BIOLOGY 103
FALL, 2000
FORUM, WEEK 2


Name: Jakki Rowlett
Username: jakkirowlett@hotmail.com
Subject: Let's ask Mikey...
Date: Sat Sep 9 00:17:27 EDT 2000
Comments:
Okay, so now the question is: What is life? Do we assume that you want a characteristics of life as we know it? Or, are we to humbly admit the limitations of such a definition in the face of potential discovery of lifeforms completely unlike our own?
Name: Paul Grobstein
Username: pgrobste@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Life?
Date: Sat Sep 9 10:03:51 EDT 2000
Comments:
How about a well-tempered blend of humility and hubris? Is a characteristic of good science. One of the human brain's most appealing features is that it can, based on a given set of observations, conceive of things that have never in fact been observed. So, yes, we're always limited by things we have observed, but we are also capable of generalizing and conceptualizing in ways that frequently prove useful in anticipating what has not yet been observed. The question, then, is can we come up with some general list of characteristics that would allow us recognize a "living thing" and "life", even if it was quite different in details from things we are familiar with? Another, perhaps more accurate, way to put the question is the phrasing used in class: what DO we mean when we say, in the world that we HAVE observed and are quite familiar with, that something is alive? The dichotomous categories "living" and "non-living" help make sense of the everday things we deal with in our current world. They may or may not continue to be useful as we move out into the rest of the universe and deal with the enormous space of new observations that it represents, but they are our best starting point for getting it less wrong in the future (this too is always true of science; one starts, inevitably and valuably, with the sense one currently makes of things, always willing to change it as new observations require).
Name: Katie
Username: kgallagh@brynmawr.edu
Subject:
Date: Sat Sep 9 17:59:58 EDT 2000
Comments:
How do we differentiate between living and nonliving? At first, the question feels as though it doesn't have an answer we can define - it's a matter of "instinct." However, it all goes back to school - we are taught that plants and animals are living; rocks and earth are not. To be living, it must breathe, take in a form of nutrient and produce something with it, grow, and reproduce. We are taught this before we leave elementary school, when everything the teacher says is the Truth. The truth is, we don't really know what life is. How do we know rocks don't live their own form of life? Well, we haven't recognized it by our textbook definition, and for our practical purposes, they're not alive. We don't even really know what humans are. Do we have something beyond the body - a soul? Are we just a bunch of cells, and all this 'soul' stuff is just a result of our fear of death? If we're not sure what life really is, how would we be able to recognize alien life? Will we have only practical relationships with other planets?
Name: Debbie Plotnick
Username: dplotnic@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Intellegent Life?
Date: Sun Sep 10 15:04:50 EDT 2000
Comments:
Our discussion on Friday in class regarding questions of what constitutes life, where it may exist, and would we be able to recognize it, raised many interesting points. Clearly, it will become increasingly difficult to determine what is alive and under what heretofore unimagined conditions life may exist, survive or even flourish using present definitions. This holds true on this planet as well as elsewhere. If the purpose of science is to observe and make assumptions that are progressively less wrong perhaps we need to we also need to re-assess concepts such as "intelligent life." Would an assessment of greater, rather than lesser intelligence precipitate different policies and standards regarding extra-terrestrial life, such as those we presently practice regarding life other than human on earth? We must recognize, acknowledge, and carefully weigh in that fact that our cultural assumptions (contemporary, historic, political) are inherent in any and all definitions of life, and intelligence, which may be offered. When (as Professor Grobstein asserts) life is "discovered" in places other than on the earth, I hope that significant progress will have been made regarding the legal, ethical, moral economic and political questions now arising with regard to animal rights, ownership of genetic sequences, artificial intelligence,
Name: Mary Rochelle
Username: mrochell@brynmawr.edu
Subject: What is life?
Date: Sun Sep 10 16:28:39 EDT 2000
Comments:
What is life? That is a harder question than I expected in an entry level Bio course. My explanation of 'life' in a scientific sense has always been what I was taught in grade school - life as fauna or flora. As I grew older, I started to look for a meaning of 'life' in a teenage sense - why am I here and what am I supposed to do with my time? Well, I gradually came to realize that I was a very, very small part of a greater whole [not necessarily a God's creation, but a creation all the same]. I realized that there is a universe out there that doesn't even know of my existence and there is probably even more of a universe that I don't even know the existence of above, and below [did Horton really hear that Who?]. I started examining the philosophical aspect of being alive and having the capacity of intelligent thought [who says I use it though ;-)]. I started discovering the intricacies involved with being alive, how fragile the human body can really be [discovering mortality is so depressing]. I eventually discovered that if I combined my already accepted concept of scientific 'life' and my ever-growing concept of philosophical 'life', I came to a much easier to examine view of what life as a whole really is. The scientific aspect of 'life' has been recorded and examined for ages and ages, while the philosophical aspect has been examined in a not-so-well-recorded form - the former really does help the latter make more sense. I am still searching for a good definition of life, but for now I can say, "What is life?" - very, very complex. =}
Name: (Shah) Aashna Hossain
Username: shossain@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Science and life
Date: Sun Sep 10 20:25:42 EDT 2000
Comments:
(Most of what I will say about just science itself has already been discussed in class, but I came up with these opinions on my own) I suppose science could be defined as the pursuit of knowledge about the physical worlds within and around ourselves, whether for the purpose of acquiring money or knowledge or both (I believe scientists are interested in their respective fields because of both). As was mentioned, as far as the scientific method goes, the first problem comes up with the step known as the hypothesis because 1. everyone's experiences are different, and 2. this step is most intertwined with our obsession of wanting science to "get it right." I agree that science should revolve more around the actual process that leads to an "experiment's" "conclusion," and one should be looking for anything that may lead one to conclude that the hypothesis may be wrong - nothing is infallible, after all. Plus, the entire "picture" is so extremely complex - there are so many factors to be accounted for - that it is pretty much impossible to reach a conclusion that can be backed 100%. There will always be some factor that could potentially refute the "conclusion." What the study of science can help us do is aid us in reaching a conclusion about what is most likely to happen. The human race is obsessed with something that gives true meaning to life - something they can count on - and that is why science is the new religion (it's where people turn to for "answers").

