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A list of my thoughts (as an atheist) on life and existence

 
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liggybird
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Location: Sheffield, UK

PostPosted: Sat Sep 18, 2010 3:20 am    Post subject: A list of my thoughts (as an atheist) on life and existence Reply with quote

Below is a list of some of ideas I am formulating concerning life and existence which I thought (hope Embarassed ) may be of interest.

I'm trying to develop an argument that, whilst being in essence atheistic, nonetheless offers at least a hypothetical possibility that we each live multiple lives (successively) at different places and as different species as the universe evolves.

Please note that this is very much a 'work in progress'. Some of the ideas have been in my thoughts for several years, but it is only in the last few weeks that I have started to write them down. I hope to be adding to the list and elaborating on some items in due course.

I hope you will feel free to comment on anything in my list.


1. A new life is brought into being when two organic molecular complexes unite.

2. The nature of molecules that unite are exceedingly complex - they have for the most part been shaped by evolution over hundreds of millions of years, over many hundreds of thousands of generations.

3. Even a single atom of the simplest element, hydrogen, is fantastically complicated in its nature.

Combinations of atoms into molecules, and especially into the phenomenal variety of variations and infinite complexity of which organic molecules are capable, are therefore exponentially more complex still.

As an example of how amazingly complex is even a single dna molecule consider an extremely tiny insect. A fruit fly, for example, in spite of its size, has, as a result of a single DNA molecule, a fully developed body, wings, legs, head, eyes, brain, antennae etc. etc. Furthermore it is also born with the inate ability to achieve such goals as finding food, seeking a mate and procreating offspring. All that (and more) happens thanks to what must be a molecular complexity comparable on the sub-microscopic scale to the immensity of the universe on a cosmic scale.

4. All the more abstract facets of life - such as concepts, thoughts and ideas - have their origin within an individual's (organic) molecular structure.

5. There exists nothing supernatural - such as spirits, souls or gods - anywhere in the universe.

I believe that, so long as we allow ourselves to be convinced that the universe includes any form of supernatural component, we thereby impose unnecessary limits as to how far we are willing to go in investigating the world we live in. Spirits, souls, deities and supernatural phenomena are, almost by definition, beyond the reach of scientific investigation. There will always be many, many things that science will struggle to explain. At no stage however should we be tempted to introduce supernatural pseudo-explanations. To do so is tantamount to throwing in the towel on the quest for a reasoned and verifiable understanding of the universe and our place in it.

6. Each life is undissociable from its material existence. We always wake up as the same person - never as someone (or something) else. We are, quite literally, trapped within our own bodies. That is because we ARE our own body - nothing more, nothing less!

7. If successful, the new organism grows, through a series of stages, to adulthood.

8. The nature of the adult (or developing) organism is shaped not only by its genetically inherited characteristics but also by whatever circumstances it experiences and encounters at every stage during its growth.

Both instinct and memory play important roles at all stages in the development of an individual towards adulthood. The actual 'structure' of instinct and memory must, I believe, reside somewhere in the molecular and biological make up of the brain. Just as such things as the data and operating system of a computer boils down, in essence, to little more than organised patterns of 1's and 0's, so the brain may in essence make use of relatively simple interchangeable molecular 'states' for its instinctive and memorising capabilities.

9. On a molecular level, behaviour is often heavily influenced by hormones produced by particular cells and/or glands.

10. The structure and molecular make-up of the brains of higher order animals have a varying capacity for functions such as memory, imagination and reasoning.

11. Nothing of the memories, thoughts or feelings that a living organism is aware of survive the organism's death. Those things are 'volatile' since they depend on the continued supply of nutrients within a living brain.

12. There can be no continuing 'awareness' by any individual of that individual's own death. Though it may be aware of what is happening in the instant before death occurs, that knowledge dissipates once all brain functions have ceased for that individual.

