1. Welcome to Religious Forums, a friendly forum to discuss all religions in a friendly surrounding.

    Your voice is missing! You will need to register to get access to the following site features:
    • Reply to discussions and create your own threads.
    • Our modern chat room. No add-ons or extensions required, just login and start chatting!
    • Access to private conversations with other members.

    We hope to see you as a part of our community soon!

Can all life on earth be viewed as the expression of a single organism?

Discussion in 'General Debates' started by MikeF, Jul 25, 2021.

  1. MikeF

    MikeF Proponent of RAEism
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2020
    Messages:
    937
    Ratings:
    +434
    Religion:
    None
    The term, "When does life begin", is often used in discussion surrounding when to afford specific rights to human embryos or the human fetus. This came up for me in another thread.

    In an off-the-cuff remark I stated that life began billions of years ago and life has been a continuum since that beginning. This thought made me ponder the following:

    If all life is simply a continuum of this earliest beginning, is it appropriate to think of all life on earth the expression of a single organism or entity? If all variations of that entity are simply adaptive mechanisms to survive varied conditions and exploit any possible resource, can we view the variations as differentiated parts of the whole, much like our different organs are manifestations of the whole? Can we zoom out above the planet and view all life as the same expression of a single organism as it oozes and spreads over the planet?

    Curious if others think such a concept is useful, or have strong feelings as to why all life should not be considered the expression of a single entity.
     
    • Like Like x 4
    • Useful Useful x 1
  2. ChristineM

    ChristineM "Be strong" I whispered to my coffee.
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2017
    Messages:
    37,043
    Ratings:
    +32,817
    Religion:
    None

    Interesting thought. My view is that new life is a separate entity from that that gave it life. Once separate from its parent it becomes individual.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  3. WalterTrull

    WalterTrull Godfella

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2017
    Messages:
    2,942
    Ratings:
    +1,395
    Sure. You might include the 'universe' not only recognized life forms.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  4. exchemist

    exchemist Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2018
    Messages:
    12,966
    Ratings:
    +12,590
    Religion:
    RC (culturally at least)
    It's an intriguing idea but I'm not sure it really stands up. One problem is that there is no clean definition of life in the first place. There are various lists of attributes an organism should, usually, have in order to considered living, but no one definitive list exists that discriminates between all organisms we consider living and those that we do not. So it seems hard to pin down "life" as if it is an entity. It seems to be, rather, a somewhat loosely defined property of certain structures in nature.

    The Wiki entry describes some of the difficulties: Life - Wikipedia

    A further issue is that we can certainly conceive that life may exist in the cosmos elsewhere than here. It's fairly hard to argue that such life would be part of the same entity as life here.
     
    • Like Like x 3
  5. MikeF

    MikeF Proponent of RAEism
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2020
    Messages:
    937
    Ratings:
    +434
    Religion:
    None
    Certainly, the word 'life' can be used in a variety of ways and so your points are taken.

    However, if we consider the process of evolution and instead of using the label 'life', we try and specify a specific thing and label it 'Earth Life', life as expressed on the closed system of the planet Earth, would the idea stand up when framed in this manner?
     
  6. exchemist

    exchemist Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2018
    Messages:
    12,966
    Ratings:
    +12,590
    Religion:
    RC (culturally at least)
    That would certainly deal with my second point, but not my first, I think.

    I am reminded of the interminable debates around the concept of consciousness. These, it seems to me, are the result of making the category error of mislabelling an activity (of the brain) as an entity. I fear that trying to elevate life to the status of an entity, when it is only an ill-defined collection of properties, will lead to similar issues.
     
  7. MikeF

    MikeF Proponent of RAEism
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2020
    Messages:
    937
    Ratings:
    +434
    Religion:
    None
    When we consider life on earth, there are specific properties that separate what may be considered life from what we consider inanimate matter. At its most basic, those properties might be that 'Earth Life' self-organizing and autopoietic.

    I would consider the universe a wider part of what should be considered the environment for this entity 'Earth Life', even though until relatively recently, 'Earth Life' has been restricted to this planet.
     
  8. Evangelicalhumanist

    Evangelicalhumanist "Truth" isn't a thing...
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2013
    Messages:
    10,293
    Ratings:
    +11,285
    Religion:
    None, a humanist who doesn't even worship humans
    I just honestly don't think you could make a clean case for such a notion.
     
