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Philosophy Cafe - Cafe Philosophique Message Board › Afterword: Life

Afterword: Life

Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 266
The Afterword is where our contemplation of the current theme shifts gears. Instead of oral, real-time, face-to-face communication, we have time to find the right words. Yet we continue, only more slowly, to improvise--so don't get caught up in polishing your contribution (unless that's your thing ;-). I'm post this first thing after the meeting, because people seem to have become aware the Afterwords, and because it may be especially important to the Life theme, which we launched by diving into the linguistic problem of articulation. Though this opportunity to prolong our interaction is primarily afforded to those who actually participated in the discussion, this forum is open. (But if you were there, your post is deemed relevant by default.) If you don't post but want to lurk, be sure to check the "Track This Discussion" box to receive updates by email.

Let's use hashtags (as on Twitter) to highlight the "main" topic of our posts, as it's an implementation-neutral way to navigate by relevance, as well as effective punctuation of the sentences themselves. (And it makes us look hip.) Please refrain from posting bare links without some analysis or at least an explanation of their relevance--and if you haven't had time to read the article, for heaven's sake don't put that task on us! (Laziness is not cool.) A great post has a balance of questions and answers, though not necessarily in that order. (Just as in a live meeting, no one wants to be interrogated or lectured.)

Besides the obvious advantages of including more than we could touch on in two hours, again I extol the value of writing. It organizes your thoughts differently, and when it's directed at people you expect to be interested, it combines the impact of speech and the durability of the written word.
Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 267
To get the Afterword started, here's the list of the senses of "life ____ itself" we considered, chosen or randomly drawn from among 36 choices:

Life #withinitself connoted how life changes as we move though its phases (or at least it looks different, but perhaps that's beside the point). See Your Last Word on Apocalypse for Jeff's "theory" on this.

Life #initself was to indicate desire, affirmation, perhaps the will which seems to #originate with and in ourselves to cause changes "in the world"; however, "in" seems a bit hard-pressed to indicate all that--who has the right word?

Life #foritself was presented as "life as it should be"--so, clearly normative. Also given was the example of a person making choices at every moment in life. In standard philosophical usage, say, Kant's, "for" supposed a value-making entity, so this sounds good, though it might matter to whoever's life it is whether that entity was that person, his master, or society.

Life #throughitself embodied the common sentiment that life is "in the living", or maybe an emphasis on the journey over the destination.

Life #likeitself was inspired by the idea of life imitating art imitating life imitating.... Foucault's #panopticon was given as an example of an artifact, clearly a small part of life, that gives us access to something bigger, perhaps the "whole," of life.

Life #byitself lamented the boredom of life without the "extras" that make it interesting--like philosophy!

Life #despiteitself evoked the existential despair of Camus, whose read of the Greek #Sisyphus legend was that we go on pushing the rock up that hill even though we know we will continue to #fail.

Life #becauseofitself was explained in terms of #contingency: how many coincidences were necessary for the Big Bang to happen?

Life #apartfromitself was described as life alienated from itself. Though it sounds sad, consider how this might be a purposeful reaction to life that has become too entangled, threateningly or confusingly intimate [att].

Life #outsideitself was viewed as the distance of #reflection. This image, from a philosophy department, captures the complexity of reflection; in contrast, k.d. lang's "Outside Myself" associates it with #emotionalnumbness. The #altar was another (imagined) #prop that made being "outside" not a forlorn position. Does a difference in emotional timbre indicate a relation different from #apartfromitself?

Life #againstitself was implicated in the struggle to swim upstream, something like #salmon, except humans experience this as exercise of will, with the attendant risk of failure. So differentiating this from #despiteitself might be instructive.

Life #onaccountofitself derived a special character from the embedded word "account", which we took to mean "story", though it also connotes a detailed (even numerical) accounting [mor].

Life #beneathitself (a late entry, not really discussed) could refer to a Hegelian master-slave relation, or perhaps humility before God (which fits better with "itself.")

There were only a few more prepositional relations that would have "worked." Feel free to clarify these, add your own (not everyone was happy with what they chose or drew), or step outside the fill-in-the-blank model!