As for life, it is extremely difficult to define - at least for me, even more so than science - so I believe I will leave that attempt to other people (all I can say is that it is that space of time between one's birth and one's death). What I can say about life though - more specifically, about the search for life on other planets - is that one aspect of it that makes it similar to science is because the discovery of such would fulfill a common human need. People saw a face imprinted on the first digital image of a landscape of Mars for that very reason - people seek the familiar so that they can somewhat relieve a common "loneliness." Again, it all goes back to [human] psychology and our (if it doesn't apply to all of us, I am positive that it at least applies to an overwhelming majority of the human race) need for stability.


Name: Jabeen Obaray
Username: jobaray@brynmawr.edu
Subject: comments
Date: Sun Sep 10 23:43:42 EDT 2000
Comments:
I'm not sure that relieving loneliness is the same thing as protecting our need for stability. I think that if we were to find life on Mars, and the identification of a familiar image were to prove to be true to our assumption, it would completely rock the foundation for whichwe base our definition of life, and for that matter, intelligent life. As opposed to maintaining stabilty, it would bring about a complete restructuring of our conception of life.
Name: joe
Username: jsantini@haverford.edu
Subject: Life, the Universe, and Coffee
Date: Mon Sep 11 09:44:54 EDT 2000
Comments:

I think it might be provable that life is that which drinks coffee.

