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Synthetic life.

 
 
fresco
 
Reply Thu 3 Sep, 2009 03:09 pm
According to a recent BBC programme "The Cell", the production of living cells by synthetic means may occur within a year. If so, what will be the philosophical and religious implications ?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00mbvfh/The_Cell_The_Spark_of_Life/
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Type: Discussion • Score: 2 • Views: 2,683 • Replies: 35
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farmerman
 
  0  
Reply Thu 3 Sep, 2009 05:39 pm
@fresco,
Craig VEnters group has announced that it will have a "living cell" within a month or two.



AHEM








LET THERE BE LIGHT !!! AM I SHOUTING?
0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Thu 3 Sep, 2009 08:53 pm
@fresco,
fresco wrote:
According to a recent BBC programme "The Cell", the production of living cells by synthetic means may occur within a year. If so, what will be the philosophical and religious implications ?

I'm not sure they should be any philosophical implications, after all, life has always created life.

And I suppose religious implications will arise for any of the religions which currently struggle to accept life as a purely biological process.
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Sep, 2009 08:49 am
@rosborne979,
The same arguments that Creationists use to try to dsicount evolution, will, Im sure, be used to try to discount the "Creation " of a living cell from a chemical soup.

They could do nothing else because they cannot have anything resembling scientific objectivity in their worldview. Theyve already published their science text, and its unprovably inerrant.

So **** all the godless scientists and their e-v-i-l manipulation of HIS creation..
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Sep, 2009 08:59 am
@farmerman,
farmerman wrote:
The same arguments that Creationists use to try to dsicount evolution, will, Im sure, be used to try to discount the "Creation " of a living cell from a chemical soup.

I'm not sure the same arguments apply. Currently they are objecting to the "chemical soup" idea based pretty much on lack of specific data (and their own poor understanding of evolution and probability).

Once an artificial cell is produced I'm assuming we will have very specific data to work from describing the process used to create it.

However, I can anticipate several objections:
* They may declare it as "non-life" because it lacks a little microbial soul because it's man-made instead of natural/god made.
* They may declare it alive, but evil on the same grounds.
* They may accept it as artificial life and declare that it has nothing to do with evolution because it *is* intelligently designed.
* Or they may decide that it's just a new form of yogurt and put sprinkles on it and say that God works in mysterious ways.
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Sep, 2009 09:03 am
@rosborne979,
Thats pretty much the same argument, IMO.
"WE werent there and cant be convinced that there wasnt any volunteer "life" that snuck into the tube"

Thney may acknowledge the "creation" of a life form as a simple cell, but "HEY, you guys didnt create any elephants and dinosaurs, so God gotcha beat"

Same **** different day.
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Sep, 2009 09:41 am
@farmerman,
farmerman wrote:
Thats pretty much the same argument, IMO.
"WE werent there and cant be convinced that there wasnt any volunteer "life" that snuck into the tube"

They are pushing God further and further into the cracks. It's a one way road for them.
0 Replies
 
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Sep, 2009 09:43 am
The philosophical issues would seem to involve whether “life” can be accounted for by reductionist mechanisms (the whole is no greater than the sum of the parts). This in turn would promote “determinism” and fuel religious debates regarding “free will”.

Obviously, religious fundamentalism (biblical literalism) would seem to be in for another fatal blow, but pantheism (God in everything) or “Man as God’s Image” would remain intellectually viable.
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Sep, 2009 10:34 am
@fresco,
fresco wrote:
According to a recent BBC programme "The Cell", the production of living cells by synthetic means may occur within a year. If so, what will be the philosophical and religious implications ?

Do we really think they'll be able to do this within a year?
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Sep, 2009 10:41 am
@fresco,
fresco wrote:
The philosophical issues would seem to involve whether “life” can be accounted for by reductionist mechanisms (the whole is no greater than the sum of the parts). This in turn would promote “determinism” and fuel religious debates regarding “free will”.

I think the term "life" will be more solidified as mechanistic as a result of this. New terminology which further differentiates "spiritual" life (or the speculation thereof) from physiological life processes may be necessary going forward. Or maybe a new term for Artificial life (aLife) may be required simply to differentiate what we've built from what has grown on its own.

But that begs the question of what happens once our aLife reproduces.

Maybe something which has been reduced to mechanisms can still be recognized as being more than the sum of its parts.

fresco wrote:
Obviously, religious fundamentalism (biblical literalism) would seem to be in for another fatal blow, but pantheism (God in everything) or “Man as God’s Image” would remain intellectually viable.

Yes. "God in Everything" is pretty much unassailable by events within the physical world.
0 Replies
 
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Sep, 2009 11:05 am
@rosborne979,
Quote:
Do we really think they'll be able to do this within a year?


My gut feeling is "no" but I recognize I am being influenced by holistic (non-reductionist) philosophy.