  9. MikeF

    MikeF Proponent of RAEism
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2020
    Messages:
    937
    Ratings:
    +434
    Religion:
    None
    I would certainly agree with this. However, we often find it useful to not only acknowledge individuals, but to recognize groups of individuals being a distinct thing greater than their parts. Examples might be an ant colony or slime mold. Slime molds can live as distinct entities yet aggregate to form multicellular reproductive structures. Even we human beings require a symbiotic relationship with other organisms that live within us.
     
  10. MikeF

    MikeF Proponent of RAEism
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2020
    Messages:
    937
    Ratings:
    +434
    Religion:
    None
    Certainly defining life in general, what should be considered alive, to have life, can be complicated when considering cases on the edge of the definition, where some properties might be exhibited, but not all.

    However, if a single-celled organism is the progenitor for all single-celled and multicellular life on earth, then the definition of life doesn't matter. We are talking about a specific thing, whatever properties it may have, that has spread and grown and adapted in a continuum.

    Granted we don't know if it is exactly one organism, but if we were to assume that, would it be possible to consider 'Earth Life' as a single entity when we zoom out and consider the whole?
     
    • Like Like x 1
  11. MikeF

    MikeF Proponent of RAEism
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2020
    Messages:
    937
    Ratings:
    +434
    Religion:
    None
    What about a messy one. :)
     
  12. WalterTrull

    WalterTrull Godfella

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2017
    Messages:
    2,942
    Ratings:
    +1,395
    Do you suppose there is 'matter'?
     
  13. MikeF

    MikeF Proponent of RAEism
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2020
    Messages:
    937
    Ratings:
    +434
    Religion:
    None
    I do.
     
  14. WalterTrull

    WalterTrull Godfella

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2017
    Messages:
    2,942
    Ratings:
    +1,395
    How do you know?
     
  15. MikeF

    MikeF Proponent of RAEism
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2020
    Messages:
    937
    Ratings:
    +434
    Religion:
    None
    Through intersubjective agreement between billions of people over millennia.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  16. WalterTrull

    WalterTrull Godfella

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2017
    Messages:
    2,942
    Ratings:
    +1,395
    So... observation, lots and lots of observation, yet still a mental phenomenon. Who's to say there's more?
     
  17. AlexanderG

    AlexanderG Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2021
    Messages:
    390
    Ratings:
    +829
    Religion:
    Atheist
    Very cool idea. I think you could make a case for this based on the inherent dependency that some life has on other life. It depends on how large a system you want to look at.

    Our cells have organelles called mitochondria which let us convert food into a form of chemical energy that is directly usable within cells. Mitochondria were almost certainly there own species of proto-bacteria that were taken up into eukaryotic cells far back in the evolutionary process. To this day, mitochondria still have their own DNA and replicate themselves independently within our cells. Without them, we'd die within the day.

    Can you see ecosystems in a similar light? Bacteria that fix nitrogen gas in the soil are necessary for plants to grow. Plants are necessary for oxygen-dependent animal life to function. Prey animals will reproduce too quickly and decimate their habitats without predators to regulate their numbers.

    You could analogize the entire earth as a sort of "cell" or "organism," which individual organisms making up the analogues to the "organelles" or "organs" that work in synchronicity to keep the whole going. I'd say the earth is a bit more robust and actually less interdependent than the organ systems of our body; it can evolve life and spring back even from mass-extinction events. Still, a neat analogy.
     
    • Informative Informative x 1
  18. MikeF

    MikeF Proponent of RAEism
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2020
    Messages:
    937
    Ratings:
    +434
    Religion:
    None
    All we can go on is our experience. We corroborate our experience with the observations of others. What we know is simply reasoned expectation based on experience and we hold what we know with degrees of confidence. That matter exists, most of us hold with an extremely high degree of confidence. If you choose to have no confidence in the existence of matter it is certainly your prerogative. :)
     
  19. rational experiences

    rational experiences Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2020
    Messages:
    5,805
    Ratings:
    +289
    Religion:
    spiritualist
    If billions of species were not existing the subject to discuss what you can observe would not exist.

    Human egotism was always its owned problem.

    If you can look at everything naturally knowing you observe billions of natural bodies then use machines to look.at billions of microscopic bodies the advice is what you see not what you think.

    Hence science gave itself a human law that said what you SEE is holy every one body you observe. Just for the status against human egotism who said it knew everything.
     
  20. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    May 15, 2004
    Messages:
    40,751
    Ratings:
    +15,014
    Religion:
    Judaism
    Not particularly.
     
Loading...