What is life?
“For a finite-size system to persist in time (to live), it must evolve in such a way that it provides easier access to the imposed currents that flow through it.”Adrian Bejan, J.A. Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke University, 1996
This is a first principle of physics, alongside maxims like “An object will remain at rest or in a uniform state of motion unless that state is changed by an external force.”
I’ve heard people say that life begins with procreation, or with the ability to alter an environment, or the ability to regulate its self. Life, though, is flow. It may be impossible slow and limited (commonly terms ‘inanimate’) or it might be impossibly fast and complex but it all comes down to flow.
Flow describes two things, positions in space and time. That means that the fundamental unit of life comes down to one basic thing: a relationship.
Nothing starts without a hand first extending.
Everything is about the flow from here to there, spreading out, dealing with resistance, finding compromises. The first, most primal forces, combined and overcome and hardened and fell back, balanced only be each other.
After the Start, but before the end
Animation was an invention that came from holding some resistance close, building a flexible shell that could allow flow where none was previously possible.
From gathering these resources came the invention of replicating a successful strategy. Then, incorporating new elements when encountered, and ultimately, the idea of ‘food.’
Sex was a way to pass along compatible resources without having to eat your spouse first.
Emotions was a way to anticipate flows before they hit. A way to generate both joy and fear.
Then came sentience, jumping up and out of time. Looking at the flow, from beginning to end, to imagine it, to plan for it.
In that, we saw a hand reach out, from here to there.
And, in our life, the wisest of us smiled, and copied her.