Stable phenomenon over billions of years on a planet, which constructs and animates interdependent living beings in matter, to which human being belongs.
1-Living / 1-Origin / 0
Some basics about the Living to be investigated
If we would like to make an as macroscopic assessment as possible of our knowledge of the world today, we could sum it up as follows:
in the world there is space (emptiness) and time: Space, infinite or not, is in any case so huge that according to its scale the Earth becomes a grain of dust. We may have imagined this space emptiness as nothing, but it ultimately appears to be an elastic invisible support of matter, interacting with matter, invisible support which, with the duration of time:
expands and contracts depending on the speed of objects (special relativity, space-time: space is structured in such a way that the speed of objects is limited by a maximum value - the speed of light);
bends with the presence of stars and objects in space (general relativity: gravitation corresponding to the deformation of space itself);
stretches over billions of years (the expansion of the Universe since the Big Bang... or the Big Bounce(s));
from which couples of particles can emerge whereas it seemed the moment before that there was nothing (matter and "anti-matter").
in this space there is matter (made up of matter and anti-matter):
Identical throughout the space of the universe, matter is made up of elementary particles (quarks: constituents in particular of the nuclei of atoms; and leptons: the best known being the electron) and interactions (bosons, the best known, because dominant at our physical scale, being the electromagnetic interaction with the photon, corresponding in particular to light, electromagnetic wavelengths to which our eye is sensitive) (scale close to 10^-20m, quantum mechanics, wave-particle duality, duality matter-energy E = mc²).
By the way, a first enigma of physics is why antimatter is almost absent from the universe, whereas a priori, identical to matter but of opposite charge to matter, anti-matter should have been created by original bosons in same quantity as matter, with the same chance as matter to exist, except that matter and anti-matter cannot quo-exist in the same place, annihilating each other into boson? Why and how did this symmetry breaking take place?
The most commonly accessible organization of matter in the physical context of our planet are atoms : described and sorted out in function of their properties in the periodic table of the elements (Mendeleïev table), scale close to 10^-10m, assemblies of elementary particles (quarks binded into protons and neutrons, themselves binded in the nucleus of the atoms, surrounded by electrons) produced by fusion in the heart of the stars thanks to the huge pressure of "the force of gravity". These atoms get organized into molecules : assemblies of atoms according to atoms ability to create bonds between them, atoms valence, and electromagnetic interaction dominating at this scale.
The four most common states in which matter can be in our nearby solar system, depending on pressure and temperature conditions, are: solid, liquid, gas, plasma.
Energy is the measure of the movement of matter (usually measured in Joule or kWh). It can be more or less visible to the human species depending on whether it is:
the movement of a visible object: a toy, a car, a train,...
the agitation of the atoms or the variation of agitation of the atoms: the temperature or the heat transmitted (visible example : fire, boiling water),
electrons circulating in a cable : electricity,
It can also be "contained" without generating immediate movement: as for a compressed spring; the nucleus of atoms (nuclear energy of elementary particles compressed in a reduced space; protons and neutrons concentrated in the nucleus of atoms, by the gravitation of the stars); the train at the top of a roller coaster which will only fall all along its course; all releasing what is called their potential energy when the motion is released.
Power is energy per unit of time (usually measured in Watt = Joule/s).
Here are some orders of magnitude of energy :
To give some concrete benchmarks, a person consumes on average an energy equivalent to the combustion of 100mL of fuel per day (on 24h: metabolism + action), and it would take 10 people who use all their energy for a day (24h) to do by hand the work of 1h30 of vacuum cleaning of a 2000W vacuum cleaner.
Or again, if we consider on average over our life that 1/3 of our time over a day (8h/24h) is used to carry out a productive action, in one gram of Uranium there would then be the equivalent of 30,000 days of action (8h/day), approximately 82 years... that is to say that 1g of Uranium would be equivalent in energy to the production capacity of a human life.
Given the density of this energy, the direct non-pollution of the planet during its use, and the compactness of the waste (global accumulated volume would be equivalent to an Olympic swimming pool - thank you Mr. Jancovici for all these figures given in the comic book The Endless World,... waste that we could possibly send to our fusion power plant, the sun, when our access to space is facilitated), it seems very relevant that the control and exploitation of this energy be continued on the long term.
