Careful and reproducible observations and measurements in the bbiosciences have similarly forced us to repeatedly refine our traditional ideas about what life itself is and when it begins. Is a human being first a life when it emerges from the birth canal? Does it have any legal rights is as a person before then? Or is it a life at the stage of development where > it is able to survive independently outside of the womb even if it is removed from there early, as can happen naturally with premature birth or with a Caesarean section? But wait! Perhaps it is really a life when a fertilized egg first implants in the uterine lining, which, based on careful observations, is the medical definition of when a pregnancy begins. A woman cannot be said to be medically pregnant until her body begins the chem ical and biological changes that accompany a symbiotic hosting of the embryo, can she? If it does not, the egg, even if fertilized, is simply flushed. Now here we are getting into a tricky area, because many religious conservatives say, "No, it is a life when egg and sperm meet," whether or not the fertilized egg ever implants. But then, a scientist would ask, is it still a life at that moment, even if you know from careful observation that one-third to one-half of all fertilized eggs never implant?^ And of course that brings up a secondary point: What are fertilized eggs that never implant? How do we define them? As miscarriages? Abortions? Nonpregnancies? Something else? What implications might that definition have for the use of birth control pills that inhibit implantation? Is that abortion, murder, or pregnancy prevention?
The harsh, demystifying light of science has left the modern biologist with one last miracle, a miracle of organization. Somehow, back in the planet's youth, molecules organized themselves into a structure that could reproduce itself. Dust quickened, and into an inanimate world came animation. All the rest has followed, the flight of the pelican, the fragrance of a baby's skin, the songs of wolf and whale. These latter developments are relatively recent and we know in a general way how they came about. We can roughly trace their evolution backward. They are miracles several times removed.
But the original quickening was an entirely new principle. It was something like an idea, a beneficence. It was a miracle. That it happened here on earth, is more than one small planet could ever hope for.
One of the wonders of the new principle is, having come into being it endured. There are potent forces of disorganization loose in the universe. Order is the exception here, increasing disorder is the rule. When a bullet strikes a rock--and time and the universe are full of this kind of violence--the energy of the bullet's motion is translated into random motions of the bullet's atoms and the atoms of the rock become hot. Heat is the scribbly signature of disordered energy. The event is irreversible. Disordered energy can't reassemble itself into the orderly kinetic energy of the moving bullet and fly backward down the barrel of the gun. It's a one-way street, an incline down which order slides. That's how the cosmic cookie crumbles.
[A living organism] ... feeds upon negative entropy ... Thus the device by which an organism maintains itself stationary at a fairly high level of orderliness (= fairly low level of entropy) really consists in continually sucking orderliness from its environment.
I do not believe that science per se is an adequate source of happiness, nor do I think that my own scientific outlook has contributed very greatly to my own happiness, which I attribute to defecating twice a day with unfailing regularity. Science in itself appears to me neutral, that is to say, it increases men's power whether for good or for evil. An appreciation of the ends of life is something which must be superadded to science if it is to bring happiness, but only the kind of society to which science is apt to give rise. I am afraid you may be disappointed that I am not more of an apostle of science, but as I grow older, and no doubt—as a result of the decay of my tissues, I begin to see the good life more and more as a matter of balance and to dread all over-emphasis upon anyone ingredient.
There are living systems; there is no living 'matter.' No substance, no single molecule, extracted and isolated from a living being possess, of its own, the aforementioned paradoxical properties. They are present in living systems only; that is to say, nowhere below the level of the cell.
Evolution in the biosphere is therefore a necessarily irreversible process defining a direction in time; a direction which is the same as that enjoined by the law of increasing entropy, that is to say, the second law of thermodynamics. This is far more than a mere comparison: the second law is founded upon considerations identical to those which establish the irreversibility of evolution. Indeed, it is legitimate to view the irreversibility of evolution as an expression of the second law in the biosphere.
I have had a fairly long life, above all a very happy one, and I think that I shall be remembered with some regrets and perhaps leave some reputation behind me. What more could I ask? The events in which I am involved will probably save me from the troubles of old age. I shall die in full possession of my faculties, and that is another advantage that I should count among those that I have enjoyed. If I have any distressing thoughts, it is of not having done more for my family; to be unable to give either to them or to you any token of my affection and my gratitude is to be poor indeed.
Perhaps the problem is the seeming need that people have of making black-and-white cutoffs when it comes to certain mysterious phenomena, such as life and consciousness. People seem to want there to be an absolute threshold between the living and the nonliving, and between the thinking and the “merely mechanical,” ... But the onward march of science seems to force us ever more clearly into accepting intermediate levels of such properties.
I have accumulated a wealth of knowledge in innumerable spheres and enjoyed it as an always ready instrument for exercising the mind and penetrating further and further. Best of all, mine has been a life of loving and being loved. What a tragedy that all this will disappear with the used-up body!
You look at science (or at least talk of it) as some sort of demoralising invention of man, something apart from real life, and which must be cautiously guarded and kept separate from everyday existence. But science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated. Science, for me, gives a partial explanation for life. In so far as it goes, it is based on fact, experience and experiment.