The Web of Life (5) Life Defined

Life Defined

Before the time of Darwin, it was usually assumed that the behavior of animals was under the control of blind instinct. This was flattering to man, who prided himself on his possession of reason. ~ English zoologist David McFarland

The essential activity of life is staying alive. All life behaves. Behaviors arise from decisions. Decisions derive from discernment.

Life requires cognition at all levels. ~ American molecular biologist James Shapiro

Intelligence

Reason or intelligence is the faculty which is concerned with the intentional adaptation of means to ends. ~ Canadian Scot evolutionary biologist George Romanes in 1892

Staying alive requires intelligence: gathering information and making sense of it, to act with will. At root, the intelligence of all life is selfsame: managing the concepts that come with perception, problem-solving, and decision-making.

(The process of intelligence is gathering and analyzing information. The relative measure of intelligence is the ability to behave appropriately.)

The subject of the earliest cognition was electrochemical: reacting differently to distinguished chemical compounds. This makes perfect sense when considering that chemistry begat biology; that life originated via sequences of consistent chemical reactions, and that cells sustain themselves via cogent memory of requisite reaction sets. Memory is a sketch of experienced events, but, more specifically, the comprehension derived from those events.

Beside responding to the environment, organisms must proactively initiate chemical reactions and do so at an appropriate time. That takes intelligence, which is based upon memory.

Memory may be transferred from one generation to the next. Such inter-generational remembrance is called instinct.

Intelligence is exhibited by appropriate behavior. Appropriateness is a discrimination based upon available information.

Forging reactions to create or break down compounds requires recognition that all the necessary ingredients are available, including energy, as well as having an orderly way to manage the process, and deal with the outcomes, including waste. The forgoing applies to all craft work, from a single cell to a woman in a workshop.

Cell evolution has been a process of increasing sophistication in intelligence: augmenting reaction sets, as well as building layer upon layer of complexity in compounds and sequence sets, all of which must be remembered; whence the artifacts of accumulative genetics and the sophistication of proteins.

Intelligence stems from sensation, which provides a running chronology of events. Sensory awareness necessitates consciousness.

Consciousness inhabits every organic structure that must act with discretion. Every organism and every cell within has a mind which experiences sensations and processes them into perceptions, which are mental symbolic representations with assigned meanings.

Microbes, fungi, protists, and plants are all intelligently resourceful despite having no discernable intelligence physiology. Physical intelligence systems – such as the brains and nerve networks in some animals – are simply artifacts for invisible sentient energy gyres.

Memory relates what worked in the past. Current intel tells what might work in the present. Every behavioral choice is based on information.

The term intelligence descends from the Latin word interlegere: to choose between. Implicit is assessing information as a basis for choice.

Modern dictionaries define intelligence as the ability to understand. It is an inapt definition. Intelligence can only be assessed by observing behavior. So, defining intelligence as comprehension, however accurate, is a non-starter from a practical perspective.

The adaptiveness of behavior is one of the most dominant features that we observe. Of course, animals do make mistakes and may appear clumsy at times, but for the most part their behavior is beautifully matched to their way of life. They respond appropriately to the features of their world and thereby feed themselves, find shelter, mate, and produce offspring. ~ English zoologist Aubrey Manning & English ethologist Marian Stamp Dawkins

Outcome, not behavior itself, provides the basis for assessing sagacity. The concept of outcome is a slippery one, in having a temporal context which may echo.

Behavior may set into motion a gyre of events whereupon immediate result presages a much different aftermath in terms of affecting the well-being of the organism that performed the behavior. An initially positive outcome may transform into disaster. Consider human civilization, and the extinction event it has created. Much-vaunted technology has proven a curse for sustainability.

A usable definition of intelligence emerges as: regular behavioral outcomes that confer survival advantage.

Intelligent behavior has to be judged within the structural constraints. ~ English botanist Anthony Trewavas

In defining life, one might be tempted to add that an organism is self-contained – that is a constricted view. Living is an ecological exercise: entangled interactivity between an organism and its habitat. Life is a process, not a body. An organism is a gyre of activity: a being. In sum, life is vigorous intelligence, existing in a form that is ecologically active.

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The evolution of cells aimed at functional optimization which spelt specialization: one part of a cell does something, while another does something else. Intracellular actions must be coordinated. Coordination requires communication.