13. All living organisms share the property of being assemblages of organic molecules. There is no intrinsic difference between a mosquito, a horse, a tomato plant or a whale (or any other creature) in this respect.

14. There is a commonality among all species living on a particular planet. (Effectively an alternative way of stating 13 above.)

Due to this commonality all living things should be considered as equal entities. The universe that created their elements (in stellar interiors) and provided suitable conditions for their evolution treats all creatures with equal indifference. Many people have been persuaded (by religious teachings) that we humans were created to hold a special place among the animal hierarchy (or even that we are 'made in the image of God'). As an atheist, when I see an insect or a fish, a gorilla or a snake, I can look at them all free of the prejudice of believing myself to be their superior.

Similarly there is no natural 'hierarchy' between the members of a species. Each individual is in essence merely a grouping of organic cells. There may be hierarchies imposed by the more socially dominant or developed among peoples due to social mores, but these are in fact pseudo hierarchies. The universe is indifferent to these stratifications of societies and their only value is to the advantage (or disadvantage) of one or another group in society or possibly to the whole species.

15. The determinant of which individual a particular zygote (fertilized egg) will become is entirely spacial.

No two zygotes can occupy (or continue to grow) at exactly the same point in space. Identical twins may share the same DNA, but the fact that they occupy different spaces (even whilst in the womb) means they experience ever more different events. Hence their existence is as separate and distinct individuals.

16. When a new life forms it can also be considered to be 'a molecular part of a planet's biosphere that has suddenly (ie at conception) taken on an individual identity'.

17. Since there is commonality amongst all life forms on a particular planet (and possibly also throughout the universe), there is no difference between the ending of a life of one species and the creation (conception) of a life of another species.

18. As a consequence of idea 17 there arises the hypothetical possibilty of multiple - but certainly not simultaneous - existences.

If this hypothetical possibility was true, the greater probability would be that such repeated existences would occur as differing creatures. Furthermore, they would necessarily be at different times and places (even to the extent of happening anywhere in the universe).

19. Returning to molecules (and in particular 'living molecules'), I want to mention my hypothesis that (INTER-MOLECULAR) RESONANCES play a significant role in their behaviour.

Resonances are found throughout the universe and on scales that range from the sub-atomic to the cosmic. The too and fro motion of a pendulum is an example of resonance where energy alternates between two forms - potential and kinetic. Electrical and magnet energies can be made to resonate when an inductor and a capacitor are connected in an electric circuit - a fact made use of in both the transmission and reception of terrestrial radio and television.

The hypothesis I wish you to consider is that resonance probably plays a major part in interactions within and between living organic molecules. Further I wish you to consider that these resonances on the molecular scale might well be of sufficient complexity (unimaginably complex would not, I think, be an overstatement) to account for what by religious believers is deemed to be some kind of 'miraculous' or 'divinely instigated' behaviour (ie 'life').

I believe that resonances could also be at the root of why peoples' interests (and tastes) vary so widely. If we find something interesting (or appealing) I think that is likely to be because it resonates with our genetic make-up. Conversely, things we have no interest in (or which we find unappealing) are largely anti-resonant to our genetic make up.

20. Further evidence that life forms only exist as material beings (ie without any spiritual component whatsoever) is that, throughout our lives, we remain the same person.

If bodies had separate and independant spirits surely there would be occurences of our 'spirits' sometimes transferring themselves into different bodies. Perhaps we would wake up one morning as someone (or something) other than our usual selves.

My own experience is that I have never had any such experience (nor have I to my recollection even dreamed of having done so). In other words I have always felt like, thought like, acted like and experienced only things that I in this one body has experienced over the years. This fits in therefore with my belief that who I am is completely defined by my material being (ie the organisation of living molecules that is me).

21. On considering time (and especially with comparisons between human lifespans and the age of the universe) I came to wonder why I should exist at the present time. If, as we are led to believe, the universe has existed for at least some 13.5 billions of years, then the odds are stacked enormously against the probability that I do presently exist. (Divide 13.5 billion by 65 in my case.)

