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Life – The Grand Mystery

When a person dies, he loses no mass or energy from his physical body. It seems like the invisible light of life somehow ceases to shine on that body, although the biochemical reactions in the cells continue to a large extent in a random manner. Connecting the person to life support machines that keep the blood artificially circulating, the lungs functioning and the nutrients coming does not change the outcome. So, it is no surprise that all the ambitious projects and projections for the creation of artificial life have failed. Obviously, we need to go back to the basics without prejudice and try to better understand life.

What is Life?

adu-muhendislik-fakultesi-dekani-celgele-tuba-odulu51baafd7ac3a68bd80ae-297x300 Life – The Grand Mystery
Yunus Çengel          University of Nevada, USA

The definition of life continues to be a challenge for both scientists and philosophers. The true nature of life still largely remains a perplexing mystery. The question ‘what is life?’ still does not have a satisfactory answer. Life is one of those things that we are not quite certain about what it is, but we recognize when we see it. For example, we as human beings are alive, and so are the animals like cats, plants like orange trees and bacteria that make us sick. But furniture, TV sets, robots, growing silicon crystals and snowflakes are not alive. So, it is no surprise that life is usually described, not defined, since life is an attribute, trait or intangible quality of living things instead of being a tangible quantity. We have an intuitive understating of what it means to be alive and an innate ability to differentiate living things from the nonliving ones. We do this by checking for presence of common characteristics of living things.

Life is often characterized with the capacity for continual change and growth, functional activity and reproduction. Many attempts have been made to define life, ranging from ‘life is an arrangement of molecules with qualities of self-sustenance and self-replication‘ to ‘life at its best is spirit: it is active, sentient, feeling, thinking, purposive, valuing, social, other-respecting, relating, and caring.’ [1] Ontologically, the existence of living and non-living things and the clear distinction between them show that something that the entire humanity calls ‘life’ exists. Life is sometimes characterized as an unseen energy that causes action or as an invisible light. Unlike living beings, life is not a physical existence since there is no ‘matter of life,’ ‘energy of life’ or ‘field of life’ that transforms a non-living thing into a living being when interacts or combines with it. Therefore, life is non-matter, non-physical or immaterial. In other words, life is meaning.

When a person dies, he loses no mass or energy from his physical body. It seems like the invisible light of life somehow ceases to shine on that body, although the biochemical reactions in the cells continue to a large extent in a random manner. Connecting the person to life support machines that keep the blood artificially circulating, the lungs functioning and the nutrients coming does not change the outcome. So, it is no surprise that all the ambitious projects and projections for the creation of artificial life have failed. Obviously, we need to go back to the basics without prejudice and try to better understand life.

c4b932f9-d17e-459d-a613-b00932c1443f-300x188 Life – The Grand Mystery

An intrinsic characteristic of living things is unity or integrity. Life is a form of manifestation of unity over multiplicity. Life transforms multiplicity into unity, interrelating constituent parts to each other and to the whole via invisible strings. No matter how large or complex a living organism is, it functions as ‘one’ with definite borders – like a car with thousands of pieces and components acting together as ’one’ whole entity at the command of a driver (or the driver software in the case of autonomous cars). Another essential feature of living systems is non-fractionability of components in an organism, which requires that there is a definite relation between the parts and the whole. [2]

Life is like an invisible glue that transfuse into all constituents and holds the physical body of a living organism together and maintains wholeness, with well-defined boundaries. It seems like all happenings in a living organism serve life and works towards maintaining life. When an organism dies, it loses that oneness. The dead body starts to disintegrate as if that invisible glue has evaporated and the parts are untied. Therefore, an organism is much more than a collection of chemically active molecules. Chemical reactions continue to occur within the decomposing body of a dead organism, but those disjointed stray chemical reactions transform the lifeless whole into its constituent pieces, to be reused as building blocks in the construction of other living organisms. Therefore, in live beings, chemical reactions occur in a highly ordered and coordinated manner to support life. But in dead organisms, they occur in a random and uncoordinated manner to disintegrate the corpses of dead organisms.

Without life, there would be no perception. And without perception, nothing would be known to exist and thus nothing would have existence. Consequently, there would be no such thing as reality. If there were no life (and thus consciousness) in the universe, the universe would be an unknown and it would have no significance and meaning. It wouldn’t matter at all whether the universe existed or not since nothing would know about it. Essentially, it would be like non-existence. An underground treasure-trove that no one knows about is like no treasure-trove. With life, the entire universe comes alive and becomes known – like a city disappeared in darkness popping up into existence from non-existence when the lights are turned on. Ordinary light makes physical things visible; the non-physical light of life makes physical and non-physical things knowable. Existence gains significance and becomes meaningful with observers as it is observed and perceived. Therefore, it can be said that a live bee is bigger than the biggest non-live mountain because the entire mountain can be observed and perceived by the bee and be part of bee’s realm of existence. A bee is related to everything on the entire mountain, and it can behave like the entire mountain is its possession and at its disposal. A dead bee, on the other hand, has a relation only with the ground it lies on and the air that blows over.

Physical existence can be considered in two broad categories, the distinguishing feature being life: (1) animate beings and (2) inanimate beings. Animate beings constitute a higher level of existence, and inanimate beings support the animate beings and serve their needs. Of the animate world, human beings are the highest form of existence since they possess a high-level of consciousness, and the plants the lowest level since they exhibit no signs of consciousness. Compared to humans, animals appear to have a very weak consciousness – like exhibiting awareness of their food, habitat, offspring and dangers – complemented with instinct. It appears that the presence of life is a precondition for the acquisition of intelligence and consciousness.

life-300x197 Life – The Grand Mystery

In his book ‘A Guide for the Perplexed,’ E. F. Schumacher points out the inadequacies of material determinism and the scientific worldview as a map of reality. He also asserts that existence consists of four qualitatively different levels of being: minerals, plants, animals and humans. He points out that only the mineral level is fully external and visible, and thus fully knowable by modern science. The other three levels include progressively more internal and invisible qualities that are not fully accessible to scientific observations through our external five senses. He argues that minerals are inanimate, plants have the added property of life, animals have the added property of consciousness, and humans have the added property of self-awareness. He claims that the transition between those four levels of beings cannot be attributed to any material causes:

To say that life is nothing but a property of certain peculiar combination of atoms is like saying that Shakespeare’s Hamlet is nothing but a property of a peculiar combination of letters. The truth is that the peculiar combination of letters is nothing but a property of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The French or German versions of the play ‘own’ different combinations of letters.” [3]

Besides, what is the likelihood of a large pile of letters to self-align into meaningful books even if a billion years have passed? What is the likelihood of a large pile of atoms to self-align into wondrous beings under the influence of random natural causes that have no purpose, knowledge and skill even if a billion years is waited?

There is no physical ‘substance’ of life, and thus life is a non-physical attribute of animate beings. When life manifests itself in a human body, it unites the body, unifies it with all the human attributes and bestows it with all subjective qualities like intelligence, consciousness, emotions and desires. A person who somehow loses his intelligence, consciousness and emotions may still possess life and continue living, even in a state of coma. But if a person loses his life, he loses all his subjective qualities like intelligence, consciousness, emotions and desires. Therefore, life must be the most fundamental attribute of living things. Without life, a person cannot have intelligence, consciousness and emotions. Those who fantasize that lifeless super-intelligent AI machines of the future will one day enslave humans and bring the human race to an end should rest in peace since beings that do not possess life cannot possess consciousness, emotions and desires either.

Living organisms, weather multicellular ones that consist of many cells or the unicellular ones that consist of only a single sell, are highly structured and organized. A single cell functions as a unit in which complex biochemical processes are performed in perfect order in a harmonious manner. A live cell does not acquire its identity, meaning and functionality from the dummy molecules that comprise it and the blind chemical reactions within the cell. Those constituents have no comprehension of what the cell does. It is life imbedded with a functionality and purpose that bestows the whole cell a significance and meaning as self and in conjunction with other cells.

This is like a car not getting its identity, functionality and the significance of its movements as a whole from the parts that comprise it or the chemical reactions that occur in its engine. If there were conscious genies within the parts of the car and the chemically reacting molecules, they would have no idea about what the car is and what it does. The lifeless car acquires its value, purpose and meaning not from its parts, but rather, from its live driver. A running car without a driver is an accident waiting to happen since from the steering wheel to brakes and the engine, no part of the car will know what to do and where to go for what purpose.


Cells are the fundamental units of life with genetic material – called the code of life – inside. They are the building blocks of living things, and all organisms are made up of one or more cells. The simplest forms of life are one-cell organisms like bacteria and viruses. Despite their apparent relative simplicity, a bacterium or a virus has a unique identity, character and functionality that sets them apart from a bunch of chemically reacting molecules in a soup of chemicals, with no awareness of what they are doing and why, contained in a bag made of semi-permeable membrane. A living cell is much more than a lifeless bowl of soup with identical chemical content and reacting molecules, the difference being the mysterious ‘life.’ It is this mysterious life that gives that bowl of chemical soup the unity, identity and the ability to perform functions collectively as a whole. A dead bacterium or virus is ‘nothing’ compared to the live one even if chemical reactions continue to occur within its membranes.

As an analogy, each word in a book consists of letters, assembled in a particular order so that it has meaning. But the individual letters have no meaning, and obviously the meaning of a word does not stem from the letters that comprise it. Meaning is acquired externally; it transcends onto the word, like a spirit. The word ‘apple,’ for example, is a particular arrangement of the letters a, e, l and p such that it brings to mind a particular fruit. Likewise, a sentence is an assembly of words in such a way that the assembly is meaningful. But the meaning of a sentence is not the sum of the meanings of the words that comprise it. Switching the positions of the words ‘coffee’ and ‘tea’ in the sentence ‘I like coffee but not tea,’ for example, will completely change the meaning of the sentence. Obviously, the meaning acquired by a sentence depends on the organization of the words as well as the words used to construct it. Likewise, if the paragraphs in a book, which is a collection of sentences, are scrambled, the content of the book will remain the same but the book will lose its coherence and become meaningless. Obviously, each word and sentence in a book as well as the book itself possess integrity of meaning.