Seriously, people, I think the "What is Life?" question is pretty damned difficult. First, what do we mean when we say life? If we landed on Mars tomorrow and saw a Martian tree, we would not say "There's life here!" Why? Because I think it's firmly entrenched in our mental image of the universe that "true" life is that which resembles us. Think about the way we treat the billions of other life forms on our own planet... then think again about how much we value life that doesn't look like us. When did you ever see a Star Trek episode about people discovering perfectly happy, non-communicative trees on a new planet? (Giggle. Guffaw. Snore.)

Yet it is true that those other life forms do exist. I could go into a speech about how we need to learn to respect them before we look outwards (imagine an alien watching us, and then reporting to his superiors that we kill everything which doesn't look like us - as well as, often, us) but one last point I wanted to raise was extra-planetary ecoconservatism. What if we land on some planet and give the people chicken pox? Or what if one of those germs, harmless to us, gives them permanent diarrhea, and they think we've sabotaged them? Silly as this sounds - it's not farfetched. Look what happened when the Europeans visited the Indians. (Would you like some measles, Pocahontas? Sure, and have some turkey.) -Joe


Name: Joan Steiner
Username: jsteiner@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Life, it's more than cereal
Date: Mon Sep 11 19:18:52 EDT 2000
Comments:
Just to throw this in, I have always kind of poo-pooed the NASA space projects, believing "why the heck are we spending all this time and money going into space? We still have a lot to learn about our own planet, let alone one that is several light years away!" But I guess if we did happen to come upon a "new life form", it may re-define what we know about life, and provide us with more information to continue discovering on our own planet.

As for what life is, well, it is true that when you zoom in and look very closely, we can easily definite what a "living organism" is, but as Joe said, it's pretty damn difficult to define "life" in general. I guess I could say that life is the process of these living organisms using their energy to exist and do whatever it is they do (let's get down and boogy to the groovy sounds of the amoeba funk!). And in continuing this process, these living things working together and with each other (albeit I am not thinking about this "working together" in terms of the smurf village), whether it's by benfiting from a by-product of one organism to feeding off others, they still work together to continue in the process of life. -Saint Joan ;-)


Name: Jill
Username: jmccain@brynmawr.edu
Subject: coffee-drinking martians
Date: Mon Sep 11 23:24:42 EDT 2000
Comments:
i would have to agree with Joe, that our ideas of living things are definitely based on ourselves. science is a function of society, and as such, it's definitions are in terms of society. the meaning of life is only what we make it. we try to draw this line, on one side of which is life, and on the other side is not. other cultures, other civilizations would probably argue with us over that line. so when we talk about how we recognize life, it is definitely how we recognize things as being similar to ourselves. while it is a practical problem, it is still closely tied to culture and philosophy and society. maybe discovering 'life' on a new planet would provide a broader understanding of what we consider to be like us. wouldn't we empathize much more with martians if they drank coffee???
Name: Alexis Hilts
Username: ahilts@brynmawr.edu
Subject:
Date: Tue Sep 12 13:07:19 EDT 2000
Comments:
I agree that our defintion of life is based on ourselves (it has to be, it's all we know so far) but my question is: how broad can our defintion of life become with new discoveries? Don't we have to have a somewhat stable defintion of life in order to understand our world?
Name: Jakki
Username: jakkirowlett@hotmail.com
Subject: Humble pie, side'a hubris!
Date: Tue Sep 12 18:43:21 EDT 2000
Comments:
Okay. i can go along with (read: I can't find any way to punch holes in) the idea of a "highly unlikely assembly." It seems like wide enough a net to cast to catch any number of diverse lifeforms or clues to their existence. As for the other characteristics, I think that they are still too earthbound (for lack of a better word), and therefore limiting. This mind can conceive of the possibility of lifeforms that are without boundaries (made up possibly of pure thought), that aren't energy dependant ( say, angels) , that are unresponsive (or, responsive in ways that would be beyond our powers of perception), that are incapable of autonomous motility ( they don't move at all, or maybe dependant on some external force to achieve motion). And, as for reproduction, with or without variation, I can think of one conceivable potential for created life, that wouldn't necessarily reproduce: androids.

