The essence of awakening is living awareness, but what is the essence of "livingness"?
Here I use the idea of a self-evolving system as a thought-tool for framing more precisely the question of how living things differ from inanimate objects or machines.
The self-evolving system is an abstraction for non-mechanical processes that would not only replicate and evolve, but would also design their own evolution, choosing and inventing the direction of their own development.
Thinking about autocreative design leads us to seek a metric for the cost of design itself, and in particular, to ask how that cost is paid in biological evolution.
A remarkable characteristic of life is its creativity. Although creativity is hard to define in precise terms, the biome taken as a whole seems to be much more creative than we might superficially expect that it would have needed to be.
The distinctions between living and non-living systems are difficult to describe without turning to human-centered criteria. The implication that living systems are more highly evolved than lifeless ones, and that some living things are more highly evolved than others, poses the dilemma of a qualitative arrow.
Thinking of living things in contrast to mechanisms, it is useful to more precisely understand what machines are in the context of natural processes. The distinction between machines and biology is in certain ways more difficult to draw than what might be casually expected.
Another characteristic of living things is their ability to step outside a deterministic framework and reorient operational objectives. The biome as a whole, and to an extent also an individual species or organism, can design and create itself or parts of itself. That is a process that we could call self-evolution.
Self-evolving systems require the emergence of new form to nourish their development. They thrive at the edge of formlessness, where the potential is high for surprising changes in direction. At the same time, self-evolving systems also require connection to other islands of form. Tension between the void and connectedness is part of what propels self-evolutionary processes.
Self-evolving systems have a kind of intelligence, but not an intelligence based on mechanically processing symbols as programmable computers do. The paradox of self-evolution implies that self-evolving systems subsume symbols.
As biomolecular technology verges on fusing life with non-life at the most fundamental level, it may be interesting to reflect on how information technology might someday look.
Reflecting on the self-evolutionary qualities of living things leads to questions about the precise nature of selfhood, particularly in the case of conscious living beings such as ourselves.
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