The meaning of a higher assembly is built upon the meanings of its constituents, but it is not the sum of the meanings of its constituents. That is, meaning is acquired, not produced, and it is an emergent phenomenon at all levels. If the words in a sentence are scrambled, it may acquire no meaning at all, becoming meaningless. The scrambled sentence would simply be a worthless pile of words, and it wouldn’t even be called a sentence. Granted, the meaning of a sentence will disappear if the words contained in it are deleted, but this does not mean that the source of the meaning are the words, which are mere assemblies of letters (or symbols or sounds). It does not change the fact that words or sentences are simply ‘meaning holders.’

The arguments above do not solve the mystery of life, but they point the right direction. It is stressed that the current approach of searching for answers for secrets of life with the atoms and molecules will not get us anywhere, and we need to look beyond. Once life is correctly characterized as a non-physical quality, then we can concentrate on how material and immaterial things interact and how the process can be controlled.

life-wallpaper Life – The Grand Mystery

Common Traits of Live Beings

The basic science whose domain of study is the animate or living beings is Biology. Biochemistry is the branch of science concerned with chemical reactions in biological systems. The characteristic of animate beings that distinguishes them from inanimate ones is the mysterious life. There is no precise definition for life that everybody agrees on. Instead, animate beings are often described as organisms that possess the following seven traits: be composed of cells, undergo metabolism, grow, reproduce, maintain homeostasis (working body temperature), respond to stimuli from the environment, and change to adopt to the changing environmental conditions.

To carry out the biochemical reactions to sustain life, living organisms must consume nutrients and energy. The sum of the biochemical reactions that occur in an organism is called metabolism. Metabolism involves either building complex molecules like proteins and DNA from simpler ones by consuming energy (called anabolism) or breaking up complex molecules into simpler ones (called catabolism). Growing organisms have a higher rate of anabolism than catabolism. Even in changing environmental conditions, living organisms maintain stable internal conditions (a temperature of about 37°C for humans, for example) via signaling and control mechanisms to perform their physiological functions. This is called homeostasis.

The cells in a living organism undergo regulated and balanced growth and become larger in size. The human body, for example, starts with a single cell and grows into tens of trillions of cells. The number of cells in multicellular organisms increase through cell division. Growth is not random accumulation of matter at random places within the body. Rather, growth seems to be a highly coordinated process occurring in a holistic fashion. It is as if there are invisible external molds the organism grows into as it acquires a new overall shape, and every part of the organism is aware of what the organism does as a whole. Also, judging from the fascinating colorful art exhibited on living things, like flowers, birds and butterflies, an external governing mechanism that embodies the cells must be at work. That mechanism obviously cannot be the laws of nature since each live being is unique in many aspects.

All living organisms, in general, have the ability to perpetuate their species by reproducing either from a single parent or from two-parents. An obvious exception to this rule is mule – the offspring of a female horse and a male donkey – which cannot reproduce. But there is no question that mules are alive. Unicellular organisms like bacteria reproduce by simply splitting into two. In complex multicellular organisms like the humans, the life of an offspring also starts with a single cell (the fertilized egg) that produces replicas of itself by splitting. It is interesting that when unicellular organisms like bacteria reproduce through cell division, cell colonies are formed, and each cell is capable of surviving on its own. That is, a unicellular organism is a self-contained and self-sufficient form of life that functions as ‘one.’

Another common trait of living organisms is their sensitivity to stimuli or changes in their environments. For example, the leaves of many trees turn towards the sun, bacteria migrate toward the source of nutrients, and animals seek shadowy places in hot weather while activating internal cooling mechanisms. Living organisms also adopt the new environments, with changes in their genetic codes and thus heredity. People living at high elevations where oxygen is scarcer, for example, develop bigger trunks to house bigger lungs.

The traits for life listed above are by no means exhaustive, neither they are full proof. Alternative lists of traits can always be proposed. But the traits listed above constitute a reasonable set of properties to distinguish between living and non-living things. It is interesting that bacteria satisfy all the listed criteria for life, but viruses don’t. A virus consists of a nucleic acid genome inside, surrounded by a protein cover outside, without a distinct nucleus. Viruses do not have a cellular structure, do not metabolize and they require a host cell to reproduce. But they possess genes, respond to stimuli, adopt their environments, undergo change and replicate by producing copies of themselves within host cells. Therefore, while some consider viruses alive, others don’t.

Perhaps the emergence phenomena can be invoked to settle the controversy in borderline cases for life: If an organism is more than the sum of its physical parts and processes – like acting as ‘one’ and performing functions that can only be performed by the whole, – then that organism is alive. This is because the invisible light of life provides the unity and coordination among constituent parts. A virus is alive by this definition, since no component of a virus can accomplish what the entire virus can as a whole. Also, a person who is just declared clinically dead is not alive by this definition, although some of his or her organs and cells may still be exhibiting life functions. This view is compatible with the philosophy that everything is a combination of material and immaterial existence or forms (hylomorphism), but incompatible with the philosophy that everything is made of physical things like matter and energy (physicalism).


The notion that life is the focal point of existence and that without life there would be no known existence gave rise to biocentrism – the idea that the universe is life-centered. All creation is circled around life, and everything serves life. The center stage of the universe belongs to life. The highest form of life is conscious life, and humans owe their supremacy in creation to having the highest level of consciousness. It can be said that life is the essence of existence, and consciousness is the essence of life. Therefore, consciousness reigns above all existence, and it is the apex of the tree of creation.

To meticulous observers, it appears that the laws of nature are precision-tuned for the universe to be hospitable to life. From the force of gravity to the universal constants, there are over 200 physical parameters set at such precise values that if one of them deviated by a fraction of one percent in value, the universe wouldn’t be bio-habitable. If the strong nuclear force were a little weaker, for example, elements like carbon and oxygen wouldn’t have formed because the protons couldn’t be held together in the nuclei of atoms. As a result, neither carbon nor carbon-based life as we know it would have existed. It looks as if from subatomic particles to galaxies, everything is designed for life, especially conscious life.

If the universe were a tree, its fruits would be the animate beings, with humans as its most precious fruit. And from the roots in the soil to the leaves in the air, the entire tree of universe would cater its fruits, especially the grand fruits. The observed reality that, out of infinitely large possible combinations of conditions of the universe, the actual set of conditions being finely-tuned to support life and the universe to be human-centered is called the anthropic principle or the Goldilocks principle.

To appreciate the magnitude of the odds associated with 200 physical parameters to have the particular ‘right’ values, consider a bank with just one million (instead of an infinite number of) customers, with account numbers dropped in a box. The chance of withdrawing the account number of any costumer from the box is one in a million. The chance of withdrawing the account number of another particular costumer is also one in a million, and thus to the chance of two account numbers withdrawn from the box to match two particular costumers is one in a million times million. Then the chance of 200 account numbers withdrawn from the box to match 200 particular costumers is practically zero (1 over a number with 1200 zeros) and thus impossible.

The observation of all the right parameters having the ‘just right’ values also forms the logical basis of the viewpoint intelligent design, which reflects the notion that there must be a mysterious grand designer with purpose, knowledge and power behind creation. To counter the theory of intelligent design, which cannot simply be refuted by the baseless claim of blind coincidence, the multiverse theory, also called the theory of parallel universes, is devised. It posits that an infinitely large number of universes exist parallel to each other, each with a different set of physical laws and constants, so that statistically it is possible for the set of conditions to happen to be ‘just right’ for life in some of the ‘lucky’ universes.

The multiverse theory attempts to evade one possible intelligent designer by jumping into an ocean of chances and embracing a cosmic lottery. But in so doing, it invents an infinite number of mysterious universe-generators with no observational basis and plausible evidence. If physical laws and constants changed over time, the perfecting of conditions conducive to life probably would have been attributed to an evolutionary process over billions of years, and there would be no necessity to invent the theory of parallel universes.

The Origin of Life

Among existence, life is probably the most mysterious and mind-boggling thing that leaves researchers helpless and clueless. So much so that one of theories of life proposed by many scientists is that life is unknowable, and in all likelihood, it will remain that way in the future. According to this theory, life is a complete mystery and it will continue to be so since there appears to be no light of hope. Therefore, the origin of life and the appearance of the first organism on earth have become topics of interest for philosophers and theologians more than for scientists. This is like the origin of the point mass of infinite density that is believed to exist before the big bang attracting the interests of philosophers more than of physicists since this is not a very suitable topic for scientific studies. Some other scientists theorize that life is widespread in the universe, and it is more likely for the first organism to be brought to earth from space via meteorites than life starting on Earth.

As stated before, both scientists and philosophers have difficulty defining life, and thus there is no agreed-on definition for life. Therefore, efforts are directed more towards describing the characteristics of life as observed on animate beings on Earth. The prominent view among scientific circles for the nature of life is that life is a beautiful assembly of chemical reactions, since all biological systems are the sites of intense chemical activity. This view is countered by the opposing argument that no chemical reaction has ever resulted in life. The presence of chemical reactions in live organisms does not indicate that life stems from chemical reactions. All biological systems are mostly made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms; but this does not indicate that these atoms (and their compounds like water and DNA) are the source of life, either. A person who loses her eyesight as a result of the lenses inside the eyes being clouded with cataract can regain eyesight after clouded lenses are replaced with artificial ones with surgery. But this does not indicate that lenses, which are properly shaped pieces of clear plastic, are source of vision.

Observations show that earthly life requires liquid water. Wherever there is water with a source of energy, there is a variety of life forms as we understand life. This observation has caused many to associate water with life, and even to view water as the source of life. Consequently, the NASA missions for search of life in the solar system were turned into the search for water, and any findings that indicated the presence of water in a planet generated excitement about the possibility of the presence of extraterrestrial life. This approach is not surprising since as living organisms we are carbon based, breath oxygen, and are composed of 60 percent water.

A report issued in 2007 by the National Academy of Sciences stressed that extraterrestrial life can be different from life as we know it, and cautioned NASA not to be so focused on water as it searches for life elsewhere in the solar system.[4] The report stated the generally known fundamental requirements for life as the liquid water bio solvent (liquids that dissolve substances within an organism), carbon-based metabolism, molecular system capable of change, and the ability to exchange energy with the environment, but added that these are not the only ways to support phenomena recognized as life. “Life is possible in forms different than those on Earth” said the committee chair John Baross. “The search so far has focused on earth-like life because that’s all we know, but life that may have originated elsewhere could be unrecognizable compared with life here. Advances throughout the last decade in biology and biochemistry show that the basic requirements for life might not be as concrete as we thought.”

