Tuesday: Hili dialogue

November 7, 2023 • 2:51 am

PCC(E) will be snug in his Parisian bed, I guess, getting over his jetlag. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is stunned

Hili: I do not believe in what I see.
A: And what do you see?
Hili: Something I don’t believe in.
A: Jesus Christ.
Hili: No, not him.
In Polish:
Hili: Nie wierzę w to, co widzę.
A: A co widzisz?
Hili: To, w co nie wierzę.
Ja: Jezu Chryste.
Hili: Nie, to nie on.

As yesterday, feel free to rabbit below.

In fact, here’s a subject to argue about: Is there a good definition of life? Do we need one?

NOTE FROM JERRY:  I have arrived and have prepared a food-and-cemetery-visit post that will be up later. Paris is lovely, as always, and the weather is warmish (in the 50s F) and sunny.

I see that the Hamas/Israel war is going on, and I’d like to follow it, but on the other hand my time in Paris is giving me a respite from it. I also see the depressing news that, despite his trials, Trump is leading Biden in the polls—substantially in some swing states.  It cannot be true that country can elect a narcissistic blowhard, being tried for several crimes, as its leader!

51 thoughts on “Tuesday: Hili dialogue

  1. Strewth! It must be gone 10am there now – he should be up & drinking coffee by now, insomniac that he is, preparing himself for lunch!

    I like to think that he is eating for all of us… 😋

    1. The time stamps on this page say that this was published at around 3am. I’m on GMT, but I thought Greg was too which would make that obscenely early.

      Anyway, I’m posting this at 12:22pm GMT to find out what timestamp I get.

      Edit: OK. The time stamps are 6 hours out. I guess the web site is assuming I’m on Chicago time.

      1. From my experience with a Word Press -based blog or site, the timestamps on all posts and comments are given in the zone defined by admins for the site overall, the “server time”. So, yes it is timestamping your comment by Chicago time, but no, not because it thinks you are in this zone — just because it considers *itself* to be in this zone. 🙂

  2. Life – I recently read Fire Weather by John Vaillant, about the Fort McMurray fire of 2016, & fire in a heating world. He makes a case for fire behaving like life. It eat, grows, spreads, consumes oxygen. I am not sure it carries information though, which is what cells do.

    Is a virus a living thing? A prion?

    1. A point of discussion in some classes, like classes on evolution, is: What is life? Fire, and some other things (growing crystals, storm systems), have several life-like properties. They consume energy and raw materials from their surroundings to build and maintain their form. They grow increasingly complex (tho that isn’t like biological evolution). They have behaviors and homeostasis. But fire and those other things are disqualified from being alive due to some technicalities. One is that they don’t have inheritance.
      Viruses and prions have some life-like properties. But they too get disqualified for various reasons. Viruses cannot act on their own to acquire raw materials and consume energy, for one thing.

  3. Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has occasioned much commentary, but yesterday’s leak of the manifesto written by the Nashville school shooter shows the value of having at least one major platform that is out of line with the censorship policies of the others.

    It seems that Facebook, Youtube, Reddit and others are censoring any mention of the contents of the manifesto (e.g. link), whereas on Twitter one can learn the manifesto’s contents (search #NashvilleManifesto).

    If the reports are true (the deranged shooter wanted to kill “white crackers” with “white privilege” going to “private fancy schools”) you can see why some don’t want this discussed.

    1. Well, the only relevant tweet (what the heck are we supposed to call them now? “X’s”?) of Crowder’s that I can find is gone now as well. The three images are still on his website, though, for those who are interested.

      For those of us without X/Twitter accounts, that platform is now broken beyond usefulness. I can’t search tags, I can no longer view tweets in chronological order nor see replies or linked tweets – so no reading threads either. Each one stands alone. I really do not want to become Elon’s product just in order to browse. Thus for people like me it hardly matters if X/Twitter leaves things in place. It’s no longer good for communication.

      1. You are right that nowadays one cannot browse Twitter without logging in. (I gather that this is to stop rival AI companies training their AI bots by scraping all of the Twitter archive.) You can, though, set up a free account that you use only to browse.

        1. This is how I use twitter. I get a lot of helpful news like the Nashville tranifesto (plus of course a lot of dross).

    2. I’m still avoiding a conclusion on this.

      In the censorship world: Rep. Jim Jordan highlighted a lot of censorship on his eXtwitter account – if anyone wants, they can look.

