Monday, April 30, 2007

James Jimenez's blog - New on the links section

New on the links section under the Beings heading is COMELEC spokesman James Jimenez's personal blog. Election is only a couple of weeks away, and the shadow of Garci still
looms over us. It is then quite refreshing, if that's indeed the right
word, that Mr. Jimenez has decided to share his thoughts on the coming
circ--I mean, event.

Mr. Jimenez is careful to point out that the opinions on his blog are his own and not necessarily those of the COMELEC's, but I suppose he is bound to blog about views that do not necessarily contradict official views because his superiors would rather he air those "through proper channels." However, their superiors--namely, us--although they understand the need for proper channels, only request for transparency. As well as a timely resolution of issues.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Jumping off roofs

When is a suicide a suicide? The discussion in the lunchroom turned to this appetizing subject. I asked the officemates: If for instance I wanted to die, and willfully intended to commit suicide, and proceeded to climb up to the roof of a building, wrote a suicide note, walked over to the edge and jumped, then before I hit the pavement, thought to myself, "I changed my mind. I dont want to die," did I in fact commit suicide?

"Yes you did. You jumped of your own free will and you died. Therefore you committed suicide. Any investigating authority would reach the same conclusion."

"Yes they would. But did I in fact commit suicide? Im of the opinion that I did not. It is just like deciding to commit suicide, then on my way to the building's edge, while still on the roof, I change my mind and walk back down."

"But in your example, you died. You intended to kill yourself and you succeeded."

"I intended to kill myself, I jumped, then I changed my mind. The fact that there wasnt anything I can do at that point is irrelevant. Before I hit the pavement, I decided that I didnt want to die anymore. It was therefore not a suicide. For it to become a suicide, there had to be intent to die, an action to bring about the dying, and the resulting death. All three are of equal importance. In the example, I didnt intend to die anymore and therefore I didnt commit suicide.

"Let me give you another example: Suppose I intended to commit suicide. I walk up to the roof of a tall building to jump, but before I could jump, I slipped and I fell unconscious on the roof and rolled over the edge and fell to my death on the pavement below. Did I commit suicide?"

"Yes you did."

"But I didnt jump."

"Doesnt matter. You intended to jump."

"I did intend to jump, but that's not how I fell. I had an accident and I fell and died. Therefore it wasnt a suicide. It was an accident. For it to have been a suicide, it shouldve been a willful action on my part. That clearly was absent in this case."

The discussion was much livelier than I indicated in this Reader's Digest version. I dont remember how we went from the Catholic Church declaring that limbo is no longer true to jumping off roofs, but that's how it is in conversations.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


This is a test. I just lost an entire long entry while using ScribeFire to blog. Didnt save the text. It's gone now. But I had fun writing it.

It was about this article in the Inquirer. Read it. Youll see it's a target-rich article. So ripe for parody.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Don't report, we'll decide

Scientists complain about balanced reporting. Makes you wonder whether these people would make good heads of state in a democracy.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Wikipedia Reloaded

Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger tries again with Citizendium, a new wiki site--they arent comfortable about using the word 'encyclopedia' yet--that aims for a more favorable balance between experts and 'dabblerists' (Sanger's word), autodidacts, and the general public. The whole philosophy behind Citizendium is in this article by Sanger, Who says we know: On the new politics of knowledge.

In this reboot, Citizendium aims to add 'gentle expert oversight' to overcome the anarchy that has plagued Wikipedia. It's primary focus is on mainstream or consensus views but will not neglect to give non-mainstream views their proper airing if only to better debunk them.

I'll have no truck with the view that simply because something is out of the mainstream—unscientific, irrational, speculative, or politically incorrect—it therefore does not belong in an encyclopedia. Non-mainstream views need a full airing in an encyclopedia, despite the fact that "the best expert opinion" often holds them in contempt, if for no other reason than that we have better grounds on which to reject them.