The report views even the most common assumption ‘life requires water’ as restrictive thinking, and urges scientists in search of extraterrestrial life to broaden their view about the possible forms of life. After all, carbon, which is often called the backbone of life on Earth, and water we see in all living organisms as the common feature are not alive themselves – including the water molecules excreted by animals and plants. The sweat that runs off our face in hot and humid weather, for example, is not alive. Liquid water merely serves as an excellent solvent for the chemically reacting molecules in the cell.

Water is not the source of life, and it cannot be. The absence of life without the presence of water is no proof that life stems from water. This is because there is no such thing as life in a water molecule, which consists of two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms. The claim that water is the source of something that it does not possess is absurd, just like the false claims that the diamond is the source of the light it glitters, or the television set is the source of images on its screen. In the search for the origin of life, the reductionist approach to the basic building blocks of organisms will not get us anywhere, either. After all, there is no such component as life in the atoms or molecules (or the particles or waves at the subatomic level) that all living organisms are made of. Considering that for material things what is not in the parts cannot be in the whole, life must be non-matter or meaning, and thus it is not subject to the limitation of time and space. Then, there must be a vast non-physical life dimension of existence, emanating the invisible light of life, and everything that is capable of receiving this invisible light of life – whether it has a physical body or not – must be live.

Over several decades of research on how life might have originated on earth, which is thought to be hidden in the details of the early environment, did not result in much progress. We are still far from answering the question on how life first appeared on earth. This is partly because there is no firm information for the requirements of life and the mechanisms of its formation. The surface of the earth today is much more habitable to life compared to the hostile environment of early Earth 3.5 billion years ago when life is thought to have started. Yet there is no observation of an animate thing emerging from inanimate matter.

Many theories about the origin of life have been proposed over the years, but none of them found widespread support. Some researchers postulated that life on Earth originated elsewhere in the universe. But this suggestion does not resolve the problem of how life originated; it simply reverts it to a distant locale. The suggestion that first there appeared ‘replicating molecules’ on the primordial Earth that got the machinery going and then some of those molecules started to interact does not seem plausible since no such self-replicating molecule has ever been observed in the inanimate world.

There is also a respectable hypothesis, called RNA-first, which maintains that the transmission of hereditary information and thus RNA must have proceeded life and that a primitive form of RNA served as the transitional root molecule that guided the emergence of life through its developmental stages. But RNA is a complex molecule composed of thousands of smaller molecules linked in a specific pattern, and this hypothesis fails to explain how the RNA itself was first synthesized. Another theory suggests that simple organic molecules are converted into more complex ones by the catalytic action of clay particles, setting the stage for life to arise and living cells to evolve. An opposing theory claims that non-living inorganic cells that formed at the bottom of the oceans rather than the Earth’s surface came before life emerged. This theory maintains that fluids rich in hydrogen, cyanide, sulphides and carbon monoxide emerged from the Earth’s crust at the ocean floor and reacted in iron sulphide cavities, providing the right environment for chemical reactions to take place and to maintain sufficient concentration needed for life to arise. But these claims have never been substantiated and thus have no scientific merit.

The debate on the origin of life dates back to Charles Darwin (1809-1882), who postulated that life originated in shallow bodies of water, called the ‘primordial soup,’ where simple chemicals began to react spontaneously under the activation of heat, light, and electricity from lightning storms and produce organic compounds called amino acids – the chemical precursors of life. In time, these amino acids mysteriously assembled themselves into complex molecules, and eventually life evolved in this chemical soup. This small pond theory of life received a strong experimental backing in 1953 when Harold Urey and Stanley Miller from the University of Chicago duplicated the presumed conditions of the early Earth’s atmosphere, including electric sparks to simulate lightning, in a lab. After a week of continuous operation, Urey and Miller observed that some of the carbon in the system had turned into organic compounds, and a fraction of those compounds were amino acids encountered in the proteins of living cells.

The spontaneous production of the simple organic molecules as the basic building blocks of protein molecules during this classic experiment is far from settling the debate on the origin of life. After all, as often pointed out, there is a long gap between amino acids and the most primitive form of life since an amino acid contains less than 100 atoms, but the simplest bacterium contains about 100 billion atoms organized in a very specific form. Besides, amino acids, often tagged as building blocks of life, also exist in inanimate beings and they are not live themselves; neither are the proteins assembled from amino acids. The Urey-Miller experiment has generated some initial excitement in scientific circles, but later fell out of favor because of the holes it leaves and its deficiencies. For the lack of something better, the Urey-Miller experiment has long been presented as verification for the emergence of life from little bodies of warm water in early Earth.

Later, it is further theorized without any scientific evidence that these simple molecules spontaneously organized themselves into more complex molecules that began to self-replicate – large molecular structures with the ability to produce exact replica of themselves – which served as the original spark of life for animate beings on Earth, from the simplest bacteria to complex human beings. But no proof is presented for this claim of chemistry randomly turning into biology. The claim that chemicals randomly organized themselves into a self-replicating molecule is like a claim of magic, which has no relevance to science. The view that life is a form of chemistry is really philosophic, not scientific, since no transition from chemistry to biology is ever observed in nature or in lab environments.

This warm pond theory of life, which resembles more a fairy-tale story for science fiction than a fact-based scientific theory, lacks supporting evidence. So, it is no surprise that it did not satisfy the researchers working on life. Discovering some clay that contains some metal particles, glass pieces and drops of crude oil, for example, is far from explaining how a smart phone, complete with its software and microprocessor, has first appeared. The assembly and operation of a smart phone fare fully complies with the laws of nature. But the blind, ignorant and purposeless laws of nature or the causal effects cannot invent any smart phone even in a trillion years.

The coagulation of amino acids into short proteins called proteinoids during the experiments in 1960s generated some excitement that we may be close to creating life from the raw materials. But those hopes were quickly dashed as those complex molecules were not self-replicating, and the work ended in disappointment. Therefore, the search for a better theory for the origin of life and life itself continues, and new theories are continually being proposed. However, each new theory comes with its own set of problems and unanswered questions, and we are not getting any closer to understanding life and discovering the origin of life.

The gloomy outlook is not likely to change so long as we view life as chemistry, and search for life’s intricacies inside matter and in the details of chemical reactions. Despite its major deficiencies, the little warm pond theory continues to be the most widely cited theory for the origin of life, simply for the lack of better theories. The stumbling block in search of understanding life is the missing link between chemical reactions and self-replication. Going from being a chemical substance to something biological that can replicate itself remains a perplexing mystery. A bag of chemicals, after all, are simply a bag of chemicals – nothing more.

From chemistry point of view, it is fairly easy to make amino acids, sugars and fatty acids floating around in pool of water. The hard part is to get all these different constituents to work together and to function in a coordinated manner, like in an operating chemical factory. After all, a pile of bricks and puddles of chemicals is not a chemical factory. A set of molecules directing the assembly of a second set of molecules, which give directives to a third set of molecules to perform certain tasks in a live cell is certainly not something that chemicals just do. Obviously, there is more to life than meets the biological eye, like there is more to a chemical factory than the bricks in the building and the chemicals in the production lines.

The search for the origin of life and the attempt to understand its nature obviously have tremendous commercial ramifications. Some private companies have a major stake in solving the mystery of life, as they are trying to build synthetic life from scratch, starting with a single cell built from chemicals. They are hopeful that they will eventually manage to build an artificial DNA and form a working genetic system by adding nucleotides, which are the building blocks of DNA, in the correct proportions into a container. Once they put all the ingredients together, they hope that evolution will take over with its magical power, and life will emerge. Then what is left for them is simply to figure out what happened. However, all target dates set for the creation of artificial life have passed and all such attempts so far have failed, and the future outlook does not look bright.

Having the right set of physical laws and the precise values of physical constants is necessary for the emergence of life, but they are far from being sufficient. There is no indication that life stems from the laws of nature, and the existence of life cannot be derivable from the laws of nature that are supposed to govern all natural phenomena. When developed, even the ‘theory of everything’ is not likely to offer a plausible explanation for life (and consciousness). And life will continue to remain largely a mystery since physicists don’t have the slightest idea on how life (and consciousness) relates to physical laws. In his book A Different Universe, 1998 Physics Nobel recipient Robert Laughlin argues that unknowability of living things may actually be a physical phenomenon:

The pig-headed response of the science establishment to the emergent principles potentially present in life is, of course, a glaring symptom of its addiction to reductionist beliefs – happily abetted by the pharmaceutical industry, which greatly appreciates having minutiae relevant to its business worked out at taxpayer expense. The rejection of emergence is justified as defending science from mysticism. The ostensible scientific view is that life is chemical reactions, and that the bold, manful thing to do is identify and manipulate them with stupendous amounts of money and supercomputers. The corresponding mystical view is that life is a beautifully unknowable thing that can only be screwed up by humans with all their money and computer cycles. Between these extremes we have the profoundly important, but poorly understood, idea that the unknowability of living things may actually be a physical phenomenon. This does not make life any less wonderful, but simply identifies how its inaccessibility could be fully compatible with reductionist law. Unknowability is something we see all the time in the inanimate world, and it is actually not mysterious at all. Other, more primitive, systems exhibiting it have evaded computer solution up until now, and some of us are confident that they always will. Whether similar effects occur in biology remains to be seen. What is certainly true, however, is that arrogantly dismissing the possibility will lead to an endless and unimaginably expensive quagmire of bad experiments.”[5]

During an interview with NOVA as part of the Science Programming of PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), Professor Andrew Knoll of Harvard University pointed out the deep mystery associated with life: “The particulars of the jump from nonliving to living that occurred sometimes in our planet’s early history is a profound enigma, and will likely remain that way for some time to come.” He does not see much hope of light that this puzzle will be resolved in the future: “I imagine my grandchildren will still be sitting around saying that it‘s a great mystery.” [6]

life-spirit-feature-img-300x135 Life – The Grand Mystery

The reason for this hopelessness is that scientists can only manipulate matter by chemically reacting different elements in the lab to obtain desired compounds. But life functions appear to be beyond chemical reactions. As Professor Knoll puts it, “Making the individual parts of DNA may not have been too difficult, but getting to the point where DNA began directing proteins to carry out important life functions – that leap remains tantalizingly mysterious.”[7]

Life, without a doubt, is the most intriguing attribute of animate beings. It is usually described as chemical reactions, since all living things involve chemical changes. But, as pointed out before, no chemical reaction or a chain of chemical reactions has ever produced life. Therefore, the proposition ‘chemical reactions are the source of life’ or the simplification that ‘life is chemical reactions’ has no valid basis and no justification. Life, like intelligence and consciousness, should also be recognized as a non-physical phenomenon, like an invisible light that shines on material structures with a proper construction that makes life habitable and sustainable – like assembling carbon atoms in a crystal structure makes it possible to receive, refract and spread light. It seems that life emerges on matter, not from matter.

