What is ‘the inanimate’
– a vague comparison
with what we know of life?
Yet isn’t everything animate
from chaos to concern
– defining existence
as ‘being in existence’ –
the direction for there to be order
the consolidations of form
the purpose in ‘being alive’
the meaning in awareness
the moral in thought
the thrust of emotion
the urge to know
of the power to be
Is explanation the final factual frontier? When we come round to thinking that something ‘requires’ an explanation we base the project on our idea about what might count as such. But once we assume that we have our explanation we are inclined to forget that the idea of it is grounded in the hypothetical. Consequently, we move away from the fact that we are relying upon assumption by assuming that we are not, because the fact is now ‘explained’. And without doubt, the prevailing assumption of our scientific age is that ‘hard facts’ provide the real explanations – that causal explanations rationalise those facts and a joined-up knowledge puts things in their place – with scientific proofs standing at the summit of the known. In other words, we assume that a real knowledge of the world seeks to explain it and anything ‘known’ in the absence of an explanation is inferior and incomplete. It follows logically that our knowledge of ourselves, reality, life, the universe and indeed existence in general, must remain incomplete until we find the ‘final’ explanation? But in what way might we expect it to finalise things?
- If our presence in existence reflects the power and capacity of the universe as a whole, then is the universe both alive and not alive, thinking and unthinking, chaotic and organised, logical and irrational – and ultimately self-aware, self-justifying and self-explanatory?
- If life is a material property is matter basically alive?
Despite all our scientific advances and achievements we still can’t account for the ‘isness’ of being. Then how do we explain ourselves? All we can do is refer one state of being to another – so life is basically chemistry and everything is bound up with comings and goings that symbolise the impermanence of the ‘power to be’ within the overwhelming embrace of the ‘law of entropy’. However this generalisation is more apparent than real and its logical premise merely adds to the confusion. Confused means ‘fused with’ – for instance, the logic of explanation equates the mind to the brain as if their entirely different states of being are scientifically and, by implication, factually irrelevant. This resembles the premise of the now defunct ‘hylozoism’ hypothesis: that life is an intrinsic property of matter since there is nowhere else for it to be. Undaunted, science remains bent on explaining everything into-existence from some primal state – certified as the original cause of any change. But when the child asks about life and death – that is, really asks – we find ourselves juggling with these conceptual confusions – hoping that our bodies and brains might hold the ‘material’ answers, somewhere.
Did life come to earth from another planet? But what explains the origins of alien life – what accounts for the birth of life in the universe? Are planetary environments enough to explain its emergence? Can its evolution explain its existence? Does life belong to the physical fabric of the universe, or does the universe ‘come to life’ because of possibilities in addition? And what makes us believe that possibility becomes explicable by observing its incidence? Indeed, putting all the theories to one side, do we actually know where the answers might come from – or lead us?
There are alternative ways to look at the evidence. Perhaps life manifests properties that differ from its non-living causes, which ‘become alive’; or the causes are inherently prepotent, though ‘in the event’ the ‘possibility of life’ depends upon the environmental triggers. Then does it mean that life is a latent property of its preconditions in the physical world – that like a Pinocchio, it is already in situ, just waiting to be carved out? And what makes us believe that life would be explicable if only we could observe the transition from the non-living to the living?
No fact exists alone. Every perceptible fact is the manifestation of a state of existence relative to the existence of other facts. Thereby every fact is distinguishable by what it is and isn’t, including the ‘fact of existence’. Then life is and is not a prominent feature of the way things are – because reality amounts to a continuum of changes that can be traced backwards as a convergence upon what was and forwards as a divergence from the past. Consequently, whatever importance can or cannot be attached to the nature of ‘things in themselves’, it remains a fact that the difference they make is set within a wider reality.
In every case, we may perceive a fact in terms of its origins in something else – that is, relative to some other fact identifiable as its cause. But even then we can never see an ‘original cause’ as it is, on its own, since every cause is manifestly incomplete in the absence of an effect. In turn, effects are seen to make a difference when it becomes apparent that things differ from the way they were – a difference which at first contrasts with the state of ‘the cause’ as it was and afterwards with ‘the effect’ as it furthers a succession of changes.
However, causes do not explain existence. For instance, we do not find the nature of life in the non-living states of its precursors; and it is only after its appearance that we can begin to look for its causes there. So we perceive life as a fact that is wrapped up in a continuum of factors which we cannot explain fully in terms of the way things were – because of the essential ingredient of change. Therefore we can neither explain this vital factor retrospectively as an ‘originating cause’ nor in terms of the difference ‘it makes’, which becomes consummate only in the wake of things yet to be.
If there is a bigger scheme of things in which life and death are part, then is it not possible that death is no opponent of life, or neutraliser of personal existence, any more than individuality is our creator?
We know there is life out there in the universe because we are out there. Perhaps it’s because of our perception of life as belonging here, to the earth, that we fail to see its origins in the universal properties of which the earth is a beneficiary.
It’s not that life is a random accident here on earth, it’s that it is a cosmic potential empowering it’s inception everywhere the conditions are right.
The question about whether there is life out there is merely a question of where not if. The question of whether life can become intelligent is already answered, so it’s just as plausible to expect that we are not alone.
© Mike Laidler 2014