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Does this robot count as non-biological life?

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Would this count as non-biological life as the robot runs on organic matter.

It is impossible to separate life and biology--biology is the study of life. Biological entities are those possessing life (biology is "the study of life"). To say a life is non-biological is to say it is an entity possessing life that also doesn't possess life (or, perhaps wider, that it is unrelated to life). So no, it would be impossible for it to be a non-biological life.

I don't really think that's what you were getting at--I think the more relevant question would be: is it alive? And the answer to that, also, is no.

Imagine a plant, or a cell, or a human--anything living. Without following a certain course of action, their "lives" will go out of existence but their chemicals will remain. A cell will stop moving, "feeding," photosynthesizing, etc. (depending on the type of cell it is). A plant will shrivel up and stop growing toward light, photosynthesizing, blooming, etc. Humans will stop moving, eating, thinking, etc. Each of these entities has an important trait--life--that is something more than the simple combination of physical elements, and requires specific actions to maintain itself. Unlike the materials it is made of, this life can go out of existence.

If you program a robot to respond to certain stimuli in certain ways, you aren't adding "life" to it somehow--you are just rearranging elements in nature so that they will passively act a certain way in response to external stimuli. It is not active at all. If a fly hits it, it will gain some energy and do something. If not, not. Say it waits two years between fly hits...and suddenly starts moving. You see, there is no life that it is keeping--it is not active, not sustaining anything. Its physical structure may be moving, but it isn't self-generated (it is passively responding) or self-sustaining (there is nothing to sustain!).

The only threat of non-existence it faces is if its physical structure gets eroded by the environment. Notice that this is a problem that living and non-living entities face--and definitely isn't a characteristic that indicates life. For example, think of stonehenge. A tornado could easily change it into an unrecognizable form, destroying stonehenge, but that doesn't make it "alive." Life is more than just a given physical arrangement that responds to its environment (everything in nature responds causally to outside factors). Since this rearrangement is its only threat of nonexistence, and that isn't enough to make it a living organism, it is not living.

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Robot which runs on flies

Would this count as non-biological life as the robot runs on organic matter.

And if it does mean that, then would this mean that non-biological consciousness is possible?

Have you looked at what the root of the term "biological" comes from? The word derives in our language from the Greek "bios" meaning life.

So your first question translates to this: "Would this count as non-life life as the robot runs on organic matter?"

Likewise "non-biological consciousness" has no meaning.

Combining terms in such a contradictory manner requires the mind of Hegel (who I dated) to accomplish. Please look up and study the etymology of some of the terms here. Maybe not known to yourself, but some of these are like saying " a non-existent existent" or "a deterministic morality" or "a banana with rights".

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Who knew flies contained so much energy? And to think I've been throwing them away.

Life is self-sustaining and so is EcoBot II, but it is not self-replicating. So, it does not meet that criterion for being a living thing.

Also, although I know what you meant, "inorganic" would be a better term than "non-biological". Inorganic refers to things that do not contain hydrocarbons, which would apply to something made mostly of silicon chips and wires.

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Who knew flies contained so much energy? And to think I've been throwing them away.

I wouldn't get too excited about the amount of energy that can be extracted from a fly... yet :)

From the article:

At this stage, EcoBot II is a "proof-of-concept" robot and travels only at roughly 10 centimeters per hour.

This thing isn't going to by making any transcontinental jounreys anytime soon :) . Nevertheless, I find this article fascinating. Too bad there aren't any pictures of the robot in the article, or at the very least some rough dimensions of its size.

I decided to add this link regarding the EcoBot, if anyone cares:

Crazy Fly-eating robot from the future

Edited by Bryan
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In addition it does not grow or metabolize, also conditions for being living.

The living things we know of grow, but one might be able to argue that growth is not necessary, if there were a way to reproduce where the living thing was born as an adult. And the robot can metabolize; it digests the flies and converts them into energy.

Just for the sake of argument, if we assume that a robot could "eat" and "reproduce", that is: it did not need us to exist and keep existing, would it then be alive?

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The living things we know of grow, but one might be able to argue that growth is not necessary, if there were a way to reproduce where the living thing was born as an adult.

I disagree with this--growth is a very important part of life. I don't see how you might be able to argue that growth is not necessary, as it is one of the conditions of things being living. If you have some such argument I'd be interested to hear it, though.