This conundrum can I think be resolved somewhat if one concludes that awareness of time (as for all other sensorial awareness) effectively ceases for living organisms at their death. (Similarly, at the moment of conception, organisms are completely unaware of the eons of time that have passed before their lives started - although later they may of course gain that awareness.)

It would be comforting to think that there may be some possibility of one 're-appearing' (in some form) and therefore experiencing new lives at different times as the universe (and life in the universe) evolves. Maybe there is some as yet undiscovered factor by which our apparently separate lives are linked together - that we only have the illusion that we are separate individuals.

I see no harm in hoping this may be the case - in spite of my atheist beliefs. Either way, if I am to experience multiple lives, fine; if there are to be no further experiences of life for me, then I shall at least expect to remain blissfully unaware of that fact (as my molecules become dispersed in the biosphere!)

End of main list (for now Rolling Eyes )

Footnote of some further ideas I occasionally wonder about ...

1. Infinities.

At times I've wondered if the universe might be composed of a collection of infinities. Most people are more or less familiar with the idea of space and time possibly being infinite. Indeed it is sometimes just as hard to consider the opposite - ie that either space or time might end. That, somewhere 'out there', there is a point (or points) beyond which it is impossible to travel because there is no more space. Or that there will come some moment in time beyond which nothing happens because time has ended.

So, if we generally accept that space and time are both infinite, how about the consideration that other 'facets' (parameters if you want to use a more scientific sounding word) of the universe might also be infinite?

Take sound as an example. The human audible range is roughly between about 20Hz and 20KHz. As humans it is hard for us to imagine frequencies outside tbis range. When I try to imagine a sound higher than the highest pitch I can hear I become unsure of what it would sound like. Similarly with frequencies lower than what I can hear. (Possibly they become feelings rather than sounds, but as 'sounds' those frequencies don't exist for me.)

Bats on the other hand inhabit a world where super-sonic sound acts as an alternative to light and provides them with a form of vision. Just how distinct objects 'appear' to them in their 'sound radar' (sonar) pictures or if there are such subtleties as 'sound colour' are I think interesting questions. Wales on the other hand (the aquatic type rather than the country) inhabit a world of sub-sonic sounds. Their soundscapes are presumably 'drawn' (or painted) from low fequency vibrations permeating tremendous distances across Earth's major oceans.

Human eyes are only sensitive to a small range of electromagnetic wavelengths. It is hard for us to imagine colours beyond those we have grown familiar with. What 'colour' would light in the infra red part of the pectrum appear to us if we could see it? What 'colour' would light beyond the ultra- violet appear to us? We know such radiation exists and there seems to be no limit as to the range of its possible frequencies. Our human eyes only offer us the possibility of experiencing a small part of what is an otherwise infinite spectrum.

Those were just two examples (sound and light) of how I wonder if such infinities might in fact be a general feature of the universe. Could it also be that, if we move away from the realm of pure physics, say, to that of human feelings, there might also be infinite possible emotional states? Or an infinite specrum of sensual experiences?

I wonder? Confused


Last edited by liggybird on Thu Jan 15, 2015 2:21 pm; edited 10 times in total
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luckylace222
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 18, 2010 9:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent scientific, medical, and analytical review over the philosophy of life forms. You would not happen to be writing a college paper/publishing a book on this would you?

Quote:
Further I wish you to consider that these resonances on the molecular scale might well be of sufficient complexity (unimaginably complex would not, I think, be an overstatement) to account for what by religious believers is deemed to be some kind of 'miraculous' or 'divinely instigated' behaviour (ie 'life').