#haiku "Against prosthetics life account / Outside brain quiet desperation / Unexaminedlife Salmonlife tribbles seasquirt / Snowden unknowable synchronicity multiverse"
Charlie5
user 141378152
Walnut Creek, CA
Post #: 5
Life in itself, life as two different things, one thing inside the other thing. so what two things does life get to be?

Life as biology - breathing creatures - versus life as story/history, the "life we build".

When the mental map is forced suddenly to change, whether because of winning the lottery, or losing a loved one, an increase in energy is required for the mental map rewriting, that mental map being "life", the story, versus the heartbeat and respiration of the biological life "beneath" life, supporting "life" the mental map.

Then on that mental map story called life there are philosophers who would alter it - examine it and line it up or idealize it in some way, so life "in itself" is the "madness" of that mental map in chaos, versus life as it "should be", having been lined up in the great mirror wisdom, no longer banal and "boring", "unexamined" and without philosophy.

Life "outside" itself reflects; the "story" of life up out of the biology, then the "reflection" and "judgement" on the story as it appears "in itself", authenticity of spirit versus (just) survival of biology.

Reflective, it's also reproductive.

Hegel said at the very end of one of his books, there are two worlds (or "life"s), both look exactly the same on the outside, but on the inside, one is made of reality, and the other is made of ideality, and it makes sense to look into both of them.

Hard for a group to pin a definition on, life was always the stuff most important to us, closest to us; on the altar of reality, life is always the burning candle at the center.

Life moves forward in time with purpose, with that drive, to survive, and to thrive. To follow with that purpose, did we need the reflection, the life out of itself, examined, optimized, or was that purpose inherent in life ("in" )itself?
Andre
user 144759802
Napa, CA
Post #: 1
Last night's meeting was full of great content; there are so many ways to explore life [preposition] itself. Each of the variations is worthy of serious contemplation. I can imagine spending months, maybe years, examining and exploring all of them (maybe a good idea for a book or a semester-long philosophy class). And when one was done, what would one have? A very interesting, meaningful, and philosophically-rich perspective on life. Great topic! I really enjoyed exploring it with the crew last night.
Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 272
The meeting notes for Life ITSELF morphed from the usual archive into something different, which may be of interest to attendees and observers alike. (This is a recent trend, though having reached a new level.) I rather encourage you to read it, though I must advise you it's lengthy, though not especially dense. A glass of wine may facilitate experiencing this interpretation of two hours on a Tuesday as life #followingitself :)

I hope that it will spur conversation here in the Afterword. To that end, allow me to articulate some themes from it, together with identifying hashtags:

The "Life ** Itself" cards were a mechanism to push our thinking out of ruts. I grasp for ways to #segue from that "hardness" back to the "softness" of informal discussion.

The notion of #prepositionasrelation is summarized, and some categorization of the twelve we used is attempted.

Demonstration of the #multiplicityofessences is declared to be our main discovery.

A system emerges for recording the "#atmosphere" of the meeting: hot, warm, or cool? hard or soft? wet or dry? Does it make sense? How would you record the mood of the other meetings by this rubric? What might be the next "measurement"?
Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 273
Here are some renderings of points made in the discussion's first half, reconstructed from sparse notes. Many of the tags used here are original to this account, but I submit that they emphasize the connection to the theme.

Ebert's "reality realigns itself" was accused of trying to "turn emotions into ontology." Retreating from the #chickenandegg aspects of this formulation, let's say Ebert was giving a sense of life #aheadofitself. (Note that the idiom "getting ahead of oneself" means to skip to a conclusion without tracing what logically comes before.) See also Childhood's End, and maybe Chicken-and-egg problems.

Joe Pesci in Goodfellas announces, during a cruel act, that life is "stranger than shit." Tim Morton distinguishes "the strange stranger," who is not just foreign but #alien. Donald Rumsfeld referred to "unknown unknowns." Billy Joel had a big album called The Stranger; Albert Camus wrote an important novel with the same title.

"The universe is alive" seems to reflect the desire for a monism that, instead of reducing the animate to the inanimate, "animates" the apparently-inanimate. #Frankensteinsucceeds?

