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Life & Death Not Opposites

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  • DT Strain
    This is a post I placed on my Philosophy Blog today, but I thought folks here may find it relevant. Comments are welcome. :) ... It just occurred to me last
    Message 1 of 5 , Jun 1, 2005
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      This is a post I placed on my Philosophy Blog today,
      but I thought folks here may find it relevant.
      Comments are welcome. :)

      --------

      It just occurred to me last night that life and death
      are not actually opposites. Life is a complex system,
      meaning that it is made up of several diverse
      components which are interacting at the borderline
      between complete order and complete chaos. There are
      many types of complex systems and biological complex
      systems (i.e. life) are one type.

      Linguistics and the common use of certain words in
      English are stacked against me here so you'll have to
      get past that to see what I'm saying. What I mean is
      that death is one half of the continual life process -
      a component of it.

      Of course, on the scale of the ecology, this is
      obvious. Living things must die so that others can be
      born and live - thus the process functions. A chicken
      had to die for me yesterday, as did the wheat plants
      my cereal was made out of.

      But more than that, within a single healthy organism
      you have the continual death of millions of cells on a
      regular basis. This allows for their replacement by
      new cells and the organism as a whole functions.

      So, death is but one part of the overall function. In
      terms of ancient philosophy it might be called
      destruction or disorder. Opposite to that would be
      another activity which might be called order or
      creation. But this order/creation is *not* life.

      To explain I will first take the example of a mud
      puddle. Here you have all sorts of elements,
      materials, etc. all swirling together. However the
      entire body is based on disorder and is not living.
      Opposite to that are something like crystals forming,
      where you have order and creation, but very little
      destruction or disorder inherent in the system. Thus
      crystals are not living either. So, pure
      creation/order does not lead to life. Life is the
      process of balance between these activities.

      What we call death would seem at first glance to be
      the cessation of this balance, thus showing that life
      and death are indeed opposites. However, when it comes
      to organisms, death results in the system becoming
      more disordered. This is not merely a stopping of the
      balance, but in this process one side "wins out". That
      side of the balance is actually death.

      Furthermore, that one side of the life process
      (disorder/death) is inherent within a single living
      organism, and necessary to its functioning. Therefore,
      life and death cannot be opposites.

      What seems to have happened here is a crude
      happenstance of the English language which has lead to
      a word for the balanced process (life) and a word for
      the disorder/chaotic element within that process
      (death) but no commonly used word for the opposite of
      the disorder/chaos/death element. There is also no
      commonly used word for the lack of a life process,
      which does not speak only of the disorder/chaos side
      of life. For example, one wouldn't call a mud puddle
      or a crystal "dead", but rather simply "not living".
      Using the word "dead" implies that it was once alive -
      that there was once a balance between two elements and
      the death-side of that won out.

      So death is a part of life and even essential to it.
      Of course, none of this is really new, but I just
      realized how our use of language mingled with these
      concepts to give us a somewhat distorted view.
      Furthermore, it seems even more obvious to me now,
      that when we curse death or wish for life without
      death, what we are doing is irrational. We are cursing
      a part of the very process we are trying to preserve,
      and a part that if absent would end that process. In
      doing so, we are trying to make ourselves into inert
      crystals, captured in perfect order for all time - and
      this, of course, is not life. When considering the
      true nature of life and death as an element of life,
      it seems that our desires concerning death are as
      foolish and contradictory as trying to open a door by
      pulling on the knob, and pushing the door with our
      foot at the same time (an analogy I've used here
      before).


      DT Strain
      www.dtstrainphilosophy.blogspot.com

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    • reb_el
      ... wheat plants my cereal was made out of With all due respect, a chicken did not have to die for you. Its death was brought about by your unnecessary
      Message 2 of 5 , Jun 2, 2005
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        > DT Strain said: "A chicken had to die for me yesterday, as did the
        wheat plants my cereal was made out of"

        With all due respect, a chicken did not 'have' to die for you. Its
        death was brought about by your unnecessary desire to eat its flesh;
        albeit indirectly, as I assume you did not kill the bird yourself.

        Otherwise, I generally agreed with your post.

        Best regards,

        -Rick
      • DT Strain
        Well, the wheat or something alive had to. I could also choose never to eat wheat, and take suppliments or find other sources of fiber, so the wheat plants
        Message 3 of 5 , Jun 3, 2005
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          Well, the wheat or something alive had to. I could
          also choose never to eat wheat, and take suppliments
          or find other sources of fiber, so the wheat plants
          *in particular* didn't have to die either. The point
          is that life of *some form* had to die. Which form it
          was is irrelevant to the point of the post (although
          it may be relevant to other unrelated issues).