Every object(living & nonliving) has a complicated and exact structure that continues its complexity far after the nano size. It makes me think of the movie "Horton Hears a Who." Just because you cannot see it, that does not mean it is not there. Before calling this almost perfect and mathematical structure of atoms and molecules a coincidental "miracle" made by a special force, one must study and analyze throughly(as scientists have) and find protons, neutrons, and quarks. Science will get farther than the naive belief that it is a complexity beyond our understanding.

Quote:
Identical twins may share the same DNA, but the fact that they occupy different spaces (even whilst in the womb) means they experience ever more different events. Hence their existence is as separate and distinct individuals.

I would like to note that although twins have separate spaces in time and experience different events which make them completely different individuals, I believe they do have a special bond. Because they grew in the same womb, and near a certain stage when their cartilages have hardened and they start feeling around them, they touch their twin's face and learn a premature feeling of both their mother and their brother/sister before birth. Thus, when twins grow up, they have a strong physiological/maybe even physical bond with their twin even though they cannot explain it.

Do you have any opinion on memory? If you did, I may have overlooked it. They say when you have "Déjà vu," you feel that you have experienced this event before. I have had these moments, but I cannot remember where I got it from. Similarly, I have had dreams where I remember something that had never happened, but I am able to convince myself in my dream. Because of this, I believe the body has the ability to use previous trinkets of memories and put them together into a false one. Once the human experiences something that is a little related to such a false memory(that could have been made while dreaming/resting), it experiences Déjà vu(although there is always the chance something similar really did happen in real life).

The body is an AMAZING element of life. So many molecules, elements, and compounds, but there is some mentally mysterious about it, because mind and body are separate. Humans think, feel, and stress over separate elements of life while the body works on the survival elements of life. We had to experiment, theorize, and problem solve our way into understanding our own human body, so our minds can grow farther than our bodies. Other animals may be able to get to the point we are, but humans are by far the most intelligent because their minds can bypass and overcome primitive instincts.

It is awesome to be a medical student.
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liggybird
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 19, 2010 3:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This isn't being written for a college paper or a book lucylace. I did start compiling my list with the glimmer of an idea that it might one day form the basis of an eventual book. However, I'm not sure I have either the self disciplne or the right scientific qualifications to be able to achieve that aim.

As an atheist (and especially since the Twin Towers attack, the rise of fundamentalist Islam and, to a lesser extent, fundamentalist Christianity) I've become more and more concerned about the harmful effects irrational religious beliefs are having throughout the world.

I found myself becoming tired of hearing the argument from religious people that the only possible explanation for the world's existence - and more especially life on Earth - was that a god had created it all (according to their religious texts and specially for we humans).

Ever since I was a youngster (over five decades ago now) I've been fascinated by the sciences, and in particular astronomy and physics. My knowledge of either of these topics, and of science in general, is only that of a moderately informed layperson. These interests did however instill in me the greatest respect for scientific reasoning (as opposed to unquestioning faith).

Quote:
Every object(living & nonliving) has a complicated and exact structure that continues its complexity far after the nano size. It makes me think of the movie "Horton Hears a Who." Just because you cannot see it, that does not mean it is not there. Before calling this almost perfect and mathematical structure of atoms and molecules a coincidental "miracle" made by a special force, one must study and analyze throughly(as scientists have) and find protons, neutrons, and quarks. Science will get farther than the naive belief that it is a complexity beyond our understanding.


I couldn't have put that better myself. I love the quote you make from Horton 'Hears a Who' (even though I haven't seen the film). When I look at the world, rather than seeing a system that works from the 'top down' (ie made by an all powerful god), I see it as working from the 'bottom up' (ie from the sub-atomic, nano, level through to systems of ever increasing complexity).

Quote:
I would like to note that although twins have separate spaces in time and experience different events which make them completely different individuals, I believe they do have a special bond. Because they grew in the same womb, and near a certain stage when their cartilages have hardened and they start feeling around them, they touch their twin's face and learn a premature feeling of both their mother and their brother/sister before birth. Thus, when twins grow up, they have a strong physiological/maybe even physical bond with their twin even though they cannot explain it.


