Most definitions of Natural History tend to consider and itemize the differences among living organisms, and on their relationships with their environment. I find these definitions attractive, but for the purpose of this blog, I will emphasize Natural History in a broader sense as solutions living organisms use to solve common problems.
This blog discusses Natural History in simple and elementary terms. Since Science deals only with that which can be measured, this will be strictly a scientific discussion. If the reader is interested in more detail, let me know and I will be happy to email a bibliography and/or a list of suggested readings to you.
What is Life? An article in Wikipedia states that "Defining life is difficult - in part - because life is a process, not a pure substance." And yet, most readers can readily differentiate between most forms of life and non-life (rock, water, light, etc.) Even so, there is still discussion on whether or not virus, prions, and self-replicating molecules are forms of Life.
Defining a "living creature" is somewhat easier. Living creatures are specifically characterized has having the ability to regulate internal environment (homeostasis), metabolism, and reproduction. Living organisms must have the ability to maintain corporal integrity. They must have metabolic mechanisms to convert sunlight to all their chemical and physical structures. And, of course, without means of reproduction there would be no continuation of life.
Other characteristics sometimes used to describe a living creature include a response to stimuli, adaption, growth, and presence of cell structure. I leave these characteristics out of this discussion because inanimate materials can show some or all of them also. Rocks, for example, show crystal growth, response to gravity, and can adapt to pressure. I mentioned viruses and prions above. Do they have cell structure? Are they animate or inanimate?
I find it easier and more convenient to describe the requisites all living organisms need in order to "live." There are four things all living organisms need to maintain life.
They must have food.
They must be able to eliminate waste products resulting from their life.
They must have a place in which to live.
They must have a means of reproducing themselves.
The following, very general, and abbreviated accounts of Natural History is written to encourage people to obtain more knowledge about life requirements. Too often our dietary habits, sociological behavior, and political inclinations are directed by ignorance.
How can one intelligently discuss the importance and ramifications of sociology and politics without more than a cursory understanding of the Natural History of Life?
A brief and simplified discussion of each of the above follows.
I would be happy to receive and reply to any comments and suggestions you may care to send to me. I would be delighted to expand on any of the above topics at your request and/or steer you in the right direction for more information.
If you are interested in learning more, send an email to me, and I will return an annotated bibliography of suggested readings. There will be no charge. Your email address will be protected from spammers and will not be sold or given to any one.
Fred Duerr, Ph.D.firstname.lastname@example.org