Citizendium is not quite a move from direct democracy to representative democracy, although it's a step towards that direction by giving experts oversight powers. For Citizendium, "Experts arent scum;" despite their fallibility, they are more likely to be correct than non-experts. Sanger holds mainstream views himself, and it is always a good idea to start with the mainstream, study it well, and learn from expert opinion on the matter.

I wish Citizendium success.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A non-scientific rant

First let me say that I believe in science. At its best it is a boon, not a bane. Used correctly, it can help us understand the natural world. It can help us cure disease and feed the hungry. At its worst of course it could kill us all, but that's another topic. (I remember reading about a story of when physicist Neil Turok sat down for dinner with Edward Teller and told him he was working on magnetic monopoles, and to his horror, Teller started working out how much energy could be unleashed by a magnetic monopole bomb.)

What I dont like about science is when it starts behaving like a monolith, shutting down debate and dialog, shutting up dissidents and heretics to the party line. I dont like monoliths, whether in the guise of a corporate monopoly, a political dynasty (whether familial or ideological), a religious sect, or a scientific belief. That's why I find the theory of Darwinian evolution, the modern one called neo-Darwinism, so offensive and insulting. Not Darwin's theory itself, mind you. Darwin's original theory had an elegance in its simplicity that was simply beautiful. Darwin said that his book Origin of Species is one long argument, which means he welcomes debate and discussion--"This is my point of view, and now let's hear yours." But this modern version of Darwinism, the one that says we're nothing but a gene's idea to make more genes, is run by ideologues who want to shut down dissent, even to the point of trying to ruin someone's career if he or she had a contrary view. I remember hearing philosopher of science and defender of neo-Darwinism Michael Ruse say in an interview that some scientific discussions need to be closed, that is, no further discussion should be allowed since the issue is already settled, which was quite a strange thing to say for a philosopher.

Biologist and host of the popular blog Pharyngula, PZ Myers posted a definition of science:
1) Science is a changing and growing collection of knowledge, characterized by transparency (all methods are documented, and the lineage of ideas can be traced) and testability (prior work can be repeated or its results evaluated). It is an edifice of information that contains all of the details of its construction.

2) Science is what scientists do. We have institutions that train people and employ them in the business of generating new knowledge — contributing to that edifice in definition #1 — and we have procedures like the bestowal of degrees and ranks that certify one's membership in the hallowed ranks of science.

3) Science is a process. It is a method for exploring the natural world by making observations, drawing inferences, and testing those inferences with further experimentation and observation. It isn't so much the data generated as it is a way of thinking critically about the universe and our own interpretations of it.
It is definition number 2 that's troubling to me. Not only is it begging the question, but corollary to that is science is what scientists say it is. Science is consensus. It then becomes a subject to internal politics which I have to say is hardly surprising since the scientific community is after all a community, and when we find a community, we find politics. A very powerful party then can and often does stifle legitimate dissent. I have often heard and read that people who are skeptical of Darwinian theory have an ulterior intent, and that is to further their belief in God. Assuming--assuming--that this is true, so what? In science, intent is irrelevant. What is relevant are the facts. If intent is a problem, we can just as well accuse Dawkins, et al. of intending to further their own theological/philosophical agenda, but any true scientist would ignore the religious (or anti-religious) implications of a hypothesis and just say, "Give me your data and I'll test them."

As for consensus, here's something from a lecture given by Michael Crichton in 2003.
I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.

Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period.

I abhor any philosophy whether scientific or otherwise that would seek to debase us humans by denying the human spirit and claim that we're nothing but a collection of chemicals; that we are just driven by genes and not such things as excellence, or beauty, or goodness, or heroism, or love. That we're just bacteria, only more complex. There is nothing scientific about my abhorrence. It's just a non-rational quirk.

