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

Ed Lantz

Ursula writes: “Ed wrote: “I cannot build a living, reproducing being from scratch. There are missing ingredients.” This isn’t the case. Craig Venter’s team almost achieved this in 2010 http://www.theguardian.com/science/2010/may/20/craig-venter-synthetic-life-form, though they cheated a little, and they are working away at doing it without cheating http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23266-craig-venter-close-to-creating-synthetic-life.html I have every reason to believe that they will be successful, but fine to hold this opinion until then!”
Venter is doing amazing work! Thanks for sharing this. His published work to date still falls into my category of “meddling with life” since he did not create a cell from scratch, but instead borrowed one and inserted his own “designer DNA.”  I have no doubt that we will eventually succeed in taking control of our genetic and biological destinies. There are a lot of really smart people working on these things. We are like babies just waking up. Some might even say we are like babies playing with fire 🙂  Getting burned, however, can be a great teacher…
Ed: “We do not understand how information encoded in DNA expresses from microscopic to macroscopic spatial forms.”
Ursula: “This also isn’t the case. We have a deep understanding of how this happens.”
Ok, well I am not a biologist by any stretch. Can you cite more awesome references to back this up? How do spatially distributed stem cells in a zygote know to start differentiating – one into a liver and another into a brain? I thought this was still a mystery.
I will stand by my other statements about us not understanding informational processes in the brain. If we really understood neural coding, I would be able to pick up my thoughts with a probe and project them onto a screen. Again, there are really smart people working this… so it’s probably just a matter of time…
What I’m trying to say is that there is an informational domain at work in the universe and that trying to reduce everything into simple mechanical chemistry and physics misses this more subtle property. We’re like alien scientists trying to understand a computer by probing voltages on  circuit boards. Yes, there are correlates between images flashing on the computer screen and voltages on the pins. But we cannot really understand the computer until we learn its software programming language. Once we learn how to program the computer then we’re able to explore a vast informational domain. We don’t even have to understand the mechanical/electrical underpinnings of computer chips to operate competently in this informational domain (most of us are doing this right now as we type).
The biggest beef I have with how science has been conducted is this complete and utter denial of the inner realms of experience – what I like to call phenomenology (in the positive and less dogmatic sense of the word). Others will call it mysticism or the practice of subjective contemplation. I think of it as a scientist turned inwards. Consciousness IS the informational domain of nature, waiting for us to explore directly. Sure, we can probe voltages in the brain and there is useful information to be attained from that. However the most powerful observational domain we have in the exploration of consciousness is our own minds, and the most powerful tool for this is the lens of contemplation. There are very few scientists trained in this practice. You will not find many research dollars for phenomenology.
Eastern traditions have thousands of years of experience in contemplative practices. Modern science can now substantiate neural correlates of brain states. These two practices, taken together, are a powerful duo for the exploration of consciousness. To me, the exploration of consciousness is an exploration of the computational and informational nature of not just our own brains and nervous systems, but of the universe itself.  
What has hindered this important work is the non-scientific notion that anything we see when looking within is “just” our imagination, fantasies that are subject to delusion and hallucination. This is one of those fundamental assumptions – that the “outer” world is objective and worthy of study, while the “inner” world is subjective and just an emergent property of mechanical/physical/chemical processes anyway and is therefore not worthy of study except, perhaps, for psychologists or self-help gurus. This thinking needs to change. And when it does, a new frontier of scientific exploration will be opened.