The alienation of life #apartfromitself produces dichotomous sayings like "the universe is created for us" and "ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

Going beyond monism or dualism, we picture a #multiverse...but how can we picture it? On what do we draw? Even #prepositionasrelation presupposes dyads. Life #besideitself? Life #amongitself?

The story of one lifetime, or of all life, seemingly depends on a separate process of life that yields a life "out of life" that is both #outsideitself and #fromitself, which we call an "account." This life #followingItself seems to be an entry point into ethics, in that accounting is deeply tied to responsibility. Life #owingtoitself? And accounting manipulates (and accepts) "values," a contentious, polysemic word, if there ever was one!

Viktor Frankl pursued, and later gave an account of, a concept of life #foritself, that is, "for the benefit of life" (enhancing the survival of self and others). Is this where the sensation of meaningfulness lies? What happens if we conceive of life itself as a benefit? We struggle to differentiate #endsvsmeans.

Socrates did believe in life #afteritself. I didn't catch whether he characterized it as a heavenly life #beyonditself--that sounds like Plato's contribution to theology.

Was Edward Snowden a modern Socrates, who sacrificed himself for...the good of the polis (life #inplaceofitself)?...to advance the cause of truth (life #regardlessofitself)?...his sense of self-importance (life #asregardsitself)?
Harlan L.
HarlanOrganizer
San Francisco, CA
Post #: 3
I brought this source up in our subgroup discussion. It leans more toward the scientific than the philosophical, but so it goes.
By: Astrobiology Magazine staff

Is it alive?
crystals
A crystal can grow, reach equilibrium, and even move in response to stimuli, but lacks what commonly would be thought of as a biological nervous system.
Image Credit: National Ignition Facility Programs
How to define "life" is a sweeping question that affects whole branches of biology, biochemistry, genetics, and ultimately the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

Comparing the semantic task to the ancient Hindu story of identifying an elephant by having each of six blind men touch only the tail, the trunk, or the leg, what answer a biologist might give can differ dramatically from the answer given by a theoretical physicist.

However, some initial agreement is possible. Living things tend to be complex and highly organized. They have the ability to take in energy from the environment and transform it for growth and reproduction. Organisms tend toward homeostasis: an equilibrium of parameters that define their internal environment. Living creatures respond, and their stimulation fosters a reaction-like motion, recoil, and in advanced forms, learning. Life is reproductive, as some kind of copying is needed for evolution to take hold through a population's mutation and natural selection. To grow and develop, living creatures need foremost to be consumers, since growth includes changing biomass, creating new individuals, and the shedding of waste.

To qualify as a living thing, a creature must meet some variation for all these criteria. For example, a crystal can grow, reach equilibrium, and even move in response to stimuli, but lacks what commonly would be thought of as a biological nervous system.

While a "bright line" definition is needed, the borderline cases give life's definition a distinctly gray and fuzzy quality. In hopes of restricting the working definition at least terrestrially, all known organisms seem to share a carbon-based chemistry, depend on water, and leave behind fossils with carbon or sulfur isotopes that point to present or past metabolism.

If these tendencies make for a rich set of characteristics, they have been criticized as ignoring the history of life itself. Terrestrially, life is classified among four biological families: archaea, bacteria, eukaryotes, and viruses. Archaea are the recently defined branch that often survives in extreme environments as single cells, and they share traits with both bacteria and eukaryotes. Bacteria, often referred to as prokaryotes, generally lack chlorophyll (except for cyanobacteria) and a cell nucleus, and they ferment and respire to produce energy. The eukaryotes include all organisms whose cells have a nucleus - so humans and all other animals are eukaryotes, as are plants, protists, and fungi. The final grouping includes the viruses, which don't have cells at all, but fragments of DNA and RNA that parasitically reproduce when they infect a compatible host cell. These classifications clarify the grand puzzle of existing life, but do little to provide a final definition.

Defining life takes on a more bewitching character when extended beyond the Earth's biosphere. The recent addition of extremophiles (archaea) to the tree of life underscores the notion that life is defined by what we know, what we have seen before, and often what we have succeeded in domesticating to a laboratory petri dish.