I AM SCI-FI :)


Name: jeanne braha
Username: jbraha7563@aol.com
Subject: angelic androids
Date: Tue Sep 12 19:57:04 EDT 2000
Comments:
i'm sure we've all read in the science texts that "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts." it seems that whatever that missing element is that would balance that equation is life. i'm not sure that i really want an answer more definitive than that.

i'll admit that it is possible that knowing something more might shed some incredible light on our understandings of ourselves. but for now, i'm perfectly content to view life as the experience of being me, and leave it at that. the element of not being able to explain it, while perhaps unstable, allows life to be somehow more rich than i imagine it would be if i could encapsulate it in a brief definition.
Name: Debbie Plotnick
Username: dplotnic@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Android Babies
Date: Tue Sep 12 21:17:43 EDT 2000
Comments:
I, like my friend Jakki, am a life long science fiction fan. Recently, I have begun to also read another type of speculative literature called technological futurism. Its authors, (who are bona fide scientists) speculate about the near term. They claim that we are on the cusp of having self-replicating machines, which will have atomic scale code filaments (much like DNA) that will quickly make the evolutionary leap from replication to reproduction. Looks like Data may soon be a dad!
Name: Paul Grobstein
Username: pgrobste@brynmawr.edu
Subject: week 2 - along the way
Date: Wed Sep 13 10:35:10 EDT 2000
Comments:
Ah so ... can we define something without knowing all the possibilities we might yet encounter? Nice question. How about the following? We have no choice (in science, or any place else) but to start with what we have experienced, and the sense we have made of it (which includes definitions/categories). Sure, its a limitation/bias, but its also a leg up, a way to initially try to make sense of, and hence generate questions about anything new. Without it, we'd flounder, in the present and in the future. The real question isn't whether our "definition" is limited because of our experiences. Of course it is. What's critical is whether our definition is broad enough to allow for new possibilities, and hence to raise new questions, motivate new observations. To put it differently, have we used not only our capacity to summarize existing observations, but also our capacity to abstract essentials and hence to conceive of and make room for possibilities not yet experienced but possible given what we know to date?

Could there be "living things" boundless, independent of energy, immobile, unresponsive, reproducing perfectly (instead of with variation)? Interesting question (and questions, one for each characteristic). If they (angels included) existed, would we want to call those things "alive", or something else?

By the way, earlier forum comments (mostly on what is science?) haven't disappeared. I have just moved them to a new file, so we don't get too cluttered here.


