|1) Earth: alive but not an organism|
In real life, paradoxes have a more interesting meaning, but here too they are a sign that something's wrong with our perspective. They mean we're onto something important, that something profound is trying to reveal itself through the flaws in our understanding that have obscured it until now.
Equating "life" with "organism" has created a raft of problems for biologists. Critics of biology are unerringly drawn to these problems, but biologists have defensively dug in their heels and tried to rationalize each one rather than deal with the the underlying common problem. Here are just a few:
1) If only the organism is alive, then that must mean that every living system is an organism. Thus we end up with James Lovelock's conclusion that since the biosphere is obviously a living system, it must therefore be an organism, which he calls Gaia. And yet, Gaia does not actually satisfy the classical definition of life; it fails the reproduction test, and many of the others it satisfies only vaguely or metaphorically. So, by the classical definition, the biosphere must be dead, even though it's obviously a living system.
|2) Organs: not organisms; are they then dead?|
3) If it takes all these characteristics to count as alive, and anything less is dead, then how did life emerge? It is extraordinarily unlikely that they could all happen at once - we have been unable to make them all happen at once in an experimental setting, despite decades of trying. This is why critics of biology point to God - with the classical definition of life, nothing short of a natural-laws-defying divine miracle could create life. Since the proper realm of science is rational empiricism, it is ironic that biological scientists have settled on a definition of life that forces us to introduce unnatural interventions to explain the origins of one of the most everyday features of the natural world.
|3) Waterfall, river, ecosystem: dead or alive?|
|4) Staircase: dead?|
By 2001, Mr. Alexander has rightly concluded the problem lies not with architecture (nor with software engineering) but with the classical biologist's false equation of life with the organism. If we break this arbitrary equation, all of these paradoxes disappear.
But without the classic definition, how should we define life?
1) Earth's biosphere as a whole contains all life and consists of complex living systems, but since it is not an organism according to the classic definition it must therefore be dead.
Photo: NASA/GSFC composite photograph from 20 June 2012. Synthesized view of Earth's Northern Hemisphere showing the Arctic, Europe, and Asia. Taken from the low-orbiting satellite Suomi NPP.
Source: Wikipedia (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arctic_from_low_orbiting_satellite_Suomi_NPP.jpg)