Self-Actualization or Creation

I think the two choices for explanations of physical reality boil down to self-actualization or creation. The people who argue for self-actualization (and do they argue) assume that the universe contains in itself properties that caused all that has happened in it since its very beginning. This brings us to the initial difficulty.

The initial difficulty is that before the universe came into being it had no existence we can recognize, at least in terms of something observable or measurable, in other words something subject to science. Some people get around the initial difficulty by postulating an oscillating universe, one that expands and contracts but that is nevertheless self-existent. In this view, the Big Bang was the beginning of the current phase of expansion. Again, there is nothing left from past oscillations for scientists to measure or observe.

One argument for self-actualization that was new to me was the suggestion that what we call the positive part of the universe is balanced exactly by the dark energy and matter that exists so the universe is a net nothing. The person who wrote this possibly was unaware that both traditional Jews and Christians believe that the universe was created out of nothing. If in fact this suggestion were shown to be true, it would be a vindication of some religious beliefs, and undoubtedly require a major expansion of astrophysical knowledge.

Before the Big Bang was accepted as the correct explanation for the beginning of the universe, scientists and philosophers all the way back to the early Greeks had thought the universe to be static and self-existent in its attributes. This thinking is still carried over into present-day understandings. For example, one person dodged the issue of the origin of life by stating that it had nothing to do with the validity of the theory of evolution. For that person evolution was an explanation of almost all of life. The trouble with this older mode of thinking is that science has made our knowledge of everything physical far more complex.

In mathematics, solutions to problems generally begin with a set of initial conditions. It is just these initial conditions that pose more of a problem for science and philosophy than the working out of answers to how physical reality operates. This is because the initial conditions are established by one-time unobservable events. This results in sometimes conflicting ideas. For instance, we are told that all life on earth came from an original biological event. We are also told by some biologists that life will arise in the universe anytime conditions are right. You can probably see the contradiction. Since life has emerged on the earth the conditions are obviously right. So, how come it only happened once in five- billion years.

The space-time continuum is also a great mystery. It would seem to be in a chicken-and-egg relationship with the energy and matter that constitutes the universe. So, did it exist before the Big Bang or was there something in the Big Bang that brought it into existence? And how is it a property of the space-time continuum that it is almost infinitely elastic and that this elasticity produces what we call the force of gravity as a result of the space-time continuum being deformed by matter? The same kind of question applies to the weak force and the strong force. Where were they when no particles existed? Did they exist before particles or were they brought into exist by the formation of particles?

There are more questions for physics, and we have not even reached biology. Where did the properties of quantum mechanics come from? What formed the particular atoms that we arrange into the Periodic Table. Now we can go to biology. Why are there right-handed and left-handed molecules and why are organic molecules shaped in particular ways for specific functions? How did it come about that a genetic code was necessary for life and how did that code come into existence?

The idea of self-actualization becomes even more unlikely as we consider the things that make us uniquely human, such as culture, speech, music, art, abstract thought, technology, agriculture, imagination, conceptualizing and so forth. So why does self-actualization seem very attractive to many people. I think it has to do with two things: ego and rebellion. Our egos are another of our immaterial characteristics. We all seem to have one of either smaller or larger size. It seems to be that people who strongly believe in one of the various forms of self-actualization are people with large egos. I think that one such type, atheists, have egos so large they think they can push God clear out of the universe. That being the case, they typically are sure they are more intelligent than people who believe in creation.

Rebellion comes into the picture as a result of certain temperaments encountering authority figures, normally in their family or in a church where they were taken as children. One way of resistance for such people is to adopt contrary views. When this resistance meets with support in peer groups or educational institutions, it brings ego gratification and a source of identity that is hard to forego. That being the case, it is hard for people in this situation to abandon the idea of self-actualization despite the fact it requires the acceptance of large improbabilities. Self-actualization is in truth a harder belief than faith in creation. This is evidenced by the fact that the vast majority of the human race has always accepted that there was some spiritual entity that brought them and everything else into existence.