Name: Alexis Hilts
Username: ahilts@brynmawr.edu
Subject: origins of life
Date: Wed Sep 13 13:15:44 EDT 2000
Comments:
so I wanted to respond to the possibility brought up in class today that life began with one organism. I understand the thought process behind this question, and obviously, we are not sure of the answer. From what we know of life, however, (and the theory presented in the textbook), it seems incredibly unlikely that life began as a single organism. More probably, life began simultaneoulsly in several places, and NOT as a direct result of reproduction. I think the hang up that some were expressing today in class was that life must begin with reproduction, and that is not necessarily true.
Name: Katie Kaczmarek
Username: kkaczmar@brynmawr.edu
Subject: origin of life
Date: Wed Sep 13 14:16:30 EDT 2000
Comments:
I thought the discussion over whether life could have begun with a single living organism, and if so, would that be life, really interesting. With all the new advancements in genetic research these days, it is possible that scientists will be able to create new living organisms. But would they be considered life, even if there were more than one of them? I think that because these organisms did not evolve from the natural changes of life, they really cannot be considered life.
Name: Paul Grobstein
Username: pgrobste@brynmawr.edu
Subject: A couple of thoughts
Date: Wed Sep 13 17:57:31 EDT 2000
Comments:
Thanks for very interesting conversation in class today. I flagged a couple of issues on a yellow post it in our class notes. Browsing the web to see what people working on the origins of life might say about whether there was a first living organism might make a good web paper. Have a look also to the left of the yellow post it. I got to wondering myself how far one could push the notion of parallels between life and science, and so added to the ones we talked about in class some additional ones worth exploring.
Name: Naomi
Username: nlim@brynmawr.edu
Subject: change & chance
Date: Wed Sep 13 22:33:50 EDT 2000
Comments:
I am probably just stating the obvious, but there seems to be a constant exchange between life and science because advances or changes in one affect the other. Science and life are not one and the same, but are inextricably intertwined. If life is evolution and science can be defined as the study of life, than science is the study of evolution. According to Darwin, evolution is the explanation for life's unity and diversity.However, there is also the matter of chance in evolution, which may also account for diversity. Life seems to entail both change and chance, as does science.
Name: Leila ghaznavi
Username: lghaznav@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Science and life
Date: Thu Sep 14 03:12:56 EDT 2000
Comments:
The thing I would suggest being most careful about is drawing too tight a connection between science and life. Yes they are both constantly changing creatures and many of the definitions that we defined as life can be fit to science. But this does not mean that science and life are inextricably intertwined. Life does not need science to continue. Science is a social construct of our society and has no meaning beyond what we give it. Science does however need life in order to exist. What is the purpose of a method of study without a subject to study? But because science is a social construct and the idea of life is also one obviously, one must beware of molding catagories. Words are extremely malluable and can be used to join two things which are not necessarily the "same". In the end I would just remind people not to wax too much poeticism about science and life. Science is a child of man not necessarily a child of nature. (yesyes I know man is a child of nature and thus one coudl argue science is a child by nature by default...)
Name: julie
Username: jkwon@brynmawr.edu
Subject: life and science
Date: Thu Sep 14 12:22:38 EDT 2000
Comments:
Life can be explained in a number of ways but when it goes hand in hand with science it seems that people look at it in a more factual or physical sense. Life is described as "living" or "to live" where there are scintific characteristics such as what organisms need or what characteristics make up an organism or living thing. It is true that there can be controvsary with what life actually means or why it always seem to change which constitutes why science is not always right, but this is good because it can improve life and find ways to make it more right.
Name: Debbie Plotnick
Username: dplotnic@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Another similarity between life and science
Date: Thu Sep 14 13:53:05 EDT 2000
Comments:
I've been reading some papers on the web about the concept of symbiogenesis. The theory is that simpler (prokaryotic) organisms, such as parasites, joined with more complex (eukaryotic) host organisms, to form, i.e. evolve, into organisms of even greater complexity. This process is a win-win scenario, as the parasite does not destroy its host (and itself) and something more sophisticated emerges. I draw the same type of parallel between my emergent, non-centered state as a fledgling scientist struggling to become increasingly sophisticated in my understanding and assessments of science without destroying the good will of my hosts.
Name: Debbie Plotnick
Username: dplotnic@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Another similarity between life and science
