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Logos
2010-Dec-28, 11:22 AM
I've just watched a National Geographic special about the origin of our cosmos, and of all the awesome things discussed by the authoritative experts, they missed out on the question of WHY life came to exist in the first place. The HOW was explained wonderfully, and I think it's awesome to know we came to be from the basic elements spewed forth by dying stars, but why life? The equation E=mc2 means matter can be transformed into energy and vice versa. What need does the universe have to create life as we know it? Why did life choose to be of matter and not energy, or was it just a result of randomness?

antoniseb
2010-Dec-28, 01:16 PM
Welcome Logos!

As a general trend we don't focus much on "why" questions here, especially in topics where the answer is not knowable at the moment. Such reasons tend to be the domain of religions, which we do not discuss. If you have a concrete, a-religious line of reasoning on why, please feel free to share it.

Shaula
2010-Dec-28, 01:41 PM
I'd guess that the matter vs energy thing is because configurations of matter tend to be stable, energy less so.

Cougar
2010-Dec-28, 02:01 PM
The HOW was explained wonderfully, and I think it's awesome to know we came to be from the basic elements spewed forth by dying stars...

It's all pretty remarkable, all right.


....or was it just a result of randomness?

Not exactly. There is surprising patterning and order in complex adaptive systems (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_adaptive_system).

A.DIM
2010-Dec-28, 03:16 PM
... but why life? ... What need does the universe have to create life as we know it? Why did life choose to be of matter and not energy, or was it just a result of randomness?

Welcome to BAUT Logos!

Your guess is as good as any others'.

Biocentrism would be mine.

JustAFriend
2010-Dec-28, 03:23 PM
Simplest answer: "The rules allow it."

The very fact that you're here on this planet to ask the question shows that
the physics of this universe allows for the possibility of life and sentience.

DonM435
2010-Dec-28, 03:43 PM
If it hadn't happened, we wouldn't be having this debate.

cbholmes85
2010-Dec-28, 04:05 PM
Science doesn't focus on the 'why' unless they are pretty certain as to 'why' something occurs.

Think of it this way, if they were blind to a boxing match but were able to see the collisions, they could probably tell you anything you wanted to know about the collision except for 'why' the collisions were taking place. Maybe over time they would get the full view and eventually be able to explain 'why' as they come to understand more and more.

Not sure if this analogy makes sense, but it works for me.

slang
2010-Dec-28, 04:15 PM
Why not? This may seem a flippant answer, but in fact I'm very serious. Ultimately, what is life? Part of the definition probably is self-replication, which in itself can be purely a chemical reaction, with no reason for it to be rare or impossible.

KaiYeves
2010-Dec-28, 08:48 PM
'Cause!

forrest noble
2010-Dec-28, 09:08 PM
I've just watched a National Geographic special about the origin of our cosmos, and of all the awesome things discussed by the authoritative experts, they missed out on the question of WHY life came to exist in the first place. The HOW was explained wonderfully, and I think it's awesome to know we came to be from the basic elements spewed forth by dying stars, but why life? The equation E=mc2 means matter can be transformed into energy and vice versa. What need does the universe have to create life as we know it? Why did life choose to be of matter and not energy, or was it just a result of randomness?

Welcome to BAUT on you very first posting.

Why does life exist? Even though I believe life is a very improbable occurrence, once it gets started its self replication which defines it gives it the power and possibility in time to spread far and wide. If life has the possibility to form in one corner of the universe or another, it will form because of the vastness of it just considering the observable part and assessed possibilities. It does seem like life would require a very long time to reach the complexity that we see here on Earth today, but the very simplest life form on some distant planet or moon might have a far simpler physical make-up than our own DNA/ RNA based life forms. For DNA/ RNA life carbon based molecules become more complex which is one of its molecular characteristics. Water is also known to be a great non-destructive solvent for known bio-chemical organisms to form and prosper and seemingly also for presently unknown water, carbon based life as well as other possibilities concerning alien life's chemistry and structure.