  4. Life – I am but an observer to these discussions as my vocation was as an aerospace flight controls engineer, but in retirement I read biochem and this website of experts. Please do not forget a former NASA colleague, the late Prof Tommy Gold of Cornell and his “deep, hot, biosphere” in your deliberations today…if his 1960’s thoughts still have any relevance.

  5. I was taught that there are 10 characteristics that together define living things. Is that no longer consensus? (Was it ever?) I can’t remember the complete list, but the ones I can find on line are definitely different.

    1. Different authors will come up with slightly different lists. Here is one (with a few interjections from me since everyone has their own opinions):
      Order, sensitivity (behavior), reproduction, growth and development, regulation, homeostasis, energy processing, and evolution. The latter is different since that is what living things do as a population.
      As mentioned above, there are things like fire and other things that have many life-like properties.

      1. I do recall that order (a bit vague) and evolution (not an individual activity) were not on the list, but ingestion, excretion, and respiration (not to be confused with breathing!) were. I guess it was a list of “here’s what all living things do” and anything that does all 10 things is “alive”. I’d also quibble that evolution is not necessary in order for something to be considered alive and that populations don’t actively do it – evolution is something that happens to a population over time.

        Fire and crystals do not have any biological processes. They passively change due to external conditions.

        1. “I’d also quibble that evolution is not necessary in order for something to be considered alive and that populations don’t actively do it – evolution is something that happens to a population over time.”

          That’s certainly true but I think it is still a useful criteria. For a system to be subject to biological evolution it has to have certain properties, which are, as far as we’ve seen to date, only associated with things that are unquestionably “life.” Well, except for some limited artificial systems we have created, such as evolutionary algorithms written to design / evolve a device for some specific purpose.

  6. On this day:
    1492 – The Ensisheim meteorite, the oldest meteorite with a known date of impact, strikes the Earth around noon in a wheat field outside the village of Ensisheim, Alsace, France.

    1504 – Christopher Columbus returns from his fourth and last voyage.

    1665 – The London Gazette, the oldest surviving journal, is first published.

    1775 – John Murray, the Royal Governor of the Colony of Virginia, starts the first mass emancipation of slaves in North America by issuing Lord Dunmore’s Offer of Emancipation, which offers freedom to slaves who abandoned their colonial masters to fight with Murray and the British.

    1786 – The oldest musical organization in the United States is founded as the Stoughton Musical Society.

    1837 – In Alton, Illinois, abolitionist printer Elijah P. Lovejoy is shot dead by a mob while attempting to protect his printing shop from being destroyed a third time.

    1874 – A cartoon by Thomas Nast in Harper’s Weekly, is considered the first important use of an elephant as a symbol for the United States Republican Party.

    1885 – The completion of Canada’s first transcontinental railway is symbolized by the Last Spike ceremony at Craigellachie, British Columbia.

    1893 – Women’s suffrage: Women in the U.S. state of Colorado are granted the right to vote, the second state to do so.

    1907 – Jesús García saves the entire town of Nacozari de García by driving a burning train full of dynamite six kilometres (3.7 miles) away before it can explode.

    1910 – The first air freight shipment (from Dayton, Ohio, to Columbus, Ohio) is undertaken by the Wright brothers and department store owner Max Morehouse.

    1916 – Jeannette Rankin is the first woman elected to the United States Congress.

    1917 – The October Revolution, which gets its name from the Julian calendar date of 25 October, occurs, according to the Gregorian calendar; on this date, the Bolsheviks storm the Winter Palace.

    1917 – World War I: The Third Battle of Gaza ends, with British forces capturing Gaza from the Ottoman Empire. [I suspect that we’ve lost count of which Battle of Gaza we’re up to now…]

    1918 – The 1918 influenza epidemic spreads to Western Samoa, killing 7,542 (about 20% of the population) by the end of the year.

    1919 – The first Palmer Raid is conducted on the second anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Over 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists are arrested in 23 U.S. cities.

    1929 – In New York City, the Museum of Modern Art opens to the public.

    1940 – In Tacoma, Washington, the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapses in a windstorm, a mere four months after the bridge’s completion.

    1941 – World War II: Soviet hospital ship Armenia is sunk by German planes while evacuating refugees and wounded military and staff of several Crimean hospitals. It is estimated that over 5,000 people died in the sinking.

