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The difference between plants and stars?

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An action performed, expending effort, caused to exist with the purpose of achieving a specific result.

What does a star do that fits that definition?

Squish atoms together to get energy to resist total collapse and/or explosion.

Edited by brian0918
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I'm sure it is a great book but you should also understand the basic issue. Have you read "The Objectivist Ethics"?

I have not read that, but I've begun reading ItOE. I am still learning and I have a very long reading list to help facilitate that.

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Ask yourself: does flowing water have a goal? Do rocks pursue goals? How about a rock that is rolling down hill? How about waves? Is the goal of mountains ultimately to become sand? or sandstone? or mountains again? Is there some other course of action open to the sun? If the goal of it's life is to make the heaviest element why does it wait to do this until it dies?

Well that doesn't help, you have to actually answer the questions.

Look at a rock, then look at plants and animals. Don't they act differently than a rock? Does the rock have a goal?

And then look back at the post where I replied to you the following:

How do you know that? Maybe decomposition is a goal. Ultimately the earth will be swallowed by the sun so maybe our goal is to feed the sun. If the sun can have self-generated, goal-directed action so can my dead body, right?

Well you don't really mean non-existence right? You just mean passing from animate to inanimate matter. And really you don't even mean that if the sun or a rolling stone is alive. So I'm not sure what you mean.

Do you understand what I'm trying to say? If there is no difference between animate and inanimate entities, then these distinctions you are trying to make between goal-directed/not goal-directed and existence/non-existence don't make sense. You are stealing the concept.

If the goal of it's life is to make the heaviest element why does it wait to do this until it dies?

Well because then the goal of life would be to die. Does that seem like it could be described as self-sustaining action? (this is the actual definition of life: a process of self-generated and self-sustaining action)

And if the goal is just to make heavier elements and not the heaviest element then how does the sun know when it has reached its goal? When it reaches a goal set by something other than itself? Can this be described as self-generated action?

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Look at a rock, then look at plants and animals. Don't they act differently than a rock? Does the rock have a goal?

A rock? I don't think so.

If there is no difference between animate and inanimate entities, then these distinctions you are trying to make between goal-directed/not goal-directed and existence/non-existence don't make sense.

Well, I would certainly grant that there are non-living entities that have no apparent goals. A rock, for example. So there is definitely a difference between that and a living thing, but I'm not sure if all non-living things fit that distinction.

Well because then the goal of life would be to die.

I'm not necessarily saying a star is alive. I'm asking if it has goal-directed action, or if any non-living thing has goal-directed action. That's why I don't think this has any implication on Rand's ethical system.

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Squish atoms together to get energy to resist total collapse and/or explosion.

What evidence do you have that suggests stars purposefully squish atoms together, desire or are instinctively compelled to get energy, and deliberately work to resist collapse/explosion?

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What evidence do you have that suggests stars purposefully squish atoms together, desire or are instinctively compelled to get energy, and deliberately work to resist collapse/explosion?

I'm not sure. My question is implicitly asking what such evidence would even look like.

Everything stars do, they necessarily must do, according to the laws of nature. I see stars crushing atoms together under immense pressure for thermogenesis, which also happens to keep the star from collapsing and ceasing to be a star. But the same seems to be true for plants. Everything plants do, they necessarily must do, according to the laws of nature (and nobody here is suggesting plants have free will or a consciousness, right?).

There are even thermogenic plants that produce heat specifically for the purpose of staying warm in a cold environment. Same means to different ends.

Edited by brian0918
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A rock? I don't think so.

If a star's goal is to continue to exist as a star, then a rock's goal is to continue to exist as a rock. Furhter, the rock must keep inter-atomic bonds together aginst forces such as pressure or erosion.

I'm not necessarily saying a star is alive. I'm asking if it has goal-directed action, or if any non-living thing has goal-directed action.

If you read up-thread you'll see I claimed a star doesn't act at all, goal-oriented or not. A star just is, it doens't do anything and it doesn't need to do anything. It's also self-contained. All it is or will ever be is inside it already.

A non-living thing with goal-oriented actions would be a machine. Not all machines, but several I can think of: an autopilot, an industrial robot, an antivurus software, a car wash, a space probe, etc.

So, no, non-living things don't act and much less act in goal-oriented fashion. If you can prove otherwise, please do so.

