Home Forums Deep Time Journey Forum Is the universe a "living system"? Reply To: Is the universe a "living system"?

#3962
Ursula Goodenough
Participant

Jennifer asked me to weigh in here. 

 

Since Duane quotes Brian — the universe emerges out of an all-nourishing abyss at every moment — to support his point, I think it would be appropriate to get Brian’s feedback here as well. Brian, for example, is also known for “gravity is love,” and the last time I heard someone question him on that he walked it way back. I’ve not heard him comment on this quote, but I’d be quite surprised if he would be comfortable with its supporting the metabolism metaphor.

 

The noun metabolism has a very specific meaning in biology, as in wiki: 

 

Metabolism (from Greek: μεταβολή metabolē, “change”) is the set of life-sustaining chemical transformations within the cells of living organisms. These enzyme-catalyzed reactions allow organisms to grow and reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments. The word metabolism can also refer to all chemical reactions that occur in living organisms, including digestion and the transport of substances into and between different cells, in which case the set of reactions within the cells is called intermediary metabolism or intermediate metabolism.

 

Metabolism is usually divided into two categories. Catabolism, that breaks down organic matter and harvests energy by way of cellular respiration, and anabolism that uses energy to construct components of cells such as proteins and nucleic acids.

 

To take this word and apply it, for example, to what stars do makes no sense to me. What is accomplished?

 

Here’s where I come out in general. I’ve not been resonant with any Gaia-premised understandings of nature from the get-go, where Duane’s expansion of the concept to the universe is even less appealing to me. To my ears, those proposing Gaia-like worldviews are motivated, whether consciously or not, by the premise that to call something alive, or some process a living process, is to enhance its value, to increase our affinity towards it. This is the outcome, I would say, of our negative view of matter (Loyal Rue makes this point in some of his books as well, calling it the “grunge theory of matter”). So we hear such phrases as “only matter” or “mere matter” or “just matter,” whereas we don’t hear only/mere/just life. 

 

I would say that the project to helping humans feel at home in the universe needs to include a celebration of all the wondrous things that matter does and can do when it’s not included in a life process, using the nouns and verbs we have for these things, rather than according them life-process nouns and verbs.