    1944 – Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected for a record fourth term as President of the United States.

    1949 – The first oil was taken in Oil Rocks (Neft Daşları), the world’s oldest offshore oil platform.

    1967 – Carl B. Stokes is elected as Mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, becoming the first African American mayor of a major American city.

    1967 – US President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    1972 – United States presidential election: U.S. President Richard Nixon is re-elected in the largest landslide victory at the time.

    1973 – The United States Congress overrides President Richard Nixon’s veto of the War Powers Resolution, which limits presidential power to wage war without congressional approval.

    1983 – United States Senate bombing: A bomb explodes inside the United States Capitol. No one is injured, but an estimated $250,000 in damage is caused.

    1989 – Douglas Wilder wins the governor’s seat in Virginia, becoming the first elected African American governor in the United States.

    1989 – David Dinkins becomes the first African American to be elected Mayor of New York City.

    1990 – Mary Robinson becomes the first woman to be elected President of the Republic of Ireland.

    1994 – WXYC, the student radio station of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, launches the world’s first internet radio broadcast.

    1996 – NASA launches the Mars Global Surveyor.

    1728 – James Cook, English captain, navigator, and cartographer (d. 1779).

    1867 – Marie Curie, Polish chemist and physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1934).

    1879 – Leon Trotsky, Russian theorist and politician, founded the Red Army (d. 1940).

    1893 – Margaret Leech, American historian and author (d. 1974).

    1897 – Herman J. Mankiewicz, American director, producer, and screenwriter (d. 1953).

    1900 – Nellie Campobello, Mexican writer who chronicled the Mexican Revolution (d. 1986).

    1903 – Konrad Lorenz, Austrian zoologist, ethologist, and ornithologist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1989).

    1913 – Albert Camus, French novelist, philosopher, and journalist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1960).

    1918 – Billy Graham, American minister and author (d. 2018).

    1921 – Susanne Hirzel, member of the White Rose (d. 2012).

    1922 – Al Hirt, American trumpet player and bandleader (d. 1999).

    1926 – Joan Sutherland, Australian soprano (d. 2010).

    1942 – Jean Shrimpton, English model and actress.

    1943 – Joni Mitchell, Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist. [Joni is 80 today!]

    1948 – Stephen Green, Baron Green of Hurstpierpoint, English businessman and politician. [In its July 2005 issue, Bloomberg Markets magazine reported that HSBC was allowing money laundering by drug dealers and state sponsors of terrorism; the magazine alleged that this had included a transfer of $100,000 in April 2000 to the Taliban in Afghanistan which had subsequently resulted in a fine levied by the US Treasury Department. Green denied the allegations, calling them “a singular and wholly irresponsible attack on the bank’s international compliance procedures”. Subsequent investigations however, confirmed that money laundering had taken place at HSBC for several years throughout Green’s tenure as chief executive and chairman, chiefly for the Sinaloa Cartel.]

    1967 – David Guetta, French DJ, record producer, remixer, and songwriter.

    1967 – Sharleen Spiteri, Scottish singer-songwriter and actress.

    1996 – Lorde, New Zealand singer-songwriter.

    Death is the solution to all problems. No man – no problem. [Stalin with his typical humanitarian outlook on life…]
    1599 – Gasparo Tagliacozzi, Italian surgeon and educator (b. 1546). [A pioneer of plastic and reconstructive surgery.]

    1713 – Elizabeth Barry, English actress (b. 1658).

    1913 – Alfred Russel Wallace, Welsh-English biologist and geographer (b. 1823).

    1944 – Hannah Szenes, Hungarian-Israeli soldier and poet (b. 1921).

    1962 – Eleanor Roosevelt, American humanitarian and politician, 39th First Lady of the United States (b. 1884).

    1974 – Eric Linklater, Welsh-Scottish author and academic (b. 1899).

    1980 – Steve McQueen, American actor and producer (b. 1930).

    1990 – Lawrence Durrell, British novelist, poet, dramatist, (b. 1912).

    1993 – Adelaide Hall, American-English singer, actress, and dancer (b. 1901).

    1994 – Shorty Rogers, American trumpet player and composer (b. 1924).

    2001 – Anthony Shaffer, English author and playwright (b. 1926).

    2004 – Howard Keel, American actor and singer (b. 1919).

    2005 – Harry Thompson, English author, screenwriter, and producer (b. 1960). [His novel This Thing of Darkness is a fictionalised account of the life of Robert FitzRoy.]

