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Author Topic: Entropy and the meaning of life?  (Read 4937 times)

Offline Lamprey5

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Entropy and the meaning of life?
« on: 22/01/2011 01:32:15 »
This may seem a little out of place for this forum at first but I think it's discussion will be fruitful here.

I am convinced that living organisms have a meaning of life. It's an odd statement to say that life has 'a' meaning because there are many ways to quantify what such a meaning might be. For example, one could claim the meaning of their life is:
to be an excellent musician,
a painter,
a poet,
a mathematician,
a doctor,
or a world-class astronomer.
However, I think that there is much more to the meaning of life than what one sees as their unique purpose, or impetus, which drives their goals in life toward some particular destination. I think that if life does have an inherent meaning, it should have been the same since the origin of life as we know it. This means that the most primitive of life forms have a life-meaning that is the same as more evolved life forms such as plants, zebras and humans.

If I'm correct, the most primitive forms of life are thought to be originating out of a biochemical 'soup' of nutrients and some chemical similar to DNA. I am proposing that the meaning of this soup and proto-DNA is the same as our own meaning. This puts all life on equal footing: no living thing means "more", "less", "better" or "worse" than any other.

I think that the meaning of life is really something fundamental, inherent and inescapable: a part of what we call physical reality. 'Happiness' or 'self-actualization' seem (to me) to be imprecise. It feels like humans just conjured up these theories, and they apply exclusively to us, the 'higher form of life'. I believe there is something deeper to know about what it means to be alive. I want to know why we are here! why is life - in general - continuing, and why did it start? What purpose does it have?
I have found one explanation that appears particularly convincing, and I found it in physics. Simply put:
The meaning of one's life is to sustain one's low-entropy (highly ordered) physical configuration.
Erwin Shrodinger along with other scientists and authors have written about topics similar to this (see What is Life?, Shrodinger).

Is this correct? can one's purpose be "to achieve and sustain low-entropy"?
Or is the only meaning of life the philosophical one? to be a 'self-actualized' person, by using virtues, ethics, morals and such?
Or if not philosophical or psychological, what type of question is it? and what type of answer should it have?

Ryan
17 yrs, Ontario, Canada


 

Offline Ophiolite

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Entropy and the meaning of life?
« Reply #1 on: 22/01/2011 14:35:03 »
We need to begin by recognising that the word meaning has several meanings. I think you have likely explored some or all of these in thinking about this topic. However, for a meaningful (there's another one) discussion to take place it is important to agree upon which meaning we mean. Therein lies the problem: I think you have applied one meaning in an inappropriate way that has led you to a false conclusion.

Let me give you my take on it. Feel free to challenge anything I say or to demand proper justification.

Life in general has no meaning. It is a consequence of the natural laws which govern the universe. You say (and I have generalised your statement) The meaning of life is to sustain ones low-entropy (highly ordered) physical configuration. I believe this should read It is a characterisitc of life that it attempts to sustain its low-entropy (highly ordered) physical configuration.
Why is it a characteristic? Because organisms, or even prebiotic systems, that do not have a tendency to do this are generally unsuccesful in producing future generations: they are unfit and natural selection weeds them out. This is what life means - a natural unfolding of natural laws.

Then you come to humans. Since we have the power of thought and may well be capable of self determination a new possibility opens up. We can decide for ourselves what meaning life has. And you have explored this avenue in regard to self-actualisation. I repeat the meaning of life is what we wish it to be.
 

Offline Lamprey5

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Entropy and the meaning of life?
« Reply #2 on: 23/01/2011 03:50:26 »
By 'meaning' I mean applied or explicit significance, or an important or worthwhile quality, a purpose.
I see why you think that life has the characteristic (a feature, serving to identify it) to sustain low-entropy, and I agree. However I also think of it as something common to all living organisms. I suppose those organisms who do not produce offspring are unsuccessful when it comes to being naturally selected. So then maybe there should be two (or more) kinds of meaning for life: a meaning for the individual during its life, and a meaning for the future offspring.
I was initially thinking of life's meaning strictly in the sense that when one lives, one has a purpose, some significance or worthwhile quality.
I was ignoring natural selection because it makes a distinction between successful and unsuccessful individuals, which seems like it shouldn't apply to life's meaning. I thought it shouldn't apply because even though one might be unsuccessful in reproducing, one still has the basic purpose of keeping their low entropy configuration.
The pursuit (whether successful or not) to reproduce is a secondary meaning for life. It's something that can be achieved by those who fit the right criteria at the right time and place in their environment. It's an additional purpose. This way, even the unsuccessful still have physical meaning in the first sense I talked about.

But it still feels unclear to me, what is the right meaning for life. Maybe I'm misunderstanding your point, but it just doesn't seem right to call their life-meaning what humans decide to be 'their purpose'. Or maybe I'm wrong, and the basic entropy-meaning is just as important or applicable as man's self-contrived meaning. Or maybe this is just a semantics issue, calling what I'm thinking of 'meaning' when it should be called something else.
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Entropy and the meaning of life?
« Reply #3 on: 23/01/2011 09:50:09 »
Producing a local low entropy system is characteristic of all life and it is unusual, but it isn't unique.
Non-living systems can do it too.
When I first saw these pictures
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/04/photogalleries/giant-crystals-cave/
I thought that they were so improbable, i.e. of such low entropy, that I  thought they were fakes done with photoshop or some such.

In any event, it's hard to see the statement "I am convinced that living organisms have a meaning of life." as testable in any real way. It's difficult to do science without a testable theory.

 

Offline Lamprey5

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Entropy and the meaning of life?
« Reply #4 on: 23/01/2011 17:14:41 »
The ability of non-living things to achieve and sustain low-entropy is something I have been thinking about as well. Perhaps such non-living systems have the same meaning as living systems - after all, humans have labeled what is living and what is not. So why shouldn't the meaning of life be the same as the meaning of non-living systems such as giant crystals, galaxies or a solar system?

Maybe a way this theory could be tested is to ask humans if it agrees with what they see as a life-meaning? or one could do a survey on other forms of life to find out what they are fundamentally trying to accomplish by living. If the results of the survey agree with this theory, then the theory would gain some confidence.
What do you think?
 

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Entropy and the meaning of life?
« Reply #4 on: 23/01/2011 17:14:41 »

 

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