Death – The phenomenon that proves life

A distinguishing feature of living things is to experience death, which can be defined as the cessation of life. The definition of life automatically characterizes death. For humans, a live person is everything that a dead person is not. Only living things can die. Non-living things like robots, snowflakes, smart phones and television sets cannot experience death. For such things, we sometimes use the phrase ‘dead’ metaphorically. The expression ‘my battery is dead,’ for example, simply means that the battery is totally discharged and needs recharging to be operational.

A crucial difference between life and non-life is that all beings that are bestowed with life are born, grow and eventually die. They have a distinct beginning and a certain end. Therefore, a living thing can be defined as something that has the capacity to die and that eventually will die. And once living things are confirmed dead, they cannot be brought back to life. So, by this definition, viruses are definitely alive since viruses can be killed and rendered to be functionless. Viruses, bacteria and other living things can be killed by chemicals, heat, radiation or by simply starving them to death, among other things, with no possibility of reanimation. Robots, on the other hand, can break down and stop functioning. But they can always be repaired and kept operational as long as economically feasible, even if they have been ‘dead’ for years.  Even their microprocessors can be replaced and software be reloaded, if necessary.

It can be argued that the definitions of life and death are circular since one can be defined in terms of the other, and that discussing death may not add much to the understanding of life. Considering that there is no consensus on the definition of life, it is not surprising that there is considerable controversy on the definition of the end of life, i.e., death, both scientifically and legally. But careful observations on the dead present a unique opportunity to indirectly understand life by comparing the live and non-live states of the same being.

For humans, death was once simply defined as the cessation of heartbeat and breathing. But the loss of those vital signs often turned out to be a temporary death since it is realized that heartbeat and breathing can be restored and sustained by CPR and life support devices. Today, death in humans is usually equated with the ‘brain death,’ also called irreversible coma. Brain death is the permanent cessation of all electrical activity in the brain, as measured by electroencephalogram (EEG) test by using sensors (electrodes) attached to the head. The absence of brain electrical activity is presumed to be absence of consciousness. A brain-dead individual has no nerve reflexes, no response to pain and a flat line on EEG.

But even this modern definition of death is challenged by some scholars since ‘brain dead’ people on mechanical ventilation for a long time are observed to remain ‘organ alive.’ The organs of these ‘brain dead’ people in apparent vegetative state of life continue to function. Even the fetuses in brain-dead pregnant women continue to develop to full term. A person with complete brain death is considered legally dead in most jurisdictions in the world even if the vital functions like heartbeat and breathing and the body’s metabolic processes are kept going by life support equipment. The donated organs of brain-dead people can surgically be removed and used for transplantation. The date that a person is declared brain dead is considered to be the official date of death, regardless of the date the organs are removed and the life support equipment are disconnected.

The artificial sustenance of bodily life functions of brain-dead people may look amazing at first since the control and proper functioning of all bodily organs are associated with the brain. And with the miraculous brain out of the game, we expect havoc in the bodily organs of an unconscious person connected to mechanical life support equipment. We are particularly amazed at a brain-dead (and thus legally dead) pregnant woman to continue developing the baby in her womb. Then we cannot help asking the perplexing question, ‘if she is dead, how can she nurture her baby, which involves the creation of millions of new live cells in the right form at the right places every day? And if she continues nurturing her baby just like a live expecting mother, how can she be declared dead?’

Such justified questions open the door to questioning the validity of the current practice of equating death to brain death. Obviously, we are missing some fundamental phenomena here, and our current state of understanding of life seems to be grossly inaccurate and inadequate. In particular, our understanding of the humans should be revisited since, unlike a mechanical or electrical device, a person seems to be more than the sum of his or her bodily organs. And when that ‘more’ is gone, the person is no longer alive, let alone be human, although everything appears to be fine for the bodily organs.

In hindsight, a brain-dead woman in a state of vegetation life nurturing the fetus in her womb without the benefit of her brain, which is the command center of all bodily activities, should not really be so amusing. After all, aren’t we accustomed to seeing brainless plants nurturing their baby fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges and potatoes? So, it seems like the expression ‘vegetative state of life’ for brain-dead people is very appropriate. Considering that all plants are alive and that people whose livelihood is reduced to the state of plants are considered dead, implies that there are different forms, norms and levels of life. Therefore, although the essence of life may be the same, there is no single form of life that fits all living things. And to help solve the puzzle of life, different forms of life should be defined and described differently based on observations of the large variety of life forms, from a simple cell or bacterium to complex organisms like human beings with trillions of cells working in concert with one another.

Life at Cell Level

Cells are the smallest living entities. They are the basic building blocks of multicellular organisms like plants and animals. In the case of unicellular organisms like bacteria, a cell constitutes the entire organism, surviving on its own, but usually living as a colony in highly structured communities to support each other. The basic biochemical machinery of a bacterium and the cells of multicellular organisms is similar.

All cells consist of three components: a membrane which distinctly separates the contents of a cell from its environment, cytoplasm which is a jelly-like fluid that contains biomolecules such as proteins and nucleic acids within a water bath, and DNA which is the cell’s genetic material. The size of a cell varies between about 1 and 100 micrometers (1 micrometer = 1 millionth of a meter), and most cells are visible only under a microscope. The amount of matter of a typical cell is about one-billionth of a gram. About 70 percent of the mass in a cell is water. The average human body has about 37 trillion cells (plus, an equal number of microbes) with an average cell diameter of 12 micrometers. There are about 70 trillion atoms in an average human cell. About 50 million cells are created per second in a typical human body.

When viewed from outside, a cell resembles a pile of molecules floating in a bag of water, with complex chemical reactions occurring and molecules interacting in a very busy environment. When examined more closely, however, the cell looks like a well-run modern chemical factory in which intricate processes are performed with high precision and the desired products are built. Membranes, for example, house several kinds of molecules that perform a variety of functions. Some of those molecules act as gatekeepers that identify substances that are allowed to cross the membrane in or out, some act as markers that identify the cell as a domestic or foreign cell, some function as fasteners that bind cells together so that they behave as a unit. Yet other molecules serve as switchboards that transmit and receive signals.

The cytoplasm resembles a factory production floor with a variety of machinery working in full coordination, including forklifts to move things to where they are needed. Cytoplasm contains various organic molecules like proteins, carbohydrates and lipids. Proteins are made of simpler amino acid molecules connected as a chain, and they perform various functions including pumping waste out of the cell. Carbohydrates are used to meet the energy needs of the cells. Lipids or fat molecules are used to store energy in chemical form and to relay signals. Some cells also contain specialized parts that act like little organs, called organelles, that perform specific functions in designated compartments. Mitochondria, for example, break down compounds and produce energy, acting like the power plant of the cell. Nucleic acids like DNA and RNA molecules dictate what functions the cell will perform and how, while preserving genetic heritage.

A typical cell contains several trillion molecules, most of which being water molecules. The number of protein molecules alone range from several million in an E. coli bacterium to several billion in a human cell. All molecules, including DNA, are piles of atoms – mostly carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen O) and nitrogen (N) – connected to each other by chemical bonds, resembling a bunch of grapes.

Anyone with some knowledge of chemistry knows that all atoms are elemental particles with no life, knowledge, will, purpose, intelligence and consciousness and with no ability to see, hear, speak or think. Molecules that are composed of atoms don’t possess any of these attributes, either.  Therefore, no molecule in a cell is aware of what is going on in the cell (let alone in the adjacent cells and the organism at large). No molecule is even aware of its own existence. Any chemical interactions between these molecules simply generate other molecules, again with no life, knowledge, purpose, consciousness, eyesight, etc. And there would be no connections between the processes in different parts of the cell.

Consider a cell with no life. In a lifeless cell, all we may see is some random stray chemical reactions with no purpose, and no performance of holistic functions – like the smelly chemical reactions that occur in garbage bins. This purposeless chemical activity results in eventual disintegration of the cell and breakdown into its basic building blocks. This is like if the workers on a production line of a manufacturing facility suddenly become deaf, blind and drunk, nothing will come out of that production line other than those workers bumping into each other and the surrounding equipment and knocking each other down, and thus bringing the production line to a halt.

When the cell is alive, however, amazing things happen: The entire cell acts as one distinct entity, with billions of molecules in full coordination and complete cooperation with each other. With life comes self-organization and a firm organizational structure with well-defined roles and relations for the constituents of the cell. It is as if all those dummy molecules suddenly know what the entire cell is doing and what the function of the cell is, what their individual roles are, and how to perform their duties. It even seems like the molecules have sophisticated invisible signal-processing centers that enable them to communicate with the cell as a whole and with all the components of the cell. Like a football team, each player knows all the players and their roles, and they all work collectively with a team spirit to score and win the game as a team.

Even in live cells, all molecules, including mega molecules like DNA, are still lifeless – just like the water molecules within the cells of our body excreted during sweating also being lifeless. But it seems like an all-encompassing invisible light of life acquired by the cell transcends the parts from which it is made, and the content of the cell comes alive and displays the attributes that come with life. This is like the iron particles becoming magnetized and be aligned along the lines of magnetic force when moved into a magnetic field.