One of the most upstream law that could be retained to describe the behavior of matter and its energy (movements), is the principle of conservation of matter and energy, first principle of thermodynamics, a very general formulation of which could be adopted as : "nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed" (Lavoisier, 1789).
If no experiment belies it, this central principle is an axiom in the sense that it cannot be absolutely demonstrated. As much physically as philosophically, the passage from “being” to “not being”, or conversely from “not being” to “being” (in the ontological sense as we would say in philosophy); spontaneous creation from nothingness, or spontaneous disappearance into nothingness; are transformations that seem impossible... precisely appealing to our spirit of research: but where does this phenomenon come from? What is its source, its origin, its driving force,...? Whatever the discipline, "nothingness" being a very difficult answer to accept.
Hence the enigma of the origin of our Universe, with the observation that we have of it, which would come from an ultra-concentrated state at one point 13.77 billion years ago, which we call "Big Bang". "The before Big Bang" is today one of the great mysteries of our Universe, but according to the principle of conservation, it should always have existed before, in another state... or would actually be a rebound, "a Big Bounce", coming from a story "forever" since the Universe "being", it cannot "not be" according to the conservation principle.
"To be or not to be, that is the question" (Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1 - William Shakespeare, 1603) : thus this conservation principle would propose a "happy ending answer" to this famous question of life and death: since living beings are, it could therefore be that at their death they are still, but transformed in another state...
"... everything is transformed"? In any direction ? No. The second principle of thermodynamics fills a gap of the first principle which does not a priori impose "a direction" of the reactions. By introducing the variable called entropy (often noted S) describing the "path" of thermal energy (S being the integral of the heat exchange per time unit divided by the temperature (delta_Q /T), we can see that S is the integral of a "speed", a heat flow, and the integral of a speed is a "distance"), the second principle enables to write mathematically what we observe in the everyday world: any physical system spontaneously tends to balance by reducing the energy differences (temperature, pressure) of which it can be constituted (we could say "energy respects the principle of communicating vessels").
It is quite common to read in many works and to hear in university courses that "entropy" corresponds to the "degree of disorganization of a system".
"Statistical entropy" (a link can be made with the one of thermodynamics) indeed describes the number of configurations of a system, and therefore its degree of "complexity" in the sense of the quantity of possible configurations for the system ; but it is not about the notion of "order" or "disorder", which is subjective: well ordered, 1 million configurations can very well present a great sense of "order".
For "thermodynamic entropy", it would actually rather be an inverse notion of disorder, mathematically describing the spontaneity of matter to reduce its energy differences (this is also why it is presented as an inequality). Certainly this diluted state of matter without energy differences corresponds to a state where the molecules are randomly and homogeneously distributed in space, hence the existing "disorder" interpretation, but it is the least constrained stable state.
Here is schematically the "communicating vases effect" between 2 identical water tanks on Earth (vertical earth's gravitational field downwards on the picture) to illustrate the second principle of thermodynamics, where the height of water in each tank would represent the temperature in thermodynamics, and the flow rate Q of water flowing from one tank to the other would represent the heat exchange:
In other words, the heat of a set of matter will spontaneously tend to homogenize, circulating from hot spots to cold spots.
For example, a hot cup of coffee in a room at 70°F will cool down spontaneously to reach 70°F after a few hours, and not the other way around, the cup continuing to heat up by taking energy from the room, which would cool down, the complete system (cup + room) remaining at constant energy and not contradicting the first principle.
An aside for technological design: this principle of entropy ultimately says that it will always be simpler to use the available energy in its sense of spontaneous circulation, in image it is simpler "to go down the river than to go up it" . Thus in a technological concept which uses energy to carry out its functions, it will therefore be more optimal in terms of energy performance to use energy in the direction of its spontaneous circulation (from hot to cold, in the direction of the potential energy released,... ), rather than trying to "go back up the energy slope" where we would surely lose in the overall balance (each stage of energy conversion having its own losses and cumulative).
The example of electrical energy production is perhaps illustrative: the large atoms which fission spontaneously were created by fusion in the hearts of stars under the gigantic pressure of gravitational forces ; our nuclear fission power plants therefore recover gravitational potential energy in the direction of their spontaneous flow in the Universe, just as the water raised by the rains at the top of the mountains goes down the slope and turns the hydraulic power plants.