          --- reb_el <bamford@...> wrote:

          > > DT Strain said: "A chicken had to die for me
          > yesterday, as did the
          > wheat plants my cereal was made out of"
          >
          > With all due respect, a chicken did not 'have' to
          > die for you. Its
          > death was brought about by your unnecessary desire
          > to eat its flesh;
          > albeit indirectly, as I assume you did not kill the
          > bird yourself.
          >
          > Otherwise, I generally agreed with your post.
          >
          > Best regards,
          >
          > -Rick
          >
          >
          >
          >


          DT Strain
          www.dtstrainphilosophy.blogspot.com

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        • Jan Garrett
          There are, I think, some life forms that do not immediately require the death of other life forms--simple plants, I suppose. Animals require plants or other
          Message 4 of 5 , Jun 6, 2005
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            There are, I think, some life forms that do not immediately require the death of other life forms--simple plants, I suppose. Animals require plants or other animals as food sources. On the other hand, for the *evolution* of life forms to occur, there must be death; otherwise, there would be no process of natural selection. I expect some correction by biologists who understand this better than I do.

            DT, your observations in your original blog entry on L& D strike me as very similar to points made ca. 500 BC by Heraclitus. I believe there is a link to a collection of the fragments of Heraclitus (in translation of course) under "Classical Works" at the Stoic Place web site, www.wku.edu/~jan.garrett/stoa/ The classical Stoics regarded Heraclitus as a forerunner.

            Jan

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            Date: Fri, 3 Jun 2005 05:50:47 -0700 (PDT)
            Subject: Re: [stoics] Re: Life & Death Not Opposites
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            Well, the wheat or something alive had to. I could
            also choose never to eat wheat, and take suppliments
            or find other sources of fiber, so the wheat plants
            *in particular* didn't have to die either. The point
            is that life of *some form* had to die. Which form it
            was is irrelevant to the point of the post (although
            it may be relevant to other unrelated issues).


            --- reb_el <bamford@...> wrote:

            > > DT Strain said: "A chicken had to die for me
            > yesterday, as did the
            > wheat plants my cereal was made out of"
            >
            > With all due respect, a chicken did not 'have' to
            > die for you. Its
            > death was brought about by your unnecessary desire
            > to eat its flesh;
            > albeit indirectly, as I assume you did not kill the
            > bird yourself.
            >
            > Otherwise, I generally agreed with your post.
            >
            > Best regards,
            >
            > -Rick
            >
            >
            >
            >


            DT Strain
            www.dtstrainphilosophy.blogspot.com

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          • DT Strain
            ... Yes you are correct I believe, about both the plants and the necessity of natural selection in evolution. I hadn t actually considered the need for death
            Message 5 of 5 , Jun 6, 2005
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              --- Jan Garrett <jangarrett@...> wrote:

              > There are, I think, some life forms that do not
              > immediately require the death of other life
              > forms--simple plants, I suppose. Animals require
              > plants or other animals as food sources. On the
              > other hand, for the *evolution* of life forms to
              > occur, there must be death; otherwise, there would
              > be no process of natural selection. I expect some
              > correction by biologists who understand this better
              > than I do.

              Yes you are correct I believe, about both the plants
              and the necessity of natural selection in evolution.

              I hadn't actually considered the need for death in the
              process of EVOLUTION - that's a good one!

              As for the plants, I had briefly considered that
              point, but then didn't address it - probably out of
              absent mindedness. Here is what I would have
              included, had I been on the ball...

              Even though plants do not feed off of other life
              forms, they do require death in order to function.
              For one, they require the death of their own cells in
              order that they may be replenished as they grow and
              repair damage. Secondly, plants take up space, and
              when overcrowding begins, some plants will block out
              the light of others, or consume nutrients out from
              under smaller plants. So, there is a sort of
              competition among the plants, and this results in the
              deaths of many of them so that others may live.
              Lastly, the nutrients in the soil may normally exist
              in finite trace forms, but are then replenished quite
              often by the death of living matter which decays into
              it, or by the waste left by other life forms (which is
              also made up from dead cells and materials from dead
              life forms). So, in many ways plants qualify in
              requiring death as part of their cycle. And let us
              not forget the obvious death and rebirth of most
              plants in the seasonal cycle. But all of this, I
              suspect, is why you included the word "immediately" in
              your first sentence.

              > DT, your observations in your original blog entry
              > on L& D strike me as very similar to points made ca.
              > 500 BC by Heraclitus.

              Bah!! Well, he only got the jump on me by 25 centuries
              or so, haha :)

              > I believe there is a link to a
              > collection of the fragments of Heraclitus (in
              > translation of course) under "Classical Works" at
              > the Stoic Place web site,
              > www.wku.edu/~jan.garrett/stoa/ The classical Stoics
              > regarded Heraclitus as a forerunner.

              I've read a little about his model of the Divine Fire
              (wasn't he the originator of the concept?). In any
              case, thanks very much for the reference - I will
              definitely check into him some more!



              DT Strain
              www.dtstrainphilosophy.blogspot.com



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