When the light of life no longer shines in the cell and the spirit is gone, all constituents of the cell become disjointed chemical compounds with no relation with each other, and the cell is said to have died. Being the lowest level of life, when a cell dies, all its parts and constituents also become dead since they no longer exhibit any signs of life. That is, the cell turns into a pile of individual molecules in a membrane bag when it dies. And the so called marvelous biomolecules, including the DNA, become ordinary chemical compounds as soon as their association with the light of life is cut off.

Life is a mysterious unseen light that enables existence to be known and recognized. With mysterious life comes attached a set of attributes that characterize the live being. In humans, for example, immaterial life typically comes packaged with the five senses like eyesight as well as intelligence, consciousness, will, imagination, desires, pain, pleasure and emotions like love, hate, fear and curiosity, among others. This is like sunlight coming packaged with colors, giving objects their color characteristics. When life is gone and a person is dead, all these attributes that make us what we are also gone, leaving behind the worthless material shell – with all bodily parts intact – to be obliterated.

The most basic attribute that life brings with it is unification or embodiment. As a result, a live being moves as one and acts as a distinct entity. In a live cell, for example, the molecules no longer act randomly independent of each other, as they would in a bowl of chemical soup. But rather, they act like responsible workers that follow orders and perform the assigned duties for the greater good. Therefore, another fundamental attribute that comes with life is a will that is imposed on all components. With this all-encompassing willpower that dictates over all components comes purpose and functionality. It is as if all components and molecules in a cell obey the comprehensive willpower that comes with life, and perform the given orders in complete obedience with a team spirit. To an external observer unaware of a central command, all the molecules in a cell act like: (1) they have a will, (2) they know what they are to do and with whom to interact, and (3) they have the ability to do it – amazing acts for unconscious clusters of dummy atoms. What is most amazing is that billions of molecules and organelles in a cell act in complete coordination to accomplish the intended macroscopic mission of the imbodied cell. This observation alone is sufficient to ascertain that the cell must have an invisible command center, which can be called the cell spirit, with firm control over all constituents of the cell.

This is like concluding that an army with millions of soldiers acting in full coordination to attack an enemy target must have a command center that sets the assignments for all units, maintains the coordination, and orders the move of supplies to right places. The will of a particular unit in the army is simply the reflection of the comprehensive will of the central command as it relates to the assignment of that unit. The alternative is to assume that the millions of military personnel in warplanes, warships, missile sites, tanks and on the ground with machine guns constantly communicating with each other, having a clear view of the entire battle field, giving orders to and receiving orders from each other and thus being a commander and a soldier at the same time with no hierarchy – a notion that no one with a sound mind can accept. If it is impossible for millions of soldiers with ability to see, hear, think and give and follow orders to act as a unified army without a command center, it is even more impossible for billions even trillions of molecules with none of these high-level human traits to act as a unified cell without an invisible central control center. It is no surprise that the primary target during a war is to locate and destroy the command center of the enemy since it brings disarray and discord in the enemy army and eventual defeat.

Autonomous Factories and Biotechnology

To develop a better perspective of live and non-live cells and a better understanding of life, consider a fully automated modern factory manned entirely with industrial robots and equipped with ‘smart’ machines, with no human beings on the production floor. The facility utilizes internet of things (IoT), big data, and there is continual real-time communication and information flow among all machinery and equipment, including robot-to-robot, machine-to-machine and robot-to-machine communications. All operations are fully automated. When the amount of a supplies drops below a certain level, a gate opens and forklifts bring the needed materials in. A conveyor belt transports the waste material to the trash bin to be picked up by trucks. All finished goods are moved out of the factory floor through another gate, and the goods are loaded to trailer trucks for delivery to market.

Now imagine Henry Ford (1863-1947), the founder of Ford automotive company and the inventor of production line in automotive industry with the famous Model-T car, is suddenly resurrected and enters this modern factory – say, an automotive manufacturing facility – with his knowledge of the world in the 1940’s. That is, no electronics and data centers, no software, no computer controlled machines, no internet, no machine vision, no robots working in full communication and cooperation with each other and other machines and no digitization of knowledge. Can you imagine his amazement? He would probably think he is dreaming and pinch himself to return to the reality of 1940’s, with hundreds of live, intelligent, conscious, sentient, seeing, speaking, hearing, thinking, observing, communicating trained workers who know what they are doing and what their roles are on the production floor.

After the initial shock, Henry Ford starts to observe the operation closely to make some sense of it since there are no people around to ask questions. He quickly realizes that the production machinery is similar to the ones in his factory, performing similar tasks, except that there are no human operators that run the machines. He also realizes that the robots that perform various tasks from welding to painting are also made of parts and are not alive. Supplies like steel, plastics, aluminum and paint (and also electricity and fuel for energy) enter from one end of the factory while assembled cars leave from the other end, all done by lifeless, thoughtless and purposeless machines, which are themselves bolted assemblies of material parts, working in harmony.

While desperately trying to solve the puzzle of this mysterious operation, Ford discovers an instructions book that describes all the operations in the factory in full detail. He checks and confirms that everything in the factory runs as instructed in the book. At first, he thinks he solved the puzzle of this wondrous unmanned car factory. But his excitement diminishes quickly when he realizes that the book is nothing more than ink on paper like all other printed books, and this instructions book is no more capable of running this operation than a recipe book being capable of preparing meals. This is because the instructions book is not even aware of itself since it has no life and consciousness of its own, and it has no power to order things around. (Fortunately, unlike cells, the machinery and all other equipment and even the instructions book did not make copies of themselves and divided the factory into two identical factories while Henry Ford was visiting to save his sanity.)

The curiosity of Henry Ford is satisfied only when he walked into a control room of the factory upstairs where he finally met the technical team, and received a crash course on the marvelous technological developments of this information and communication age. He amused himself with the knowledge of electronics, computing, software, internet, remote control, sensors, machine-to-machine and human-to-machine communications and smart devices. He realized that it is the life, consciousness, intelligence, knowledge, purpose, willpower and the communication ability of the technical team in the control room upstairs with electromagnetic waves that occupy no space and are practically everywhere that makes all the machinery in the production facility act like they possess these attributes. Without the discovery of the control room, the industrial genius Henry Form would have returned to his grave completely confused and puzzled, and tell his contemporaries in the graveyard about mind-boggling mysteries of the new factories on earth.

A current-age industrialist visiting this futuristic factory, on the other hand, would immediately express his high praise and admiration for the technical team before even meeting with them since the intriguing activities in the production facility are reflections of the admirable work and abilities of the intelligent and knowledgeable people in that team. All the intelligent acts the lifeless and unconscious dummy devices perform on the factory floor stem from the intelligent and conscious people in full control of all equipment and machinery. If the robots and machinery are let loose by disabling the central software and stopping the communications with the central control room, the production facility would turn into ruins in a short time.

The functioning of a cell is not much different than the factory described above. The cell also receives supplies and delivers finished goods while all the parts in the cell work in complete harmony as ‘one.’ But this unified operation requires a powerful command center that knows everything, sees everything, and firmly rules over everything. Yet, there is no such apparent center in a cell. The DNA molecule is not a candidate for such a position since it is simply an instructions book written with atoms instead of letters, and it has no ability to even comprehend what its inscriptions are, let alone to impose the instructions on billions of other independent agents in the cell. Therefore, there must be an invisible immaterial command center or ‘spirit’ with the attribute of life that has full control over the cell – like the immaterial laws of nature governing all natural phenomena in the physical world by infusing in all matter without being matter. As Einstein put it, “a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe.” In the words of Alfred Montapert, “Nature’s laws are the invisible government of the earth.” This is similar to the simple conclusion a person would reach when visiting a fully automated factory with no people around.

Knowing the existence of something should not the confused with knowing the nature or properties of that thing. Not knowing the nature of something does necessitate the rejection of the existence of that thing. In physics, for example, we know the existence of dark matter because of its effect on gravity, yet we hardly know anything about its nature. Therefore, not knowing anything about the nature of the suggested ‘spirit’ of a cell with the primary attribute of life does not justify the rejection of the existence of such an invisible being.

As another analogy, let us imagine that biotechnology is very advanced, and we have enhanced our ability of building molecules, including complex mega molecules like DNA from atoms, and reached the level to build complete cells from molecules. Using carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and small amounts of other atoms as the basic building blocks, it is conceivable that we build all the necessary molecules, fabricate the tissues like membranes, and assemble a cell – say, an E. coli bacterium – such that the artificial cell we just built is chemically and structurally identical to the live cell we mimicked. (Or, alternately, we can kill a live unicellular organism like a bacterium by damaging some of its vital structures, and then repair the damaged structures so that chemically and structurally it is identical to a live cell). We may even initiate the chemical reactions in the artificial cell to give it a first start. But to our surprise, we will not see any life functions occurring in the artificial cell. After some purposeless stray chemical reactions with no coordination, the chemical activity will come to a halt and we will simply have a pile of lifeless molecules in a membrane bag. Recent attempts to ‘build life’ confirmed this assessment.

The arguments given above demonstrate convincingly that life in a live cell does not originate from the material constituents of the cell themselves. After all, all the molecules in a cell, including the water molecules, are lifeless – just like the water molecules in a cup of drinking water. All water molecules are simply the chemical compound H2O. Same is true for protein, sugar or fat molecules in a cell since all are lifeless chemical compounds assembled from lifeless atoms. Any difference between a fully functional live cell like an E. coli bacterium and its man-made non-live twin with no vital activity is life and is related to life. Considering that the live cell and its lifeless artificial twin are materially and structurally identical, it becomes clear that life is immaterial existence.

Life can be viewed as invisible non-physical light that shines on physical assemblies that have the right arrangement and conditions to receive this light, fuse and interact with it and reflect it. This is similar to the assembly of carbon atoms in the form of diamond having the right conformation to receive, refract and reflect ordinary light and easily distinguish itself from dull graphite. In the case of diamond, there is no mystery in the captivating shine and the fascinating glitter since ordinary light is a physical quantity and the mechanisms of reflection, refraction and transmission of light as it penetrates transparent solids are well-known. The reason life continues to be a perplexing grand mystery is that life is non-physical (and thus beyond time and space, and beyond the domain of study of physics), and thus we have no clue on what to look for and where. It looks like we will have to think out of the box and strip ourselves of all the prejudices to have any possibility of solving the puzzle of life. Perhaps mentally we will have to invent an invisible mirror that receives and reflects life, and discover the link between this mysterious mirror and the animate beings that seem to possess such a mirror.