    2011 – Joe Frazier, American boxer (b. 1944).

    2013 – John Cole, Irish-English journalist and author (b. 1927).

    2016 – Leonard Cohen, Canadian singer-songwriter and poet (b. 1934).

    2016 – Janet Reno, American lawyer and government official; Attorney General of the United States (1993–2001) (b. 1938).

    2016 – Jimmy Young, British singer and radio personality (b. 1921).

    2019 – Janette Sherman, American physician, author, and pioneer in occupational and environmental health (b. 1930).

    2020 – Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth and member of the House of Lords (b. 1948).

    2021 – Dean Stockwell, American actor (b. 1936).

    1. Just a note that John Murray and Lord Dunmore of Virginia were one and the same person. We do not learn about a John Murray here in Virginia – only the evil Lord Dunmore. Murray/Dunmore fled to New York escaping the unhappy Virginia colonists…and despite his proclamation, taking his own two slaves with him.

  7. I’m a rank amateur at best, but I have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express once or twice. It seems to me that defining “life”, and applying that definition, is the same sort of messy problem as applying any of the various definitions of “species.” From a distant enough perspective it is easy to draw lines, but if you keep zooming in it becomes more difficult to draw the line. At some point it comes down to a judgement about “what is the most useful way to categorize these things?”

    If we were to create little robots that were capable of making more of themselves, had evolutionary algorithms in their software that allowed them to adapt to their environment over time, and they even used oxygen to metabolize some kind of fuel for energy, would that be life? What if they were able to pass any sort of test for intelligence that we could devise and were genuinely creative, would that be life? What if there were whole populations of them creating their own cultures, would that be life?

    I think it’s likely that the meaning of the word life will change over time.

    1. Whether it is a machine or an organic-based form, if it has those properties then they should be a considered alive. Otherwise we are appealing to a more visceral and woo-like excuse to exclude something from that category even though it checks all the boxes.

  8. I think everyone here knows about this book, but I’ll put it for the record:

    What Is Life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell
    Erwin Schrödinger
    Cambridge U. Press

    I really should get it … actually, I’ll get it into my pile today.

    A thought : “life” is one word, but a vast topic, and as such, I think there’s a tendency to want the word to cover it all but the limit of language is exceeded.

  9. I think that it’s better to describe Life by its characteristics (which may not be complete and for which not all characteristics may apply) than to require a formal definition. Living things (Life) can be typical or strange, and the state of being alive (also Life) can be the same.

  10. When I took biology during my second year at U of Chicago (1965-66), one of the questions on the first exam asked for a definition of “life.” Essentially any attempt at an answer was accepted, including, “A weekly magazine noted for its photographs.”

    1. Merilee, the subscription to new posts and new comments *just began working* for me yesterday. Turns out it is sending me a mail message for each comment posted to the site, in thread for any new post, regardless if I signed up for mailings under that post!

  11. SCOTUS hears oral argument today in Rahimi v. United States, the case raising whether the Second Amendment guarantees a right to own and possess firearms to someone subject to a domestic-abuse injunction.

    You can listen to the livestream here.

  12. I do not believe there is a “good” definition of life. It is much too blurry on the edges. Are viruses alive? If they are, why not transposable elements?

    Really, there are only useful, not absolute, definitions of life. IMO, of course.

    1. Viruses are not alive when they are infectious, and not infectious when they are alive. In order to become biochemically active (taking over protein synthesis in order to replicate themselves in the cell) they must “dissolve” and lose the structural integrity that induced the cell to allow them entry in the first place.

      To say that you have “killed” a virus with, say, bleach or ionizing radiation is meaningful only in that you have denatured the epitopes it displays to its target cell or damaged its nucleic acid inside. The only proof of a successful “kill” is that it is unable to infect a cell and make more of itself, “productive infection” as they say. There is no sense that an individual virus particle can be said to be “dead” just by looking at it or testing its metabolic repertoire outside a cell, because it has none. All you can say is that you have rendered it incapable of becoming alive.

      I think it is fair to say that viruses shuttle back and forth across the boundary between life and crystals. Our metaphysical concepts of living and non-living were developed before the existence of viruses (and transposable elements and prions) was discovered.

      As to whether AI is “life”, I would take the practical view that if it is in some way sentient but we still might have to destroy all of it peremptorily in order to keep it from harming us, then we must deem it not to be alive, in order not to commit genocide.