Whether or not such potential "aLife" reproduces, there still remains the issue of accounting for "consciousness". Dennett takes a reductionist line on this, but others might argue for a "field theory" effect where particular levels of cell organization might tap into aspects of "holistic consciousness". This of course gets quite close to pantheism, but without a "purpose" angle.

farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Sep, 2009 11:26 am
@fresco,
I think that , as compared to the sequencing of a genome, the process of bringing forth a living cell (Using the several definitions for "alive"), is not as daunting a task. We already understand the energy pathways and the construct of a cell wall, as well as from the fossil record, weve got an understanding when the energy pathways began and in whjat form they appeared. Oxidative P'lation is late in the game, somewhat about the time when blue-green algae first entered the stage. Before that, we have a limited number of energy pathways , all of which are still around. We need only to follow them.

I think the energy involved, and the formation of a cell wall are the real kickers .
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Sep, 2009 11:28 am
@fresco,
fresco wrote:
Whether or not such potential "aLife" reproduces, there still remains the issue of accounting for "consciousness".

I don't generally think of single cells as having "consciousness".
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Sep, 2009 12:41 pm
@farmerman,
fm,

Yes, I can appreciate some of those details. But being aware of Prigogine's work on spontaneous dynamic structures I am thinking that "life" ought to be more a of non-linear (non-causal) synthesis (re chaos theory) rather than a deliberate architectural product.
0 Replies
 
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Sep, 2009 12:48 pm
@rosborne979,
rosborne,

David Bohm attributed "holistic consciousness" to atoms, never mind cells !

But setting aside the mystical, we can perhaps conceive of a "top down" organizational hierarchy which selectively focuses cell division and development with respect to nested "wholes". We need only think of the level of "body" organizing "organ development" in order to picture this.
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Sep, 2009 02:42 pm
@fresco,
fresco wrote:
David Bohm attributed "holistic consciousness" to atoms, never mind cells !

I'm not familiar with holistic consciousness. Is that some type of desperate philosophical attempt to anthropomorphize inanimate objects?

fresco wrote:
But setting aside the mystical, we can perhaps conceive of a "top down" organizational hierarchy which selectively focuses cell division and development with respect to nested "wholes". We need only think of the level of "body" organizing "organ development" in order to picture this.

Huh?
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Sep, 2009 04:45 pm
@rosborne979,
In his concept of "implicate order", Bohm was using a holography analogy where each item of existence reflected the whole of existence, and that existence was ordered. In an interview he admitted that this order was equivalent to "cosmic consciousness".

My nested structures view comes from Von Foerster's "second order cybernetics" which involves the application of "systems theory" to living structures. This view suggests that no such system can be adequately described by its parts alone and that reference must be made to its holistic functionality with respect to a higher level system. Thus specialized cells are so described by reference to organs, and these in turn refer to organisms, societal groups, ecological systems, and beyond. "Consciousness" may be an aspect of the particular type of communicative organization of human societies.
0 Replies
 
Cyracuz
 
  1  
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 02:46 pm
The phrase "artificial life" makes sense only if you view the creative powers of human beings as something that did not evolve from nature. But that notion is ridiculous.

If you define artificial as "man made" then sure, I guess that term has it's uses. But if you continue by saying that the artificial trancends nature, then I cannot agree. Humans and all of our achievments do not trancend nature. We are merely (to our knowledge) the most sophisticated organisms (for lack of a better term) nature has produced. We are nature, and all we produce is actually nature's creative force working through us.

Pardon my semantics here; it is hard, if not impossible, to convey what I am thinking in the precise way I am thinking it. Wink

For all we know, natural life as we know it may have been created by some sentient lifeform long before we arrived at our prized "ergo sum".
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Sep, 2009 04:42 pm
@Cyracuz,
The key issue is whether you equate "sentience" with "purposeful behaviour". The problem would then be in avoiding a creationist-type infinite regress.
The alternative to "purpose" is "accident" as implied by chaos theory and the spontaneous emergence of structure.
Cyracuz
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 09:06 am
@fresco,
Hehe... I am not sure we can equate science with purposeful behaviour. But then, I guess what constitutes science is at times as controversial as what constitutes purposeful behaviour. Perhaps, at least in the case of behaviour, it is the intent that counts.

But regardless of what you call it, purpose or accident, both terms are somewhat presumptuous if we take into account that we know nothing conclusive about our origins, nor about where the future may take us.

For myself, I do not believe there is such a thing as chaos. The term is simply applied whenever we fail to see all the factors involved in any given scenario to which we would apply the label.
Similarly, the term purpose implies some plan behind what is going on, and "logic" would sometimes have us conclude that there must be some intelligence or intent behind what is going on. But isn't that a result of transferring the logic that applies in our daily lives to an abstract level where the same rules might not apply?

It is the same as when we contemplate the end/edge of the universe. Some people cannot wrap their heads around the idea that there in nothing beyond it. Simply because logic demands that there must be something. The thing that is really happening is that we transfer a set of principles from where they are tested and found useful to an abstract level where they may or may not be applicable. The result is that the logic that was shaped by the world it's made to describe and categorize in turn shapes the world.

But maybe this is all getting abit off topic...
Anyway, when it comes to artificial life, I fail to see what would make it different from life as we know it. The method of making it, for all we know, may be artificial, but life is life, wether it came to be by what we would call chaos or within the controlled environment of a lab.
 

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