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Fri Sep 20, 2013, 11:24 PM

"Emergent Properties" in Biology

So I finally decided to go back to finish up college earlier this year after a long 15-year hiatus. Before, my original major was sociology, but I was only going part-time while working full-time in the tech industry back when the economy was booming under Clinton, so my head wasn't really in the game.

Anyway, I decided to pursue my dreams and major in biology this time around, mainly because life science was my favorite subject back in junior high school, and genetics in particular really fascinated me. So here I am taking my first intro-level (albeit sophomore-level) biology course, and I already keep finding myself just absolutely stunned and shocked by what I'm reading in my textbook.

How you have all these mindless molecules self-reproducing, molecules spawning other molecules, all completely void of any sort of will or agency at all, just doing their own thing without any care in the world. Just a handful of simple chemical elements, that once joined together cause incredibly complex things to happen. I just find it so fucking incredible and awe-inspiring.

I mean, don't get me wrong -- I'm not even buying into the notion that any of our current religious traditions are anywhere near close to knowing the truth of how it all began -- but it is hard not to imagine that we are part of some sort of massive simulation, like we're living in the Matrix or something. LOL. All these hidden "rules" dictating how life behaves at each level of the biological hierarchy, as simpler parts combine to make much more complex things happen. It's just mind-boggling.

Do you guys ever wax philosophical about it all? I know philosophy tends to be only so much mental masturbation often times, but it is fun to think about "the deeper issues" some days... ponder the "how" of it all, let alone the "why" of it all, even if it does seem like an exercise in futility most of the time.

Isn't life fascinating? Just the sheer absurdity of it all? Something rather than nothing? Consciousness out of reducible parts?

Quick! Where's my fainting couch!

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Reply "Emergent Properties" in Biology (Original post)
LAGC Sep 2013 OP
Humanist_Activist Sep 2013 #1
Lordquinton Sep 2013 #2
TxDemChem Sep 2013 #3
Curmudgeoness Sep 2013 #4
LostOne4Ever Sep 2013 #5
deucemagnet Sep 2013 #6
Warpy Sep 2013 #7

Response to LAGC (Original post)

Sat Sep 21, 2013, 04:10 AM

1. The most fascinating thing is that those rules are simply the rules of chemistry...

which is itself the applied rules of particle physics, so it goes down to that, and then finally to mathematics, at least according to the mathematicians.

From simplicity comes complexity, that is the basic concept of emergence, and the best part is the lack of consciousness to it all. That is what makes it both predictable and surprising, measurable, yet on some level immeasurable.

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Response to LAGC (Original post)

Sat Sep 21, 2013, 04:37 AM

2. These rules aren't perscritive

they are descriptive. The particles, and everything else in the 'verse don't follow any sort of set rules, we describe what they do and how they work in terms of rules. They are very predictable, fortunately.

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Response to LAGC (Original post)

Sat Sep 21, 2013, 09:47 AM

3. The beauty of it all drove me to study biochemistry

I love how a little carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen here and there can spark life. Happy little accidents in the beginning that have lead to such a wonderful system of life. And hydrogen is my hero. It's the origin of everything. Unlike any other element, it has been the foundation for the world we know. Fusion, decay. It's awesome!

Okay, I just reached dorkdom

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Response to LAGC (Original post)

Sat Sep 21, 2013, 01:21 PM

4. Let me congratulate you on finally going back to school.

I went for 1-1/2 years out of high school, then quit. I tried a few times while working full time and just could not find enough time to keep up with it all. I finally went back and got a degree when I was 40. In biology. So I know where you are coming from....I was awestruck by the vast number of chemical reactions that have to occur constantly just to keep us alive, not to mention actually moving or thinking or doing this typing.

You will find, when you get into organic chemistry and biochemistry that these reactions are no accident. These molecules all react in specific ways to other molecules (or you can take that down to the atomic level). I found that chemistry was probably the most fascinating subject that I had to take. The biological processes are really incredible to consider, but when you take it down to the atomic level, you see that there is no other way for them to react in a given situation. You will go wild over all the incredible things that you learn. (OK, I admit it, I am a nerd, and I am damned proud of it.)

Not the easiest major.....but you can't get into a more fascinating subject.

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Response to LAGC (Original post)

Sat Sep 21, 2013, 03:48 PM

5. I wish I could have your enthusiasm for cell biology

When I was taking those courses. Honestly, cell biology puts me to sleep. Now, Im completely with you on genetics. All the ways that our genes can be expressed and all the things that can go wrong is fascinating.

It also gave me a shit load of ammo here on DU when Chelsa Manning stated she wanted to be known as a woman and people tried to argue biology for their refusal to do so. Gotta love it when people who never took more than Biology 1 start stating things as scientific facts when they are anything but that

I also liked comparative vertebrate anatomy!

Speaking of philosophy, do you have to take a history and philosophy of science course? We had to and I absolutely loved that class. That should be a requirement for high school students imho. Maybe if they did that we wouldn't have all these fundy nuts going around saying "its only a theory" all the time...cause everyone would realize how fucking stupid that sounds.

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Response to LAGC (Original post)

Sat Sep 21, 2013, 04:29 PM

6. I remember a similar time in my life very fondly.

Very much like you, I went back to college at the age of 27 on by GI bill to study biology. The first year, I felt like I was rediscovering the world through a new pair of eyes. I absolutely fell in love with molecular biology, and twenty years later I'm the cell and molecular biology professor at a small college.

(OT: Your post reminded me that my research student and I left reactions in the thermocycler. Thanks!)

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Response to LAGC (Original post)

Sat Sep 21, 2013, 05:39 PM

7. I think the Taoists were closest

They saw the universe as a living entity with no self awareness.

Life would be an artifact of this sort of universe wherever it could exist and probably does exist everywhere, although not often in forms we would recognize as living.

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