Yours is a very interesting observation.

One of the concepts I find most beautiful in science is that of the 'inverse square law'. Doubling the distance from, say, a light bulb, reduces the light from it (per unit area) to one quarter (or a fourth if you happen to be American!) Conversely, the nearer we get to a light bulb (or any point source) the brighter (or louder in the case of sound) it becomes exponentially. My immediate response therefore is to suggest that the inverse square law is somehow applicable even to twins in the womb and their mother (and, hopefully, continuing for a significant period after she has given birth).

Of course I'm sure the bonding you speak of would be very much more complex than mere physical distance in this case as the brains of all three (mum and two babies) would be sufficiently developed for fairly advanced psychological influences to factor in significantly (and this over a relatively prolonged period of time - ie 8 to 9 months plus).

Quote:
Do you have any opinion on memory? If you did, I may have overlooked it. They say when you have "Déjà vu," you feel that you have experienced this event before. I have had these moments, but I cannot remember where I got it from. Similarly, I have had dreams where I remember something that had never happened, but I am able to convince myself in my dream. Because of this, I believe the body has the ability to use previous trinkets of memories and put them together into a false one. Once the human experiences something that is a little related to such a false memory(that could have been made while dreaming/resting), it experiences Déjà vu(although there is always the chance something similar really did happen in real life).


The topic of memory is potentially a huge one and the fact that I haven't included anything about it yet in my list is a major oversight on my part. I have experienced déjà vu a few times myself so I know what it feels like - can be really eerie and disconcerting! I think your theory that 'the body has the ability to use previous trinkets of memories and put them together into a false one' seems a very likely possibility. As I understand it a lot of what we perceive as 'reality' is actually our brains synthesising images and thoughts and using earlier experiences in the process. Optical illusions are well known examples I think of our brains drawing erroneous conclusionsfrom the 'data'.

Quote:
The body is an AMAZING element of life. So many molecules, elements, and compounds, but there is some mentally mysterious about it, because mind and body are separate. Humans think, feel, and stress over separate elements of life while the body works on the survival elements of life. We had to experiment, theorize, and problem solve our way into understanding our own human body, so our minds can grow farther than our bodies. Other animals may be able to get to the point we are, but humans are by far the most intelligent because their minds can bypass and overcome primitive instincts.


I personally don't believe the mind and body are separate. To me ascribing an 'insubstantial separateness' to anything runs the risk of denying reason (and thereby moving towards the realms of metaphysics, superstition or religion). What I write about resonances is how I prefer to think of how the molecules of the mind communicate with themselves (and by extension the rest of the brain and the outside world).

The other day I bought a fairly old transistor radio. It has long, medium and fm wavebands. As I stood twiddling its dial and changing between wavebands myriads of stations came in tune and went out of tune (with more or less discernible sound quality - but that's another matter!). Anyways, I remember thinking that the signals that my radio was picking up from all these hundreds of stations were in fact continuously present in the space around me and that it was the fact that my radio could 'tune in' to individual ones that was enabling me to hear them.

So I'm wondering if maybe something similar is what's giving us the illusion that the mind is separate from its material substance. Individual molecules might be in some way tuning their counterparts (ie other molecules) 'in' and 'out' just as my radio did the stations. Obviously they would be doing this at phenomenal speeds AND among literally trillions upon trillions of molecules AND using whatever store of learned experience they had assimilated AND ... etc. etc. etc. (hopefully you get the idea).

In short, for me what we call the mind is merely the sum total of these inter-molecular 'communications'.

Apart from that I agree that we humans do seem to possess abilities far and away superior to all other animal species (at least here on Earth). I just don't think we should be too willing to ascribe to our own species qualities that can't also be applied universally.

Quote:
It is awesome to be a medical student.


Hold that thought! Cool

(Thanks for taking the time to make such a detailed reply btw. Very Happy )
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