Friday, April 13, 2007

E.F. Schumacher's prescience

This post, by John Nery of Newstand had me pulling out my dog-eared copy of E.F. Schumacher's A Guide for the Perplexed again. He wrote the book in 1977. In a chapter that critiques how the methods used to study inanimate matter have burst their bounds and are used to study living matter and is giving rise to a materialistic, reductionist worldview in the West, in page 120, this jumped out:
All the same, it is evident that the instructional sciences, even though they do not lead to guidance on how to conduct our lives, are shaping our lives, through the technologies derived from them. Whether these results are for good or evil is a question entirely out of their province. In this sense, it is correct to say that these sciences are ethically neutral. It remains true, however, that there is no science without scientists, and that questions of good and evil, even if they lie outside the province of science, cannot be considered to lie outside the province of the scientist. It is no exaggeration today to talk about a crisis of (instructional) science. If it continues to be a juggernaut outside humanistic control there will be a reaction and revulsion against it which would not exclude the possibility of violence [my emphasis].

Again, that was in 1977. It jumped out because I read an interview a couple of weeks ago of Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol on the source of Muslim animosity toward the West. He said American foreign policy has something to do with it, but he also says:
I proposed a similar argument [that Dinesh D'Souza proposed in the book TheEnemy at Home] and said that what most Muslims hate is the materialism of the West, not the Christianity of the West. Today, the West is repugnant to many traditional Muslims because it looks like a civilization that has abandoned God and is trying to seduce the Muslims to do the same thing. I also noted in the article that Muslims who are exposed to the religiosity of the West, like that found in America, like and even admire it. For example, when “The Little House on the Prairie” was aired in Turkey in the early 80’s, all conservative Muslim families that I know were its greatest fans. Nowadays similar families are worried that their children will be corrupted by America’s pop culture.


I think that D’Souza’s attempt to explore the root causes of 9/11, and the hatred against America in general, is not only just justified, but absolutely necessary. Understanding the motivations of a terrorist doesn’t mean finding an excuse for him; it just helps you develop long-term solutions to the problem.

Shall we add 'prophet' to Professor Schumacher's resume?


New on the right hand side of this page, under the heading Beings, is a list of blogs I have left a comment on at one time or another arranged alphabetically. I have not asked their permission to link their blogs from here, but I dont think theyd mind. I highly recommend their blogs for their content, whether youre after political opinion from all sides of the spectrum, musings, thoughts on art and culture, rants, or philosotainment.

Also new under the They Report, You Decide heading is a mainstream news organization (CNN), and two other news sites that cover things the mainstream press often leave out. Guerilla News Network from the left, and World Net Daily from the right.

So it goes

I didnt want to bring this up at first but I thought it relevant to my discussion with cvj of Placeholder and Mr. Vonnegut's recent passing. Im unabashedly calling in the cavalry, cvj.

Kurt Vonnegut, who i greatly admire as a writer and chronicler or human foibles, was interviewed last year on National Public Radio. You can listen to the interview from this link. Mr. Vonnegut is a self-proclaimed secular humanist but quite remarkable were his comments about intelligent design (at around 4:05 minutes in the interview).

(Atheist cartoonist Scott Adams, who is very much alive, also expresses skepticism about the orthodoxy in his Dilbert Blog, claiming it sets off his 'bullshit detector' in posts like this and others.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

One billion monkeys

I had a lot of fun over at ExpectoRants discussing Intelligent Design with cvj of Placeholder. Too much fun, in fact. He uses the words 'proof' and 'proven' rather loosely. When he uses 'proof' or 'proven' he actually means 'inferred from observed facts'. But no problem. I do get his drift. We're laymen so we can't all the time be expected to use words like 'proof' and 'theory' as a scientist would use them. He made some interesting statements like

"Life itself cannot be used as proof of such intelligence because there are more straightforward, alternative explanations in the form of evolution."

Again in this statement, I think he uses 'proof' to mean 'inference'. It is not that life itself is used to infer intelligence. It is specified, systematic information that is used to infer intelligence, not life. That's what we do in the real world. That's the principle Darwin himself espoused when he proposed his theory: that in trying to reconstruct what happened in the past, we shouldn’t infer causes that are strange or 'exotic'. We should only infer causes whose effects are known to us. In this case, intelligence is the best explanation for systematic, specified information. When you see a banana leaf with a poem written on it, you automatically infer that the poem came from someone's mind even if that someone didnt leave his or her name on it. You dont infer that natural, purposeless processes worked on the leaf to create that poem. That would be absurd.

