Life is different from dead stuff. According to physicist Erwin Schrödinger, ”Living things avoid decay into disorder and equilibrium. ” And the explanation of life completely explained in kurzgesagt video.
The analogy of life is download folder. Yes, a download folder, check it now! Let’s pretend that our download folder is the universe the download folder is orderly at the beginning and getting more chaotic over time. Let’s check our download folder! By investing energy (a power of our hand to move chaotic files into orderly), we can create a tidy folder download. That is what living thing does.
But what is life actually?
Every living thing on this planet, Earth, is made of cells. In biology, a cell is a protein-based robot, it is too small to feel or experience anything. A single cell has the properties we just assign to life, it;
- has a wall that separates it from the environment, creating order
- regulates itself and maintains a constant environment
- eats stuff to stay alive
- grows and develops
- reacts to the environment
- is subject to evolution
- makes more of itself.
A cell is like alive, let’s think twice because all the stuff that makes up a cell, no part is alive. Everything inside the cell reacts chemically with other stuff around. They form reactions that start other reactions and start other reactions, and so on; creating and creating. In just a single cell, every second several million chemical reactions take place, forming a complex reaction.
Other stuffs, a cell can build several thousand types of protein: some very simple, some very complex. Imagine driving a car at 100 km/h while constantly rebuilding every single part of it with stuff you collect from the street. That is what cells do. Still, no part of the cell is alive; everything is dead matter moved by the laws of the universe.
So are life reaction processes that are taking place?
Eventually, every living thing will die. The purpose of the whole process is to prevent decay by producing new entities; DNA. So life is just a lot of stuff that carries genetic information around. Every living thing in this world is subject to evolution, and the DNA that develops the best living thing around it will stay in the game.
So, is DNA life, then?
If you take DNA out of its hull. The DNA has a very complex molecule, but it can’t do anything by itself. This is where viruses make everything more complicated. Viruses are basically strings of RNA or DNA in a small hull and need other cells to do something. That is why we’re not sure if they count as living or dead matter. And still, there are 225,000,000 m³ of viruses on Earth. The viruses don’t seem to care what we think of them. There are viruses that infect dead cells and reanimate them so they can be a host for them, which blurs the line even more.
Mitochondria is the power plants of most complex cells and were previously free living bacteria that entered a partnership with bigger cells. Mitochondria still has their own DNA and can multiply on their own, but they are not alive; they are dead.
So they sacrificed their own life for the survival of their DNA, which means living things can evolve into dead things as long as it’s beneficial to their genetic code. So, maybe life is information that manages to ensure its continued existence.
But what about AI (artificial intelligence)?
Nowadays we are very close to creating artificial life in computers. It’s just about time before the technology we build gets there. And this is not science fiction. There are a lot of smart people actively working on this AI. Talking about AI, you could already argue that computer viruses are alive.
What is life, then?
So what is life then? Things, processes, DNA, information? This is confusing. So life is different from non-living things because they contain some non-physical element, or are governed by different principles than inanimate objects turned out to be wrong.
Before Charles Darwin era, humans drew a line between themselves and the rest of living things; a magic made us special. We had to accept that we are like every living being, a product of evolution. But the more we learn about what computers can do and how life works, the closer we get to creating the first machine that fits our desciption of life, the more our image of ourselves is in danger again. And this will happen sooner or later.