Trying to reproduce a fusion power plant is therefore trying to reproduce what the gigantic gravitation of stars achieves in their hearts: if from a scientific point of view the study is extremely interesting and will certainly provide a lot of knowledge about the Universe , it may be that from an energy production point of view, the overall energy balance will never really be positive (a bit as if we had to put pumps everywhere to store water at the top of mountains for run our hydraulic power plants).
Eventually, if there are persistent hot spots somewhere, such as stars, living beings (often around 100°F), it means that another principle applying to matter is in action.
Thus the two "known main principles" (by experience, but whose nature and precise origin remain mysterious) which mitigate the spontaneity of energy to dissipate, to get homogenized through matter, and participate in the transformations of matter are:
gravitation: at the origin of all the structures of the Universe (planets, stars, galaxies, black holes, ...) and at the origin of the concentration of energy in atoms bigger and bigger (atomic energy).
Not to be confused with "ephemeral hot spots" (such as fire): exothermic reactions which momentarily release heat, by a self-sustaining reaction of combustion type between an oxidant and a fuel (chemical reaction or moleculs physics : oxido-reduction reaction, energy contained in the bonds between the atoms of the molecules released as heat), reaction which ends when one of the two oxidant or fuel is no longer present.
in this matter thus there is the Living:
Stable phenomenon over billions of years on a planet, which builds and animates interdependent living beings in matter. These living beings demonstrate a stable functioning consistency for "a lifetime". In particular our human species, in the most recent, which among other things has largely demonstrated over this last century, stable and very important cerebral capacity to process information and quantities, and to use it to build tools in matter from very small to very big (technology).
By observing the Living history over billions of years on our planet, to which we now have access in great detail, we may conclude that the Living is a stable phenomenon, functionally and materially consistent, self-adapting, and this facing the worst cataclysms.
Here is a macroscopic summary of the knowledge of matter in space and time in the Universe around 2020:
1-Living / 1-Origin / 1
Is the Living a random and anarchic phenomenon ?
A perfectly aerodynamically optimized bird's wing is not a "random" construction of grains of dust, of atoms, which, dispersed in the air, would form a wing in a random manner, because this arrangement of the matter is one of the possible realities.
Otherwise the bird's wing would have to be equi-probable with all other occurrences of arrangement of these dust grains, and therefore have almost a zero existence time. Likewise for our brain and our analysis functions...
At the opposite, all the constructions of living beings are perfectly stable, adapted and optimized realizations, reproducible and reproducted, that meets very concrete needs in the environment of the considered individuals.
The elementary operating mechanisms at each level (molecular, cellular, living organism, etc.) are moreover defined and permanent throughout the history of life.
From its homogeneity of nature and processes over billions of years, we can conclude that the Living is not a random phenomenon. We are therefore not random beings, but very concrete functionally stable beings (even if it is only for a "lifetime"), whose capacities are perfectly adapted to our contexts.
This permanence and homogeneity of this phenomenon drives naturally to look for a common driving principle at the origin of the Living.
1-Living / 1-Origin / 2
What is its source, what is the driving principle of the Living?
Very concretely today, if we know better and better how living organisms work and their entire history on Earth, we have no answer to the question of the origin of their ability to exist and function.
The principle behind the construction and animation of living beings is very clearly a mystery.
These questions can be worked in different ways, among them:
by looking at the history of living beings on Earth and trying to understand its mechanics of transformation and adaptation (Evolution Theory, Darwin 1859). This approach does not directly address the question of the existence of living beings (what makes a living being self-constructed and animated?), but it seeks in the history of the living beings on the principle of recurrence reasoning, in its transformations and in particular in the search of its starting point on Earth (how did life really begin on Earth?), keys to understand the driving principle of the living;
with a direct search of the driving principle in the living beings present at every moment: because the living driving principle is present and in action at all times in all living beings, as we are all part of this phenonemon of construction and animation of the matter.
From a physical point of view and analysis of the state of matter (diagram of solid/liquid/gaseous phases), our incomprehension of the spontaneous emergence of living beings in matter at the border between the three solid, liquid and gaseous phases, could bring us to formulate the existence of the living as "a singularity of the phase diagram" (the word "singularity" here underlines our ignorance facing this mystery of construction and animation of the living in matter, and not a singular property of the Universe).
