This group includes the word 'life' in its title, and the word is included in virtually every philosophical/theological discussion everywhere in the world. Generally speaking, thumpers are apt to mean humanity when they refer to it, while those of a more scientific bent usually mean any carbon-based self-reproducing organism.

However we define it, we rely on our limited senses to do so. We envision 'life' as having three dimensions, to be something we can see, feel or in some other way be aware of. We wonder if there is 'life' on other planets or in the spaces between celestial bodies. We try to communicate with 'others' who match our criteria of living beings. But all this inquiry seems to overlook a basic question: what exactly do we mean by 'life'?

Isn't it possible that there is free-floating intelligence, unhampered by physicality, in the universe? How do we know we are not surrounded by life that we are unable to apprehend? Not to go all Rod Serling, but isn't it a possibility that the little speck of space detritus we inhabit is itself part of a larger life form? For that matter, couldn't we consider the entire universe a living entity?

Just throwing this out there (see what happens when a person gets old...peculiar thoughts arise). So, how do you define "life"?

Tags: definition, life

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This is one of my favorite arguments against the Christian principle that humans are superior to, and therefore supposed to be dominant over, other creatures. The universe is an enormously vast place, and what in the world makes anyone think they are the only thinking creatures in it?

As you said, we have limited senses, limited knowledge, and clearly limited understanding of the world and everything in it. But we learn more and more all the time, and perhaps it is this that the religious fanatics fear. When we can explain things through science, what need is there for a god or gods?

To think that we are the only beings capable of thought in such a gigantic place is incredibly arrogant. To think we are made in "god's image" and thus superior and unique is just plain silly.

I love your idea of a "free-floating intelligence, unhampered by physicality". I am reminded of a Star Trek episode, many years ago, with a species made of energy and intelligence that is light years ahead of humankind.
Speaking of TV shows, we were just talking about the possibility that LOST might be an acronym for Life Outside Space Time and that the Smoke Monster and possibly the island itself are life forms. I agree, Nancy..."arrogance" is the operative word in all things religious. It's too bad the thumpers aren't arrogant enough to understand they invented god, and not the other way around. Odd, how their hubris stops short at the point of creation. I guess they don't have the guts to take the glory (or the blame).
Well, although there isn't a precise, non-controversial definition to "life" as a scientific phenomenon, the consensus is that life possesses certain properties not usually found in abiotic objects:

- Relatively high degree of order
- Regulation of internal environment (homeostasis)
- Response to external stimulus
- Metabolism (energy processing)
- Reproduction
- Growth and development controlled by an inherited genome
- Evolutionary adaptation (unifying theme of modern biology)

Obviously, this list is dependant on our Earth-bound perceptions (presently the only observable source of life), and distinctions between living and non-living become blurred when discussing exceptions such as viruses.

You may be interested in this Scientific American article: Are Aliens Among Us?
Thanks for the link, A.Ou. The writer does present another interesting hypothesis, but my inquiry is a bit more "woo-woo", perhaps. For instance, it occurred to me that there must be something like a repository of all knowledge-- a Universal Mind or Cosmic Consciousness-- that could qualify as a 'living' organism. To elucidate, we know that many inventions and discoveries were made by different people in different parts of the world at approximately the same time (logarithms, the telephone, etc.) as well as seemingly 'out of the blue' theories like Einstein's relativity equations. Obviously, this information existed before it was acquired by human minds (just as land masses existed before explorers came upon them)...my question is, what is the source of this knowledge, and could it not be another kind of 'life'?
I think this situation is somewhat analogous to convergent evolution (different species display similar traits not because of direct descent but from having been in similar environments - i.e., birds and bats). For example, if each culture develops its technologies to be as efficient as possible, then the innovations will eventually resemble each other because, in general, there is only one "most efficient" design.

Ancient peoples all over the world developed some concept of pi in parallel to one another - most likely because knowledge of geometry is quite crucial for agriculture, engineering, etc., and so that need encouraged investigations into that area.

Also, people are not isolated from each other, and ideas are exchanged often. Long-distance trade has occurred since 3000-2000 BCE.

Overall, the existence of a universal consciousness makes for interesting speculation not the most probable explanation.

The "source of knowledge" is scientific reason applied to the exploration of the natural world. Most life-changing discoveries are not "out of the blue" but were the culmination of many previous, incremental discoveries. Each individual builds on the work of his/her predecessors and adds a small contribution. Then, someone comes along and brilliantly unifies a bunch of separately observed phenomena into one coherent theory and is remembered for it, whereas the minor others are forgotten by history.
No honest theist (are there any?) can properly answer the biological points above.

As for 'life', I had understood that life began at that evolutionary moment when reproduction of the first species began, i.e with the eukaryotes.
We humans are not one organism. Isn’t it true that we are a collection of symbiotic organisms? We cannot live without our relationship with our symbiotic partners. If we take that to be true, we can expand or contract our definition of life form. We can call bacteria a life form and we can call the Earth a life form.
I believe there are, or were, intelligent species on other planets. The odds of Earth being the only planet populated, over the vast stretch of time and the infinity of the universe, is astronomical. Can you imagine what would happen to religion if an alien species arrived here for a visit??? I laugh just thinking about the mad scramble that would occur. Although, if I was an alien there's no way I'd come here yet.

The main scientific question that's bothered me since childhood is the concept of the universe as infinite. It's difficult to accept anything that's infinite because all life on this planet is finite. But if the universe has a beginning, shouldn't it also have an end? If it does end, what's on the other side? These kind of questions have been rolling around in my head since childhood, and are the basis for what made me not believe in god in the first place.
In view of your response, Susan, I have a followup question: what do you mean by "intelligent life"? How do you define "intelligence" in this context?
I don't know about intelligent life but, at risk of appealing to authority, I recall that Carl Sagan thought that the chance that there is life somewhere in the Universe, and possibly in this galaxy is likely due to the shear number of stars.
Ruth,

What a great topic for discussion! It almost sounds like this is a discussion of the possibility of.... a GOD? Not the Charlton-Heston-stone-tablets-on-the-mountain-Yahweh - more the floating-around-in-the-universe-entity.

I think that a lot of people do believe in this sort of life or godlike being. It's an interesting idea. Being the type of person who needs objective data to develop or accept a concept, I can't buy it, but I'm not against other people speculating about it. That would probably move a person to the agnostic, not atheist, category. Depends on your definition of a god.

The earth-as-life-form sounds a bit like the Gaia hypothesis - here is a link to see if that's what you mean Gaia.
Thanks for the link, Daniel. I had heard of the Gaia hypothesis, but hadn't looked into it. Not surprisingly, it articulates one of the random theories that had occurred to me (I seem to find that notions I think are original have already been postulated and given names...like determinism, a train of thought I embarked upon well before discovering it to be a fairly well-known philosophy).

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