Unlike any other species on this planet, humans develop extreme anxiety when thinking about the possibility of nothingness after death. With strong egos and attachment to the material world, ideas and theories of what comes after death and how humankind came to this land were developed. We found comfort in these thoughts, reassuring ourselves that our lives have purpose, meaning, and existence even beyond death. Humans find comfort in having purpose, for without it life seems almost meaningless... hopeless.
We appear to be strong, powerful creatures; in reality, we're just as afraid of losing our grip on reality as everything else in the universe. Even the individual atoms within you and me behave to stay stable... to stay existing, as if they, too, were afraid. Overall, we're a scared race driven by emotions, hope, and ego, which doesn't make us weak; it just makes us human.
Everything in the universe is made of matter, from the air we breathe to the smallest grain of bacteria. Matter is made of fundamental units, called elements, which one can find on the Periodic Table of Elements created by Dmitri Mendeleev. In our universe, there may be hundreds of elements, but only about twenty contribute to the life processes identified by modern science.
Elements are the purest form of matter, containing only one type of atom, the basic units of matter. On the other hand, molecules or compounds typically contain atoms that are bonded to different atoms. For example, gold is an element because it is made of only gold atoms, while water is a molecular compound as it is made of hydrogen and oxygen bonded together. There are also ionic compounds, which are bonds between more metallic elements such as sodium and chlorine (this combination describes table salt, sodium chloride).
In the human body, there are more atoms than there are stars in the observable universe, each playing an important role to ensure our survival. The most common among all organisms include carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. Almost every chemical reaction in our bodies are dependent on these building blocks of nature.
What Determines Living Things from Non-Living Things?
According to modern science, living organisms are described as having all four of the following characteristics:
Living things can grow, increasing in size of the entire organism either by producing more cells through cellular division or by increasing the size of a cell itself. When animal and plant cells divide, they undergo a process known as mitosis, where DNA is copied in a complex process by protein machines before creating two identical daughter cells. In more simple organisms like bacteria, cells follow the same basic steps but with different proteins and chemicals. Cells can also increase their own size by consuming fluids or other compounds.
Living things can reproduce through sexual or asexual methods. Sexually, animals and some plants reproduce through the conjoining of parental DNA from an egg and a sperm or something similar. Humans and most animals are ONLY capable of sexual reproduction, which ensures the success of our species by mixing traits.
Asexually, some animals, plants, and bacteria reproduce on their own without the need of a mate. They can develop their own offspring or replicate without another organism's DNA.
Organisms respond and react to their external and internal environments every second of every day. They have the ability to change themselves in response to external factors, such as heat, cold, pain, etc., either by grabbing blanket, taking a cool bath, or moving away from danger. They can also change themselves internally, such as through the release of hormones and neurotransmitters from the brain's neurons when we are too hot, causing us to release sweat, dilate our blood vessels, and increase our thirst. Lastly, cell can respond on their own to the environment, by changing their membranes, chemical productions and reactions, etc.
Metabolism can be described as the ability of organisms to take in nutrients from outside themselves and use them in a series of controlled chemical reactions to provide the energy and structures needed to grow, reproduce, and be responsive. The nutrients can either be used in their raw form or combined with other compounds to form incredibly complex molecular machines. Without metabolism, the other three characteristics of living matter would not exist.
The Consciousness Paradox
This question is the heart and center of every religion, but it's something we don't think about often because we tend to fill in the gaps with God or some other divine force to avoid the thought of how life came to be. But this is an important question that helps us to determine the true nature of our purpose and our existence.
A paradox, according to Google, is "a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true."
Consciousness, according to Google, is "the state of being awake and aware of one's surroundings."
The Consciousness Paradox is such because of its contradiction to everything we have learned in this article thus far. How can we be conscious if we are made entirely of non-living, non-conscious matter? Because of the nature of this question, there must only be two universal possibilities:
1] Either everything in the universe has consciousness and the organization of matter determines the intensity; therefore all matter is alive on some level or...
2] Nothing is conscious and we are merely a complex, chemical machine created by nature to ensure the stability of matter
"Everything is Alive..."
If one were true, than it would mean we are biologically, conscious beings because we are made of conscious matter in a conscious universe. This doesn't mean just being conscious on a human level, but being able to be aware of the surroundings.
Atoms, for instance, are aware of their environment; they communicate, exchange energy, and behave with one another constantly. The famous Double Slit Experiment conducted by Thomas Young demonstrates the strange nature of atoms and how they behave not just to each other, but by altering the laws of probability.