No matter how we approach the question, today we have no idea what makes life work, what guarantees its consistent functioning at any level : molecular, at the level of a cell, on the scale of a living organism, nor at the level of a whole biosphere.
Nonetheless, this reality of common nature of the living that unites us all, whatever the living being we are (a whale, a salad, a tyrannosaurus, a fly, a vampyroteuthis infernalis, an oyster, a human, an algae or a platypus...) is a fact.
It could be symbolized by the very first moments of our existence which always passes through this state of a single cell, single cell from which will "build itself" and animate a complete living being (see the concept of autopoiesis defined by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, 1972).
By the way as food for thought for our representations of the living, we can also add that at the very moment before being this unique cell, we all were a sperm and an ovum, whose entire existence is to meet and merge.
What is the principle, this real power capable of constructing and animating matter in such numerous and diversified living beings?
Even if we do not have an answer of what is the source of life and we may never have, we can see that the Living works, and this on cosmic scales... and without the intervention of the human species.
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The Living integration
or the coevolution principle
We observe this capacity of integration and self-adaptation of the Living on a large scale throughout its history on planet Earth:
The fish came out of the water and limbs appeared to them to be adapted to the ground,
Ground adapted mammals returned to the water and turned into dolphins, whales, seal, sea lions,...
Meteorites have destroyed a huge part of life on Earth several times, and the living has built a technological capacity that enables to consider warding off a meteorite that would endanger it ...
Finally, it does not matter whether we know or not the source of the living phenomenon : the fact is that the Living has self constructed itself, adapting and transforming itself to answer all surrounding constraints, and this over billions of years on Earth.
In particular, we can notice that there seems to be a real biological imbrication / entanglement of living organisms at all scales, joining the principle of coevolution.
No living being can exist alone. It always has many interactions with other living beings, at all scales, necessary for its survival : from symbiosis, commensalism, mutualism, antagonism, parasitism,... as for example the cross-intervention of other species to achieve sexual reproduction (example of pollinating insects - entomogamy, ...) . We can notice quite spectacular examples of this nested mechanism of the Living:
the construction of the structure of cells which has gone through the symbiotic integration of bacteria: the chloroplasts in photosynthetic cells, or the mitochondria in non-photosynthetic eukaryotic cells, and therefore in our human cells; which are ancient bacteria absorbed by ancestral cells a few billion years ago, to manage the production of energy in the cell.
Or the intestinal fauna, which is a real culture of the bacteriological world "inside" even living beings (technically in fact on the outside, does not cross the intestinal wall), necessary for the balance of the organization.
Or even the fact that the birth passes through an orifice which is always close (or even the same for many species) to the way of ejection of the body's waste: which allows the new- born to be in contact with all the bacteria of the living world that we reject, and thereby teaching its immune system right upon its birth.
All this permanent and perfectly functional mechanics of living beings seem to show that the Living is a phenomenon that integrates all of its environment and all the living beings around at each time.
For those who like to describe the world using mathematical syntax (for example From physical to biological individuation, Paul-Antoine Miquel, Su-Young Hwang, Université Jean Jaurès, Toulouse, 2016), we could describe this integration of the living in the form of an equation like this:
Which could be represented by the following schematic picture:
Where the operator "." which is generally used for the multiplication between two numbers would here represent the interdependence (osmosis, interpenetration, reciprocal influence, homeostasis) of living beings with their environment (pressure, temperature, physical medium - liquid, solid, air - and chemical environment) and between living beings themselves; and where, the integral operator would neither represent here its usual definition of mathematics, but the capacity of the living to integrate, build and archive solutions in its context, that is to say its capacity to transform itself by itself in oder to adapt to its environment.
The living would therefore be a self-stable and self-adaptive phenomenon.
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Parallel with gravitation
To draw a parallel with gravitation, a stable and permanent phenomenon of the universe, which aggregates stable objects (planet, stars) for a lifetime, and "organize" them in the space universe:
If we tried to understand the gravitation by looking at matter at the quantum scale, we would conclude by saying that matter is inherently probabilistic, and therefore the organization of the matter in the Universe with all of its stars, solar systems and galaxies is one of its probable possibilities.
