Some people try to define life. It’s a little bit like locking yourself in a library stacked with millions of volumes of texts. The fluorescent lights hum. The electrically-disturbed atmosphere makes your mouth dry out and your thoughts float loose. But, no matter. You ignore that. You draw your thoughts back in as best you can and focus on the task at hand. You carry books back to a table and slowly, as you read through them and scribble notes on index cards (never wondering for a second why you are still living in 1977), you become a book yourself and write:
“Life: the condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects and dead organisms, being manifested by growth through metabolism, reproduction, and the power of adaptation to environment through changes originating internally.” Source.
Well. Here’s a novel idea. Look at the stuff.
Dandelion Seedheads in the Dark
A gentle evening wind rustles like water through the grasslands, knocking the grasses and the dandelion stalks slowly back and forth. One by one seeds are worked loose and carried where the wind takes them, before being set down to earth.
What happens when an entire moment is alive? The definition, that had such promise, just dissolves into so much dust, that’s what. It’s a definition of organisms, actually, not of life. So, out of curiosity, I checked into what “organism” might mean in the text-based universe. This, it seems:
“A form of life composed of mutually interdependent parts that maintain various vital processes.” Source.
By golly. An organism is life and life is an organism? It’s like a dog chasing its tail. The whole effort is starting with a preformed observation and is trying to work it out. Here’s my observation:
What Dandelions are Doing in the Dark
This is their natural environment. The world of light is a human one.
Without consciousness (or the forms it takes in books, at any rate), dandelions simply are the light. Well, there’s an idea easy enough to dismiss, eh. The sun and the dandelion are different things. Of course. And they’re different not just to humans, either, who see the sun rather than eat it, and see the dark objects of the world as the skim of light radiating from their surfaces…
The Winter Sun, Several Ways
Humans don’t see the moon, but the sun’s light reflecting off of it. In the same way, they “don’t see” the poplars. So, what on earth (or heaven) are the moon and the poplars without us?
Dark. Or, better: dark complexes of physical processes, including what humans have named as gravity, photosynthesis, and the replication of complex carbon molecules. Those, too, are all light.
Light Striking Water
The water itself is dark.
The human definitions of life quoted at the opening of this post started with a bias: organisms. Things that were physically observed, naturally and unconsciously, long before words were ever used to try to explain them. The idea that dandelions are the sun is the same class of idea.
The Sun on Earth
Observation makes it clear that the sun is a source of light in the sky. More elaborate observation makes it clear that it is a giant accumulation of hydrogen being transformed into helium during a self-generating nuclear fusion reaction.
Humans (and dandelions) are also creatures of light. Building up a definition of light based on light will lead to different ends than one built upon a physical observation of organisms observed by the similarly biological side of human perception. It might not even look like a definition at all, but it will still be useful. And beautiful, too.
Sometimes called a high density apple orchard in the late afternoon light.
When the radiation generated by the sun’s reaction strikes the earth, it continues the processes of the reaction in new electrical and chemical forms. We call those life. Not bad, for creatures that live in the dark.
In the Darkness, a Camera Reveals Human Curiosity
Or … Mechanical Light Meets Organic Light to Reveal Hidden Consciousness
It’s an intriguing thought: to be an organism that is part of an environment, rather than one that moves independently through it.
More on that tomorrow!