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Saturday, March 19, 2005

Levels Of Awareness II

[This post is partially inspired by the definition of life on Wikipedia.]

The heuristics commonly employed to categorize something as living include:

1. Growth
2. Metabolism, consuming, transforming and storing energy/mass; growing by absorbing and reorganizing mass; excreting waste
3. Motion, either moving itself, or having internal motion
4. Reproduction, the ability to create entities that are similar to itself
5. Response to stimuli - the ability to measure properties of its surrounding environment, and act upon certain conditions.

Amongst other things, fire fits very nicely to this definition. It can grow. It consumes paper, wood, etc., and leaves carbon behind. It has motion in its flames. It can reproduce (like plants, it requires some external agents for reproduction). By moving a piece of wood close to the flames of a fire, an exact replica child fire can be created. It responds to stimuli (e.g., it extinguishes/ dies when proper living conditions are not available).

So, what's the problem with the definition? Or does fire really has life? There are two ways to proceed: One way is to change your definition and the other is to accept that fire has life. Changing the definition means adding more properties/ heuristics for the classification; for example, by requiring a "delineation" (like cell membrane) around the "body" of the living organism. Or to change the definition completely, such as, "Life is a system converting entropy to negentropy, using flow of energy." (taken from Wikipedia)

As you can see, there are more troubles with changing the definition, like delineation around what? entropy to negentropy? - What do they mean? What is body?

I am not going to negate any of these definitions. What I intend to do is to describe my idea of levels of awareness. The elementary biological definitions differentiate between plants and animals by telling us that plants have chlorophyll in them, i.e., they produce their own food. Yet, we find carnivorous plants that eat insects and some other animals. Biologists have taken another easy way out. They no longer classify things as plants and animals. The say that plant is a very vague concept and doesn't mean anything; according to them, somebody interested in understanding types of organisms should study the detailed taxonomy.

But then they get trapped again because of the fact that they fail to define what is carnivorous and what is herbivorous. Some plants are at the brink of being carnivorous and non-carnivorous. Things within the taxonomy do blur into each other. The taxonomy itself fails to delineate things in black and white.

No matter how hard you try, there is a dead end. Or rather, there is a counter example to our understanding. So, why are things so complex? What I would say is that these are ayaat or identifying signs For Men of Understanding.

Being very simple, my intuition says that there is just one property that differentiates plants from animals, namely desire. And there is another property that differentiates human beings from animals, namely self control. Just as plants gradually blur into animals, there are gradual levels of awareness: there are levels of desire and furthermore, there are levels of self control.

More on these later...