Life at Organ and Organism Levels

Cells are organized to form tissues for specialized tasks, like connective and muscle tissues. Tissues make up organs with specific functions, like the kidney, hearth and lungs that serve the whole organism, and organs make up the organism. A living organism – like a live human being – consists of organs like eyes, legs and heart. And each organ consists of a large number of cells, all working in harmony with each other. So, there is a well-defined hierarchy in the assembly of the body of an organism, with constituents working jointly at all levels.

As a highly complex organism, the human body consists of about 37 trillion cells, but the mere collection of the 37 trillion cells does not constitute a human being. The individual cells cannot possibly have an awareness of the entire organism – like its assembly, functionality, general disposal, desires and tendencies. And they cannot perform the functions of humans – like walking and talking. The meaning of an organism is not the sum of the meanings of its constituents – obviously there is more; much more to a high-level living being. An organism that merely consists of 37 trillion interconnected cells can only produce what the individual cells produce, except at a larger magnitude, since the cells do not seem to have the knowledge, will, purpose, and power to join as organs or organisms to have higher-level outputs.

What make a human being a human being are the higher-level human qualities and the collective life at the macro level that transcends all its organs and cells and control them. That is, there must be a non-physical higher-level existence that govern physical existence. This is like the law of gravity firmly governing matter all over the universe, and physical beings obeying all laws of nature that are invisible. That higher-level existence for humans is the invisible human life and the human qualities that come bundled with life – commonly known as the soul or the spirit.

It is interesting that the average human body is also home to about 40 trillion microbes that are unicellular organisms – mostly in the intestines. But they are not part of the humans since they work as independent agents instead of constituents of the human body. That is, the human life and the qualities that come with life do not transcend the microbe cells. Therefore, unlike the human body cells, they are not controlled by the human control center. Obviously, the microbe life is not a part of the human life and the human body. The fact that the 37 trillion cells in the human body act in unity under one command rather than as independent agents like the microbes is sufficient proof for the existence of a unifying higher-level non-physical existence at the organism level with all-encompassing life and transcending human traits that accompany life.

Observations show that organisms other than the unicellular ones involve different levels of life, and there is a hierarchy and interlink between those levels. A higher level of life with all its qualities embodies the lower levels, imparting on them its higher identity and qualities. Life in the cells is in its simplest level. In multicellular complex organisms like humans, however, life is very immersing and at the highest level, and there are more qualities that come bundled with this all-inclusive life. This is similar to the operating systems of devices like smart phones being much more comprehensive than the driver software of individual components.

All cells possess life, but life in different types of cells is accompanied with different sets of qualities that give a cell its identity. When a cell experiences death, there is no residue of life left since all constituents of a cell such as the molecules and organelles are lifeless. That is, all constituents of a cell are non-live chemicals. But being embodied in a live cell, they acquire the overarching identity and qualities of the cell including life, and behave like they possess life and all the qualities that come with life – just like the dull carbon atoms in a diamond appearing like the origin of lively light show in the presence of daylight. Life in unicellular organisms like bacteria is self-contained and self-sustaining. Therefore, bacteria maintain their individuality and independence while cooperating with each other. They do not link with higher level of life and become part of something bigger and acquire a higher identity. Cell life in multicellular organisms, however, interlink with higher levels of life and acquire the higher identity as the dominant character.

A soldier in an army, for example, is characterized with the qualities of the army rather than his individual personality, and also with the qualities of the specific division like the artillery unit.  Therefore, this soldier has different identities at different level – his core personality, his role in the artillery unit, and his overall identity as a member of the army. Once the soldier leaves the army, he rids himself of all his higher identities that came with the military positions he held, and just displays his personal identity.

Similarly, a cell in a human liver, for example, has a life and identity (and thus qualities and characteristics) as an individual cell (life at cell level), interlinked to and dominated by the upper-level life and identity of the liver (life at organ level), which is also interlinked and dominated by the upper-level life and qualities of the person (life at organism level). Therefore, the life of a cell reflects the hierarchical combination of cell life, organ life and organism life intertwined together. It can even be imagined that there is a higher species-level life that comes bundled with the common traits of that species and interconnects all members of that species.

When a person dies (as determined by brain death), the life at organism level is gone, but the organ-level life remains. Therefore, the organs of a newly dead person are live and can function as a unit in the bodies of others when transplanted. The preservation of unity and livelihood of organs of dead organisms are sufficient proof for the existence of organ-level life. Besides, there is much more to the life of an organ than the lives of its constituent cells combined.

For a human organ like the kidney to function properly, for example, billions of cells that make up the kidney must work together in a coordinated manner. A cluster of billions of cells in the kidney act as ‘one,’ rather than each cell acting independent of each other – just like a dialysis machine with all its parts acting as a single unit. The cells give up their independence and identity and acquire a higher-level identity by becoming components of a higher-level entity that performs functions that no cell can by itself. It seems like there is an invisible glue of unity that merges this cluster of cells together as ‘one’ and transcends on them its identity. That invisible glue is the life of the organ. The qualities that come with organ life constitute the characteristics and identity of the organ. The live cells in an organ act in full coordination to support the functions of the organ, just like the molecules and organelles in a cell act in full coordination to support the functions of the cell.

An organ removed from a brain-dead person and transplanted to another person connects to and acquires the higher-level life and identity of that person, and performs the functions for the livelihood of him or her. This is similar to a computer running and controlling all the components it is made of through its main operating system. It the computer somehow dies, its components like the screen, CD player and speakers with their own component driver software are still operational and functional for use in other computers with a compatible umbrella operating system like Windows.

When an organ dies, the invisible glue of life at the organ level disappears and the cells in the organ no longer act together in coordination. It seems like the cells become untied when an organ dies. As a result, the organ is no longer capable of performing its functions. The cells in the organ may still be alive and continue living as individual cells for a while. The lives of cells can even be extended by preserving them in a nutrient-rich solution at suitable conditions. When a cell dies, however, there is no life to speak of and all we are left with are lifeless chemicals that constituted the cell body. This is the why we label life at cell level as the lowest level of life.

Driving Software of Autonomous Cars

As mentioned earlier, a cell with billions of active molecules operate as a well-organized and managed unit to perform macroscopic functions at cell level under the firm control and directive of an apparent but invisible command center which consists of immaterial life and attributes like will, purpose, knowledge and power that come bundled with life. That is, the cell can be viewed as the combination of a material body and an immaterial driver or controller clustered around life that infuses into the entire cell body.

This is similar to an electronic device like a computer, printer or a smart phone being a combination of hardware that consists of material parts and software that consists of immaterial commands, and the software having a firm control over the hardware. This is the reason that the software of devices is often called drivers, and the electronic boards where the drivers are loaded are called control cards. Software does not have life, of course, but it is equipped with all the necessary features to sense, access and fully control and command all the parts of the device.

The autonomous cars, for example, don’t have human drivers that can see the road, control the steering, adjust the speed, break to avoid accidents and stop at the destination. But it has invisible driving software complemented with sensors that performs all these smart acts. Even if we don’t see the driving software and have no idea as to where in the car it is located, we do not doubt its existence and its abilities since we know well that the physical parts of a car like the steering wheel, brakes and the gas pedal have none of the attributes of a driver, and they have no ability to coordinate their acts to make the car go while being watchful of the road conditions.

In fact, the driving software does not need to be physically present in the car; it may reside in the cloud. In such remote-controlled autonomous cars, all the car needs is a signal receiving/transmitting center (and possibly a signal processor) to communicate with the virtual driver in ‘heavens.’ Those who are not familiar with the autonomous car technology and are amazed (and scared) as the driverless cars pass them by in traffic, should think beyond material car parts. They should search for the controller-chip loaded with the driving software or the signal receiving/transmitting center, and decipher the transmission signals to solve the mystery of self-driving cars.

Consider two cars that are identical, except that one of them is equipped with self-driving feature while the other is not. (Or equivalently, two identical autonomous cars, with the self-driving feature turned off in one of them while it is kept on in the other). If we start both cars and instruct them to go to a specified destination, the car with the self-driving feature will do just that by controlling the steering, breaking and speed while the other car sits still, even though physically both cars have exactly the same parts assembled exactly the same way. It seems like when the self-driving feature is turned on, the car with all its components comes alive and the invisible virtual driver takes command of all the parts of the car and leads it to its designated destination. But when the self-driving switch is turned off, the car’s self-driving ability vanishes and the car becomes essentially dead – although all its parts remain intact. Obviously, the driving ability of a car does not come from its parts or the driving manual in the glove compartment.

By observing the two identical cars, we can easily tell which car has the self-driving feature and which car doesn’t, even if we know nothing about the driving software which consists of lines of commands. Therefore, the driving software acts like the controlling spirit of the autonomous car that runs all its parts. Similarly, anyone can see the difference between a dead person and its identical live twin, and the difference is not physical. In the case of the dead person, it seems like the invisible life and the attributes that come with life in the control center of the body is turned off and it no longer drives the body. Unlike the autonomous cars, we do not have the capability to reload the driving software in biological systems to bring them back to life since the drivers of biological systems (or biodrivers) are non-physical and thus inaccessible. We have no control over the invisible biodrivers that possess the quality of life. We learn about biodrivers from their reflections on the bodies of biological systems as behaviors, like we learn about the virtual drivers of the autonomous vehicles by observing the motions and responses of the cars in traffic.

DNA – The Code of Living Things

The human genome is the entire collection of about 20 thousand genes that determine who we physically are. With the exception of red blood cells, each of the 37 trillion cells of the human body contains the complete human genome, which is comprised of 23 pairs of chromosomes (each pair resembling the letter X) in its nucleus. Each chromosome consists of an entire macromolecule DNA, which contains all hereditary information, enshrouded with a group of stabilizing proteins. Therefore, a chromosome can be viewed as a dressed-up DNA, and DNA can a naked chromosome. The spiraling ladder-like DNA molecule is called the code of life, the software of life, the blueprint of living things, or even the recipe for life, among other things. Such names are not surprising since DNA has the code or instructions for everything that is compounded and produced in a cell. A common feature of all living things is to have DNA, which contains the necessary instructions for growth, functioning and reproduction.

