Time: 4:15 PM
Location: Kolkata, India
Recently, I've been thinking a lot about the big picture and things related to life. I remember, in a previous letter, I mentioned how we are so much similar to the heavenly bodies and the universe...but lately, another question disturbs me. I myself think its quite irrational, but still I repeatedly raise this question as I find no relevant answer. The question is, why we call ourselves the living? The answer seems quite obvious at first but the more I thought about it, the more confused I got. Finally, I decided to make a separate list of properties for the living and the non-living objects.
The first differentiating property which came to my mind was intelligence, but soon I had to rule that out considering the primitive species like bacteria and algae which lasted for millions of years without the slightest hint of intelligence. Furthermore, with the aid of technology, we can and have created robots and devices with superb intelligence. Sometimes, humans have even created devices with a higher intelligence level than most living organisms...but still these robots and devices are deemed non-living.
Then, I thought of the ability to intake matter from the surroundings, use it and then give it back. However, this characteristic feature was also ruled out. For instance, if we take the sun into account, or any other star, at the beginning of it's 'life', it takes in a lot of matter from space due to its own gravity, goes through some reactions (fusion of H atoms to form He and maybe more reactions), and then finally results in heat, energy and light (and He). Eventually, even the sun 'dies' like all other living creatures, but again, we never say that the sun is a living creature.
Then the last thing which perhaps differentiates life from the lifeless can be the ability to reproduce, evolve and carry information. The ability to duplicate DNA and produce another being of the same kind is exclusive in the living (or is it?). If we think of a binary system of stars, it is obvious that it is confronted with many possibilities. One of these possibilities is the formation of a 'baby star'. Well, this is a very rare event and has only come into view through recent studies (a new study predicts such an event in a binary system located in the constellation Cetus). When two stars are nearing death, their usable fuel (H) tank is almost empty. However, after collision, temperatures generated are high enough to kick start the reactions again and thus, use up the remaining fuel which would have been of no use without a high temperature. Thus, a new star is born which is blessed with a few more years of life. The formation of super galaxies from two different galaxies can be an example as well.
Also, when galaxies collide, lots of new stars are formed. So, we can imagine the galaxies to be (sort of) colonies for the stars and occasionally, these colonies participate in marriage ceremonies with other galaxies and result in new stars! Also, every object in the universe carry information like the DNA in our cells. Otherwise, how can a star look just like other stars and the asteroids look just like other asteroids?! Every object contains in itself, or receives from some outer source the information which decides how it must look and act. Information is organised data and data is all about the tiniest details. Coming to the evolution part, the truth is, the lifeless has evolved to be the living. Life has found a way.
Now doesn't all of it seem to fit into a well defined pattern?...and to be completely honest, the concept of 'baby star' came to me when I followed this logical pattern...and when I googled it, voila! it did exist! (even though it has been observed very rarely and was just predicted in some cases).
Yesterday, I was watching a theoretical video. It didn't speak about the living or the non-living, but it was very close to the subject. It basically explained that all human beings are forgeries of a set of instructions formed by molecular structures just like the forgery of a painting or a sculpture. If we go back 50 generations behind this present one, it will be enough to link all the humans as cousins. If we go back even further, we can easily link ourselves to the animals, and if we are willing to go back a bit more, we'll see that we can link ourselves to the trees and rocks too! This was what the video talked about. Therefore, we are copies and duplicates of what was there in the past, and as forgeries can be detected as forgeries due to the presence of the minimal differences, it were these differences which over time, made us so different from our cousins.
All of us are just different combinations of molecules and atoms. The inanimate objects eat, breathe, grow, reproduce and evolve, even though their diet, growth and birth patterns are different...So is life really different from something without life?...and if it is, then why? So the next time you put on your clothes to get some coffee with your friends, just think about it, are you wearing and drinking an ancient version of yourself?