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Bio 103, Week 10

Paul Grobstein's picture

Welcome to the on-line forum for Biology 103.  This is a place for thoughts in progress, a place to leave thoughts and questions that others may find useful and find ones that you might find useful, a place for conversation.  Join in, and let's see what we can make of life together.  If you're registered for the course, be sure to sign in before posting.  Others are welcome to join in as well but posting of comments will be delayed to check for spam. 
You're free to write about whatever has struck you.  If you need something to get you started though, what do you think of the idea that it is because things are falling apart (becoming more probable) that we and other improbable assemblies (including DNA molecules) can exist?

paoli.roman's picture

Week 10

 Today's class stirred up some hardcore emotions! In the beginning, the idea that everything  (be it a monkey, chair, or leaf) is breaking down makes sense of a natural process everything experiences. Everything has its own cycle and process of creation and death. When the topic of death emerged thats when the conversation got "heated"! I feel comfortable with the idea that everything has to end at one point because this way new things emerge and create new beginnings. Yes, the idea of death is horrifying and scary but if it did not exist, death, then we would all get bored of life and there would be too many people in the world (making it very crowded). Scientists should find a way to make life less painful or stressful but they should not really try to prolong it since it could have drastic consequences as previously mentioned.The important concept that I understood and felt at ease with when class was over was the idea that, if there is no death then there would be no change.


achiles's picture

 Following the trend of other

 Following the trend of other posters this week, I, too, find the concept of death as an inevitable and natural decomposition of parts comforting. It makes death easier to deal with. But what about children and young adults who die early from degenerative diseases? How can we explain the difference between a slow, timely, conventional movement from improbable to probable and a quick, erratic, and surprising completion of the process?

Terrible2s's picture

Who ever said aging was natural...

So I am always talking on this forum about how scared this class makes me--we find out things like our species will ultimately die out and that we are slowly killing the earth and ourselves...not very comforting.
However, this past week we talked about enthropy, and I somehow was reassured. I guess it was the fact that our discussion basically made aging and dying seem like very natural things. Not that that makes either of them any less devastating, but now at least it doesn't seem so irrational or unfair.
What I found even more intriguing was that nature in general tends toward entropy, and will ultimately break apart. This then means that most things in life function the way they do partially because they are slowly slowly on their way out? So interesting. It makes me wonder what the factors are that put us "improbably" together. How strong must those things be?

ktan's picture

Sometime last week, someone

Sometime last week, someone said that they were unsettled with the concept of human DNA "falling apart." I disagree--I actually find it pretty cool. Not the act of falling apart, but the phrasing of it. I (and I hope so does everyone else) know for a fact that we are all going to die eventually, so there is no point in wallowing in the idea, but I have never heard of the act of dying described as "the natural tendency of falling apart." I don't know of anybody who has had "death" explained to them in such a way. I find it kind of refreshing, that dying isn't this big mystical, incomprehensible concept, but rather just the improbable reverting back into the way it always has been.

What I find most intriguing is that this whole new way of "story telling" has really got me thinking about how oxymoronic life is--chaotic and random, yet orderly and purposeful at the same time. And as cheesy as this will sound, I am so amazed at how ridiculously lucky we are to be able to exist.

drichard's picture

probability and intentionality

What interests me most about entropy is the human propensity to deny and fight it. The universe is constantly decomposing; everything is falling to pieces all the time; ashes to ashes, star dust to star dust, etc. Life is a slow death [okay, a little morose]. As humans we take every measure to combat our decomposition [typically at the expense of other materials]. The best example is modern medicine. Whether it's the administration of life-saving antibiotics or a weekly shot of collagen, we are constantly trying to preserve life, to prolong death. In this way intentionality alters the natural course of the universe. This could have harrowing effects on the balance struck between the sun, plants, and humans [which was diagrammed in the energy flow chart we looked at last week]. What exactly could come of this disturbance? And is it really a "disturbance" at all, or is human intentionality itself a "natural" process?

achiles's picture

 I feel like medicine is

 I feel like medicine is slowly moving from treatment to prevention. Scientists are already in the business of preserving life. Bodies can be made to live on (i.e. Terri Schiavo), but can life truly be sustained past its expiration date? Is it worth is to have a beating heart without much else?