Date: Thu Sep 14 13:53:10 EDT 2000
Comments:
I've been reading some papers on the web about the concept of symbiogenesis. The theory is that simpler (prokaryotic) organisms, such as parasites, joined with more complex (eukaryotic) host organisms, to form, i.e. evolve, into organisms of even greater complexity. This process is a win-win scenario, as the parasite does not destroy its host (and itself) and something more sophisticated emerges. I draw the same type of parallel between my emergent, non-centered state as a fledgling scientist struggling to become increasingly sophisticated in my understanding and assessments of science without destroying the good will of my hosts.
Name: Allison H-C
Username: ahayesco@brynmawr.edu
Subject: life and the possibility of a first living organism
Date: Thu Sep 14 14:49:13 EDT 2000
Comments:
I wanted to comment on the discussion we were having in class about the possibility that there was a first living organism and whether or not that one organism is enough to be considered life. I think there is a difference between the first living organism--one which starts the process of life, and a singular living organism on say, Europa. First of all, I must make a disclaimer to say that if there ever was a first living organism on earth, it must have existed solitarily only for a short moment. The reason why I would call the first example LIFE while I would hesitate to refer to the second as LIFE, has to do with the fact that life is, as we said, an on going process. The difference between the two examples is the first organism on earth has potential to carry on the ongoing, ever changing process we call life. There is great potential (in earth's case now we know, also great certainty) that all of the characterisics of life we recognized -- diversity, interdependant diversity, constantly changing -- will come out of the existance of this one organism. The organism on Europa (with none other around it) unless we can be certain it came about because of the conditions on the planet, has no potential. It will most certainly die if left on the planet. It is not taking part in any sort of ongoing process. If, however, it can and will reproduce to create more organisms on the planet, then we must consider it life as well. Ok, I hope that made sense....
Name: Adria Robbin
Username: arobbin@brynmawr.edu
Subject: sciece, life, and evolution...
Date: Thu Sep 14 16:10:08 EDT 2000
Comments:
I like the idea of science and life being linked by the fact that they are both constantly changing concepts - that they evolve. I never expected to encounter these kinds of ideas being discussed in a science class, and it's actually rather refreshing. It's making science more accessible to me, as someone who has tended to lean more towards the humanities. I think of science as being one approach to studying and explaining the world and the life that exists in it. But I think of it as an approach that bases itself on concrete facts, which leaves out the possibility of spirituality when examining the world. There isn't much concrete evidence of God floating around, or of whatever that spark is that each person has that makes them unique from any other living thing. So, I'm finding it interesting to be thinking of science as something that can evolve along side of life, and that the two can work together to give us a better picture of the world we live in. It's allowing me to see the world of science as something that is open to change and new ideas (at least in an academic setting), as opposed to seeing it as something that is completely established and has no room for change.
Name: Meghan McCabe
Username: mmccabe@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Science and Life
Date: Thu Sep 14 17:03:25 EDT 2000
Comments:
I agree with much of what was said in the last post. I have always been taught that rules/laws of science are pretty much set in stone. I find it very refreshing that science, like life, evolves. Science can evolve alongside of life, but cannot evolve without life, because it is the study of various aspects of life. Therefore science is dependent on life. But I think that in some ways life is also dependent on science. Animals use primitive forms of science every day in order to survive, i.e. avioding places where predators have been spotted before, etc.
Name: Joseph Santini
Username: jsantini@haverford.edu
Subject: Lab
Date: Thu Sep 14 20:10:01 EDT 2000
Comments:
Did anyone else enjoy lab like I did? I found it kind of refreshing to participate in an experiment that didn't focus so much on numbers, equipment, etc. as simply recording what we've observed and working on constructing relationships for those things. Not that numbers and equipment aren't useful, but with classes like chemistry I found that half the time we'd spend hours learning just to use the equipment and not doing any real science or getting to understand anything... -joe
Name: Mary Rochelle
Username: mrochell@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Odin: the little amoeba that could
Date: Thu Sep 14 20:26:11 EDT 2000
Comments:
In class on Wednesday, the question of whether or not there was ever just one organism, ie "the origin of life," came up. I have decided that yes, there was at one point just one organism, and with a little bit of literary liscence, I am going to tell you about him. His name was Odin.

