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#7491
Mike Bell
Participant

As I’ve watched this discussion evolve over several months the participants have adopted one of two fixed positions. Either the universe is living or it is not living. It seems there is no third option. But is there? The tenacity of opinions reminded me of the old joke about the day the Mafia was holding interviews to hire an accountant. The first person comes in and is asked, “What is two and two.” The person says “four” and the interviewers say to him, “Well get back to you.” The same thing happens with the next person. But the third person comes in, is asked the same question, and he answers, “What do you want it to be. And the interviewers say, “You’re hired.” The moral of the story is that we are always influenced by our particular frame of reference and our point of view. This, in turn, reminded me of two insights that evolved from quantum mechanics around a question: Does the existence of the Universe depend upon an observer? The insights were a little vague in my mind, so, following Yogi Berra’s advice—“You could always look it up”—I did. In the famous double slit experience scientists shine light—a stream of photons—through two parallel slits that register on a screen behind the slits. First they measure the light with photon detectors. The result is not a surprise. The light passes through one or other of the slits and the screen reveals the photons acting like particles. Then they did the experiment again but removed the photon detector. They looked at the screen and they saw striped patters that suggested waves. The bottom line: the result—particles or waves—depends upon what the observer is looking for and measuring. Then there is Erwin Schrodinger’s famous suggestion. Put a cat in a box with a vial of poison gas, a piece of uranium and a Geiger counter hooked up to a hammer suspended above the gas vial. The uranium may emit a particle, the Geiger counter will notice it and send a signal to the hammer which will break the vile of poison. Thus, in terms of the old science, from outside the box the cat is either dead or alive. (Like our discussion about “life” in the universe it would seem that there are only two options.) But as Schrodinger points out, the particle and the cat now form a quantum system consisting of all possible outcomes—a dead cat or a live one. But neither becomes real until someone opens the box and looks inside. Source http://discovermagazine.com/2002/jun/featuniverse Those who insist that the Universe in not living insist on the scientific method based on experiments. We are told that it is only through scientific experiments that this can be determined. To my knowledge (and I may be mistaken) no one has conducted “life experiments” on Mars or, say, somewhere within one of the 100-200 billion galaxies in the universe. (They won’t know the answer to living or non-living that one until someone opens the “Universe box” and takes a look. In the mean time the non-living advocates seem to be taking the position that, since there is no scientific evidence to the contrary, there is only “dead stuff” out there. (I don’t know what the recent discovery of water on Mars by Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter signifies, if anything.) Those who think—but do not insist—that the universe is living know that, if life does exist in the universe, it is not like human or cellular life on earth. If it was we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Those of us who think the universe is living—and I am one of them—are using the term “life” analogously. (But, just because it is analogous does not mean it is not real.) We are saying that there is some creative energy source that seems very similar to life on Earth. To summarize, both sides are facing a mystery. But quantum mechanics reminds us that the concept of “life” is in the eye of the beholder. And, in terms of terms of hard evidence, we exist in the world of emergent possibilities. I’ve found this discussion interesting, particularly about the concept of the Universe as a living system. But I’m wondering about practical applications in this Anthropocene Age. As we continue to shut down Earth’s life-support systems, are we learning anything about how to carry out our work as Earth-system triage workers trying to preserve Earth’s life-giving gifts from the universe? As I’ve watched this discussion evolve over several months the participants have adopted one of two fixed positions. Either the universe is living or it is not living. It seems there is no third option. But is there? The tenacity of opinions reminded me of the old joke about the day the Mafia was holding interviews to hire an accountant. The first person comes in and is asked, “What is two and two.” The person says “four” and the interviewers say to him, “Well get back to you.” The same thing happens with the next person. But the third person comes in, is asked the same question, and he answers, “What do you want it to be. And the interviewers say, “You’re hired.” The moral of the story is that we are always influenced by our particular frame of reference and our point of view. This, in turn, reminded me of two insights that evolved from quantum mechanics around a question: Does the existence of the Universe depend upon an observer? The insights were a little vague in my mind, so, following Yogi Berra’s advice—“You could always look it up”—I did. In the famous double slit experience scientists shine light—a stream of photons—through two parallel slits that register on a screen behind the slits. First they measure the light with photon detectors. The result is not a surprise. The light passes through one or other of the slits and the screen reveals the photons acting like particles. Then they did the experiment again but removed the photon detector. They looked at the screen and they saw striped patters that suggested waves. The bottom line: the result—particles or waves—depends upon what the observer is looking for and measuring. Then there is Erwin Schrodinger’s famous suggestion. Put a cat in a box with a vial of poison gas, a piece of uranium and a Geiger counter hooked up to a hammer suspended above the gas vial. The uranium may emit a particle, the Geiger counter will notice it and send a signal to the hammer which will break the vile of poison. Thus, in terms of the old science, from outside the box the cat is either dead or alive. (Like our discussion about “life” in the universe it would seem that there are only two options.) But as Schrodinger points out, the particle and the cat now form a quantum system consisting of all possible outcomes—a dead cat or a live one. But neither becomes real until someone opens the box and looks inside. Source http://discovermagazine.com/2002/jun/featuniverse Those who insist that the Universe in not living insist on the scientific method based on experiments. We are told that it is only through scientific experiments that this can be determined. To my knowledge (and I may be mistaken) no one has conducted “life experiments” on Mars or, say, somewhere within one of the 100-200 billion galaxies in the universe. (They won’t know the answer to living or non-living that one until someone opens the “Universe box” and takes a look. In the mean time the non-living advocates seem to be taking the position that, since there is no scientific evidence to the contrary, there is only “dead stuff” out there. (I don’t know what the recent discovery of water on Mars by Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter signifies, if anything.) Those who think—but do not insist—that the universe is living know that, if life does exist in the universe, it is not like human or cellular life on earth. If it was we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Those of us who think the universe is living—and I am one of them—are using the term “life” analogously. (But, just because it is analogous does not mean it is not real.) We are saying that there is some creative energy source that seems very similar to life on Earth. To summarize, both sides are facing a mystery. But quantum mechanics reminds us that the concept of “life” is in the eye of the beholder. And, in terms of terms of hard evidence, we exist in the world of emergent possibilities. I’ve found this discussion interesting, particularly about the concept of the Universe as a living system. But I’m wondering about practical applications in this Anthropocene Age. As we continue to shut down Earth’s life-support systems, are we learning anything about how to carry out our work as Earth-system triage workers trying to preserve Earth’s life-giving gifts from the universe?