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Life Is Spectacular

I think life is spectacular and also very, very complex. Each living organism has three separate but intertwined aspects of its being. The first is its shape and structure, its morphology. There is something in us that shapes our ends, and our other body parts. The second is its biochemistry. There is both a commonality and a differentiation in the chemistry of living organisms. For example, grass has chlorophyll and you and I do not. The third is its operating system. This is much like the operating system of a computer. My first computer used MSDOS as its operating system, my present one runs Windows 7. There have been vast improvements in the capabilities of my computers over time but they all operated using fundamentally similar binary codes. It is the same in regard to all the different organisms and their differences in capabilities.

Going back to morphology (and including within it appearance and behavior), biological classification (taxonomy) and also mineral classification effectively had their beginnings with Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778). His three kingdoms were animal, vegetable, and mineral, so he can also be regarded as making a contribution to the game Twenty Questions. There are presently, though there weren’t always, five (or six, if you count viruses) kingdoms used in classifying organisms. There are also now two or three domains, which are classifications more inclusive than kingdoms.

When we turn to the chemistry of life we find the same pattern as we did with the shape and structure of organisms. For example, proteins, which are formed by genetic expression from twenty standard amino acids, are essential to all organisms and are used in virtually every cellular process. Proteins catalyze biochemical reactions; they have structural and mechanical functions; they are part of the scaffolds that give cells their shape. They also participate in immune responses; cell signaling, cell adhesion and cell division. Proteins are often modified after their formation to alter their chemical and physical properties by addition of non-amino molecules, and in the way they are folded.

In proteins we see order among complexity. We also see in protein the linkages in life. We need proteins yet we cannot create in our own bodies all the amino acids necessary for the formation of proteins. This means we have to eat other organisms that do contain the amino acids we need. Fortunately, readily available organisms from various parts of the biological classification can supply people, even with widely varying diets, the amino acids they need.

Now for another characteristic of proteins, the ones that are good for us must be folded correctly. Misfolded proteins are called prions and can cause various fatal diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, or mad cow disease or scrapie in livestock. This shows us there is more to biochemistry than simply atoms assembled into certain molecules in a particular arrangement. We see that biochemistry has in both the width of life and the narrowness of necessity.

Each cell in our bodies (except for egg and sperm cells) contains about 40,000 protein-coding genes. This seems a very large number but it is less than microbiologists expected and actually only accounts for approximately 1.5 percent of the genome. The rest of the genome consists of regulatory DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), non-coding RNA (ribonucleic acid), separators, and sequences whose functions are not known.

Things really get spectacular when we come to the numbers regarding our genomes, each of which contains a complete set of genetic information concerning us. Our mothers had an egg cell containing three billion base pairs and our fathers contributed a like number. These base pairs are contained within 23 chromosome pairs. Other organisms have different numbers of chromosome and base pairs but all life has at least some impressive number base pairs.

I started this post with morphology and ended with genomic biology. Morphology was the biology of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including Linnaeus and Darwin. The twentieth century was the era of biochemical biology which tended to see life and its functions as products of organic chemistry. We are now in the period, possibly only at the beginnings, of genetic biology.

Life is a matter of spectacular complexity but common to it all is DNA and RNA. Although the Urey-Miller experiment showed that the production of amino acids and other organic chemicals could be done in simulated natural conditions, as far as I can tell no one has done an experiment producing nucleic acids. Even if they had, it would not probably not explain the coding, folding and other functions contained in the molecules as they are found in organisms.

I think the tasks ahead for microbiologists include arriving at a genomic theory of life to replace the present theory of evolution, and not to allow that catch-all explanation to be morphed into something called neo-Darwinism, and so to claim it now explains everything about life. Another task for genomic biologists is to show there is an actual process that takes matter and energy and in some way produces nucleic acid with a coding for some form of life.

I think those of us who are not microbiologists deserve a new theory of life based on the reality of what life is and how it works because life is truly, truly spectacular.