Odin was a little amoeba that came from some unexplainable source [further proving that the question of existence is eternal and inherent in existence itself]. He lived in a vast place that had no other amoebas and well no other anythings. Odin splashed around in his little puddle of life, marveling at how much space belonged to him and how much freedom he could exercise. He spent his days being lazy and doing nothing. After about an hour of that [an hour human time, which is days to an amoeba], Odin got bored.

Odin wanted a companion. Well, being the amoeba that he was, and being the amoeba that I am not, Odin found a way to make a companion and I have no idea how he did it [I am pretty positive that it involved a popping noise though]. POP! So Odin made a friend - literally. Well, upon mastering the idea of making others, and finding out how much fun it was to not be alone anymore, Odin and his friend[s] happily reproduced asexually, until a whole system of lives resulted. Then the multi-celled organisms entered the picture and the neighborhood hasn't been the same since.

Thanks for humoring my little ramblings. Basically, I believe there had to have been just one organism at one point because you must always start somewhere. Even if the 'Big Bang' made a whole spatter of little living things, there was still one that popped out first. It is just a fundamental fact of reason. I am not sure how this works into our definition of 'life' as a whole, because it does seem logical that life is a system of organisms, so life can't exist on just one organism. I suppose even life had to start somewhere, or do *you* want to be the one that has to tell Odin that he was never really 'alive'?


Name: Jess Hayes-Conroy
Username: jhayesco@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Life?
Date: Thu Sep 14 20:36:50 EDT 2000
Comments:
Ok, so everyone so far has been talking about life as defined by individual organisms or species. What about the Gaia Hypothesis (lovelock)? Couldn't the earth itself actually be considered alive? I mean, it even fits pretty much with our current specifications for life. (ok, so it doesn't reproduce) but I would say it is semi-autonomous, semi-homeostatic, energy dependent, etc...And then, if it were considered to be alive, maybe we wouldn't do so many things to kill it. At least it's something to think about. I personally would probably consider the earth to be a
Name: Melissa Donimirski
Username: mdonimir@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Life
Date: Thu Sep 14 23:07:38 EDT 2000
Comments:
I have to say, the thing that really kind of makes me laugh and stop short about this conversation is the idea that life of another currently-unknown kind is discovered, but then discriminated against based on previous definitions of life. I'm kind of picturing another civil rights movement and fighting for the right to be considered 'alive' and given the sort of rights that all living things have...and the different ways we treat things we consider alive or inanimate. I wonder if attempting to define life is sort of shooting ourselves in the foot? Or, if that would mean that pursuing science is a fruitless effort.
Name: Nimia
Username: nbarrera@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Agreement with the Coffee
Date: Fri Sep 15 09:29:43 EDT 2000
Comments:
Closer to the top of the forum, Joe said something that I think is very true: that unless something resembles us, we really won't consider it life. Unfortunately, the human race thinks itself superior to all other beings, and if "life" were to be discovered on another planet, I think that we would have a hard time - maybe not accepting this - but definately accepting the fact that they might be equal to us.
Name: Robin Reineke
Username: rreineke@brynmawr.edu
Subject:
Date: Fri Sep 15 10:16:33 EDT 2000
Comments:
Okay, we've gone over this territory quite a bit... suppose that the criteria we came up with in class (or that Professor Grobstein provided us with) IS limiting and therefore could make us turn a blind eye to some really new life form. Accepting this, what criteria would we make that would be more inclusive? It could be anything concievable in the whole universe! Or anything unconceivable! Therefore unless we have somewhere to start with, couldn't we define ANYTHING as life? I think that as long as we keep in mind the fundamental rule of science ---objectivity---and an open mind, having a somewhat limited expectation of "life symptoms" is a place to start. In response to the comments about science being connected to life and visa versa, I don't think that life could exist without science. Science, to me, is simply the acts of observing, making mistakes, trying again, and learning. If we didn't do this in life, we would sit in one place and die of starvation.
Name: Rachel Hochberg
Username: Garg0yle99
Subject: Grant money question
Date: Fri Sep 15 10:30:08 EDT 2000
Comments:
I realize that this was only a passing question in discussion, but I'd like to take it on anyway. During class, Prof Grobstein asked if a scientist would get grant money if he/she wanted to "find the first living thing that existed." If I was the one giving out grants, I wouldn't waste another minute listening to that particular scientist. After all, no one really knows if life began with only one organism--if it didn't, then the money would be wasted, and the scientist would never find what he/she was looking for. There are just too many variables.
Name: Jenny Wilson
Username: wilson_jl@yahoo.com
Subject: What Constitues Life
Date: Fri Sep 15 10:30:32 EDT 2000
Comments:
Immediately following Wednesday's class discussion about the properties of life--what characteristics comprise a living organism--I started to ponder another closely-related subject: what are the properties of intelligent life. As humans, I think we tend to be more concerned with forms of life that are capable of exhibiting traits similar to ours. For example, we recognize the structural organizations/hierarchies of our fellow mammals (i.e. dolphins, dogs, etc) more so than we recognize those of non-mammals (i.e. insects). Thus, we have a tendency to protect the well-being and overall existence/evolution of the former through legislation, charitable efforts, and the like. Therefore, if and when we are confronted with a life form on another planet, I firmly believe that we will choose to recognize it only if it has the same life properties of our fellow earth dwellers, particularly if it has mammalian traits. An example of this can be found in our response to the finding of extinct(?) microscopic insects on on the Martian surface: we recognized the life form because it had an exoskeleton similar to that of an earth insect. Therefore, my question is: have we unconsciously discovered life forms on other planets without realizing it? And if so, or rather, if we are to discover such forms, what other characteristics of life will we have to contemplate before we make further attempts?
Name: Katie Kaczmarek
Username: kkaczmar@brynmawr.edu
Subject: response to earlier comments
Date: Fri Sep 15 14:15:05 EDT 2000
Comments:
To Mary Rochelle: That was really cute. I love the detail of the popping noise! (PS I'm an English major-to-be, that's why I loved the imagery of your little story.)

