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

Ben Zaiboc bbenzai at yahoo.com
Sat Jul 21 13:18:37 UTC 2012

> From: natasha at natasha.cc

> Anders wrote:
> 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."

In general, I think it's a very important point that anyone thinking about any of these issues (including things like AI, consciousness, virtual reality, uploading, as well as biology) understands the concept of levels of abstraction.  It's such a vital concept that without it, imo, nothing constructive can really be said, and a lack of appreciation of this concept leads to various silliness like people complaining that brains are not computers, programs can never be conscious, a simulation is not the same as the 'real thing', etc.  As I've said elsewhere, Quarks are vital to things like tables, but nobody in their right mind who wants to make a table would even think about considering the quarks it's composed of.  Quarks are on a level so far removed from carpentry that although they underlie it, they are irrelevant in any practical sense (being about 8 levels of abstraction away from wood).

This concept applies to just about everything I can think of.  There are levels of abstraction, and it's important to pick the right level to talk about before opening your mouth.  Ignoring this leads to people saying things like "brains use quantum mechanics to produce minds".  True, but as irrelevant as saying that tables are made of quarks.

Ben Zaiboc

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