Centaur
2010-Dec-28, 09:46 PM
I've just watched a National Geographic special about the origin of our cosmos, and of all the awesome things discussed by the authoritative experts, they missed out on the question of WHY life came to exist in the first place. The HOW was explained wonderfully, and I think it's awesome to know we came to be from the basic elements spewed forth by dying stars, but why life? The equation E=mc2 means matter can be transformed into energy and vice versa. What need does the universe have to create life as we know it? Why did life choose to be of matter and not energy, or was it just a result of randomness?

Welcome to the discussion group, logos.

While the initial assemblage of molecules into a sequence that could replicate albeit imperfectly and allow for evolution was a highly unlikely event, it nevertheless was possible and did happen here on Earth. An ultimate “purpose” was not required, if that is what is meant by “why”. I would ask you why a purpose might be necessary? It’s true that as humans we create many things seemingly on purpose, but many more happenings in our lives are purely accidental.

Once the life process got rolling, the ability of its molecules to replicate and evolve demonstrated that survival of the fittest is what mattered. Eventually the system snowballed and led to highly complex creatures capable of fending off competitors and passing along their genes. The result of that process up to this point is what you see in the world today. The life forms that exist today are those that survived a natural process that rejected at least a million times as many alternatives.

As an aside, years ago one of my college math professors told us of his probably apocryphal experience in a philosophy class. The only question on his essay style final exam was, “Why?” He answered, “Because” and was given a “B”. A student who answered, “Why not?” got an “A”. He must have been Slang’s father.

slang
2010-Dec-28, 10:55 PM
He must have been Slang’s father.

Hehe. It's a shame he's not around anymore, I can't verify. But it sure could have been, except he wouldn't have gone for a philosophy class. Engineering, physics and math was his world.

astromark
2010-Dec-29, 04:08 AM
Its the Pandora's Box syndrome... Once the conditions allowed replication by reproduction and modification by evolutionary paths...

The lid was off. There's no going back. Inhalation or evolution. Sink or swim... grow gills.

Life would seem to have shown a pursuance to prevail.. and does... We wait to find other examples... elsewhere.

The why is best dealt with as why not... and because it did may be as near as we ever get... What's the alternate ?

Elukka
2010-Dec-29, 05:28 AM
The how is the why, really. The universe doesn't have a "need" for life (or indeed anything), it just occurs.
What reason, besides the mechanisms which caused life to occur, is needed?

Logos
2010-Dec-29, 11:56 AM
Thanks everyone! I really appreciate the warm welcome, and the thoughtful answers (yes, even slang's "Why not?"). I appreciate them because, one, it clarified a very important point for me: that science is not concerned with the why, which belongs to, if you think about it, the realm of theology (which least interests me). The boxing analogy of cbholmes85 was great too. And two, it reminded me that the universe IS (as Elukka points out).

Again, thank you.

tnjrp
2010-Dec-29, 12:33 PM
science is not concerned with the why, which belongs to, if you think about it, the realm of theologyWell, this is a bit of grey area actually. Teleology is not solely the remit of theology, tho most theological concepts include teleology. Strong anthropic princple for example broadly states that "the universe needs to admit the creation of observers within it at some stage" and thus specifies a sort of teleology.

Science as a whole does not assume such goal-seeking exists and as a rule doesn't admit to having evidence of such tho, so it rarely touches upon the "why" questions that pertain to purpose or deeper intent of some sort. Outside of the conscious goals individual organisms set for themselves obviously.

As for abiogenesis itself, the current hypotheses appear to point towards it being possible without requiring some deeper, driving force (including but not limited to a personalized, theistic god): life may arise or emerge from chemistry just as chemistry arises from physics. Some recent research papers on the subject can be found listed here (http://www.rationalskepticism.org/chemistry/calilasseia-78-papers-on-abiogenesis-t845.html).