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If you read up-thread you'll see I claimed a star doesn't act at all, goal-oriented or not. A star just is, it doens't do anything and it doesn't need to do anything. It's also self-contained. All it is or will ever be is inside it already.

That is true. So a star is definitely not a living thing, since every other living thing I know about must get energy from the outside. But what prevents non-living things from having goal-directed actions?

A non-living thing with goal-oriented actions would be a machine. Not all machines, but several I can think of: an autopilot, an industrial robot, an antivurus software, a car wash, a space probe, etc.

So, no, non-living things don't act and much less act in goal-oriented fashion. If you can prove otherwise, please do so.

I didn't understand this part. You first said there are non-living things with goal-oriented actions, and then listed several examples, and then said that there are not non-living things with goal-oriented actions.

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I'm not necessarily saying a star is alive. I'm asking if it has goal-directed action, or if any non-living thing has goal-directed action.
What is a "goal"? Consider a rock that just sits where I place it. Would sitting where it is placed be a "goal" of the rock? If so, does goal mean activity (i.e. when I say that something has a goal of X, is it the same as saying it does X ? Edited by softwareNerd
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I'm not necessarily saying a star is alive. I'm asking if it has goal-directed action, or if any non-living thing has goal-directed action. That's why I don't think this has any implication on Rand's ethical system.

OK. Do you agree that the entire Universe can be divided into two categories of entities, living and non-living?

If so, what could possibly be the goal of non-living entities? It can't be to stay non-living because it doesn't need to take any action to achieve that. If the goal is to become living, then the non-living entity must be able to take some action to achieve that goal. Can it take self-sustaining, self-generated action?

The implication is huge. Why don't you make a very abbreviated outline of the logical steps needed to ground the concept of "good" in metaphysical reality and we can critique it. If you think that might help.

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That is true. So a star is definitely not a living thing, since every other living thing I know about must get energy from the outside. But what prevents non-living things from having goal-directed actions?

Goals must be purposefully achieved. That there is an end result is not enough to make it a goal. A rock does not fall off the cliff in order to hit the ground below. It falls, then it hits. They are events, not actions, not goals. The rock does not strive to hit the ground. The star does not strive to "burn" the hydrogen. The purpose of the star doesn't exist. The star simply experiences cause (gravity) and effect (squished hydrogen) after cause (squished hydrogen) and effect (released energy, new elements created).

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But what prevents non-living things from having goal-directed actions?

The fact that they're non-living.

I didn't understand this part. You first said there are non-living things with goal-oriented actions, and then listed several examples, and then said that there are not non-living things with goal-oriented actions.

My mistake. I meant to say in nature there aren't non-living things capable of goal-oriented actions. Machines are man-made.

At that even machines are oriented to the goals their builders set for them. An industrial robot placed off an assembly line will do all the right motions it's programed to but won't accomplish anything.

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OK. Do you agree that the entire Universe can be divided into two categories of entities, living and non-living?

Yes. I look around on Earth and see a lot of cellular things with goals and self-generated action, reproducing, and with a common ancestry. I'll call that life. I see other things with no apparent goals, no apparent self-generated action, not reproducing, just static. I'll call that non-living. But there's stuff that seems to fit into both categories, for different reasons.

If so, what could possibly be the goal of non-living entities?

Just by observation alone, I see viruses seeking out and taking over cells, and those cells produce copies of the virus, so it's reproducing indirectly, but Dr. Binswanger says such things are not alive. So what do you call these actions that appear to be goal-oriented? Are they?

The implication is huge.

Is it? How would it affect Rand's discussion of life? If it is true that non-living things have goals, that doesn't mean that living things do not still cease to exist when they die. Whatever goals it had before, it no longer has those goals when it is dead, and does not appear to have any goals at all.

Goals must be purposefully achieved. That there is an end result is not enough to make it a goal. A rock does not fall off the cliff in order to hit the ground below. It falls, then it hits. They are events, not actions, not goals. The rock does not strive to hit the ground. The star does not strive to "burn" the hydrogen. The purpose of the star doesn't exist. The star simply experiences cause (gravity) and effect (squished hydrogen) after cause (squished hydrogen) and effect (released energy, new elements created).