I replied:

'More straightforward' is a relative term of course. I see systematic, specific information, complete with language and syntax, and I hypothesize an intelligence as the most straightforward explanation. On the other hand, a Darwinian sees a series of random mutations worked upon by a purposeless natural selection as the most straightforward. It all depends on the metaphysical framework one is working in. (I submit though that if we see a book on Shakespeare, an intelligence is a more straightforward explanation than 'a billion monkeys on a keyboard typing for a billion years and just happened to type the complete works of Shakespeare'. This of course is a 'too-simplistic' generalization of Darwinian theory, but I trust you get the point.)
Francis Collins, who headed the Human Genome Project, once said that if you printed the human genome on regular sized paper, in regular sized font, what youll end up with is a book as thick as the Washington Monument is tall. That's a lot of pages of information.

I used a billion monkeys typing for a billion years somehow ending up with a complete works of Shakespeare. That's not quite what Darwin's theory says. In fact that's half of it. The billion monkeys are the random mutation part. What's missing is the natural selection part. That is, there ought to be a mechanism that watches over what the monkeys are typing, then when a recognizable word comes out, the mechanism takes that word and sets it aside. To write Hamlet, this machine scans what the monkeys are typing. It sees 'To', it sets it aside. It sees 'be' and it places it after 'To' and so on until the machine comes up with 'To be, or not to be: that is the question.' Each word needs to be in its proper place, with the proper punctuation. The machine can't come up with 'That: or be question the, to not...' It won't make sense and therefore won't survive [isnt fit for survival, i.e., won't be selected]. It does this until it completes Hamlet. With the machine, one can see that it is possible, indeed easy, for one billion monkeys to come up with the Complete Works of Shakespeare.

The problem is, the machine is 'blind'. It has no idea what it is doing. It doesnt have a copy of Hamlet with which to compare what comes up from the monkeys' keyboards. Remember each letter has to be put in a specific place in the play. You can't just place the words anywhere you like or else there won't be a Hamlet. A billion monkeys can only come up with Hamlet if the machine already knows what words it wants in a specific order it wants, complete with punctuation, and instructions like Enter Hamlet, and all that. To be able to write Hamlet with one billion monkeys, the machine must already have an idea of what Hamlet looks like; a purpose.

Darwinians seem believe that the information in DNA is best explained by the blind machine of natural selection instead of a machine that has a full set of instructions on what to do already programmed into it. To them, the blind machine is the more straightforward explanation. If that is straightforward, I'd hate to think what they mean when they say 'convoluted.'

Charles Darwin never knew about DNA. I once wrote that had Darwin known about it, he mightve seen it as a validation of a theological belief he once held that God gave instructions to nature for it to create itself. The richness of information in DNA couldve been seen by Darwin as part of that instruction set.

Francis Crick was familiar with DNA. And when he realized what it was and what it contained, he became an advocate of Directed Panspermia, [changed link to panspermia site from original link to Wikipedia] the idea that the earth may have been purposely seeded by an advanced civilization. This theory of course neatly solved the origin of life on earth, but still doesnt solve the question of life from non-life: How did life start in that planet that seeded us? The point is, once you realize the amount of information in DNA, you start thinking "Some mind mustve done this" as the most straightforward explanation.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A post lenten reflection: Why did Jesus have to die?