EDIT: as a bonus, here's a closely related recent discussion on this forum:
http://www.bautforum.com/showthread.php/108807-Why-is-there-quot-life-quot-on-Earth

Logos
2010-Dec-30, 06:51 AM
I was given a link about my question, and I thought I'd share it here as well (which I hope you find to be an interesting, entertaining piece of documentary as I have)..Thank you tnjrp for the insight, and the links (your comment hews closely to the youtube video linked below, except it was about morphogenesis instead of abiogenesis).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HACkykFlIus

Ken G
2010-Dec-30, 08:23 AM
I would say the issue here boils down to, do we first frame a question, and then see what science has to say about it, or do we first carefully set up a scientific question, perhaps a hypothesis of some kind, and then ask what larger ramifications it might have if true? I would argue for the latter approach. So before we can even address what, if anything, science may have to say about the existence of life, we need to frame relevant scientific questions that science actually can address, presumably by experiment. Then, by looking at those answers, we can ask what outside-science ramifications they may have-- but arguing from the opposite direction, where we take the outside-science question and ask for quasi-scientific answers, is what leads to uncertain conclusions like whether or not the anthropic principle is really telling us anything of importance. For example, someone working in this opposite direction might say that science explains our existence in terms of a "landscape" of different possibilities, of which only the ones that lead to life contain people like us asking this question. But is that really a scientific answer to the question, or just a sophisticated way of concealing that we have ducked the question by invoking unobservable turtles standing on each other's backs, i.e., the age-old way of ducking questions we cannot answer?

agingjb
2010-Dec-30, 10:15 AM
The Recursive Anthropic Principle states that the universe has properties which enable the Recursive Anthropic Principle to be expressed. Is the Recursive Anthropic Principle necessarily true? How would we falsify it?

loglo
2010-Dec-30, 10:44 AM
It TURTLEs* all the way down!

*Totally UnRealistic Theory of Life and Everything

tnjrp
2010-Dec-30, 10:54 AM
Absolutely. Below the four elephants, that is.

Cougar
2010-Dec-30, 07:12 PM
I was given a link about my question, and I thought I'd share it here as well... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HACkykFlIus

That's what I said. :)

baric
2010-Dec-30, 08:06 PM
Simplest answer: "The rules allow it."

This is ultimately what all questions about reality boil down to. Platonism, anyone?

Logos
2010-Dec-31, 08:41 AM
Now I'm embarrassed I even asked the question :) But bravo, Ken G. Truth stings everytime

cosmocrazy
2010-Dec-31, 09:34 AM
To give existence some purpose!

I mean whats the point of it all if you can't sit back and enjoy the view! :)

We can't answer this question because to do so would require us to know how and "why" the universe came to be in the first place. The only way to think about it without driving yourself batty is to just assume it "is" because it "is" with no reason and no cause. For us as an inquisitive reasoning species this may not be acceptable (I certainly find it hard to swallow), but thats all we have to go on at present.

Ken G
2011-Jan-01, 06:18 AM
Now I'm embarrassed I even asked the question :) But bravo, Ken G. Truth stings everytimeYet there are no bad questions-- and the really good ones are just answered with more questions. Arguably, more is learned from a question that is not answered than one that is-- if one generalizes "learning" to learning about what can be learned. That's an important step-- like when you get directions for navigating some terrain, you first have to know what kind of vehicle you have. Do you need directions that follow paved roads, or do you have an ATV? Are the directions appropriate for a plane or a boat? I think that kind of learning is even more interesting than more cut-and-dried versions-- some people crave cut-and-dried answers to life the universe and everything, but I find them kind of boring! I believe that may also be what Douglas Adams was chuckling over.

Logos
2011-Jan-01, 09:20 AM
Yet there are no bad questions-- and the really good ones are just answered with more questions. Arguably, more is learned from a question that is not answered than one that is-- if one generalizes "learning" to learning about what can be learned.

Uncanny. I just finished watching (yes, again) the BBC Four documentary "Dangerous Knowledge," and in one of the comments made by the narrator, he mentions that the great thinkers in his study arrived at answers to their questions at great cost, and ironically only to find that there were more questions once they got there. Somewhat akin to climbing a steep mountain and finding another steeper mountain behind it.

