LIFE & LOVE ARE PRECIOUS

LIFE & LOVE ARE PRECIOUS

What does it mean to be alive?

You are alive, and so am I. My cat, Charlie, is purring and is very much alive.  The tree just outside my window has new leaves which are emerging for the spring. Although sometimes I wonder, I don’t believe that my computer is alive nor is my desk and chair.

What is it that defines life? How can we tell that one thing is alive and another is not?, Amazingly, it is surprisingly difficult to come up with a precise definition of life.  Many definitions allow us to separate living things from nonliving ones, but they don’t actually pin down what life is. With so many human beings dying from covid-19, this is a question we should be asking.

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So what allows living organisms to survive?

Biologists have identified various traits common to all the living organisms. Although nonliving things may show some of these characteristic traits, only living things show all of them.

  • Living things are highly organized, meaning they contain specialized, coordinated parts. All living organisms are made up of one or more cells, which are considered the fundamental units of life.
  • Life depends on an enormous number of interlocking chemical reactions. These reactions make it possible for organisms to do work—such as moving around or catching prey—as well as growing, reproducing, and maintaining the structure of their bodies. Living things must use energy and consume nutrients to carry out the chemical reactions that sustain life.  
  • Living organisms regulate their internal environment to maintain the relatively narrow range of conditions needed for cell function. For instance, your body temperature needs to be kept relatively close to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 degrees Celsius.  
  • Living organisms undergo regulated growth. Individual cells become larger in size, and multicellular organisms accumulate many cells through cell division. You yourself started out as a single cell and now have tens of trillions of cells in your body. Growth depends on pathways that build large, complex molecules such as proteins and DNA.
  • Living organisms can reproduce themselves to create new organisms. Reproduction can be either asexual, involving a single parent organism, or sexual, requiring two parents. Single-celled organisms can reproduce themselves simply by splitting in two! In sexual reproduction, two parent organisms produce sperm and egg cells containing half of their genetic information, and these cells fuse to form a new individual with a full genetic set.
  • Living organisms show “irritability,” meaning that they respond to stimuli or changes in their environment. For instance, people run from bumblebees, many plants turn toward the sun; and unicellular organisms may migrate toward a source of nutrients or away from a noxious chemical.
  • Populations of living organisms can undergo evolution, meaning that the genetic makeup of a population may change over time. In some cases, evolution involves natural selection, in which a heritable trait, such as darker fur color or narrower beak shape, lets organisms survive and reproduce better in a particular environment. Over generations, a heritable trait that provides a fitness advantage may become more and more common in a population, making the population better suited to its environment.

Living organisms have many different properties related to being alive, and it can be hard to decide on the exact set that best defines life. Thus, different thinkers have developed different lists of the properties of life. For instance, some lists might include movement as a defining characteristic, while others might specify that living things carry their genetic information in the form of DNA. Still others might emphasize that life is carbon-based. Me, well I can talk and think and feel so I must be alive

How well do the properties above allow us to determine whether or not something is alive?  The living things we talked about earlier—humans, cats, and trees—easily fulfill all seven criteria of life. We, along with our feline friends and the plants in our yards, are made of cells, metabolize, maintain homeostasis, grow, and respond. Humans, dogs, and trees are also capable of reproducing, and their populations undergo biological evolution.

Nonliving things may show some, but not all, properties of life. For instance, ice cystals are organized—though they don’t have cells—and can grow but don’t meet the other criteria of life. Similarly, a fire can grow, reproduce by creating new fires, and respond to stimuli and can arguably even be said to “metabolize.” However, fire is not organized, does not maintain homeostasis, and lacks the genetic information required for evolution.

The question of what it means to be alive remains unresolved. For instance, viruses like the coronavirus—tiny protein and nucleic acid structures that can only reproduce inside host cells—have many of the properties of life. However, they do not have a cellular structure, nor can they reproduce without a host.

For these reasons, viruses are not generally considered to be alive. However, not everyone agrees with this conclusion, and whether they count as life remains a topic of debate.  Right now, I think most consider covid-19 to be very much alive, particularly if you become the host.

So, what about the idea of love?

Life and love are intertwined. Love brings joy to the living and without it, life often lacks meaning and purpose.   Love is a complex set of emotions, behaviors, and beliefs associated with strong feelings of affection, protectiveness, warmth, and respect for another person. Love can also be used to apply to animals, to principles, and to religious beliefs. For example, a person might say he or she loves his or her dog, loves freedom, or loves God.