      1. Spurred a thought:

        Can viruses withstand vacuum?

        I know phages take a lot to eliminate – can’t recall if autoclave can eliminate them.

        I know flame-sterilization will do the trick.

      2. Is a virus ever really biochemically active? Once it attaches to the host cell, it is host processes that do everything else, no? They bring the particle in, unwrap it, and blithely work on the RNA/DNA. Meanwhile the virus ceases to exist as an identifiable biological entity.

        I know it’s common to refer to a virus as “hijacking” cellular mechanisms, but it seems that the cell does that to itself as the result of following spurious instructions from the virus’s genome.

        Are there any viruses that retain enough structure to carry out their own processes inside the host cell?

        1. “Once it attaches to the host cell”

          … they enter with various mechanisms – and I don’t know if they act independently except for diffusion… gotta think it out a bit:

          E.g. hiv envelope glycoprotein sort of digs through the cell membrane, but at some level the cell membrane plays an integral role…

          Bacteriophage inject dna, and literally look like robot syringes in electron micrographs, … but they have to recognize the cell,…

          Hard for me to say if they are independent.

        2. Well, even if all you have to do is replicate a single strand of viral RNA (as for a picornavirus) and use cellular machinery and energy processes to make the capsid proteins, it is still the virus’s RNA that is undergoing the biochemical process of replication (and coding protein synthesis.)

          Most viruses do have to bring in their own proteins (as parts of the nucleocapsid) in order to kick-start the process. For example, cells lack the reverse transcriptase (RNA-dependent DNA polymerase), that an RNA retrovirus needs to make the DNA to get itself going. (It was once thought that reverse transcriptase exists only in viruses — some DNA viruses like Hepatitis B have it as well — but endogenous rtase is now known to play a role in evolution of animal and plant cells. This might well be of viral origin because the hallmark of a retrovirus is that the DNA it makes gets integrated into the genome of the host cell. But it doesn’t seem to be there in sufficient quantities to get a retrovirus started.

          So as a virus uncoats inside the cell, these enzymatic proteins in the dissolving capsid have to remain physically close enough to the viral genome for the two molecules to interact and get the first round of nucleic acid replication started before they diffuse apart and get structurally “lost” in the cell (or nucleus as the case may be.)

          Certainly the high-energy phosphate compounds and the raw materials needed to make new nucleic acid and protein polymers all come from the cell’s biochemical apparatus, yes. And you can’t find any distinguishable virus particles until all of a sudden they start to self-assemble and fill the cell. And if the viral DNA integrates into the host genome, you may not see new virus particles at all. Not all viruses can be cultured in vitro in cells, so exactly what happens can’t be made visible in every case.

          A feature of life that viral genomes exhibit is mutation, which happens only while they are “alive”. Viruses with segmented genomes like influenza can also recombine their RNA segments, exchanging them with other influenza viruses the cell might be infected with. Again this occurs only while the RNA is floating free in the cell, not already bound up inside the new capsids. So again, living.

  13. A definition should have synonyms and antonyms.

    The opposite of life is death.

    Can fire, prions, and viruses die?

    Rhetorical, of course.

    Oh also:

    Life has a material basis.

  14. Jerry: “It cannot be true that [the] country can elect a narcissistic blowhard, being tried for several crimes, as its leader!”
    Jez: On this day, “President Richard Nixon is re-elected in the largest landslide victory at the time.”

    I’m not USian and the two situations may not be identical, but I think they may have some similarities: revulsion among normies against the antiwar cultural upheaval of the late 60s and the antiracist genderwang of the early 20s; biased media coverage of those movements; Nixon=Trump, Biden=Ford (but not in the same order of administration).

    If that past is prologue then it seems possible that Trump wins in 2024 but dies in office, a Jeryd Mencken “Morning In America” populist emerges to win in 2028, and Democrats don’t see the inside of the White House until the 2040s.

      1. If that where a criteria we’d have to recategorize a huge number of organisms as non-living, including us apes.

  15. A thought – I think we all know this idea, I have to look up the page number from The Selfish Gene:

    We are survival machines for the replicators we call genes.

    I’m not sure how that factors into a definition of life – that is, as survival machines, we carry the replicators – so is it the replicators that are necessary and sufficient for life, and the survival machines are accesory?

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