What Is It That Lives, That Also Dies?

Updated: Dec 2, 2020


If we look at life, at its root cause, we can only discover that we are living only because the cells of our body are living. Any other conclusion would require magical thinking. And, as Humberto Maturana, the Chilean biologist, and philosopher says that the processes that allow our cells to live are molecular interactions that are self-producing. That in fact, is his definition of life, because he has found it to be true that when this molecular self-production ceases, life ends. Death is a process that happens to all living things only when these processes stop happening.


And, we live in a world that is also living. Our planet Earth is teaming with life. We need only to observe and see the diversity of plant, animal, and even cellular life all around us that is maintained in a cyclic way by the kind, and sometimes cruel agencies of nature. Human beings are actually just part of this great cyclic and continuous recursion of life that is in self-production and existing because of the seemingly eternal nature of molecular actions that provide the environmental container for life that we call the Earth.


Maturana calls this Molecular Autopoiesis, which comes from the Greek language and speaks to this universal, molecular self-production that happens in the cells of all living things. So what lives and also dies is happening in every moment in the cells of our bodies.


At the time that I am writing this blog, all of the People of the Earth, at least those who do not live in the nature of the rainforests or islands isolated from other humans, are, perhaps for the first time facing a global threat from the biological realm, in the form of the COVID-19 Corona Virus, which also is following its own pattern of self-production. This is particularly instructive for us, because if there is any doubt in anyone’s mind, it proves that our personal lives are dependent upon our niche or physical environment provided by nature, and these molecular processes that constitute it.


We are practicing social distancing (a cultural/behavioral response), to try and prevent the successful propagation of this virus among us, which will cause death in a predictable way killing many people who are the host environment for it. It is also a dry run for the possibility of even more lethal contagions that are possible from an even more deadly biological pathogen.


It is time to realize and accept that we are part of nature, and not separate from it. That our life requires interacting in a cultural and biological symbiosis with all of the life-giving and taking living systems that constitute this, our Planet Earth. It’s important learning, and one of the most important lessons is that our life is dependent on others and that we must live together and coordinate through cooperation in what we do as a global community, and also locally, that allows this life to work for everyone on this planet, because we truly are connected to every other living thing on this planet, and especially to each other. A simple virus, like this, can be a great teacher to learn from.



Photo by CDC on Unsplash Produced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), in collaboration with Colorado State University, this highly magnified, digitally colorized scanning electron microscopic (SEM) image, reveals ultrastructural details at the site of interaction of two spherical shaped, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) viral particles, colorized blue, that were on the surface of a camel epithelial cell, colorized red.

© Copyright 2020 Robert Fertman, All Rights Reserved


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