[ExI] atoms and cells - what is shared between them?

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Tue Jul 17 21:37:09 UTC 2012

On 17/07/2012 21:47, natasha at natasha.cc wrote:
> All molecules are made of atoms which are, for the most part, 
> indestructible and, thereby, immortal. *If atoms are the elemental 
> components from which all cells are derived, then why does programmed 
> cell death occur?*

Because atoms and organisms are phenomena on different levels. The fact 
that water molecules cannot show waves or disappear doesn't prevent a 
large collection like a puddle to have waves or to dry out.

Programmed cell death is an adaptation multicellular organisms use to 
construct or control their tissues. It has been favored because 
organisms with the right apoptosis programs can function well in the 
environment  and hence reproduce well. Note that there are no 
unicellular organisms with apoptosis: there survival is all about each 
cell doing well.

> Also, is it true that if apoptosis is a chemical process, it has no 
> connection with the atomic constitutionof cells?

Cell chemistry, especially the dynamics of proteins and signals like in 
apoptosis, is about molecules interacting - with a few chemical 
exceptions individual atoms do not occur other than as constituents of 
molecules. So if atoms disappeared but molecules behaved the same cells 
would work the same.

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University

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