Monday, August 06, 2007

Doggerel #117: "Life"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.
Robot villager: Mumbo, perhaps. Jumbo, perhaps not! With all your modern science are you any closer to understanding the mystery of how a robot walks or talks?

Farnsworth: Yes, you idiot! The circuit diagram is right here on the inside of your case!
There are a lot of woos out there who like to believe that life is something super-special on a fundamental physical or metaphysical level (as if that somehow added to the value we assigned to it). These sorts typically believe that all the various chemicals shuffling about can't account for all the stuff life does, and thus there must be some ethereal, supernatural component that sets it apart from all the other kinds of chemical reactions out there.

This usually comes up in the Creationist canard of "Life cannot come from non-life," typically stated as an a priori impossibility, though sometimes including a misuse of the debunking of spontaneous generation, as if whole maggots or rats were comparable to some small amounts self-replicating chemicals. They usually proceed from that a priori to assuming that God must be the cause of life, which leads us to the familiar ground of the "What caused God?" question that never seems to get responded to in a serious manner.

In short, because humans don't know everything about life, they conclude, via argument from ignorance, that we can never answer further questions without going to their favorite supernatural cause.

This kind of vitalism is also popular with alties, who claim that their pet hypotheses address the issue of "life forces" and such, while mainstream medicine is allegedly blind to anything beyond the physical, despite the fact that science is about viewing results. We reject chi, qi, prana, and all that stuff because it doesn't get results when you look at it carefully.

For now, I'll leave vitalism in the unambiguously fictional realm of Dungeons & Dragons.


Infophile said...

This one really grates me once it starts to intersect with Quantum Mechanical interactions. In the minds of far, far too many people (including one professor of mine), there's some special about life that allows it to resolve quantum states, and it needs to be some living being observing something that resolves it. This likely comes from some innate desire to be special in the universe (well, having a priviledged position when it comes to the laws. They don't bother to acknowledge we're special even if we don't have exceptions written into the laws of physics for us).

Besides, do they seriously contend that before life began in the universe, the whole thing was a giant unresolved state? And then how would it resolve between states of life creating versus not creating if the question of whether it could be resolved hadn't been resolved?

Screw LSD, trying to understand Quantum Woo is enough of a mind trip.

King Aardvark said...

Dungeons & Dragons is fictional? Aw, shitey. I've wasted my life.

Bronze Dog said...

Some comments relocated here.