And how do you differentiate this situation from that of a plant in order to say that a plant has goals. You can't talk to it to see if it has goals (although I remember sitting next to a woman on a plane who talked to a plant, and referred to it as a "girl"). So you have to have some observable test to say, "ah! that is definitely a goal!" whereas you'll observe a simple virus or a star and say, "ah! that is not a goal!"

The fact that they're non-living.

Alright, so you've defined goals as being limited to living things. So what of viruses? Are they without goals? When they inject their blueprints into a cell, and the cell reproduces the virus, is it impossible to call that a "goal" of the virus, and if so, why?

Edited by brian0918
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... viruses...
From my non-biologist view, this seems more like a "borderline" scenario.

Is it? How would it affect Rand's discussion of life?
I cannot see how it has any philosophical implications if there is a huge animal that lives somewhere out there in the universe. Similarly, if some stars are actually huge animals. Edited by softwareNerd
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I have not read that, but I've begun reading ItOE. I am still learning and I have a very long reading list to help facilitate that.

Marc is right, to learn in a proper order it would be a good idea to read "The Objectivist Ethics" essay first, which is found in "The Virtue of Selfishness". It takes some study to understand it fully! Regarding "The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts", I found it to be very beneficial to me, because it integrated evolutionary theory with the Oist ethics. He answers questions like the ones Brian asks here.

ITOE is a much harder read, btw.

I enjoyed them all, but I like reading technical things when there is real value to be gained from it. :lol:

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So what of viruses? Are they without goals? When they inject their blueprints into a cell, and the cell reproduces the virus, is it impossible to call that a "goal" of the virus, and if so, why?

Viruses may be best classified as quasi-living things. That would be a thing that has some of the attributes of a living thing but not all of them. It can reproduce, but it can't act and it doesn't eat. Viruses even evolve through natural selection, not into higher life-forms (or just life-forms), but into more efficient viruses. Some, like the common cold virus, are even well-adapted to their hosts.

Oh, also viruses can be killed, or rendered inert. Some vaccines are made up of dead or inert viruses, which elicit an immune response (through the virus' protein envelope), but cannot infect cells. Other vaccines rely on a weakened form of virus, which can't reproduce.

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Goals must be purposefully achieved. That there is an end result is not enough to make it a goal. A rock does not fall off the cliff in order to hit the ground below. It falls, then it hits. They are events, not actions, not goals. The rock does not strive to hit the ground. The star does not strive to "burn" the hydrogen. The purpose of the star doesn't exist. The star simply experiences cause (gravity) and effect (squished hydrogen) after cause (squished hydrogen) and effect (released energy, new elements created).

Only an entity with consciousness can have a purpose. However, all living things have self-generated actions which, by their nature, support the life of the thing: that is their goal. So goals don't have to be purposefully achieved.

Trees certainly don't have a purpose, but their actions are goal-oriented.

As for the goal of a star, I don't know. My understanding is that there is a nuclear chain reaction, in which every explosion sustains the next one, and so on. That is an action, which sustains the process. I guess I would have to know a lot more about the entire process (how a star is formed, how it lives and how it dies), to even begin to decide whether this definition applies or not.

To Brian: I think the information you've given in the first post isn't enough to make a star a living entity by Rand's definition. What about the beginning of a star? Does that process also fit the "self-generated" action label?

Edited by Jake_Ellison
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I cannot see how it has any philosophical implications if there is a huge animal that lives somewhere out there in the universe. Similarly, if some stars are actually huge animals.

That's what I thought.

Viruses may be best classified as quasi-living things. That would be a thing that has some of the attributes of a living thing but not all of them. It can reproduce, but it can't act and it doesn't eat. Viruses even evolve through natural selection, not into higher life-forms (or just life-forms), but into more efficient viruses. Some, like the common cold virus, are even well-adapted to their hosts.

Oh, also viruses can be killed, or rendered inert. Some vaccines are made up of dead or inert viruses, which elicit an immune response (through the virus' protein envelope), but cannot infect cells. Other vaccines rely on a weakened form of virus, which can't reproduce.

While all of this is true, it does not answer the questions in the segment of my post that you quoted.

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i just kind of glanced over this topic but a star isn't an organism with one goal. it's just laws of physics and chemistry in motion. plants act as wholes to maintain their goal of life. Saying a star is near-living is like saying an engine or motor or reactor is near-living because it accomplishes a task. Instead it is just physics applied and put into action to react and produce action.

the main flaw i see with viruses being goal-oriented is that their goal is to die and create more. This is a goal i suppose but they have no means of sustaining themselves until that point. they just go along, attempt to infect, make more and continue. As a single unit they dont seem to have a real goal because it inolves their death and all they can do is sustain the number of themselves.

