- Education and Science
Life Begins When?
A virion is half alive
Search for when life begins
What is our criteria of life? (‘Criteria’ is used in the singular and plural sense)
Is energy the sole criteria of life? Take polonium 210, a radioactive material. It decays and when it does its nature changes. So we may add that change in nature is a criteria of life.
How does that change occur? Polonium 210 has 84 protons in its nucleus and 84 electrons corresponding to the protons orbiting the nucleus. Two protons bump into each other and destroy each other emitting energy in the process. That energy is in the form of X-rays. Polonium changes over to lead 206 that is stable, no more decaying.
It looks like we will have to trace back to protons and electrons as criteria of life because they are responsible for energy. However, protons and electrons can be split into smaller things like muons, and quarks, then to Higg’s boson. This is a negative charge that acquire mass in space.
We may settle on Higg’s boson as the criteria of life. Higg's boson is believed to have been involved in the origin of the universe. Or is it the change or movement that makes for life? There might be protons and electrons but if they did not move, they did not show any life at all.
Now by definition, a proton or electron is matter that moves. When they move they convert to energy. Let us recall that energy is equivalent to mass times the speed of light squared, according to Einstein.
However, some people will not admit that polonium 210 is alive. That means they have other criteria of life.
When does life begin?
I will discuss creation only very briefly.
The fundamental question in creation is: Who created god? (With apologies to Bertrand Russell who asked, "Who made god?" in his book "Why I am not a Christian.")
Some people would say, this question should never be asked. They would say man has no mental powers to answer this question. Therefore we might as well stop thinking.
But those who ask when does life begin outside the framework of creation can go on and speculate.
How about the virus, does life begin as a virus? A virus is either DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) or RNA (ribonucleic acid). DNA contains the information code, like a blueprint of a house. The RNA is the messenger that carries the blueprint of a house. DNA and RNA work together to build a house.
When we talk of DNA and RNA we are talking of a cell. Cells make up a tissue; tissues make up an organ; organs make up an organism. But let us not jump ahead of the story.
A virion is neither dead nor alive, according to the present definition in biology. Remember, a virion is not a cell, as we know cell in biology. But a virion like, hepatitis B virion, can move. Hepatitis B virion is a DNA virion.
When it lands on the surface of a cell of man or animal or plant, it seeks for the receptor that is like a tube protruding in the outside and inside of the cell. When inside the cell, it commandeers the RNA of the cell. When hepatitis B DNA and RNA of the host cell come together, the cell produces several daughter cells that are virtually hepatitis B virus.
In a sense, the hepatitis B DNA is alive. We have now changed the common sense definition of a virion, as one that is neither dead nor alive. The hepatitis B virion is half alive.
As for the RNA virion, like hepatitis A virion, it also seeks the cell receptor. Once inside the cell, it seeks for the cell’s DNA and by reverse transcription it will impart its message to the DNA. And the host cell will produce several cells that are virtually hepatitis A virus. So the hepatitis A virion is half alive.
But who would admit that life is half-half. A chance in survival might be 50-50 but life is not 50-50 according to our common sense definition. However, we are now changing our definition of life, aren’t we?
We started with matter, proceeded to energy, then to DNA and RNA. These seem to comprise a state when life begins. What else is missing?
Some would not agree that the virion is alive because it does not have a mind to think.
It looks like “mind” and “think” are anthropomorphic. That is, they are man-centered. The hepatitis B virion can locate the receptor of the host cell, is that not thinking? It might not have a brain that gives rise to mind as we know it in man, if that locating a receptor is not thinking. Then we must coin a word for that occurrence. Alright, let us reserve “thinking” for man.
We are going into another aspect of our discussion. We must look at our tool, language, or symbols. A letter or a Chinese character is a symbol that is meant to represent fact. A fact is anything in universe that is undefined. Once you use a symbol to represent a fact, you define the fact. We are trying to see a world of man where there had been no symbol, no speech, no language. We can see that there are pitfalls in symbol, speech, and language.
Language creates a class, like “animal.” Why? There are several creatures we call animal: cat, dog, horse, squirrel, tiger. We put them all in the class “animal.”
Is “animal” in the same level as a dog? It is not. We have been saying that it is a class. And a class is not a thing, Consider this: there are more classes than there are things. There is a class that has no thing, like zero. Zero is a class that has no member.
Before, we get astray let us say that our language is not perfect. A perfect language would be one that reflects every occurrence, taking into account every change of state. So the blood that had gone past your head is different from the blood that is now in your arms. But you call them both as blood ignoring the changes that blood had gone through and the position it had taken.
However, a perfect language is cumbersome. We have to invent new words to reflect changes in position and state. It is hard for two people to communicate if they were using perfect language. They would be using different symbols, one could hardly catch up with the symbols of the other. That is why we need “classes.” My name is Conrado since I was baptized. But that was over 65 years ago and I have changed in blood, flesh, bone, brain, and what have you thousand times. I can name myself Conradox356x65 to reflect that I have changed in each day for 65 years. I should have changed my name 23,140 times. That is only for each day. Suppose I wanted to reflect my state every second? My name “Conrado” is a class into which all my state has been lumped.
That long erudition is just for the proposal to come up with a new term to call the hepatitis virion in relation to life. It can be "knowledge" however this term presupposes brain and mind. A cat chasing after a mouse without mewing (like language) can be said to have knowledge of the mouse. You may invent your term for it. This kind of epistemology is part of my philosophy.
Let us admit our bias as human beings. When does life begin for a human being?
Does life begin with the “seed” of man? Or with the egg of a woman? Either sperm or egg is a half-life. Each contains 23 chromosomes and when they come together they make up 46 chromosomes that is the standard number of chromosomes of a human being.
When the sperm fertilizes the egg, one cell comes out. We call it zygote, or totipotent stem cell.
Does life begins as a zygote? When we consider this question we are going back to what philosophy we hold. To the monist, a human being must be compete. That is, complete with eyes, ears, nose, mouth, arms, feet, tongue, heart, lungs, liver, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, urinary bladder. One look-alike that lacks an arm is not a human being.
(I have a Hub "How a stem cell turns into a human being.")
So if you were a monist, a zygote is not alive, or a human being.
Recall that our philosophy affects our language and our definitions. Did you think you have no philosophy?
Some would say that life for a human being begins as two-week-old cells starting from fertilization. That is called embryo.
Your agreement or disagreement with this statement depends on your definition and ultimately on your philosophy.
There has been a lot of controversy over this definition that has emerged in the stem cell research. That is why stem cell research using the embryo has not been allowed because that is tantamount to killing the embryo that is already considered as a human being (Bellomo, M. The Stem Cell Divide. 2006).
[Fortunately, Shinya Yamanaka discovered that a skin cell can be reprogrammed to produce totipotent stem cells. It is called induced totipotent stem cell that can produce embryo which can be used in stem cell research overriding the need for an embryo that comes from the fertilization of the egg by sperm ("natural"). That overrides the controversy over the use of "natural" embryo. This is what he accomplished with adult cell reprogramming, according to Yamanaka, co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine with Sir John Gurdon in 2012 (Internet, April 28,2014).]
It looks like the debate over when life begins for a human being can go on for a long time. Some other factors can intervene like power, legislation, policy and market forces insofar as human behavior is concerned.
The mind will keep on churning..