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Matthew Nielsen

Life as a pattern

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Here's my contribution to philosophy:

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Life is a self-sustaining, self-replicating pattern with the ultimate purpose of flourishment.

Life-forms are self-sustaining, self-replicating patterns with the ultimate purpose of flourishment.

vs. Ayn Rand's definition:

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Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action.

Think of the DNA and the brain. Aren't they patterns? The brain - structure of neural connections.

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Edited by Matthew Nielsen

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The relationship between brain or DNA and “pattern” is not “is a”. A brain is an organ composed primarily of neurons and secondarily of glial cells, and it has the potential to do certain things, at least when attached to a living being. DNA is a molecule with a particular structure, just as sucrose is a molecule with a particular structure. DNA likewise has the potential to do certain things, and that potential is less tied to the organism being alive.

In comparing your definitions to Rand’s, I notice that Rand’s are very focused and minimalist: they concisely say what the essential characteristics of “life” are. Your definitions say much more, which is a disadvantage. The purpose of a definition is to reduce the difference between two sets of referents to be distinguished, and befitting its cognitive function, it should be a minimal statement of what makes life distinct from anything else. A definition is not a catalogue of all or most knowledge about an existent.

You expand Rand’s definition of life to include having “the ultimate purpose of flourishment”. Why should this be part of the definition? What, indeed, is flourishment? What necessitates this complication of the definition of life? We can still reach conclusions about rational goals and flurishing even if we don’t complicate the definition of life – see various works of Tara Smith on the topic, who adheres to the classical definition of life.

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