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Archive for December 3rd, 2010

A science is any discipline in which the fool of this generation can go beyond the point reached by the genius of the last generation. ~Max Gluckman

Finally!

Yes, the discovery has now been made that has expanded our version of what life is, and it’s NASA, not an organization bent on biology, that stretched the limits of living.

Seems there are, after all, life forms that don’t conform to the accepted definition … go figure … and what an eye-opener, heh?

“The definition of life has just expanded,” said Ed Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “As we pursue our efforts to seek signs of life in the solar system, we have to think more broadly, more diversely and consider life as we do not know it.”

I am so confused.

It is possible folks have actually been running on the assumption that all life everywhere must be made of the same stuff that came up with us? And … did it really need to take finding an example of something different here on Earth to get those folks to reconsider their perspective?

Well … if so, that’s just dumb.

NASA-supported researchers have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism, which lives in California’s Mono Lake, substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in the backbone of its DNA and other cellular components.

Okay. That’s one ‘rule’ down the drain then, isn’t it, since up until now the thought has been that it took six building blocks — carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur — to fire up the living thang in everything from amoeba to zebra; anything not having those six basics was not considered to be alive.

As the research team’s lead scientist put it: If something here on Earth can do something so unexpected, what else can life do that we haven’t seen yet?

Good question … and should be followed by: Why are we so surprised?

To know the history of science is to recognize the mortality of any claim to universal truth. ~Evelyn Fox Keller

I’ve spent no little time considering what “life” is made of, and have come to the conclusion that it ain’t what we think it is. In fact, it seems to me that the part of us those six blocks stack up to may be the least of what we are.

It’s the limiting nature … biology … of the human mind that makes so illusive the far reaches of consciousness, not the other way round, and it’s the consciousness that makes everything else, including the biology. It follows, then, that we are more than our physical form. We’re like tequila … whether it be rotgut or nectar de dioses … most of our potential is wasted while in the bottle.

Who’s to say that it’s not energy … light, sound, electromagnetic waves, something else that has escaped our limited notice … that’s the bit that constitutes LIFE? Biochemists, for one, I suppose, but now they’re even having to rethink.

“The idea of alternative biochemistries for life is common in science fiction,” said Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the agency’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “Until now a life form using arsenic as a building block was only theoretical, but now we know such life exists in Mono Lake.”

Now they know … and they know because they found something on this planet that can be weighed and measured, which is apparently what it takes.

A few things come to mind this morning … and, yes, I know I’m rambling, but I want to get this out before I settle into work, and rambling rants happen when there’s a lot of stuff rolling around in my head …

Which brings me to one thought …

I have a friend who’s a mulitple, so has many people living in one body, a situation that calls into question just how set-in-bone what the living part of us might be.

With a change of personalities in multiples, scars appear and disappear, burn marks do the same, as well as cysts! The multiple can change from being right-handed to being left-handed with ease and agility. Visual accuity can differ, so that some multiples have to carry two or three different pairs of glasses. One personality can be color blind and the other not. Even EYE COLOR can change!

I had a dream last night in which I was having a conversation with my son and my father, both of whom are, in present context, dead. Although I don’t recall much of it now, some of the images are clear. I know if I’d been hooked up to that whatitz thingy that checks brain activity it would have shown all sorts of stuff going on in my head. My question this morning is: Was my dream a result of a biochemical dance, or the other way around?

Could it be that we are surrounded by life forms we have no way of recognizing as such? Makes sense to me, but until a specimen is found on the bottom of Mono Lake … or energy materializes, sits down and gives a good accounting … we’ll keep running on the assumption that it’s all about being carbon-based.

There was a time a platypus was impossible, but … golly … turns out the little dudes are alive and well and happily doing the Monotremata thing down under, and even if we’ve never seen one, we don’t argue their existence. Could we someday be as accepting of a community of sentient invisible beings who might be hanging around us all right now?

I recognize I don’t have the background, knowledge or credentials that might allow me to grasp a lot of what is clearly over my head in the science, and I do understand why NASA folks are thrilled to their gills over the discovery of a “new life form”; it is a big deal and goes far to advance thinking. Good.

I do, however, sometimes tire of what smells like arrogance but is probably more closely related to a lack of imagination in presuming we are the standard by which all must be judged.

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