When does chemistry become life?

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Summary: At some point, there has to be a point where the "goo' (as described by "Q") becomes us, what is that transition point? What made not life, life?
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I have been looking around the internet for an answer to this question. The difference between "life" and "not life" seems to be that "life" is capable of making decisions. Back before we had "life" we had nothing that could make decisions, everything that happened was dependent on the physical laws governing such collections of atoms and molecules. Eventually, some things in this mix gained the ability to make a decision, I do not know how to describe that event, this is my question. What was the first decision that was most likely made at the beginning of life.
 
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This "early life", it could not make a decision? When there were multiple choices possible, how was one or the other chosen by this "life?"
 

jim mcnamara

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First off, I do not believe there is an answer everyone agrees with. Most, but not all, biologists like to think that the first early prokaryotes were the start of life, likely a taxonomic group called Archaea. We can find find microfossils in VERY old rock formations that are attributed to them.

"decisions" imply some kind of intent, and existing Archaea are simply efficient tiny cells that perform a series of chemical processes. They react chemically. No intent implied.

Please read this before asking more questions:


which is a possible answer to your question
 

phinds

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At some point, there has to be a point where the "goo' (as described by "Q") becomes us
Since it's already in the general discussions instead of Chemistry or Biology: also, you set the other point that high - 'us' - I think it would be better to seek the answer on non-chemical, non-biological fields.

Try one from informatics: look up the 'Turing test'. On that basis the answer would be something like 'when you can't tell the difference anymore'.

An alternative, more emotional version with lower requirements would be something like 'when you can't bear to call it 'it' anymore'.
 

256bits

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The difference between "life" and "not life" seems to be that "life" is capable of making decisions.
That seems to lead to going down a rabbit hole if used as the sole criteria for distinguishing life from non-life. as evident from the replies to your query.

Evidently you are alive and a conscious decision maker.
The cells in your body are evidently alive, but are they individual decision makers?
One would think that the collective of cells have an influence upon each other on what one cell, or groups of cells should do.
That is not to say that only multi-cellular organisms with brains are decision makers.

I think you might find this interesting.
No brain, but according to the researchers, definitely making decisions.
And if I might add, the slime is not basing its choices on memory, which one ordinarily considers as being necessary for an evaluation of a history of choices for selection of a response, since it does not have a memory, as far as anybody knows.
 
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fresh_42

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I have been looking around the internet for an answer to this question. The difference between "life" and "not life" seems to be that "life" is capable of making decisions.
It's long, long, very long before this. IMO it is the first cell division, if not the first amino acid.
 

BillTre

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And if I might add, the slime is not basing its choices on memory, which one ordinarily considers as being necessary for an evaluation of a history of choices for selection of a response, since it does not have a memory, as far as anybody knows.
If one considers, the evolved species, than one might consider details of it molecular structure (its evolved DNA sequences) to be its memory.
The memory is acquired through selection acting on a population of genetic variants such that only those with adaptive genetic combinations will survive.
The memories direct how an organism will react to its environment. These could be considered its decisions.
These however, are clearly not conscious.
In many cases, they will not even be considering alternative possible reactions. They are just reacting to particular environmental situations. The alternatives may be only as simple as react or don't react.
Others reactions may be more complicated logic situations, such as reacting differently, depending on if you are running or standing still.
 

Ygggdrasil

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The definition of life and the characteristics a system must exhibit to be considered living is a question that scientists have studied and considered for a very long time. There is no universally accepted definition of life, but here are some criteria listed by Wikipedia:
  1. Homeostasis: regulation of the internal environment to maintain a constant state; for example, sweating to reduce temperature
  2. Organization: being structurally composed of one or more cells – the basic units of life
  3. Metabolism: transformation of energy by converting chemicals and energy into cellular components (anabolism) and decomposing organic matter (catabolism). Living things require energy to maintain internal organization (homeostasis) and to produce the other phenomena associated with life.
  4. Growth: maintenance of a higher rate of anabolism than catabolism. A growing organism increases in size in all of its parts, rather than simply accumulating matter.
  5. Adaptation: the ability to change over time in response to the environment. This ability is fundamental to the process of evolution and is determined by the organism's heredity, diet, and external factors.
  6. Response to stimuli: a response can take many forms, from the contraction of a unicellular organism to external chemicals, to complex reactions involving all the senses of multicellular organisms. A response is often expressed by motion; for example, the leaves of a plant turning toward the sun (phototropism), and chemotaxis.
  7. Reproduction: the ability to produce new individual organisms, either asexually from a single parent organism or sexually from two parent organisms.
(source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life#Definitions)

Here is a relevant quote from a NASA page on the subject:
Living things tend to be complex and highly organized. They have the ability to take in energy from the environment and transform it for growth and reproduction. Organisms tend toward homeostasis: an equilibrium of parameters that define their internal environment. Living creatures respond, and their stimulation fosters a reaction-like motion, recoil, and in advanced forms, learning. Life is reproductive, as some kind of copying is needed for evolution to take hold through a population's mutation and natural selection. To grow and develop, living creatures need foremost to be consumers, since growth includes changing biomass, creating new individuals, and the shedding of waste.
(source: https://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/starsgalaxies/life's_working_definition.html)

Scientists have yet to synthesize artificial chemical systems that exhibit these criteria, so the exact boundary between living and non-living remains unclear. Furthermore, we have examples of life descending from only a single origin of life on one planet, so we do not know which of these properties of life are universal across multiple different origins of life versus those that are particular to the conditions on Earth.
 