Western Christianity, mainly due to St. Augustine, has a very legalistic view of salvation: Man sinned, and the wages of sin is death, therefore somebody has to get whacked, namely us, Man. To save us from this fate, God sent his son Jesus to die in our stead. Christ's death is necessary to satisfy a legal requirement and once satisfied, Man is off the hook--he is saved from the wages of sin. The punishment was brutal, Christ's suffering was necessary for the sin of mankind required that kind of punishment. At the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus pleaded with God: "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me." But ultimately accepted his fate: "Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done." (Luke 22:42) Christ died horribly, brutally, then 'it is finished.' By dying, he saved mankind. That was what we learned in Catholic school and in church. Jesus had to get whacked to save us. I accepted that wholeheartedly, without question, as a matter of course, not even thinking about it, about what Jesus went through. The lenten specials they show on TV every holy week reminded me, but it wasnt until Mel Gibson's graphic, cringe-inducing The Passion of the Christ jolted me and the rest of Western Christendom into a realization of the horrors of what he went through. Then I started to ask, Why? Surely this wasnt necessary. Surely the God who willed the universe into existence could declare mankind's sins forgiven without having to subject his son to that horrible torture. Surely the God of love, the God who is love, isnt a bloodthirsty letter-of-the-law type of guy. This doesnt make sense! I tried to justify it in my head: It was a lesson for us. God is showing us that he, even he, the God if the universe was subject to the laws he created, what more we who are his creation? But this didnt seem satisfying. God gave the law to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. If, according to Paul, the Mosaic law were no longer binding--at least the letter of it--then it was within God's power to do what he willed with the law on the wages of sin.

Recently, an Anglican cleric said that Christianity's traditional teaching on Christ's crucifixion is "insane." He said, "This is repulsive as well as nonsensical. It makes God sound like a psychopath. If a human behaved like this we'd say that they [sic] were a monster." I wouldnt put it quite like that, but he does have a point. Jesus' torture doesnt seem to be a requirement.

It is interesting to note that the Eastern Churches view God's salvation plan differently. Having split from the Western Church long before Augustine, the Eastern Churches do not have a legalistic interpretation of the divine plan. To them, the Incarnation is all that's needed. "His earthly life was based on the presupposition that humanity was already saved and deified, from the very moment of His conception in the womb of Mary, through the operation of the Holy Spirit." Jesus saved mankind by who he is and not by his death. His death was a consequence of being who he is. It's what the world does to people like him. The world kills them; it's an inevitability.

But I believe his death was necessary, dont get me wrong. It was necessary because of one very important thing: the resurrection. By resurrecting, Jesus showed us the way to our own 'deification,' that is, the way to being true children of God. The resurrection is the point of Christ's incarnation. It is the mystery of our faith--Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again, like the liturgy says.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Life on Mars; a dialog

Note: I know effecting Plato is presumptuous, but I have been listening to an excellent podcast of Plato's The Republic read by Patrick Horgan, that I thought I'd give it a try. You can get it from here if you don't have iTunes.

"I perceive, Jegonides, that you are once again lost in thought for you have not touched your grilled tuna and cold beer with the same bacchanalian efficiency as you have been known to possess," said Capricius.

"Aye, Capricius," I said. "For I have been pondering the difference between life and non-life. Take this tuna, for instance. Chemically, it is composed of the same stuff as a live tuna, and yet here it is, dead, grilled, and tasty. And this beer. Isn’t it quite curious that the yeast that transformed the malt's sugars into alcohol, despite not having eyes and ears, nor leaves and branches, are considered alive?"

"Quite honestly, I’ve never thought about it, Jegonides. It is enough that I enjoy my vittles and libation without the distractions of questions on what life is. But I'll indulge you, seeing as it is that there is an absence of ogleable babes in this establishment tonight. Let's have at it."

"Where would you say life is, Capricius? Does life reside in the living thing as part of its chemical and mechanical processes? Or is there an energy, a life-force, that resides in the living creature such that when it leaves it, the creature dies?"

"I would say life resides in the thing itself, Jegonides."

"If life resides in the thing itself, then if we take a bacterium... You do think that a bacterium is alive, don't you?"

"Of course."

"Good. If we take a living bacterium and examine it for its chemical composition, and take another bacterium, but this time one just dead, and examine that for its chemical composition, and if we compare the chemical composition of these two specimens, would we find anything different in their chemical composition? And if we did the same thing to a cat, and to a fish, and to a beetle, would we find a difference between the chemistry of the living specimen with the dead one?"

