What’s Living?

It seems the indoctrination starts early. At six-and-a-half years old, granddaughter brought home from school some beautifully drawn pictures marked with whether the objects shown are living or non-living. Trees, bushes and people are living; necklaces, houses, chairs and flags are non-living. We all recognise this because this is how we were brought up. It’s so obvious to us it even feels intuitively ‘right’. Yet does it bear scrutiny? Or is it part of the materialistic backdrop to our culture that has no basis in reality?

Consider the well-accepted theory of evolution, and the story of coalescing of planets around our solar system, the combination of atoms into molecules, molecules into bigger molecules, into viruses, bacteria, fungi and other primitive life forms, gradually increasing in complexity to plants, fishes, birds, animals and eventually human beings. At precisely what point in this process did the ‘living’ start? How can there be an answer to this question?

This is related to my post on materialism – if we accept that everything has an inner and an outer, then there is no artificial boundary between the living and the non-living. Obviously there are qualities of ‘livingness’ in those interiors that we recognise with immediate perception. There are other qualities that we have maybe become desensitised to, compared to earlier cultures that were more embedded in the stream of being, or perhaps the imaginal world in the terms of Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book reviewed in another post. (Maybe some of them were called gods?)

Let’s just consider the example of a river. Rivers are clearly coherent wholes that exhibit apparently intelligent activity, changing flow, changing channel, increasing or decreasing width according to circumstances. We even personify them, eg ‘old man river’. But the interior of a river is something we cannot logically comprehend. It does not mean it is not there, but it is well beyond petty human concerns. Just sit by the river for a few hours and you might begin to comprehend.

Then there is the earth and the solar system itself. How can we say these are not living beings, which has always been well understood in the ageless wisdom?

And then there’s the question of death, and what happens to the inner livingness…

The mystery is always greater than our verbal comprehension of it.

Featured image shows bonnet mold on feces, with dew
by Andrea massagli via Wikimedia Commons

 

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