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A lot to consider and no agreement to hang on to. However, I can accept that life, based on some universal rules and attributes, can exist without having to make decisions that imply a mind and memory (so it can learn between good and bad decisions.) I will believe that this "live" could, but does not have to, develop such advanced abilities. I really do not have any idea how extensive this primitive life might get, having to apply a prime directive to a pile of wet rocks might be difficult. I think this primitive life could be simulated by a computer of some type. It should be mathematically consistent. It must all work within the bounds of physics as they exist. Life, like us, is much more complicated what with consciousness, dreams and stuff like that there. So the answer to my question is chemical life (primitive) becomes real life when it has something that could be considered a mind with some memory. It will also have the abilities of the primitive life from which it emerged.
 

BillTre

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So the answer to my question is chemical life (primitive) becomes real life when it has something that could be considered a mind with some memory. It will also have the abilities of the primitive life from which it emerged.
I would not use the term real life in the way you are doing. Instead, I would use something like Conscious Life since you want to make a distinction between animated entities with mind vs. those without.
usig real life as youo seem to mean it implies (to me anyway) that bacteria, archea, protozoa, plants and fungi are alll not really real life since they (probably) lack mind.

To answer your question about when does life begin, you would want to assemble a list of properties (many such lists have been made) that will work to define life and then determine when the last one of those properties arose. That last property would be the last step in the emergence of life.
Unfortunately, both the list of components for such a list and the detailed history of how they arose are somewhat contentious.
There have been previous PF threads on both defining life and the origins of life.

(as described by "Q")
Who or what is "Q"?
 

Ygggdrasil

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So the answer to my question is chemical life (primitive) becomes real life when it has something that could be considered a mind with some memory.
It would be helpful if you define what you mean by "chemical/primitive life" versus "real life" as these are not standard scientific terms.

In particular, life on Earth encompasses a wide variety of forms, from single-celled bacteria, archaea, and protists to multicellular fungi, plants and animals. Of these, only (some) animals would conventionally be considered to have a mind, but animals compose only 0.4% of life on Earth by mass (https://www.pnas.org/content/115/25/6506).

Most people would consider plants to be life yet most would not consider them to have a mind. Do plants fit your definition of "real life"?
 
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We have yet to determine if a plant has a mind unless you happen to know of an Ent perhaps?

I do not think to make lists about what is life, with a mind or without a mind useful. If we can figure out what consciousness is, and dreams, then we can test any form of life to see if it is conscious. I believe (because the proof is for the scientists to do) that our universe has parameters that make life common. I also have developed ideas on why we have not seen any evidence for this common life, that is not for here. I have learned through the discussion here that the origin of life is an open debate, if we can not agree on that, it would be difficult to understand how our universe contributed. I believe it did, but thats another story. And I find that asking my questions here, once I get them right, is much more productive than doing a google search with them. I thank everyone who helped me learn.
 

symbolipoint

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We have yet to determine if a plant has a mind unless you happen to know of an Ent perhaps?

I do not think to make lists about what is life, with a mind or without a mind useful. If we can figure out what consciousness is, and dreams, then we can test any form of life to see if it is conscious. I believe (because the proof is for the scientists to do) that our universe has parameters that make life common. I also have developed ideas on why we have not seen any evidence for this common life, that is not for here. I have learned through the discussion here that the origin of life is an open debate, if we can not agree on that, it would be difficult to understand how our universe contributed. I believe it did, but thats another story. And I find that asking my questions here, once I get them right, is much more productive than doing a google search with them. I thank everyone who helped me learn.
The part shown in bold is correct, at least currently.

You may be interested to know about the work of someone named Oparin.
 

pinball1970

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We have yet to determine if a plant has a mind unless you happen to know of an Ent perhaps?
No evidence of ents but there are studies on how trees communicate and some of the mechanisms are sophisticated.
Applying human consciousness to other living systems can lead to philosophical difficulties.
The same with life/living, best look at it from a purely biological/biochemical perspective as per Previous posters suggestions
 
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Inter-plant communication and someone named Oparin

Both are interesting reads. Thank you both. I have decided that life is just part of the question, I must add some form of consciousness to my criteria of what is life. And I truly believe that all forms of life are a result of how the physical laws and parameters manipulate matter as it is heated and frozen and mixed, so many times in a pot that we call earth. I also believe that as we learn more about life we will eventually find the path it traveled to get me to this post. No magic, just the most favorable circumstances. Perhaps QED is also part of the equation? It appears the world now has more questions than answers, a lot like 200 years ago, 200 years from now all this will be in 4th-grade textbooks.
 

pinball1970

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Inter-plant communication and someone named Oparin

Both are interesting reads. Thank you both. I have decided that life is just part of the question, I must add some form of consciousness to my criteria of what is life. And I truly believe that all forms of life are a result of how the physical laws and parameters manipulate matter as it is heated and frozen and mixed, so many times in a pot that we call earth. I also believe that as we learn more about life we will eventually find the path it traveled to get me to this post. No magic, just the most favorable circumstances. Perhaps QED is also part of the equation? It appears the world now has more questions than answers, a lot like 200 years ago, 200 years from now all this will be in 4th-grade textbooks.
Nick Lane is a biochemist and he wrote a book that tackles some of your questions including, life and consciousness. 'Life ascending,'
Chapter 9 is on consciousness. (Below)

 
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"Perhaps not surprisingly, though, the Pope was not about to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The human mind, he said, was forever beyond the domain of science. "

This would imply we will reach a point where we will stop having new ideas as if there was some unseen force blanking our minds. I do not think so. xD


"I should say at the outset that this chapter is different from the other chapters in this book, in that not only does science not (yet) know the answer, but at present we can barely conceive of how that answer might look in terms of the known laws of physics or biology or information. There is no agreement among scholars of the mind about exactly how the firing of neurons could give rise to intense personal sensations. "


I agree.
 

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