"I suppose we wouldn't find any difference in their chemistry," he said.

"Therefore life isn't in the chemicals, wouldn't you say so?," I asked.

"Yes," he said. "There must then be an invisible life-energy that resides in the creature that gives it life."

"Has anybody seen this energy?"

"As far as I know, no one has."

"Then how do you know it is there?"

"From its manifestations."

"Such as?"

"Well... life."

"In other words, life is caused by a life-energy that no one has ever seen and can only be proven by its manifestations such as the presence of life. Do you expect to--"

"I know. It is a meaningless argument. But you have to admit, it doesn't settle its truth value," he said.

"Of course. But for our purposes, such circular reasoning just won't do. It's unsatisfying." I said.

"Well what do you propose? Do you have an answer?"

"I have... a theory. I won't be so presumptuous as to say that it is the definitive answer, but I'll present it to you. See if you agree."

"Proceed, then."

"The first living creatures, when they emerged, what is it about them that made them alive? What differentiated them from the non-living things?"

"Let's see... Proteins, amino acids, molecules...something that made them replicate--make copies of themselves."

"In modern living things, what is that?"

"DNA. Every thing that we consider alive has it."

"That's correct. DNA contains the instructions that our body follows to function and to keep itself alive and to reproduce."

"Therefore I was right the first time. Life resides in the thing itself. DNA is in the thing itself."

"So it would seem, Capricius. So it would seem. Tell me, are you familiar with books?"

"Don’t be ridiculous, Jegonides. Of course I’m familiar with books."

"If you take a book, let's say a book on Calculus, and you threw that book into the fire, did you destroy the Calculus?"

"Of course not. I merely destroyed the book. The Calculus isn’t destroyed."

"And if you threw, say, Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises into the fire, did you burn The Sun Also Rises?"

"No, I did not."

"Would you say then that in throwing the books into the fire, you merely destroyed the media in which they were written, and not the works contained in the books themselves? That these works continue to exist and are not dependent on the media they were written in?"

"That is precisely what I’m saying, Jegonides."

"And you are familiar I suspect with computers?"

"Jegonides, we work with computers everyday. I am familiar with computers."

"What differentiates a dead computer from a working computer?"

"A power source, I suppose. If you pull the plug on a computer, it will cease to function."

"Yes, yes. But not all computers need to be plugged. Let's say you have two computers, both running on batteries and therefore do not need to be plugged, what differentiates a working one from a dead one? When do we call one working, and the other a piece of refuse?"

"We call one working when it is able to run the software in it."

"And what do we call a computer that cannot run any software?"

"We call it dead."

"And this software, where is it? Is it in the computer?"

"Yes it is."

"It is in the computer such that if you throw the computer into the fire, you destroy it?"

"Wait. I see where you’re going. The software is not destroyed. I merely destroyed the medium the software was written in but the software itself continues on."

"Splendid. So where is it? Does it exist merely in our mind, in which case it has a subjective existence? Or does it exist outside our minds?"

"Outside our minds. It certainly isn’t subjective."

"If it exists outside our minds, where is it?"

"I do not know. But it certainly exists, or else none of our computers would run."

"Yes, precisely. You don’t know where it is because, even though it exists, it isn’t located anywhere. It is pure information. I submit to you, dear Capricius, that such is the same for the information in our DNA. DNA is merely the medium in which it is written. The information in the DNA itself exists nowhere. And if the body fails to access the information in the DNA for whatever reason--through trauma or entropy--it ceases to function, and is for all intents and purposes, dead."

"So you’re saying information is the difference between life and non-life. And information isn’t in the body, but is accessed through the DNA which contains the information."

"That's exactly what I’m saying, Capricius. I submit that life is hardware that is able to access a software, is able to power itself, is able to reproduce. Would you agree?"

"I would add, life must be able to react to the environment, and must come from nature."

"Very well. Is your computer alive?"