Let's pretend we are shooting pellets at the same speed, through a narrow slit. Behind this wall with the slit is a large screen that will capture the pellets as they stick to its surface. His experiment demonstrated that when one is observing the pellets or "matter", it will follow the laws of probability and stick to the screen in the thin pattern that they passed through. If we added a second slit, we would expect to see a second band duplicated beside the previous. With the pellets, this happens with much success.
Now if we throw electrons through a single slit, the small negatively charged units of atoms, they produce a single band like the pellets. But, if we throw electrons through two slits, they begin to form an interference pattern, which is a pattern of constant, vertical bands spaced out across the screen. How is this possible if the electrons, like the pellets, went through only two holes?
It was assumed the electrons behaved like waves interfering, producing all possible outcomes at the same time; they went through both holes, but also none, through one, but also the other. Therefore, they decided to place a measuring device to discover which slit the electron actually went through. Believe it or not, the electrons STOPPED creating interference patterns and went back to forming two single bands as if they were aware they were being watched.
The more we dive into the mathematics and physics of the universe, the more confusing it becomes. Therefore, is it possible that we are so wrongly driven by the idea of "living" and "non-living" matter?
Double Slit Experiment Explained by Cartoon
"Nothing is Alive..."
If two is true, then it would mean nothing in the universe is alive and consciousness is merely an illusion created by chemicals and molecules in the brain. This would also mean, therefore, that none of our decisions are ours and that desire, emotion, love, and free-will are nothing other than reactions in our chemical minds.
One some level, there is truth in that the human brain makes all of our decisions for us. In fact, the brain is such an aware machine, that it knows what we are going to do before we even do it. For example, if you are about to pick up a box from the shelf above you, your brain has already assessed the box, its dimensions, it color, its odor, its shape, its possible weight, its distance from you, the speed at which you must travel to reach it the tension and force you require to pick it up, the current position of your limbs relative to their required position to lift, the probable locations of which you plan to place the box, all while simultaneously listening to the environment, beating your heart, blinking, breathing, thinking, etc., and you didn't have to do any work. On top of all of these events, your brain is also rewiring itself every second in response, increasing its knowledge and understanding. A computer smart enough to rewire itself!
Science has also found through research that the brain reads only the first and last letter of a word to determine what it says. If you disoriented all the letters in between, including the fundamental vowels, it wouldn't matter, because the brain has already made its calculations and assumptions before you even got the chance to read the word yourself. Another amazing trick the brain does without our awareness is skip over duplicate words, such as when we read over our important essay and realize we wrote 'the' twice but failed to edit it out before submission even after dozens of rereads.
Test It Out For Yourself!
The mind is so complicated that no computer on Earth can duplicate its intricacy. Furthermore, with its ability to simultaneously collect, organize, retain, delete, process, and create predictions on information, it makes one wonder how non-living, non-conscious matter could craft such a device.
And even if we are simply chemicals with the illusion of consciousness, there are some important questions we must ask first:
1] Why would chemicals want to survive so badly that they organized themselves into cells, evolved an instruction manual of genetic code, developed the ability to reproduce to continue the stability and creation of the code, and created the most highly organized machine in the known universe with an identify, emotions, fear, and talents if they were non-living?
2] Why would non-conscious, non-living matter create a machine with a time limit embroidered into the genetic code when the ultimate goal of all matter is stability?
3] Why would matter create a machine with social skills, the desire to love and to be loved, and to connect with others? Why would a non-living machine want to interact with others unless it was aware of its benefits to survival? Why would non-conscious matter care whether or not it was alone?
4] How is it that there are more chemical reactions occurring within me everyday than there are people on Earth, yet my entire purpose is to be a mindless, unconscious bionic of nature?
5] Why are my cells so afraid of dying that they developed the ability to replicate their own genes, reproduce copies of themselves, work together with specific roles and duties as if socially inclined, and protect themselves from invaders as if they were aware of the probability if they are nothing more than a small universe of chemical chaos and organized reactions?
6] Why would non-living matter organize itself into a mind so strong that it was capable of questioning itself, the universe, death, and reality? How does matter even gain the ability to question? To be curious? To predict and theorize?
7] Why would non-living matter create a machine with the capability of ending it's own life, destroying it's own stability, and inhibiting its own reproduction?
Whether or not we are alive, our humanity has not become diluted. Remember, you are the universe experiencing itself... it just so happens to be that you got the human model.