Click to tweet: http://clicktotweet.com/8F06S . Living things have up to seven characteristics in common which non-living things usually lack. This is a "family resemblance" definition au Wittgenstein rather than a set of necessary and sufficient conditions, but on the whole, living organisms tend to have all of them and non-living physical objects tend to lack all of them. Hylozoists would of course disagree. They also pertain as much to plants and bacteria as to mammals, though not to viruses to the same degree. There is no definite border between life and non-life.
Here they are:
1. Nutrition: Living things consume matter to fuel their processes and construct and maintain their bodies. In the case of plants, most of this matter is synthesised using energy from daylight to combine carbon dioxide and water to form the sugar glucose in a process known as photosynthesis. Animals generally consume matter which has already been synthesised, in a process known as eating, although they do synthesise quite a lot of compounds themselves. Exceptions include moths without digestive systems and certain bryozoan zooids.
2. Reproduction: Organisms create copies of themselves, often by exchanging or transferring genetic information to other members of the same species, which increases diversity and therefore fitness to survive in a changing environment. Again, there are exceptions. Most individual social insects have no offspring although the queens in their colonies reproduce, which is apparently because they're unusually closely related to each other due to their method of sex determination. Some colonial hydroids are also non-reproductive and specialise in other functions such as defence. My personal belief is that this kind of phenomenon refutes the idea that homosexuality is unnatural in humans, because clearly homosexuals make socially useful contributions and are therefore involved in reproduction on a societal level.
3. Excretion: The elimination of waste from the internal environment which would throw the organism out of homoeostasis is another feature of organisms. For humans, the most obvious example is urination but another is the exhalation of carbon dioxide. Defaecation is not a clearcut example, however, as most of a stool has never been in the internal environment - for example bacteria, roughage and water - although a small part of it is genuine excreta. Some animals have no real excretory systems because they don't live long enough to need to excrete. Mammals are unusual in that they are land animals which excrete waste products dissolved in water, which seems a puzzling waste of water.
4. Respiration: This is not the same as breathing although humans need to breathe to live. Respiration is in fact any process whereby energy is released from food. It's a misconception that plants breathe "backwards": they breathe in the same way as animals but also generate their own oxygen. We need oxygen to release most of the energy, so we need to breathe to remove the carbon dioxide and supply oxygen so that the reactions can continue. Some organisms use no oxygen at all for this purpose, for instance tetanus and gas gangrene bacteria.
5. Growth: This seems self-evident to me. However, it's worth mentioning that there is a whole group of animals which don't grow by cell division at all once they hatch, and of course the growth of mammals and birds is rather limited, although it still occurs when we're injured.
6. Movement: Organisms generally move, even plants, whose flowers, if they have them, may open during the day and close at night, or whose leaves follow the sun. On the other hand, some animals, such as sponges, move very little - their flagella beat, but not much else.
7. Sensation: Every living thing responds to changes in its environment. Humans are primarily visual, but other animals may be more oriented around other senses such as smell or even sensitivity to magnetic fields - woodlice and pigeons, for example. Even plants have senses. They grow upwards, away from the force of gravity, seek out light from the sun, and so on.
Some of these characteristics are also found in non-living, non-technological objects such as the photoelectric effect (sensation), crystallisation (growth) and so on, but if all these features are found together, the object concerned is alive.
OK, so here's what i really want to talk about, and probably i should put some kind of vid together on this too. As i must've mentioned, i've gone back on the phytoestrogens. After the technicolor yawn i experienced a few weeks back i shifted onto the alleged motherlode - Trifolium pratense:
I'm avoiding Humulus lupulus because of the depressant effect and in fact think it's a waste of space, not because it doesn't work but because of the contraindications, which rule it out much of the time. Since i started taking it, i've experienced a change in my perception of interactions between people. I'm curious about whether this is placebo or a pharmacodynamic effect, but one thing's clear: it's the result of the project ("The Project"?). If it's the former, my behaviour and experience probably reflects my stereotypes of femininity, which is a bit disturbing as it brings my sexism out, or could do if it's not accurate. If the latter, it means it has psychotropic action, though this could be due to something other than the phytoestrogenic one. IIf this could be disentangled though, it suggests that endogenous oestrogens are also psychologically significant. Here i'm aware of treading carefully because of the tendency to see the female as the deviation, when it's clearly the other way round, at least embryologically, more or less. So the oestrogen doesn't so much have an effect where there would otherwise be one lacking as have an effect along with other steroid hormones having others.
I would describe some of the changes in my experience as finding certain behaviour more concerning and perceiving it as more aggressive than i previously would've done, and that i'm somewhat more focussed on the interactions between people than the subject of their interactions, semantically speaking. All of that's uncertain of course.
What's more certain is the mastodynia, which is, however, very mild. This is more pronounced on the lateral aspect of the right breast but there's also bimedial pain at the level of the sixth intercostal space. This peaks a few minutes after taking the Trifolium. There's also pain over a wide area superior to the nipples. There may or may not be gynaecomastia - it's impossible for me to see my upper chest objectively and if there is, it may have crept up on me.
Incidentally, if there is, this will be the third time this has happened to me. It happened, as it does to many boys, during puberty, then later on around the time Daniel was born, which i egged on again using phytoestrogens, though not Trifolium, and now i'm doing it again.
Yes, i am most definitely a man. Yes, i most definitely hate being a man.
See you tomorrow.