Among the philosophers that made history by attempting to define life, Aristotle, Descartes and Kant have made three different interpretations.
Aristotle: Life is animation.
Descartes: Life is a mechanism.
Kant: Life is organization.
How come our cells make a decision to become a brain cell, a bone cell or a liver cell? How can a one-cell-sized organism dictate without even a brain which cell will make up the heart, the brain or the liver? How can it decide to halt its growth and divide into two new daughter cells with brand new functions? Fractal geometry might tell us.
It is evident for everyone how we reproduce—the egg and the sperm come together to make the first cell, the zygote. The zygote carries the new DNA code that contains the genetic information from both the woman and the man. This principal cell—this stem cell—proliferates by asymmetrical divisions. By dividing billions of times, it creates the fetus.
The fractal design inside the DNA organizes everything. The zygote sits still inside the uterus. The DNA it contains and its fractal design repeats itself as the stem cells divide according to the uterine fluids, chemicals, heat, pressure and gravity. Think of every stem cell as an independent organism with its DNA code/pattern. Its mechanism is built so that it will spread its newly occurring DNA code by dividing and proliferating on its own.
And here is where the question of why a cell makes a new cell becomes significant. What triggers the production of a new cell? The answer to this question is the same as that of the question of creatures on the beach. The cells do not make choices. Just as the wind makes the seaside creatures move and they simply move without having made a choice, the cells divide and grow solely due to the chemical and physical setting that propels them to do so. To put it more simply, if we take the DNA in the cells as a backbone let’s say for instance that the first functionally differentiated cells to be those of the kidneys. Let’s then assume that these kidney cells are built such that they will grow and divide indefinitely like Nozawa’s tomatoes by endless reiterations until they are limited by space. However, the nutrients from the mother, hormones, and all other chemicals that make up the environment the new daughter cells according to their DNA have to now become liver cells and not kidney cells. I’d like to remind you once more the Mandelbort function—where once the number of iterations reaches a certain level the shape takes another form regardless of a cause due to the rules of the formula.
The newly dividing liver cells too have the same DNA core but now due to the changing chemical environment they now produce neurons. Then, three functionally separate cells are generated via differentiation. The process remains the same. The cell repeats itself according to the formula in the DNA. It’s just that the eventual form is different due to external circumstances.
In each cell of the human body; within a width of 0.0001 centimeters, a length of 2 meters and made from 300 thousand codons, the DNA is found in a condensed manner. A function with 300 thousand codons… Take a look at the Mandelbraut formula—it is nothing more than just two letters. Consider how much a two-letter formula can accomplish and try to imagine what could happen with one that contains not 2 but 300 thousand variables.
As cells are dividing they do not follow a fixed organisation or under the control of a conscious agent. The fractal design—the DNA core—makes the new living being by adding on itself according to the surrounding chemicals. The simpler the DNA code is of the organism, the repeating number of different cell types is smaller accordingly. The cycle I am discussing here keeps repeating itself until the baby is born in turnover cycles.
But after birth this process then continues depending on new parameters that are the external environment and no longer the womb. The organism no longer feeds on the mother’s nutrients through the amniotic chord and is no longer in the amniotic fluid. There are gases, oxygen, nitrogen, air, light, other livings, bacteria, viruses and so on. And mind you we are housing 10 times as many bacteria as the number of cells inside our body. The organism now feeds from his mouth. And since it is now in contact with the external environment its DNA accordingly acquires new conditions that enable new prospects and possibilities. Hence is why the cortex of our brain does not complete its growth until the age of 2.5-3.
The liver has always fascinated me with its shape. It appears as though it has acquired the shape of its space to fill its gap. Like, the liver cells proliferated as long as they had space to grow inside until its adjacent tissues have left no space for them to keep growing.
Evolutionary biologists can without question tell us with more precision at which rate and to what extent which organs have evolved. But I can tell you that as functionally crucial as it is, the liver has a much simpler structure compared to other organs. With this state it is in, can it be true that it precedes other organs in the evolutionary timeline? It must have grown and filled the empty space until it can no longer grow in size.
The turnover I am mentioning here goes on until we are dead. We grow, renew and change as long as we are allowed by external factors and until we reach the limit set by our DNA. Until the DNA’s pattern reaches a limit by external factors and their constraint. Then the downfall begins. The DNA cannot create something new. Hence the system gets stuck and we die. This is my take on the issue.
I am much more fond of Descartes’s opinion in this. Life is a mechanism. But in the following chapters we will see that both Aristotle and Kant were also right. All three of these philosophers has captured life from a different angle.