The essence and origins of life. What is it? Yes, we can define characteristics that differentiated the living from the non-living. The building blocks of life are still not the same as a simple virus. Do you think new forms of life "become living" these days?. Do you think that the conditions to form new life simply do not exist anymore? Evolution can not even begin until something (still yet unknown to us) happens first. Do you think we will ever discover the recipe?

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Do think machines could ever be classified as living and have "rights"? Blade Runner, probably my favorite movie, alluded to this issue, however there was still a distinction between replicants and humans. I just wonder if life as we know it is still being created here on earth..or is that process done with. Obviously conditions have changed.

The interesting thing about viruses: They need a host to exit their "dormant state"? If this is true, it implies viruses as we know them were not the first living things, simple as they are. Not sure if all viruses need a host to reproduce. It's the old chicken and the egg problem.

I agree, that if a machine can actually becomes truly ! That is one of the more common definitions of life.

I think someday the true Abiogenesis model will be discovered. That should kill of 99% of all religions.

Consider what a virus is: a self-replicating strand of DNA or RNA in a little wrapper. That's pretty much it. I find that interesting.

A nit, a tiny one:  The DNA in a virus cannot replicate itself, nor its wrapper, without help from enzymes in the cell it infects.  (This implies that viruses could not originate until after full-blown cells existed, so Robert is correct on that score.)

Sorry Robert, but you'll need another analogy - there is no chicken and egg problem, as reptiles and dinosaurs were laying eggs long before the first chicken ever cackled --

So it is a dinosaur and egg problem  then?

I'm not sure, depends on what might lay eggs that are older than dinosaurs - the problem will still exist, all the way back to the first egg-layer, only the subject will change. It's just that I've been informed that chickens want to be left out of it, they're trying to keep a low profile (Shhh! It's a survival thing!).

It is true that scientists will someday discover the key to Abiogenesis. I don't think the discovery will kill 99% of all religions however. The theists will simply respond as usual, "God did it!".

After your consciousness started inhabiting that machine, would it stop thinking itself human and admit to itself that it's a machine?

BTW, my understanding was that according to the most commonly asserted (by biologists) minimum requirements of being alive:

When researchers first discovered agents that behaved like bacteria but were much smaller and caused diseases such as rabies and foot-and-mouth disease, it became the general view that viruses were biologically "alive." However this perception changed in 1935 when the tobacco mosaic virus was crystallized and it was shown that the particles lacked the mechanisms necessary for metabolic function. Once it was established that viruses consist merely of DNA or RNA surrounded by a protein shell, it became the scientific view that they are more complex biochemical mechanisms than living organisms. (source)

Thanks for the insight.  We had this conversation in one of my philosophy courses, though without enough scientific background.

To add to Gallup's Mirror's viruses in "bacteria to elephants" statement, what's interesting is how specific viruses usually are to their hosts. Most pathogens (like bacteria) are also specific to their hosts, but with viruses the specificity is more of an intimate RNA/DNA compatibility. In fact, much of an evolved host species' DNA has accumulated embedded nucleic material that originated from contemporaneous viruses. (I.e., even we humans have fragments of viral coding in our junk DNA, and perhaps some of our genes as well.)

So asking whether or not a virus is "alive" is similar to asking if DNA is "alive". They only really play a role in life when they're a part of of a larger living host.

Now prions... that's another question! They're just mis-folded protein particles, often more appropriately considered as a host-enabled replicating form of a toxic protein. A prion almost always requires entry into the host as a particle present in animal flesh that it eats. 

I know I’m nearly alone in this opinion, even among my fellow atheists, but I believe the phenomenon we call “life” is a unique feature of Planet Earth and exists nowhere else in the universe.

I can think of no reason to assume that life is either inevitable or widespread.  It is analogous to the anthropic principle, in that we tend to believe humans are, in some sense, a predestined component of the universe.  But where is the evidence?  There is none, as yet.  And the same is true of life itself.  We tend to think it must exist elsewhere only because we are alive to think about it.  

So go ahead: think about it.  

Every single thing that exists is in some way unique.  No snowflake is exactly like any other snowflake; but if I were one of those snowflakes, I might tend to think that there must be other perfect snowflakes like me somewhere in the cosmos; but, so far as we know, or the evidence suggests, there isn’t.

I look at life as one of those snowflakes.  I don’t believe we are ever likely to know for sure exactly how life began, any more than we are likely to know how snowflakes began. In fact, I think it far more likely that we will trace the genesis of snowflakes than the process of life.  But if we do discover how that process took place, we will probably find it so improbable as to be prohibitively unlikely to have occurred anywhere else at any other time.

What it comes down to, ulimately, is that the belief that there is life elsewhere in the universe is no different than believing there is a God.  It’s a matter of faith, not evidence.

Please don’t throw the Drake Equation at me.  That is a bogus, biased construct created for the express purpose of advancing an agenda; the agenda being that life is not unique or unusual.  The equation intentionally omits, for instance, the factor of the uber-astronomical number of opportunities for life to have begun on earth; and yet, it appears that it has only happened once that an event that produced a molecule or conglomeration of molecules able to react to the environment by evolving has occurred.  That’s why all life, as we know it, is DNA based.  And it is why gene biologists are coming closer and closer to tracing the history of life on Earth back to one, single, unique event.

That being said, I would certainly be excited to be proven wrong.  If the Mars robots uncover unequivocal evidence that life once existed on Mars, it would change everything.  But I’m not holding my breath.  I just want to see actual EVIDENCE, not suppositions.

Life MAY be a ubiquitous feature of nature, but I highly doubt it.

As to whether machines will ever be able to duplicate life as we know it: I doubt that, also.  I think we have the technological prowess to eventually be able to produce something that emulates life so closely that it is superficially identical to the real thing.  But I really believe that the complexity of life in all its details is beyond our technology to understand, much less copy.

It seems unlikely conditions on Earth are SO fucking rare that they couldn't exist elsewhere. On the other hand, there's no reason whatsoever to believe God exists.

BTW, no two pieces of popcorn are alike, either. I can't prove it, though. It just stands to reason. I'd stake my life on it.

We don't believe there's life elsewhere purely on faith but based on the evidence all around us, that this place is brimming with it.

Are you an atheist? If you are, it seems you believe in miracles, too. Who makes miracles, then?


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