I learned in a biology class that there were 5 conditions necessary for life--growth, reproduction, interaction with the environment, metabolism, and a life cycle (including death). Is this controversial or currently being debated by biologists? Have the conditions changed?

And the robot can metabolize; it digests the flies and converts them into energy.

Just for the sake of argument, if we assume that a robot could "eat" and "reproduce", that is: it did not need us to exist and keep existing, would it then be alive?

You're right about the metabolism, sorry. And no, it wouldn't be alive. That is basically the argument I made in my first post on this topic (reproduction was irrelevant to that argument).

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I disagree with this--growth is a very important part of life.  I don't see how you might be able to argue that growth is not necessary, as it is one of the conditions of things being living.  If you have some such argument I'd be interested to hear it, though.

That's true given the facts we have at hand and what we know about life on our planet.

I am simply engaging in conjecture. Therefore, I don't have any arguments, I am thinking along the lines of a discovery; i.e. finding something out that we do not yet know. For example, what if some day we find something that appears to be alive, but is "constructed" before being "born". Instead of developing slowly, perhaps these beings are built from parts in the womb or egg or whatever, and do not live until they are activated, but then never grow beyond that. If we were to discover or create such a thing, we would then have to decide if it had enough in common with what we regard as living, to be called "alive".

I guess what I am saying is that our definition of life is dependent on the things we know of, and if we encountered things that were sufficiently different, we might have to revise our definition. The same thing would apply to something we create; we might need to revise our definition. Or, we would form a new concept to describe it.

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  • 1 month later...
And if it does mean that, then would this mean that non-biological consciousness is possible?

Sorry if this has been pointed out (I only quickly scanned the thread), but Ayn Rand would have no problem with this. In "Objectivist Ethics", she says, "it is only the concept of life that makes the concept of value possible."

Her example to show a mobile entity without values is an indestructible robot. So keep your robots destructible and by implication, they have values...

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This touches on several questions that have come to my mind while contemplating the subject. I’m not by any means well acquainted with the material here presented and this is more another question than an attempt to answer. So by all means those who know better, please correct me where I am in error.

There are many theories that attempt to explain the origins of life, and of those a few are supported by empirical evidence. One of which says that life began on earth from a mass of organic compounds which when excited by electrical discharges in the atmosphere began to form complex molecules which amounted to self-perpetuating chemical reactions. Those which performed their functions more efficiently were able to consume greater amounts of available reactants and therefore continue to function. After a period of time it seems to indicate that these reactions gained a kind of complexity through the process of elimination that we call the Theory of Evolution. Those that were most efficient and better protected from the environment were able to sustain they and I gathered make more copies of themselves.

I'm certainly no expert on the matter, and this is my laymen's interpretation, but it appears that this created a condition of competition among these various reactions that after many generations produced simple bacteria, viruses, and algae’s. As the process continued the chemical reactions became recognizable as organisms and kept evolving over the generations into the many forms of life that we see around us today.

Now, what I would like to know is at what point and defined by what specific criteria does a self-perpetuating chemical reaction become recognized as life, as conscious, and as sapient?

It would seem that if something is not a contained self-perpetuating system, it can’t rightly be called life, and even then I am sure there are other criteria I am leaving out.

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As to the term 'sapient', do you mean something like 'rational'? If so, then I'd define that to mean: The quality unique to conscious entities capable of forming concepts.
Yes I meant rational in the way which you explain. Its an amazing thing the mind, and I was only musing about its origins. I wonder if in my lifetime they'll ever get any closer to finding out about how it works (chemically), Objectivism has done a perfect job of figuring out how to operate it :D

although there are at least a few starting to investigate bio-psychology, which concentrates on studying the brain's physical processes

I suppose that these folks here have the best chance of answering the question, which was mostly refering to the chemical and physical makeup of the mind. What about the simpler minds like those of animals, how are they similar and different. I know animal rights activists constantly whine about how animals have "feelings", for whatever its worth I'd like to know what gave them that idea. Not that I'll ever stop eating tasty tasty meat products though :P

...Freudians, Jungians, behavioralists...

These here most certainly do not help answer ANY questions, although its fun to try to decide which is the most offensive to man's mind. I pick the first one!

Edited by Ursus
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