Here's the blurb for that show: "In this one-off documentary, David Malone looks at four brilliant mathematicians - Georg Cantor, Ludwig Boltzmann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing - whose genius has profoundly affected us, but which tragically drove them insane and eventually led to them all committing suicide."

At the conclusion of the documentary, I come away with the realization, as Turing did, that some questions can and will never be answered. Why are we sentient matter and not energy? What is the purpose of the universe? I get it now.

tnjrp
2011-Jan-03, 07:35 AM
One needs to note the distinction between formal logic, mathematics and science tho. The latter discipline deals with physical reality and the two former ones deal with concepts (in the broad sense) so they are not trivially compatible at every possible level. Furthermore, questions like "purpose of the unvierse" are currently more of a philosophical nature which is yet another kettle of fish.

Xelebes
2011-Jan-03, 07:57 AM
Why not? This may seem a flippant answer, but in fact I'm very serious. Ultimately, what is life? Part of the definition probably is self-replication, which in itself can be purely a chemical reaction, with no reason for it to be rare or impossible.

Or, going further, a somatic process where the atmosphere mingles with the crust, excited by radiation from the star.

astromark
2011-Jan-05, 04:03 AM
Why is there life... ? because there can be. Why can there be...? because there is. Therefore there can be. Therefore there is... and so on we go...
A deeper look at this question could be harmful or injurious to your well being thus is hence forth prohibited... :razz:
We do seem to reach a point where all the clever clogs in the world can not agree on any one specific reality.
There can be and there is, are in themselves a answer. That there is because there can be... That may never be further resolved.
Accepting that is a large part of a mature minds grasp of reality... or a complete load of rubbish. Only you can judge that.

astromark
2011-Jan-05, 04:04 AM
:whistle:Why is there life... ? because there can be. Why can there be...? because there is. Therefore there can be. Therefore there is... and so on we go...
A deeper look at this question could be harmful or injurious to your well being thus is hence forth prohibited... :razz:
We do seem to reach a point where all the clever clogs in the world can not agree on any one specific reality.
There can be and there is, are in themselves a answer. That there is because there can be... That may never be further resolved.
Accepting that is a large part of a mature minds grasp of reality... or a complete load of rubbish. Only you can judge that.

Spaceman Spiff
2011-Jan-08, 05:33 PM
Here is a scientific paper and a brief essay that you might find of interest:

Life as a Manifestation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (http://homepages.wmich.edu/%7Ekorista/phys3300/life_as_2Law.pdf)

The purpose of life is to disperse energy (http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_3.html#sampson)

tnjrp
2011-Jan-10, 11:48 AM
Not entirely sure why Dr. Samson thinks this idea is "dangerous" (as it's in a way merely a truism) but the first paper is good for giving those cre(at)i(o)nists who think the 2nd law prohibits evolution something to chew. Not that they generally accept scientific arguments anyway, but there's no harm in trying :)

Somes J
2011-Jan-11, 12:08 AM
There's an element of inherent selection bias at work here. A cosmos that did not contain life would not have intelligent inhabitants that could pose such a question.

My personal suspicion is that we live in a very large (perhaps infinite) multiverse that is mostly filled with universes with physics that do not permit life, and we live in a (relatively*) life-friendly universe for the same reason we live on a life-friendly planet. Life-friendly universes are the only ones that can have entities capable of asking this question.

* Actually, the overwhelming majority of our universe is not friendly to life; most of it is a deeply cold near-vacuum. Our universe is really friendly to life only in the sense that an extreme desert with occassional oasis is friendly to life.

Spaceman Spiff
2011-Jan-11, 04:13 AM
Not entirely sure why Dr. Samson thinks this idea is "dangerous" (as it's in a way merely a truism) but the first paper is good for giving those cre(at)i(o)nists who think the 2nd law prohibits evolution something to chew. Not that they generally accept scientific arguments anyway, but there's no harm in trying :)

The website called the "Edge (http://www.edge.org/questioncenter.html)" publishes a series of essays each year, and this particular one concerned this question: "What is your dangerous idea? (http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_index.html)" (from 2006). Dr. Samson is probably only suggesting that the concept of life's purpose being to "disperse energy" would sound rather heretical (or upsetting) to many people.