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Is there any evidence or argument to back this up, other than a simple definition, ie, saying "a goal is not a purpose, period", with no explanation?

What "evidence" are you talking about? There's no "intrinsic" evidence that would determine *what she should have meant*. She was expanding upon what she said for clarity's sake. You're free to disagree with Ayn Rand's conclusions, but you're not free to say that *she said* goal-directed = purposive when she specifically made the distinction that she DIDN'T mean purposive when she said goal-directed.

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No, "goal-directed" is part of Ayn Rand's definition of life. From the Lexicon: Goal-directed action

I understand what Rand is saying here, but I disagree with the use of the term "goal," and "goal-directed."

A goal is something you act towards, in colloquial usage. "Goal-directed," in Rand's argument, is really "nature-directed," where "nature" refers to the nature of the organism. A plant does not have a goal of surviving, it has automatic mechanisms in its nature because those mechanisms evolved as effective means of surviving to the next generation.

The difference between plants and stars is plants act according to a nature evolved to optimize their chances of surviving to the next generation; stars act according to a non-evolving nature.

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Just a brief note: I do not think that Rand intended "life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action" to be a definition of the concept "life." It is just a description, just like "I am a left-handed person" describes me but does not define me.

I think it is for biologists to define life. But I know that living things grow, eat, reproduce, and eliminate waste, and they die when they fail to sustain themselves. As stated by others, viruses are a borderline case. They are very primitive life, relying on a host, but it is possible to kill them, so they are considered living things.

Only living things have goals, by the definition of "goals."

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I understand what Rand is saying here, but I disagree with the use of the term "goal," and "goal-directed."

A goal is something you act towards, in colloquial usage. "Goal-directed," in Rand's argument, is really "nature-directed," where "nature" refers to the nature of the organism. A plant does not have a goal of surviving...

A goal is not something you act towards, in colloquial use: that is a purpose. A goal can be the just the direction of an action (in different sports for instance), or in a wider sense, the end-result of an action, whatever it may be. There's no way you haven't heard it used in that sense by people referring to all sorts of lifeless or mindless things.

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Just a brief note: I do not think that Rand intended "life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action" to be a definition of the concept "life." It is just a description, just like "I am a left-handed person" describes me but does not define me.

...

Only living things have goals, by the definition of "goals."

She did define life, and she did it intentionally. There's no sense in saying that she did not.

As for goals, that's not true. Even the programs in the background of this site have goals: they were chosen for them by the programmers, to serve whatever their purpose was. For instance the goal of ;) is to keep the screeen red in certain specific parts, giving you the impression that something toothy is banging its head against the wall.

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A goal is not something you act towards, in colloquial use: that is a purpose. A goal can be the just the direction of an action (in different sports for instance), or in a wider sense, the end-result of an action, whatever it may be. There's no way you haven't heard it used in that sense by people referring to all sorts of lifeless or mindless things.

There's no way you haven't heard any number of words used incorrectly. That doesn't make those usages correct.

What is the purpose of moving in the direction of the goal in sports, or since goal is not something you act towards, is it just a coincidence that you move towards the goal to score? If you intended to graduate law school, but instead dropped out and became a floor sweeper, was your "goal" all the time the janitorial arts?

goal

   /goʊl/ [gohl]

–noun

1. the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.

2. the terminal point in a race.

3. a pole, line, or other marker by which such a point is indicated.

4. an area, basket, cage, or other object or structure toward or into which players of various games attempt to throw, carry, kick, hit, or drive a ball, puck, etc., to score a point or points.

5. the act of throwing, carrying, kicking, driving, etc., a ball or puck into such an area or object.

6. the score made by this act.

pur⋅pose

   /ˈpɜrpəs/ [pur-puhs]

noun, verb, -posed, -pos⋅ing.

–noun

1. the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.

2. an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal.

3. determination; resoluteness.

4. the subject in hand; the point at issue.

5. practical result, effect, or advantage: to act to good purpose.

So a goal is something you act towards, and a purpose is the reason you act towards that goal. That's pretty clear, right?

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