A segment of DNA with a complete code to build a certain protein or a group of proteins from amino acid molecules is called a gene. Each gene has its own specific location on a particular chromosome or DNA. Genes can be simple or complex, depending on the degree of complexity of the function they dictate. Whether a person has blue or brown eyes, for example, depends on what is written on the gene that controls the eye color. A single human gene may range in length from a hundred to several million DNA base pairs.

The DNA consists of two long strands coiled around each other to form a double helix. The structure of DNA resembles a twisted ladder, with 2 of the 4 base molecules adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T) forming the horizontal rungs or steps of the ladder, and the sugar and phosphate molecules forming the vertical side pieces that the base molecules connect to. The basic building block of DNA is a nucleotide, which is made up of a base molecule connected to a sugar and phosphate molecules at one end, and consists of about 30 atoms. Therefore, in the end, the long, spiraling miraculous mega molecule DNA is a bunch of atoms stacked together, just like any other chemical compound. It is remarkable that a mere molecule acts as a blueprint of complex living things or as a recipe for life.

The base molecule A always pairs up with T, and C always pairs up with G to form base pairs. Therefore, the ‘H’ man body, shaped unit of a DNA ladder consists of a base pair as its step and a sugar-phosphate pair on each of the two sides. Stacking up these H-shaped units forms the DNA ladder. Unlike the ordinary ladder that involves a dozen or so steps, the DNA molecules in the human genome involve about 3 billion steps or base pairs (the largest single human DNA contains about 220 million base pairs.) Considering that 50 million new cells are created in the human body per second and each cell contains a complete set of genome, the magnitude of coding and compiling that quietly takes place in the human body is simply mind boggling.

Sequencing of these 3 billion pairs was a major task and a monumental accomplishment for humanity. The order or sequence of the bases A, C, G and T on each side of DNA determine the characteristics of the organism, including its construction, control and maintenance. This is like the order of the letters of alphabet in a book determining the words, the sentences and the content of the book and the messages it conveys. When we look at the right or left arm of the DNA, we see that the four molecular ‘letters’ of A, C, G and T are always used to make 3-letter ‘words’ like ACC, TAG and CGT, called triplets, to be used in the codes of genes. Each triplet is a label for a particular amino acid to be grabbed and mounted during the assembly of a protein. It is estimated that about 2 percent of DNA involves codes or instructions. The rest of the DNA is used to separate genes and to control genes by turning them on or off.

An important characteristic of DNA is its ability to self-replicate or make copies of itself. During replication, the two strands that form the double helix of DNA are separated along the center line, like a zipper being unzipped, and each strand serves as a template for the production of its counterpart. These two strands of DNA are identical, except that they run in opposite directions. Therefore, the two DNA strands contain the same genetic information, and once each strand replicates itself, each can form the nucleus of two new cells when the cell divides. This way, each new cell has the exact copy of the DNA of the source cell.

Although the cell sizes vary, the nucleus of a cell which is home to DNA and the entire genome is 2000 times thinner than the human hair and its length is a small fraction of the thickness of hair. The entire genetic material of an organism fits in a volume of about a one-billionth of a cc (centiliter) with a mass of one-billionth of a gram in each cell. Therefore, the DNA is like a tiny dot that is invisible to naked eye, and it twists, curls and coils up to fit into that narrow space. Yet, when it is uncoiled and stretched out, like pulling a coiled spring from its ends to a straight wire, the human DNA becomes about two meters long.

DNA may reign in the nucleus of a cell as the code of life, but they are the amino acids that perform the vital functions of life in the cell body outside the nucleus. Therefore, amino acids are often called the building blocks of life. In reality, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which are the essential biomolecules for all organisms. Amino acids are made of different combinations of the 5 basic elements of carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), nitrogen (N) and sulphur (S). Of all possible combinations, only 20 amino acids, each with their unique shape, are synthesized for use as building blocks for a variety of larger proteins in all organisms – like legos being used to build a variety of toys by interconnecting them.

Of course, amino acid molecules are mere collections of atoms, and these molecules cannot simply decide to get together and move to right positions to build proteins, like lego pieces assembling themselves into particular toys. There is a need for an active agent that has the knowledge and causal power to gather the right amino acids in right amounts and move them to assemble the right protein with the right shape. There must be a control center in the cell, and DNA apparently fits the description, even if it doesn’t get out of the nucleus into the cytoplasm of the cell where all the action is. Of course, DNA is also merely a bunch of atoms, just like the amino acids, and the head-spinning dynamism in a cell seems like magic. But never mind that for now.

When a strand of DNA on one of the sides is examined, we see a long array of vertical text that constitute the chemical code written in the DNA language with an alphabet that consists of the four molecular letters of A, C, G and T. A typical DNA strand is millions of letters long, and if printed on paper as a regular book, it would constitute a very large volume of encyclopedia. To execute this code and start building proteins in the cell, small molecules called RNA that are partial copies of one side of DNA are generated inside the nucleus. RNA passes to cytoplasm through small openings on the membrane of nucleus and attaches to ribosome, which is a molecular protein building machine. The ribosome hardware reads the RNA software in groups of 3 letters at a time, drafts the corresponding amino acid out of a list of 20, stacks the amino acids linearly as a chain, and folds them to build the desired protein in the proper shape.

The newly built proteins as the outcome of these sophisticated processes start performing the vital functions they are assigned to, like robots on factory floors. The hemoglobin protein in red blood cells, for example, has just the right shape and size to capture oxygen molecules in the lungs and release them in the tissues. [8] It seems like RNA is the recipe to make proteins picked up from the cook book of DNA, and ribosome is the master chef that does the cooking according to the instructions on the recipe.

The process described above works the same way both in plants and animals. The realization that the traits that manifest on living things are the outcome of the instructions coded on genes and that biological structures are built in strict adherence to this blueprint of life, opened the road to manipulate the genetic codes of plants and animals to attain desired traits. This gave rise to the branch of genetic engineering. As it turns out, we can replace some genes on DNA with similar genes with more desirable characteristics like resistance to disease, insects and aging. After all, each gene is like a unique recipe with instruction on how to make a protein or a group of proteins.

It is fortunate that the protein building machines in the cells do not distinguish between natural genes and artificially inserted genes since both use the same DNA alphabet of A, C, G and T letters. Artificial instructions are also read, processed and executed like the original instructions to produce the new protein. This is like if we make a change on a recipe in a cook book for the type or amount of an ingredient, the new information will be followed instead of the old one next time that recipe is used for cooking.

Also, since 1980s, biotechnology is commonly used to extract a particular gene on the DNA of a donor organism and recombine it with the DNA of a host organism to produce a specific protein. Synthetic human insulin is produced this way by bacteria by extracting the relevant gene from the human DNA and inserting it into the nucleus of an E. coli bacterium. This way, colonies of bacteria are turned into an army of biological machines that produce insulin for use by millions of people with diabetes. It is interesting that the proteins produced and bottled (insulin protein in this case) are not alive, even though proteins perform specific functions like robots when they are an integral part of a live being.

As explained above, a protein is produced by following the code on the gene for that specific protein. But a protein is an assembly of amino acids, which are assemblies of atoms. Therefore, both proteins and amino acids are mere chemicals with specific chemical formulas. They are not alive. Same is true for DNA and genes which are specific segments of DNA. That is, DNA is also a mere chemical molecule (albeit a large one) with millions of atoms arranged as a sequence of smaller base molecules A, C, G and T. When we view thousands even millions of these four base letters along a DNA strand, what we see is the code of life written in the language of life. So, DNA is a long set of instructions, just like a software or operating system that run electronic devices is a set of instructions.

We know that the software that we use in smart phones or computers is not live. How about the DNA software that run the cell and control all vital functions? Is it live? If DNA is non-live and thus just a chemical, then we should be able to assemble it artificially. After all, combining atoms into small molecules and combining those molecules into large molecules are routinely done chemistry labs.

The challenge of making a synthetic DNA and chromosome was first taken up by the scientists at the Craig Venter Center. An artificial piece of DNA was synthesized in the lab successfully, checked for accuracy and transplanted into an E. coli bacterium. The synthetic DNA was recognized by the bacterium, and the synthetic genetic code written on it was read and processed correctly. As J. Craig Venter explained in a lecture in 2012: [9]

Starting with the digital code we synthesized DNA fragments and assembled the genome. We corrected the errors and in the end had a 5,386-basepair piece of DNA that we inserted into E. coli. … The E. coli recognized the synthetic piece of DNA as normal DNA, and the proteins, being robots, just started reading the synthetic genetic code, because that’s what they’re programmed to do. They made what the DNA code told them to do, to make the viral proteins. The virus proteins self-assembled and formed a functional virus. The virus showed its gratitude by killing the cells, which is how we effectively get these clear plaques in a lawn of bacterial cells. I call this a situation where the “software is building its own hardware”. All we did was put a piece of DNA software in the cell, and we got out a protein virus with a DNA core.”

It was shown that when a synthetic DNA is put into a cell, the proteins coded in the synthetic DNA are produced, changing the cellular character completely. The success in genome transplantation, which involves the transplantation of chemically synthesized shromosomes into living cells, opened the way for the new field of synthetic genomics in genetics. It has the potential to facilitte the design and production of microorganisms for use in medicine, energy and agriculture, like the engineering of inulin-producing bacteria.

To a casual observer, a living cell may look like a DNA software driven machine with thousands even millions of protein robots produced in accordance with the codes on DNA. This army of nano-robots collectively carry out precise vital functions in the cell in full coordination. But a careful observer also notices that every cell has the ability to make a copy of the DNA software and to self-replicate – something that no machine can do. Again, the mysterious life is what makes the difference.

It is interesting that the synthetic DNA must be transplanted into a live cell for this process to work. Therefore, currently life in synthetic cells from the genome transplants stems from natural cells; that is, by tapping into the natural source of life or connecting to the existing network of life. Inserting a synthetic DNA genome into an artificially made cocktail of enzymes, ribosomes and the necessary chemicals does not result in any life activity. After all, a completely artificial cell is simply a bag of chemicals, even if it is chemically identical to a live cell. This observation shows that life is not mere chemistry, and it is not in the chemistry – there is more. It seems that life permeates into matter and exerts its control over matter, but it is not matter. Unless this immaterial dimension of existence is recognized and resolved, all efforts to create artificial life in the labs are bound to fail, as they have so far.

