What is the basic mechanism of life? What is the relationship between man and all other life? Can science provide a basis for a philosophy for the human? The answers to these questions are in the basic elements of the foundation of all life.
This section contains material that is common scientific belief. Early life left no fossil evidence. Some details are in dispute. It is given here only as background information and was not considered in the conclusions drawn.
In primeval times the earth was a primitive place. It was sterile, as devoid of life as the moon. Many thousands of cubic miles of various mixtures of chemicals were in the oceans. Above the earth millions of cubic miles of atmosphere became enriched with carbon-dioxide and other chemicals spewing from volcanos and from windstorms over the lifeless continents. Rains washed the pollutants out of the air and into the oceans. Rains also eroded the continents and formed rivers to wash the silt into the oceans. The oceans became enriched with chemicals. Billions of chemical reactions were taking place simultaneously all over the globe in this huge pot of soup. Even with that gargantuan exposure, it took billions of years before the right set of chemicals and the right physical conditions came together and allowed the creation and survival of the first tiny string of pre-cellular desoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Life was precarious for this new living creature for many millions of years. It was tiny and tender, alone in the oceans, only capable of reproducing itself, depending on chance to supply it with its needs. In its struggle to live in this dangerous environment, it gradually evolved until it finally developed into a single cell. Now it had a protective container to provide shelter for itself and the nutrients it required for survival. During this long period of evolution, the coded string of genetic material that developed into the description of this primitive original cell had increased in length greatly. It started with only the description that would reproduce its basic self. That small coded strip, perhaps only a few thousand code elements long, is the essence of life. The essential coding for life was compressed into it. That same essential coding exists somewhere in all DNA today. By the time the first cell was developed, much additional coding had been added. This additional coding provided for the formation of the cell wall and the production of its own nutrients and tools from raw materials. It added features that enhanced the survival of the life described in that first initial reproducing string.
This section is repeated from Evolution for continuity of thought within this topic. It contains material that may be directly measured or verified in the laboratory.
About 100 billion copies of our DNA are distributed throughout our body. Each copy is alive (it can reproduce itself) and is identical to every other copy. DNA has many functions within the life-form. Without DNA, we could not be born. We could not live. We could not grow. Nothing in our body would function. We could not reproduce. In fact, our body could not form. It controls our growth and development from conception. It determines our appearance (size, weight, color of eyes, skin texture, etc.). Indirectly it controls all of our bodily and mental functions (since it details the physical and operating characteristics of all of our components). It even to some extent controls our length of life. DNA functions in all life-forms in the same way.
No other tissue in our body is alive. None can reproduce without DNA. All tissue other than DNA is built in response to action taken by DNA and its only purpose is to serve the needs of the DNA. DNA performs functions necessary for its own survival. It performs functions necessary for our survival. It reproduces itself. It performs functions that allow us to reproduce. Even in our own reproduction, it is our DNA that is reproducing. DNA works in the same way in all other life-forms. Of the entire body of any life-form, whether plant or animal, the parts of its body that bring life to its existence are the DNA in each cell in its body. Life is distributed throughout the body of every living thing.
DNA has a code that is quite similar in construction to that used in modern digital computers. The code used in computers is called binary and consists of two numbers: 0 and 1. These numbers are then combined to specify entities needed by humans: 0001 becomes the binary equivalent of our number 1, 1111 is the binary equivalent of our number 15, and 01010001 is the binary equivalent of the capital letter Q. Although the computer works in binary, its output to us is then converted to our language so that we can understand it. DNA encodes with a slightly more complex system. Unlike the computer that uses 0 and 1, and unlike humans that use a decimal system 0 through 9, DNA uses a system of four conditions. This system could be symbolized as 0, 1, 2, and 3, but is not normally done so. Instead, DNA may be visualized as a code made up of four conditions: A, T, C, and G. These are called bases and they may appear along the length of the DNA in any order. These bases are complex organic molecules that provide the fundamental genetic building blocks for the description of the overall organism that the DNA will construct and maintain.
The upper and lower red lines indicate the sugar-phosphate "glue" that holds the sequence of bases together. Between these two "rails" are shown four bases in schematic form. The two vertical base combinations are called base pairs and are joined with hydrogen bonds. Note that the base pairs are not joined with adjacent pairs except through the common rails. In physical form, DNA consists of two strings of bases in the form of a ladder with base pairs forming each rung. The ladder is then twisted to form a helix. Each rung of the ladder is constructed of only four possible combinations of base pairs. Two of these are shown. The other two are obtained by inverting those shown. A will only pair with T and C will only pair with G. The four possible conditions for any rung on the DNA ladder are AT, TA, CG, and GC.
To describe an organism, these bases are coded into a long string of DNA. This DNA coded string must be quite long. The human description is about 3 billion base pairs long and consists of 24 DNA strings, called chromosomes. The overall genetic material that describes any organism is called its genome. The genetic material in each human consists of 2 sets of 23 chromosomes in each of about 10 billion cells in the body.
