to New Jersey.
(4) The blind men and the elephant, Wikipedia
(5) Andrew Norman, Charles Darwin: Destroyer of Myths: Descent with Modification and Natural Selection –Darwin’s epiphany is recognized as second to none in science -living things change by the production of variation of each generation and differential survival of individuals with different combinations of these variable characteristics.
(6) Ilona Miko, Gregor Mendel and the Principles of Inheritance – By experimenting with pea plant breeding, Mendel developed the principles of inheritance that describes the transmission of genetic traits.
(7) D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, On Growth and Form -looks at the way things grow and the shapes they take.
(8) Erwin Schrodinger, What Is Life – A powerful attempt to comprehend some of the genuine mysteries of life, made by a Nobel Price Physicist.
(9) Andrew Berry and James Watson, DNA – Watson and Crick deduced the three-dimensional “Double Helix Structure” of the nucleic acids of DNA which carries the codes for the reproduction of life.
(10) Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity, Vintage Books, New York, 1972 -Nobel Prize Biologist – discoveries concerning genetic control of enzyme synthesis.
(11) Richard Dawkins, The selfish Gene – 1976- “a gene’s eye view of life”…the nature of natural selection.
(12) Matt Ridley, Genome, 2006 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
(13) Addy Pross. What is Life, How chemistry becomes biology.
Oxford University Press,(2012)
(14) Hoffmann, Peter M.. Life’s Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from ChaosPerseus BooksGroup, , Philadelphia(Kindle ). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.”Yet, when we try to define life, we run into difficulties, There seems to be something indefinable, some special ingredient that separates inanimate mater from living flesh…a ‘life force”
(15) Steven Weinberg, To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science, Oyster Books, 2015