Karina G's picture

Week 10

What struck me is that as the sun breaks down it drives molecules to a less probable state.  Basically the sun is the reason for improbability; and we are an improbable assembly. Then we can reiterate that life depends on an energy source. Molecules need a source of potential energy. 

sophie b.'s picture

I for one am thrilled the universe is ending

Although it is morbid to view everything, including ourselves as breaking down I think it almost comforting in a way, it offers us a sense of camaraderie with basically the entire universe as we are all striving for the same thing: probable, simplified states (in our case, death). We know that nothing in our universe can last forever- not even the sun, which seems eternal. However when we say that life has to end at some point, we basically are saying that the concept of life as we understand it is limited, but other forms of life, other planets and new universes could possibly form. Entropy to me more represents a lack of commitment to our current status, and endless  future possibilities (or it could just mean the end of everything). 

dchin's picture

Week 10

That we are continuously falling apart lead to some really interesting questions. For example, what factors can accelerate or slow down this process? How much control do humans have over this process? Also, how far can we take it in either direction? This line of thought reminds me of cryopreservation, where cells are exposed to freezing temperatures that stop cell activity, subsequently stopping the process of falling apart. To the best of my knowledge the reason this does not work in preserving humans is because the freezing temperatures damage the cells, but if some method were developed to fix that, should we begin to explore how to stop things from falling apart? Do we have a right to so blatantly tamper with nature?

Yashaswini's picture

Life directed towards more probable?

Even though the concept of everything falling apart from less probable to more probable holds true for most things, I feel it very unsettling to apply this to humans as well. It maybe a subconscious feeling of superiority of the human race over others, but I find it hard to come to terms with the fact that at this very instant, our bodies/cells/macromolecules or even our very entity/ our existence is being broken down into less complex, "more probable" states of being. Prof Grobstein explained in class that this is, in fact, true and the eventual outcome of this process is old-age and later, death. But.. this would mean, that from the time a baby is born, the journey towards getting "more probable" begins, that from the moment life begins, it is directed towards death. This seems very.. morbidly unsettling. I can't comprehend.

I feel this concept could be applicable to non-living entities because when we talk about.. desks or water-wheels, one isn't affected as much. I can accept physical, tangible matter continuously striving for a "more probable" existence. But in context of living beings, I find it hard to maintain the same level of detachment/indifference. But then again. This brings us back to what IS living? How do we differentiate between living and non-living? Would it even be fair to make the distinction?

Kalyn's picture

Circle of Life

 I tried to think of this entire "breaking down process" as a continuous circle. I feel that if everything is breaking down for a purpose, then these breakdowns, are part of a necessary force in order for life to function. When we think of something breaking down we instantly think of negative consequences. But the end of life or a cells function may be the balancing factor in influencing another process to occur. If such a delicate balance exists already, I wonder if science would negatively affect the world if it discovers a way to prolong the human life span? 

jmstuart's picture


 Quote from Mental Floss T-Shirt: 

Entropy: It Ain't What It Used to Be.


oh, science jokes.

This week, I was particularly interested in the concept of how things falling apart relates to aging and death. Can you die of "old age"? From my Biology class in high school, I have an interest in the role of telomeres, which are basically junk sequences of DNA on the end of a particular strand. Each time replication occurs, some of this sequence is deleted. It protects the good parts of the DNA, the sections that code for proteins. But what happens  when these junk sequences fully disintegrate? The DNA molecule itself would probably start to wear away. 

This raises the question, are our bodies only meant to last for a certain amount of time? And if so, is there any way to artificially extend that time period? Do certain people "break down" at different rates? I know there are specific world populations, such as certain Japanese islands and some Mediterranean peoples, that have a much higher life expectancy than the rest of the world. These people have both genetic traits and lifestyle choices (diet, stress levels) that seem to extend their life range. Entropy is a really interesting concept to apply to biology.

cejensen's picture

Things Fall Apart

 This weeks' classes really struck me, especially the idea that the aging process can be seen as "moving towards a more probable state," that state being death. Not only is everything breaking down, we discussed the idea that improbable assemblies depend on things that are moving towards a more probable state (breaking down, falling apart) for their existence.

The big example used was the sun - sunlight is the sun breaking down, and it provides life on earth with energy. However, doesn't the sun also break us down? My family has very fair skin, and both my dad and my grandpa have had to have cancerous spots removed because of sun exposure. Not only do we, as improbable assemblies, depend on things the are breaking down, but also (simultaneously) the things that we depend on that are breaking down are breaking us down. This can also be seen in the food we eat - we depend on it to maintain our improbable state (life), but the food we eat is not always good for us, and can simultaneously break us down.

lcorhan's picture

wat is probable?

You're free to write about whatever has struck you.  If you need something to get you started though, what do you think of the idea that everything it is because things are falling apart (becoming more probable) that we and other improbable assemblies (including DNA molecules) can exist?

This question itself makes me start thinking about what exactly is "probable" and "improbable"? If I look at life, I see many many humans. I am surrounded by humans. If there are sooooo many humans, are we really THAT improbable? I think this problem may come back to social definitions.