The top row in the figure below provides a code for making the substances used in the organism. The lower row of the pair contains the same genetic information, but its code is the reciprocal of the code in the upper row. Wherever a T appears in the top row, its reciprocal A appears in the lower. AT, CG and GC are the other possibilities.
DNA reproduces by division. The top two rows show a fragment of DNA before it starts to reproduce. When the DNA replicates, it is immersed in a soup of bases from which it will select the "food" that it needs as it grows. Other "helper" chemicals are also present. The DNA unzips on one end. The zipper moves down the strand at a steady pace. Behind the zipper, the two strands are separated. Unattached bases are floating on all sides. One by one, the proper complementary base is selected and attached to the free-floating half-strand. When the zipper has completely separated the two halves of the original strand of DNA and the two halves have completely filled their new complementary halves, the process is complete. The two separate but identical DNA strands result.
DNA coding resembles computer binary coding in another way. Early personal computers used a series of binary numbers that were eight positions long, such as 11001110 or 00011101. This was termed an eight bit wide word. An eight bit word can encode all of the letters of the alphabet, for use in a word processor, for example, or it can provide numbers from 0 to 255 for use in computation. Modern personal computers are much more versatile, using word lengths of 32 or even 64 bits in length. Another common coding system is used in our written language. It uses 26 possible conditions (a...z) and variable word lengths to provide a written symbol (code) for every spoken word. DNA uses a much simpler system, which is only three positions wide, called codons. ATC, TCG, and TTT would be examples of individual codons. Since a word length has three possible positions and four possible conditions in each position, sixty-four possible combinations are possible. Not all these combinations (codons) provide unique functions. DNA codons specify the construction of 20 possible amino acids. These amino acids may be further combined to form more than 100,000 substances to be used in cell construction and maintenance (in turn building and maintaining the host organism).
This section contains conclusions derived from the mechanical DNA replication process:
Tradition is very strong in human thinking. A lifetime of learning that life consists of being born, having offspring and then dying produces a mind set. Relationships within families such as sister, mother, father, etc. are fundamental in our thinking. A human, we believe, is an individual, another human is a separate life. Conclusion 5 presents an entirely different story. It says that all life in all living things is the same life. This violates all previous teachings about life. One must understand that the life forms produced by life are conceptual and that it is life itself which permeates all living things, and all life is one and the same. DNA does not bear young, it grows into multiple copies. DNA is not born (created), it comes directly from the DNA before. DNA does not die unless something in its environment kills it. It is immortal except for accidental death. The living characteristics of life (DNA) are different from those of the organisms that it specifies.
This does not eliminate the very human need to separate and categorize when such is required for performing a task. Categorization is often necessary. The human consists of the male and female. The species consists of three races. The dog is one species, the cat another. What it does say is that life (DNA, the life force) is universal in all living things and that the essence of life, that which gives all things life, is the same life in all living things.
Survival then becomes a matter of the survival of life, not necessarily a particular species which by accident it formed as the result of its mindless interaction with the environment.
This then is fact: the human is a variation in life form produced by life (DNA).
Fact does not produce philosophy. It can only guide. Still, surely, a philosophy based on fact is more apt to be useful than one based on opinion, conjecture and fantasy
This text advances one thought, life is extremely close knit (so close in fact that it is one). Any philosophy we express must now be based on that.
No evidence is found (so far) that life has been endowed by the universe with any special purpose or value. It is merely a fact, a mechanical thing that follows the same rules as the rock. Life developed as the result of ways that compounds may be constructed, and how they fit together. If life has purpose or value, it must be assigned after the fact. We are here, now what?
If we wish to do so, we can look at this whole charade as nonsense, a cruel and stupid joke. If we adopt that attitude as the basis for our cultural philosophy, we will not be around long. If no one cares, the ending will be swift, and we would have wasted four billion years of pain and suffering.
Or we can look at it another way. We can define our own value and purpose, then seek to fulfill them. We can adopt the universe as our domain and set idealistic goals for ourselves, then strive to grow into our expectations. No one else sets our destiny for us. It is our responsibility. We write our own story. And we can make it as long and as pretty as we wish. Or end it quickly.
A description of the detail of a culture is a statement of the individual behaviors of the members in a group. It includes all that they do, both moral and immoral. The details of a culture may be ascertained by observation, a matter for sociology and psychology. But what forms a culture? Why do they differ so significantly? It develops from a group concept.
The human's concept of the human, and its position in the universe, is basic to all cultural thought.
The direction of a culture, its goals and aspirations, are established by its philosophy. The judgement of the culture, and of each behavioral element within that culture, then, is a matter of and for philosophy. A proper philosophy, therefore, is basic and necessary for the determination of a proper culture for the human. There are inherent restrictions on the form of that philosophy. A reasonable philosophy must fit the species. It can't be formed without full functional knowledge of that species. None of the ancients had access to that knowledge Modern philosophers ignore it. That knowledge must become a part of the philosophy.