In response to Jess Hayes-Conroy: For another take on the earth-as-alive theory, read David Brin's book *Earth*. It's science fiction, but it discusses many important topics, some of which are very topical to our class discussions. For example, environmental issues, restriction of scientific research, humanity's supposed superiority, and most especially, the "interconnectedness of all living things" (quoted from an Amazon.com book review). I really recommend this book to anyone who can suspend their disbelief, follow a complicated plot with multitudes of characters who are all important in their own way, and, most of all, enjoy a thought-provoking read.


Name: jakkirowlett@hotmail.com
Username: Jakki
Subject: and so on and so on...
Date: Sun Sep 17 13:49:17 EDT 2000
Comments:
At one "end" of the known universe we have quarks, which scientists believe exist by inference rather than proof because quarks cannot be isolated and measured (see Alvarez). At the other "end" of the known universe is mostly empty space at magnitudes above 10 to the 25. But, we know that the universe is expanding (again, see Alvarez), so why wouldn't we infer also an infinite regress of smaller and smaller component "highly improbable assemblies?"

Also, Is anyone prepared to make a case against our little friend "Odin?" Because, while I agree with Mary, I would be very interested in hearing a plausible alterantive. I can concede that life may have sprung up in a bunch of places at relatively the same time and that therefore we may not be able to pinpoint "a" first. But, I contend that even if a billion "Odins" sprang up around the same time, there had to have been "a" first, if only by a nanosecond. I suppose that the idea of "a first thing" is more of a philosophical query, but... i don't know... what do you guys think?


Name: Katie
Username: kgallagh@brynmawr.edu
Subject: The Beginning
Date: Sun Sep 17 23:36:54 EDT 2000
Comments:
I don't see how we can say if there was a first living organism if we don't precisely know how life began. The current theory seems to be that the atmospheric content affected a nonliving substance which was chemically surprised into living. In that case, I'd say that it's probable that there was a "first." Still, we don't know that the theory is correct. Our evidence shows life first living some millions of years after the Earth was formed, but that's just our evidence. There could be a fossil we haven't found or maybe things living at the beginning either just didn't leave fossils or the fossils were destroyed over time. The beginning is so uncertain -- how do we know that the Earth isn't a computer made in a planet factory in order to find the Question (since the Answer is known to be 42)?


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