Love has been a favored topic of philosophers, poets, writers, and scientists for generations, and they have often debated its meaning. While most people agree that love implies strong feelings of affection, there are many disagreements about its precise meaning, and one person’s “I love you” might mean something quite different than another’s. Some possible definitions of love include:

  • A willingness to prioritize another’s well-being or happiness above your own.
  • Extreme feelings of attachment, affection, and need.
  • Dramatic, sudden feelings of attraction and respect.
  • A fleeting emotion of care, affection, and like.
  • A choice to commit to helping, respecting, and caring for another.
  • All or some of the above.

“life and love are very precious when both are in full bloom.”

― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

FEAR HOPE GREED

FEAR HOPE GREED

Fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger which has strong roots in human evolution. If people didn’t feel fear, they couldn’t protect themselves from legitimate threats, which in the ancestral world frequently resulted in life-or-death consequences.

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In the modern world, individuals often fear situations in which the stakes are much lower, such as public speaking, but their bodies and brains may still treat the threat as lethal. This can trigger an extreme, although often unnecessary, fight-flight-or-freeze response. As a result, people may find themselves avoiding challenges that could benefit them in the long run or hanging back during social interactions.

When people today do face deadly or extreme danger, it can sometimes cause lingering trauma. Such trauma can trigger a fear response that is hard to quell, even when the risk has passed. We will fear the coronavirus until a vaccine emerges in 5 years and for many years after.

The process of creating fear takes place in the brain and is entirely unconscious. There are two paths involved in the fear response: The Quick Response is quick and messy, while the Thoughtful Response takes more time and delivers a more precise interpretation of events. Both processes happen simultaneously.

The idea behind the quick response is “take no chances.” If the front door to your home is suddenly knocking against the frame, it could be the wind. It could also be a burglar trying to get in. It’s far less dangerous to assume it’s a burglar and have it turn out to be the wind than to assume it’s the wind and have it turn out to be a burglar. The quick response shoots first and asks questions later.

The thoughtful response is much more cerebral. While the quick response is initiating the fear response just in case, the thoughtful response is considering all of the options. Is it a burglar, or is it the wind? Have I seen this particular stimulus before? If so, what did it mean that time? What other things are going on that might give me clues as to whether this is a burglar or a windstorm?

The sensory data regarding the door — the stimulus — is following both paths at the same time. But being thoughtful takes longer than a flash. That’s why you have a moment or two of terror before you decide to run or not.

Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.  Hope comes into its own when crisis looms, opening us to new creative possibilities. It includes the existence of a goal, combined with a determined plan for reaching that goal. The difference between hope and optimism is that the former includes practical pathways to an improved future.

I hope the vaccine for the coronavirus happens on a shorter time frame than I expect. This fear will remain and will limit future improvements. But my hope is that it will enable us to see our connectedness and need for each other.

Hope should be viewed as a cognitive skill that demonstrates an individual’s ability to maintain drive in the pursuit of a particular goal. An individual’s ability to be hopeful depends on two types of response: the individual’s determination to achieve their goals despite possible obstacles and the individual belief that they can achieve these personal goals without a doubt. But it is important to set realistic goals that have a reasonable probability of being achieved. It is important for individuals to find something they can be passionate about, makes them feel good about themselves and would help them remain hopeful of their ability to achieve these goals. Hope is a way to maintain personal motivation, which ultimately will result in a greater sense of optimism.

I have high hopes!

Greed is the intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.  Greed is an excessive love or desire for money or any possession. It is not merely caring about money and possessions but caring too much about them. The greedy person is too attached to his things and his money, or he desires more money and more things in an excessive way.

We tolerate greed, because we accept the hard bargain that it can do good, not that it is good.  The pursuit of self-interest is the driving force for assembling resources and putting them to their best use. Greed bears fruit in many ways.

Greed has always been the imp of capitalism, the mischief it makes for those faithful capitalists. Their troubled consciences are not the result of doubts about the efficacy of free markets, but of the centuries of moral reform that was required to make those markets as free as they are.

But greed has taken America too far.  Companies no longer pursue increased productivity, new and improved products or new production facilities.  CEOs keep sales on a modest upward track and use cash to buy back stock which increases earnings per share.  With increases in earnings PER SHARE, the stock market rewards shareholders with a higher price. Everyone is happy including the CEO and other senior managers as their big bonuses are triggered.

I have long felt that fear, hope and greed fuel the stock market and most everything else. Look at the following chart.

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Fear is the bottom of a bear market and no one wants stocks.  Of course, it is the best time to buy.  At the top (greed), everyone believes this market will go on forever unlike any cycle in the past. It doesn’t!

Is this pandemic a means of acquainting us with suffering, so we can retreat from greed, become fearful and then regain hope again?