The animate world

Nested within the inanimate world, the animate world came to life (quite literally) roughly 3.8 billion years ago.

Biology is our tool to describe living organisms, their metabolism, reproduction, and behaviour. These organisms are characterised by four dichotomies without equivalent in the inanimate world: inside vs. outside; self vs. environment; individual vs. species; and beginning vs. end.

In this world things are born: their existence has a marked beginning and an inescapable end; it starts at birth and ends with death.

Adding to the change mechanisms we know from the inanimate world, life employs several mechanisms that stand out as uniquely biological: birth, growth, ageing, death, and agency.

Birth, growth and agency act as antagonists of entropy as they wrestle order from surrounding chaos. Living organisms, by their very existence, are the antithesis of entropy: islands of order emerged from an ocean of disorder. Yet their defiant success remains local and temporary; even large species like blue whale and giant sequoia are limited in body size and age, kept in check by ageing and death.

In order to adapt to environmental changes, biological evolution employs the mechanisms of combination and variation (acting on genes encoded in DNA). Thus, life affords its own sense of purpose: survival, i.e., averting the extinction of the species and the death of the individual. And it adopted its own sense of time: an arrow pointing forward, from present to future.

Over the course of a few billion years, these mechanisms gave rise to another transformative novelty: the human world.

This is the nineth in a series of short posts on the origins of innovation.


  1. Sandro says:

    On these topics I have enjoyed many enlighting writings from Ilya Prigogine, pioneering the climate dynamics as well.
    E.g. how complex systems far from the equilibrium can actually self-organize, reaching multiple states, are dominated by non linearity, and have the possibility of contrasting entrophy (Prigogine-Nicolis, Self organization in non equilibrium systems, from dissipative structures to order to fluctuations, 1977). These seem to be main features of the Animated world indeed, and of the Human world in particular. Incidentally, these “scientific insights” are only apparently disonnected/separated by the “classic world” (arts, literature) as well highlighhted by Prigogine-Stengers, La Nouvelle Alliance, 1979.
    At the same time, reading of Jacques Monod, Le hasard et la necessite’ (1970) was fundamental to me to link biology and phylosophy. Interesting to see many of these overarching ideas are transferred into a different topic as the “phylosophy on innovation” and transpiring from these blog!

    • Many thanks for your inspiring feedback.

      I do believe that the complexity we observe in our environment is fundamentally the same that we find in the world of our ideas. Hence art, music, culture (in fact all of our innovative musings) should employ similar mechanisms and follow similar patterns as biological organisms do. For after all, those are all complex adaptive systems.

      There’s definitely a lot more to explore.

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