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

Karen Chaffee

Hi, I am very happy to add my viewpoint to the conversation.  Thank you Duane, for enlightening me about these interesting topics.  Jennifer asked me to read the entire discussion–I have done that, but I have not had time to read the supporting material. But I think I can make a post now, and then another post after I have time to study.  So here goes:
First, is is worthwhile to use a unique model to analyze a big thing? 
Why, yes, I’d say.
For example:  I recently attended a seminar where the presenter described the Earth as a battery (or , galvanic cell).
The scientist used standard definitions for such words as cathode, anode, voltage, current.  (Humans, who oxidize sugars and fats for fuel, are part of the anode.)
He presented the methodology he used to come up with his numbers (the amount of electrons transferred between anode and cathode)
With this unusual way of viewing the Earth, if memory serves, he calculated voltage and current for different years, and had some interesting observations relating to our politics and environment. 
With the above talk as a (simple) model for this type of endeavor, our version being:   Is the universe a living system?   
Okay, as others have said, words must be defined precisely.   That means a group of people (we, on this board?) must first agree to the definitions of the words, before anything other step. 
We must also define the methodologies used to gather our information.
The original poster gave four criteria for ‘living’, and I am happy to agree with them.
The words contained in the criteria, however (‘universe’, ‘metabolism’, ‘living’, ‘surroundings’, ect.)  already have so many definitions ‘out there’  and thus we are already discussing which ones to use.
Forum members have introduced other words, too, in the above discussion, also carrying multiple definitions, and we don’t agree.  (“consciousness”)  Just debating our definitions can be fun, as we have seen.   We can ‘choose’ a definition, and must.  Once we choose it, our group can use it. 
Secondly, the methodology.   How do we determine if the universe imports energy, for example? 
A monumental job just to get to the point where we all agree where to start our work!  
I also think we might want to state our purpose for asking the question: is the universe living?  The truth is, if our definitions (that we as a group choose) are sufficiently narrow, the answers we get may be dull.  (i.e., yes, according to our own strict, narrow definition of metabolism, the universe has a metabolism.  What now?)
Also, what do we hope to gain?  (Ed Lantz made this point.)   The ‘battery’ scientist above (if memory serves) proposed that if electrons are ‘missing’ from the cathode or anode on any given year, he could infer that some eco system or other is undergoing a change that might be interesting. 
Do we have such a purpose, after this all the work of our exercise?   Perhaps not.
In my opinion, I believe the original poster wanted to make the broader point that there is more going on in the universe than meets the eye, and that there are things we don’t understand, and that some people won’t acknowledge.    There are connections we don’t yet see or understand.
I personally agree with this.   
Is it necessary to call the universe ‘living’ to make this point?
The other problem: this question is so difficult, compared to say, the earth as a battery, which, if memory serves, was a hard enough model to create. That doesn’t in itself make this a not worthwhile endeavor.
Back to the task:   Jon’s idea of choosing one criteria, metabolism, is a reasonable idea.    I myself volunteer to look into the question:  what is the universe compared to the ‘surrounding’ of the universe?  Can energy be imported from surrounding into universe?  I don’t know if I will come up with answers, but if I get any insight, I will post them.
There is a parallel discussion in this forum: Is there an emergent property of ‘life’?  Are there emergent properties at all?
This question intrigued me some years ago.  A philosopher who says the answer is no (I think) is Daniel Dennett.  See his book:  ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea’.
I’ve been told that Roger Penrose’s book, ‘The Emperor’s New Mind’, explains the answer is yes.  I can’t make heads or tails what that book is about, because it is too hard for me.
I don’t know the answer to the question, Are there emergent properties at all? but I don’t think it is necessary to have emergent properties for there to be more going on in the universe than meets the eye, nor do I think the universe has to be living.
I believe that the ‘missing connections’ will come from the study of the small, (waves, the electron) not the large (the universe).  Someone will have a new insight and the new insight will overturn preconceptions.  Just my personal belief and I am probably wrong!  I hope it happens in my lifetime, though!
An interesting question:  If the universe is living, can we define when it would ‘die’?
My apologies to the fellow who gave the battery seminar if I have disremembered something.  I am kicking myself because I can’t find the notes I took.