Astrobiology Magazine sought out expert opinion on this important question from Dr. Carol Cleland, who teaches philosophy at Colorado University in Boulder and is a member of NASA's Astrobiology Institute. While on sabbatical in Madrid, Spain, at the Centro de Astrobiologia (CSIC-INTA), she shared her thoughts on the power of definitions to shape science and philosophy.
You can find the Cleland interview and the entire article at http://www.nasa.gov/v...­'s_working_definition.html
Harlan L.
HarlanOrganizer
San Francisco, CA
Post #: 4
Just for discussion, I might suggest three views of life from scientific and philosophical points of view:
1. The most obvious is life from the human point of view. The most important aspects of this definition is consciousness. And, from the human point of view there is a uniqunes and separateness of our life from all other life in the universe.
2. From the biota point of view. This is similar to the scientific definitions (but see the Cleland interview for an expansion of scientific) above from NASA. This pov expands life to not focus on consciousness, but, I would say, more on activities such as consumption, survival, and reproduction.
3. A 'universe' point of view: Some discussants in the last session brought up considerations such as multiverses and the universe as a living entity. This, of course, radically brings into question a philosophical notion of life. Can the earth, the universe, multiverses be alive in any reasonable definition of the term.
Obviously, these are just three points of view besides possible others. And perhaps the three should be considered and held simultaneously. Maybe there are life1, life2, life3, and life-n.
Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 274
While a "bright line" definition is needed...

The urge to define, to draw a line (even if in the sand) is characteristic--definitive, we might say--of dualism, of what I call the Social "framing"­ of a notion, and what this fosters is debate, in which sides stake claims to the widest and best conceptual territory. (The next theme will put us squarely in that frame, but hopefully in such a way that we can keep a safe distance from the when-does-life-begin tussle.)

But I'm not against lines, I'm discovering. Lines are about the only thing I'm good at drawing ;) But what kind of line is a dichotomy, a border, or for that matter, the lines that constitute a frame? They are dividing lines, lines between. Funny how these are easy to draw (at first) because the object is merely to keep one's pen away from what is being partitioned. But as the picture becomes more crowded, avoiding contact between the pen and the objects being categorized more resembles the game Operation. Beep! Foul! Yet the sad part, really, is that the skill thus developed gives the "surgeon" no "feel for the organism." Clinging to a pov (point of view), one's pen, or Operation's tweezers--these are all ways of refusing the Other's reality (call it "perspective" if you must). Choosing three, even n, reference points is still alienating, referential [ref].

(I'm recalling how novice sketchers--often self-taught using cartoon examples--begin by drawing silhouettes.)

Here's a different kind of line to add to the tool chest: the lines that connect you, the observer, to the phenomenon being observed. These are not lines that bisects the negative space between objects, events, or ideas. Instead these lines follow the action, and not only the interactions among objects, but also the actions of knowing, which is to say they trace how we know, epistemology. Thus this path is marked by discontinuities, which troubles people. But it possible to keep the gaps tiny. Being connected to the world via series of easy hops, rather than confidently secured to a large mass that itself has no moorings, makes it easier to sleep at night.

It stands to reason that any account that life #onaccountofitself can "use" would be produced by life #followingitself.

Andre
user 144759802
Napa, CA
Post #: 2
I don't know if this will be helpful, but I thought I would add it:
Upon further contemplation, the magic of the meeting for me was to hear all of the POVs. At one point I was finding it hard to switch perspectives at the rate different people were speaking. So instead of trying to "inhabit" everyone's POV, I just let them wash over me. I found myself sort of between what everyone was saying. And all of the ideas simply washed through me. It was a very good feeling, almost like being in a pool of water with currents washing over me from all sides. I did not need to agree or disagree with any of the ideas. I was just happy to be in their presence.

I do not know if I have anything important to say about #lifeitself. I mean, I could speak for hours on it, but I am not sure that would benefit anyone. It is such a vague and personal term. Perhaps we can only understand life (or lifeitself) in terms of our personal perspective, and if it is possible to understand life objectively, which I think is debatable, then from what perspective do we define it?

In the end, perhaps all that are important are our opinions of what life is...
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