Logos
2011-Jan-20, 01:36 AM
Thank you Spaceman Spiff for the links, they certainly make for another interesting take on my question. And now, I think I must confess and reveal the motivation for my question. I have always wondered why a living organism struggles to survive. Why he/it must take from his/its environment and let his somatic processes transform it to the sustenance he/it needs. Which of course, Dr. Samson in his "Edge" contribution, tantalizingly answers. But what if one were to, because he has consciousness and perception, end this processes voluntarily? Outside the realm of philosophy and religion, if we were just simple molecules come together to become the cosmos' manifestation of life, and merely by chance at that, then wouldn't it be of little consequence to end continued existence? Ah, but to do so you must first answer the question 'why is there even life in the cosmos at all' (at least, that's how I feel. Obviously, I'm as curious as anybody to find the answer. If I were dead then how would I confirm it :) ). Until then, I guess I shall hold my peace and go on living. Thank you everyone, I greatly appreciate all your replies.

Ken G
2011-Jan-20, 02:54 PM
I think the idea is, organisms that had no compunctions against letting themselves die did indeed do just that, and their genes are not still with us. The genes we find everywhere there is life are genes that associate themselves with a will or an instinct or some kind of basic architecture to survive. I think your question boils down to, "how do genes affect what we do", and I have no idea there-- it's a complex biological tale that I think we have only begun to scratch the surface of. But now that human intellect has appeared, we are in a position to make choices that less intellectual creatures are probably not capable of. Hence the origin of ethics. I'm not saying you eat because of your ethics, you eat because your body has trained you to eat with a powerful mix of positive and negative reinforcement (and anorexia can result when those signals get crossed), but if you made an intellectual choice to die based on some ethical considerations, you would discover that your mind has many levels and they might not all be on board with that idea.

Spaceman Spiff
2011-Jan-20, 07:34 PM
More complex systems access and dissipate greater amounts of free energy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helmholtz_free_energy) (F = U – TS), and thereby export greater amounts of entropy than simpler systems (per kmole of atoms). In other words, complex systems naturally arise as a response to the imposed energy gradients – in order to destroy the gradients and reach or return to equilibrium (2nd Law).
Stronger imposed gradients ↔ more complex systems

On Earth, the imposed energy gradients arise from sunlight, geothermal energy, and chemical potential (given composition, temperature, and energy input via sunlight and geothermal).

Think of the phenomena on Earth that involve cycling air due to imposed energy (pressure, temperature, ...) gradients: from tiny, loosely-structured, short-lived dust devils to the enormous, highly-structured, long-lived hurricanes. In some sense, asking "why life?" is akin to asking "why hurricanes?".

whatdoctor
2011-Jan-21, 02:43 AM
I propose that life did not "choose" anything. It just happened because it was the most probable outcome. Matter has a tendancy to form more complex arrangements - like a cloud of gas clumping to form stars and galaxies. Life is just a complex group of molecules and is the inevitable result over a long period of time.

Ken G
2011-Jan-21, 04:44 AM
I propose that life did not "choose" anything. It just happened because it was the most probable outcome. Matter has a tendancy to form more complex arrangements - like a cloud of gas clumping to form stars and galaxies. Life is just a complex group of molecules and is the inevitable result over a long period of time.It can get more subtle, owing to selection effects. For example, it is very unlikely that you or I will ever know what it feels like to win a lottery, because it is much more likely that we will not, and much more likely things are the things that tend to happen. But if we wanted to write a book about lottery winners, and intentionally assembled a bunch of them in a room so we could talk with them, it would no longer be highly unlikely that anyone in that room would know what winning a lottery feels like. It's a selection effect. When it comes to life, we have a similar issue-- we are alive, and our conversation about life suffers from that selection effect. Thus we do not know that life is a likely outcome-- it might be vastly unlikely, but this is just where it happened. That is the thrust of the weak anthropic principle-- it makes it very hard to assess the likeliness of life, and it means that life on the planet where the question is being asked is not necessarily a likely outcome.