In the same way, if we looked at the accretion of a planet, we would conclude that all the stones which strike the planet under construction do so in an "anarchic manner", in an "intrinsically probabilistic" manner without realizing that there is indeed an homogeneous "field" which pulls all these pebbles in the same direction, the gravitational field.
The conclusion today is that the "gravitational effects" are of the order of 10 to the 42 lower than the electromagnetic one at the scale of the atoms. Therefore we cannot study "gravitation" by studying matter at the quantum scale.
And even if we observe its effects very precisely today, we still do not know what “gravitation” is in nature: the latest interpretations, notably relativity, suggest that space itself curves with the presence of mass, and that it does not exists a body to body interaction in itself, with an intermediary for gravitation (as the photon for electromagnetism).
The model which today describes the gravitational interaction between the bodies of the Universe is not strictly applicable to all scales. While it works well at the scale of our solar system, it does not correctly describe the behavior of clusters of bodies at the scale of galaxies, requiring the introduction of invisible mass called "dark matter" to compensate for the difference of the model with respect to the observation of the behavior of galaxies ("it lacks visible matter for the galaxies to be held according to the current model of gravitation").
The gravity model also does not include the observation that the Universe is expanding with acceleration. Gravitation on the contrary should attract all the masses towards each other and slow down this phenomenon of expansion. From where the introduction of a "dark energy" which makes it possible once again to compensate for the deviation of the model with respect to the observation.
What is this invisible structure of space, which at first logically seemed to us to be "nothing", which ultimately interacts with matter and seems so dynamic ? What would be the mathematical model that would make it possible to describe all of its observed behaviors and at all scales ?
The mystery still exists ultimately, clarifies its place in our understanding of the world, steps back a notch in the level of description we have of it, but is still there.
But this quest that always push the mystery a step further is not in vain, because it is a capacity that the living has built, capacity that allows us to constantly refine the description of the world we have, and to always be a little more relevant and strong in our world.
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Life at molecular level?
Like gravitation, it is possible that the "driving principle" of living beings is not observable at the molecular level. A bit like the magnetic field which does not provide energy but deflects charged particles, it could also be orthogonal to all the other interactions of matter, which would explain very well "the natural spontaneity" of biological matter to rely on energy sinks of inert matter.
It is therefore possible that by looking at life at the molecular scale, we are at the probalistic-quantum frontier of matter, which ultimately does not teach us much about the driving principle of the Living (as for gravitation), except that the Living "knows" how to manage perfectly, or is perfectly integrated into the probabilistic functioning of matter at the atomic scale, given that the Living is stable and robust on a large scale in time and space.
The way our hearts come alive to the music could make us look for a "living field" which would resonate with the waves propagating in matter...
As the particles of matter would be the expression of the same quantum field, we would then be the expression of a same “living field”. The relations between living beings would then be the place of the expression of a true “interaction of the living field”, interaction from which a new living being can appear (sexual interaction, meiosis, fertilization)... thus placing our sexual tension state as the expression of "the potential energy of this living field".
The analogy with particles of matter whose double nature "wave/particle" is verified is tempting: we would then be as much "our body as the spirit", as much "the living individual as our relationships", we would be as much "the living being made of matter, of bones, flesh and blood as our feelings", with the energies that are created and dissipated during interactions. Like the connection energies of atoms bonding to make molecules (chemical reaction, redox), one could then see the creation of a bond, the meeting where somone begins to know and appreciate a person as an endothermic reaction (feeling of joy, of friendship, of love) ; and a separation from someone who counts as an exothermic reaction (real pain, grief, suffering).
However, this analogy with this dual "entity/interaction" nature of particles of elementary matter, based on the existence of an homogeneous field which has the property of being isotropic in space, finds its limits when we take into account the fact that cells are able to build heterogeneous organs, to perform true functions in a living organism. This functional reality of the living beings nature is very far from a simple homogeneous and isotropic thermodynamic equilibrium generated by a "field" which would be homogeneous in space, like the thermodynamic equilibrium of a star generated by its gravitational field.
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An elementary projection of the Living ...
According to the 3.5 billions of years of history of life on Earth going through planetary glaciations and meteorites... always emerging stronger and adapted after each upheaval, the simplest and most straight forward projection is therefore that the Living has no reason to stop during the billion years remaining viable on Earth.