"No it isn’t. It cannot reproduce."

"I submit that it can reproduce, Capricius."

"Don’t be absurd, Jegonides. My computer cannot reproduce."

"It can and it does. Tell me, are there any other computers like yours?"

"Yes. It's a very popular model."

"Where was it made?"

"In the factory, of course. A factory that makes computers."

"There you go. It is able to reproduce in a factory. A factory gives birth to it, so to speak."

"Don’t be silly. It has to be able to reproduce by itself to be considered alive."

"A worker ant can't reproduce by itself. It needs another vector, another entity, namely the queen, to reproduce. Yet I’m sure you do not doubt for an instant that it is alive."

”Yes but a queen ant is an ant. A factory is not a computer.”

“Beside the point. A queen ant is an entity that contains instructions and tools on how to make more ants. That the factory does not look like a computer is not important. If for example the architect designed the factory’s building in such a way as to look like a computer, would you withdraw your objection? Now both computer and factory look alike.”

“You’re incorrigible. Besides, humans work in the factory to make the computers. A living thing ought not to have help from another species to be considered alive.”

“Certain plants can only reproduce through the help of insects. Some orchids for example can only reproduce through pollination by wasps, which they then reward with nectar. Are you doubting that the orchid is a living thing?”

“Of course not.”

“So the help of other species does not disqualify a being from being considered alive. ”

“But a living thing is composed of organic chemicals. My machine is not,” he said.

“Chemicals,” I said. “Your machine is composed of chemical elements. What a thing is made of ought not to disqualify it from being called alive. What if in another planet, living creatures were made of different stuff? Surely, if life evolved here, and used organic chemicals because of its abundance, life elsewhere could evolve from chemicals that have the same properties and is in abundance there.”

“Ah but my computer cannot react to outside stimuli. It just sits there. It cannot regulate its own bodily functions. Therefore it cannot be considered a living thing.”

“That’s true. But if it can? Say, if it has sensors that sense outside temperature and a mechanism in it that regulates its working temperature such that it keeps itself within that optimum working temperature, and if it has software running in it that tells the computer what to do should the temperature go up or down, or whether an environment it is in contains chemicals which could be harmful for its parts, that it should sense it and stay away? Or that it has light receptors that tell it when it is light out or dark that it can then select whether to turn its light on? Or that it can perform complex tasks such as gathering data and send it to another machine? You admit that such a machine can exist?”

“Yes such a machine can exist, I suppose. But a living thing draws energy from its environment.”

“That objection can be solved by equipping your machine with a solar battery that draws and stores energy directly from the sun as plants do.”

“And growth? What about growth? A living thing grows, Jegonides.”

“Not all do. Bacteria divide into fully formed entities. They don't go through a childhood stage.”

“Mobility then. A living thing is mobile. Even a plant extends roots and leaves.”

“So if your computer had wheels, it can be mobile. In fact with the proper software like those in modern cars, it can adjust its traction and which wheels get the more power based on the terrain.”

“But we know who made my machine. Humans made my machine, or at least the factory that made my machine. Anything made by humans can’t be alive.”

“Why not? You believe in God, do you not? So if we were made, why can’t what we make be considered alive? Both us and the machines we make, the kind of machine we’ve been talking about are both manufactured.”

“We arose from nature. Nobody made us. A living thing ought to arise from the laws of nature, whatever those laws are. Evolution for instance.”

“Are we part of nature, Capricius?”


“Therefore anything that is the work of our hands also comes from nature since we are natural agents. If we evolved, we evolved abilities that made us capable of making things, and I submit some of these things can be considered living things based on our definition of what it means to be alive. Your computer was made by nature because it was made by man.

“To reiterate, Capricius, we have agreed that a thing can be considered a living thing if it can reproduce, can react to its environment, can draw energy from the environment, is mobile, and comes from nature. These criteria can be satisfied, not by your computer, but something else. A different machine. One that exists even as we speak. I’m talking of the Mars Rover.”

“So there is life on Mars, Jegonides.”