The dilemma we are facing here is that we see life only when it is manifested on physical bodies, just like we see the force of gravity when it is exerted on matter. So, there is an intricate interaction between life and material body. In diamond, for example, the mechanism of interaction between light and carbon atoms is well-known. But animate beings involve the non-physical light of life, and detecting and revealing this interaction mechanism is not easy. For example, the needle of a compass starts moving when the compass is brought into a magnetic field, which is physical but immaterial. We can tell a lot about the strength and direction of the magnetic field by observing the motion of the needle.

Similarly, when a chemical like a DNA or protein molecule is placed in a chemical soup that is identical to the contents of a cell, nothing happens. But when a DNA or protein molecule enters into a domain of life, like inside a living cell, that lifeless chemical molecule suddenly becomes a biochemical molecule by clinching to life and acting under the influence of life. Therefore, like magnetic field, life is also a field phenomenon. But unlike magnetic field, it is not a physical field and thus it cannot be sensed or detected by physical instruments. This is what makes life a perplexing phenomenon or a great mystery. Unless we are willing to unsubscribe from the restrictive materialistic ideology that all that exists is physical, life will continue to remain a perplexing mystery.

Another intriguing observation about organisms is that, from bacteria to humans, there is a lot in common among all living things, and all use the same basic DNA code written in the common chemical alphabet of A, C, G and T. Many creatures even have many common genes. About half of the genes of a tiny fruit fly, for example, are also present in humans. This suggests that all forms of life on earth share the same origin. Regardless of race, over 99 percent of the genes are common in all people. There are slight variations in the sequence of DNA bases of different people, including same-egg twins, making each individual unique in some way. Also, DNA can be damaged under the destructive effects of some factors, causing a change in the sequence of nucleotides. Changes in DNA are called mutation.

There is a good analogy between the DNA and a printed book, and the human genome is sometimes called the genetic book of life. If genes are viewed as recipes for proteins, then the human genome is the recipe book for our cells in our bodies. The chromosomes (or DNA, since each chromosome essentially consists of a DNA molecule) constitute the chapters of this genetic book while genes correspond to pages of coding. The alphabet of the book of life consists of the 4 chemical letters A, C, G and T (each made up of about 30 atoms), and the words in this book are constructed of 3 letters like ACC, each word corresponding to one of the 20 amino acids. By contrast, the alphabet of telegrams consists of 2 letters (dot and dash), just like the alphabet of digital world (0’s and 1’s).

To appreciate the fascinating reality of life, consider the blueprints of a car or a house and the blueprint of life – the DNA – in the seed of a plant like an orange tree. The blueprints may have all the information and the set of instructions needed to build a house, a car or a plant, but they have no causal power, control and competence. Therefore, nothing will happen if we burry the blueprints of a house in soil which is reach with house-construction materials or burry the blueprints of a car in soil reach with raw materials used in the construction of a car.

No one will expect a smartphone to pop out of the ground by burying the blueprints of the smartphone in soil reach in silicon, metals and organic materials and wait a while. If the orange seed is non-live, again nothing will happen when we burry it in soil rich in nutrients and water since the code or blueprints are not active agents. But if the orange seed buried in moist soil is live, it will germinate by absorbing water and nutrients from the soil around and begin to sprout. We will witness the construction and growth of an orange tree, molecule by molecule, before our eyes, including the making of orange fruits and code writing in new seeds. In a nutshell, the seed software dictates and arranges the construction of tree hardware, which rewrites and incapsulates the seed software – a sequence of stunning processes unthinkable for lifeless things like smart devices. Clearly, it is the mysterious non-physical life that makes the difference between a set of instructions to build something, and physically building that thing according to the instructions by maintaining full control over all material building blocks. Again, it is the invisible life that is associated with causal power. Without life, a DNA is an array of millions of letters like the letters in an ordinary book with no power to act as an active agent with purpose, will, knowledge and power.

The Magic Cook Book That Can

As stated before, there is a good analogy between a cook book and DNA – the book of life – to help us understand life. Individual genes on DNA are recipes or ‘written instructions’ for composing proteins out of the ingredients of amino acid molecules, and DNA is the grand cook book of all such protein-making recipes. As such, both the ordinary cook book and DNA are inscriptions, except that the former is written with ink using a familiar alphabet and the latter is written with atoms using a chemical alphabet. Considering that ink is also a collection of atoms, we can say that both the cook book and DNA are written with atoms that are first molded into the shapes of letters. Also, both the cook book and DNA are not alive, as evidenced by man-made synthetic DNAs sequenced in chemistry labs functioning when transplanted into a live cell, but being a mere dull chemical when transplanted into a lifeless artificial cell. Same can be said about genes, which are segments of DNA, and RNA molecules, which are copies of genes.

Therefore, all the marvelous mind-boggling acts of DNA, genes, RNA and ribosome molecules in a live cell – like making complete or partial copies of themselves, reading instructions, identifying and snatching the indicated ingredients, moving them to the right places with the right orientation, building task-oriented biorobots by following assembly instructions, and assigning biorobots specific tasks and ensuring successful completion of those tasks – must originate from the elusive life, not from these inept biomolecules themselves. That is, any difference between a live cell and its chemically identical non-live twin is life and accompanying traits. This is sufficient proof for the existence of non-physical life and the traits that come bundled with life, although we have no idea about the nature of life. This is like in physics the existence of dark matter and dark energy is widely accepted although the nature and most properties of dark matter and dark energy are still a mystery.

As a thought experiment, consider entering two identical kitchens, both initially equipped with identical ingredients, cooking utensils and the same cook book. Imagine visiting the first kitchen again after a while, and seeing that everything is where you left them and nothing has changed. Obviously, there is no surprise here. Then you visit the second kitchen and you are pleasantly surprised to see that some delicious meals are fixed from the ingredients by exactly following some of the recipes in the cookbook.

The first thought that comes to mind is that a live person with the ability to see, to read and to understand instructions, with the knowledge and ability to recognize, move, measure and manipulate ingredients and the desire to prepare meals entered the second kitchen and did all the cooking; even took the trash out. If this is so, there is no surprise here, either.  But what if nobody entered the second kitchen? What if it is observed and recorded on camera that the cook book opens by itself to reveal the page that has the recipe of the meal to be fixed, relevant ingredients line up in amounts indicated on recipe, utensil and pans move around and appliances turn on and off by themselves like there is an invisible chef in the kitchen? We would be puzzled, and clueless as to what is going on.

After seeing the amazing things going on in the second kitchen many times, we would probably get accustomed to it and give it a name like the ‘mysterious kitchen,’ and call the cook book the ‘magic book.’ We would start observing and experimenting to solve the puzzle. For example, when we replace some recipes in the cook book with new ones, we would get pleasantly surprised that the new recipes are read and the new instructions are followed to fix new meals. Of course, we would feel very proud and powerful for being able to tell the magic kitchen what meals to cook and how. But when we replace the entire cook book with a new one, we would get surprised to see that all activities in the kitchen come to a halt and the invisible chef stops performing. We suspect that the magic is somewhere in the cook book, but we cannot pinpoint an exact location.

To describe the fascinating activities in the kitchen, we would develop a language like ‘the cook book is telling the pan to do this,’ ‘the ingredients are reading the instructions’ and ‘the pan is grabbing the ingredients and taking them in.’ So long as we look for answers within the physical magical cook book, with no regard for a possible invisible chef with capabilities, we would probably not make much progress in solving the mystery. Obviously, there is something that converts the second kitchen to a ‘magic kitchen’ with an invisible chef that can see, read and understand instructions, recognize, move, measure and manipulate ingredients, and cook meals. In a cell, life acts exactly like this invisible chef – from reading instructions on DNA, to grasping the right amino acids in the right amounts as instructed on DNA and making proteins that act like robots. Same is true for organs and the whole organisms. Perhaps the resilient matter is the elusive existence rather than the invisible but able chefs that command matter.


Careful observations show that: (1) There exists something called ‘life,’ which distinguishes animate beings from inanimate ones, (2) Essential building blocks of living cells are proteins, and the building blocks of proteins are the 20 amino acids, (3) Amino acids are composed of the H, O, N, C and S atoms, and (4) The H, O, N, C, and S atoms and the chemical bonds do not have life as a component. Also, all living things are mostly water, but water does not contain life, either. Based on these observed facts, the most plausible conclusion is that: Life is a non-physical light that shines on matter, but does not originate from matter – like the light that shines on diamond not originating from the diamond. Or the shows on TV screens not originating from the TV set, but rather, from broadcasting that comes as unseen electromagnetic waves.

Considering that a person has the same material composition just before and just after death, we are justified to ask the question ‘where is life?’ The mystery of life is not likely to be solved unless the we show the courage to think out of the box; that is, out of the bounds imposed by the narrow materialistic worldview that all that exists is matter and matter is all that exists. The physical carcass of live organisms can be constructed in chemistry labs, but acquisition of life is completely something else. As all observations confirm, it should firmly be recognized that life is not chemistry, and it is not in chemical compounds. All attempts to demonstrate otherwise have miserably failed. Descriptions like ‘life is self-organizing chemistry which reproduces itself’ are desperate attempts to grant molecules attributes that they do not possess and to portray chemicals as supreme beings that they are not. The future success of solving the mystery of life and other immaterial things like consciousness lies in understanding the secrets of the interactions between material and immaterial existence.

1]Talley, J.,,  Accessed: Sep. 1, 2017.

[2] Rosen, R. (1991). Life Itself: A Comprehensive Inquiry into the Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life. ISBN 978-0-231-07565-7

[3]Schumacher, E. M., A Guide for the Perplexed, Harper & Row, New York, 1977, p. 19.

[4] National Academy of Sciences,

[5]Laughlin, R. B., A Different Universe – Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down, Basic Books, New York, 2005, p. 173.

[6] “How Did Life Begin: An Interview with Andy Knoll,” NOVA Science Programming, PBS,

[7] Ibid.

[8] Accessed Oct. 1, 2017.

[9], Accessed July 7, 2017.

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