Human philosophies have always been based on a particular concept of the human. Each philosopher defines the human then forms a philosophy for the human that fits with that definition. That definition has always been formed by considering the basic unit of human life as being the whole human. Therein lies the error. The facts of the human are far more complex. It is a philosophy of all life, which is needed, not of the human alone. That philosophy of life would then contain the required philosophy for the human and inherently provide the proper relationship between the human and all other life.
It is not that the human needs to take care of all other life as a moral obligation, though that is certainly true, it is that the human is a small part of life, but one which possesses a characteristic (intelligence) which is valuable to the survival and well being of all life. It was life which developed that intelligence, not the human, therefore its service is for all life, not merely the human. The human is, in that sense, a servant to life, a caretaker in the service of life, the good shepherd for all of life.
Watson and Crick announced the double helix construction of DNA in 1953. It changed the study of living organisms in an irrevocable manner. Biologists were the first hit. Their viewpoint was considerably altered. Until that announcement, organisms were studied on the basis of the organisms themselves. After that announcement, all life became studied on a molecular basis. This is causing (or should be causing) a restructuring of thought in every life science.
The genome project started the molecular study of the human. A torrent of information has resulted, yet it is only a hint of things to come. The eventual redesign of the human by the human is inevitable. And that will not end the progression. The evolution of the human will not end when the human controls evolution. A progression of entirely new species, one after the other, is ensured. Stephen Hawkings recently created a stir among the righteous academic elite when he made the statement that the human (its DNA) needed some competent engineering, which it would surely get someday in the future. One need look only at his physical condition to see that such engineering is a requirement, and that objections to such a course are hardly righteous. Once the survival of the human is insured, then attention can be turned to the problems and frailties of all other life. A garden of Eden is possible, if our philosophy sets that as a goal.
In the same manner that life was studied on the basis of organisms, human study and the philosophy of that study has been on the basis of the human. The error is the same. A problem can't be solved from its middle. A philosophy, likewise, must begin with the beginning, and that is the dividing line between the animate and the inanimate, some four billion years before the beginning of man. A philosophy of life must be in perfect harmony with life - from the beginning of life. Philosophy, as with all of the other studies of the human species, must start at the molecular level. And it must be a dynamic philosophy, one which can evolve as the human evolves.
For a primer on the net, try GENETIC PRIMER
For a detailed reference, see Molecular Biology of The Cell by Alberts, Bray, Lewis, Raff, Roberts, and Watson - Garland Publishing, 717 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10022 - ISBN 0-8153-1619-4
I am repulsed by the idea that the human is no more than a vessel for DNA and exists only for its keeping.
Sorry. I didn't invent this. If it was up to me, I would've invented a far more romantic story. Man, in his search for truth in his own mind, has been inventing such stories since the beginning. There are thousands of them around. Pick one of those if you must. This is the truth, however, and it's time we faced the truth and made the best of it.
The fact that mankind has humble beginnings is not reason to despair. In the human world we have many examples of individuals climbing from the ghetto to great heights. All mankind can do the same. And those heights available to mankind have no limits.
The occurrence of life at the beginning may be described in scientific terms as an occurrence with a probability approaching zero. A miracle defined in scientific terms is an occurrence with a probability of zero. Only a nit-picker could find a significant difference between the two. So you religious people may look at that beginning as a miracle, the creation of life by God. Then evolution becomes the process by which He created all life. DNA becomes His arm reaching down through all of the life He created. And perhaps our final test to enter His kingdom (mankind's Utopia, whatever that turns out to be) is to use the intelligence that His process gave us in the interest of all His creation. If so, the modern elitest ideological concept of instant self-gratification isn't exactly what He had in mind.
It doesn't fit the scientific version either.
How can you call something that can only reproduce itself alive? Surely life is more than that.
We were looking for the lowest common denominator of life. If a substance is able to reproduce, it has a property that inanimate matter does not have. Any other characteristic but without the ability to reproduce still describes inanimate matter.
What about RNA?
Determining the exact point in the development of life for a basis is a problem. There are even chemicals that act as if they are reproducing. Should we have used RNA instead of DNA? I don't know. If anyone can give me a reason to do so, I'll give it some thought. Actually, all modern life came from a single cell. Our argument would work as well at that level of development.
Why do you say life came from a single source? Why couldn't there have been many?
In scientific work, if there are two possibilities, one simple and the other complex, it is always reasonable to accept the simpler one as a first approximation. The reason is that no matter which one you accept, you must then devote your energy to disproving it. The fact that you accepted a possibility is not sufficient. Only after it can't be disproved are you safe in relying on your selection. It is far easier to try to disprove the simpler choice because of its lack of complexity. If you succeed in proving that there was only one line, you have proved yourself correct. If you find evidence to the contrary, you have proved the complex case. In trying to disprove the complex assumption, you must first disprove its complexity, a much harder job.
Genetic studies of DNA sequences from very diverse forms of life have shown remarkable similarity. The chance that many different origins of life would have random mutations that are so alike approaches zero. Until we can find a DNA string that shows a different history, we'll stick with the onelife theory.