In addition, given that the Living has developed intelligence at this technological level for a species on Earth once, there is no a priori reason for the Living not to be able to develop these technical capacities for other species over the coming millions of years, in particular other current species of monkeys, even why not other species for which intelligence is already advanced, such as dogs, rats, octopuses, dolphins, ...
In particular if Homo Sapiens were to suddenly disappear following a meteorite or another event, there is a priori no reason why within a few tens of millions of years, the Living does not redevelop the technological capacity at the same current level for a few species, again increasing its protective capacities facing spatial adversities and freeing itself from its planetary constraint.
And now that we know that living beings do not turn into dust in space, we can conclude that Life is not a phenomenon specific to the Earth. The driving principle of the Living, that garantees the consistency and functionning of the living beings, is not coming from this planet in particular. It is consistent with the largest physics hypothesis which is that the properties of the Universe are homogenous in the whole Universe (no singularity).
The Living would therefore be a phenomenon of the Universe (its presence in the whole Universe is therefore possible, and most probable), and we can consider building the path of the living started on Earth outside of the planet Earth before its end (which will most certainly lead us to encounter other forms of life started elsewhere in the Universe).
But just as fish are only adapted to water, and their land mammal descendants are only adapted to the ground and cannot instantly return to live underwater; it is not us, the homo sapiens of today, conceived on Earth and for the Earth, who will live at ease in space, but our descendants who will be born there; and them, in the same way, will not look like us and they will no longer be adapted to live permanently on Earth…
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Spiritual life ?
Eventually, we could see the heart of religions and the spiritual arts as the quest of the human species for this source that animates us, including in particular the elaboration of means (rituals, prayers, meditations, celebrations), a set of fixed practices that cross generations, to maintain and regenerate our capacity to be positively animated throughout life, especially facing a hardship (illness, accident, old age, conflicts, betrayal of a shared commitment, loss of a loved one, etc...), events or changes in our own lives or in our environment that may be for us unbearable.
If these means are part of the lives of many of us, "crying" would remain the physiological reaction of the body to concretely achieve a transformation facing a hardship: let's give ourselves air to cry for the time we need.
If certain religions propose to say that "God created Man in his image", it is therefore necessary to integrate into this parable the fact that "the source of life" created the tree, the tyrannosaurus, the human species, as the oyster... and all other living beings. Moreover, once we will have descendants outside the Earth, after several generations these living beings will no longer resemble us because of the very different physical conditions and they will no longer be of our species.
For example in weightlessness Space, our descendants would no longer have a skeleton and should end up being spherically symmetrical after generations, while remaining a species endowed with the same technical capacity as us, even "better", as we have more knowledge than our ancestors living 100,000 years ago.
It is therefore very difficult to think that we can physically resemble "the source of life".
Nevertheless our spirit (which would therefore be a entangled duality of our body in the previous “wave/particle” analogy with the particles of matter, cf. 1-living / 1-origin / 6), which is a construction of the living, could well be an echo, a true projection of this "impulse of the living" at the origin of the construction of all living beings, and why not similar in nature, "created in his image", to this "source of life" seeking unlimited perenniality.
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Life is a mystery
In conclusion, there are puzzles to which we do not have an answer today, and for which we may never have an answer due to our nature and the tools we will be able to develop.
Does matter spontaneously lead by its own nature to generate the Living?
The heterogeneity of atoms and their ability to bind would then lead spontaneously to the construction of living beings, like pieces of Lego perfectly adapted to each other but, for atoms, animated by a self-assembly capacity whose motor would be their own electromagnetic field.
Or is there a specific interaction, a specific driving principle, a "Living field" that could be "orthogonal" to all the other physical interactions of matter (gravitation, electromagnetism, ...), at the origin of the Living?
It is up to us to inhabit this mystery of all the stories of the living, to represent it with all the shapes, to dress it in all the colors of the world, to fill it with all our songs reasoning and dancing in the Universe.
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Eventually, our ignorance and inability to answer these questions in no way negates the fact that the Living is a stable and extraordinarily robust phenomenon of the Universe. Our ignorance in no way reduces the fact that living beings are built with capacities perfectly adapted to their survival in their environment, and that today the human species is even capable of considering protecting itself from a pebble that would come, crash and wipe out life on Earth...