Lifespan Development Theories See Aging Theories Of


LIFE, THEORIES OF. The concept of life may be defined as matter having a type of organization, and having the properties of self-perpetuation (for a longer or shorter time) and of reproduction in some form. It is also distinguished by certain characteristics des-cribbed as "vital" properties of living matter (such as nutrition involving processes of anabolism and catabolism, and irritability involving conductivity and contractibility). Living substance has been analyzed in terms of chemical protoplasm (consisting largely of water, proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and inorganic salts, and is differentiated into nu-cleoplasm and cytoplasm), as well as in terms of its physiological and morphological properties. There are four classical theories of protoplasmic structure (Baldwin, 1901-1905): the granular theory - basic biological units of lower order than the cell, including Spencer's "physiological units," Nageli's "micellae," and Darwin's "gemmules"); the filar theory -Flemming's conceptualization that spongio-plasm is composed of interlacing threads (that do not unite) to form a reticulum; the reticular theory - protoplasmic structure is thought to be a mass of threads that are combined into a more or less regular network; and the alveolar theory - Butschli's viewpoint that protoplasm is a microscopic foam or emulsion of two liquids of different densities. The nature of the bond which holds the diverse substances of living matter together is the so-called "problem of life" (cf., constancy principle - states that what is alive will be dead someday, and all organic matter will return to inorganic matter; and the discredited theory of spontaneous generation, or abiogenesis theory, which states that living organisms may develop from nonliving matter, based on observations such as the development of maggots on decaying meat, but which occurred, in fact, as a result of flies' laying eggs on the meat). Across the centuries, theories of life have focused predominantly on the form of organization displayed, as compared to the other forms, such as the chemical bases (cf., electron-proton theory - the "atomistic" or "reductive" approach which states that everything about a living organism, both overt and covert, is nothing more than a grouping of electrons and protons in a dynamic structure). For example, according to Aristotle's theory, the soul is the "form" or "formal cause" of the organized body, the matter of which is the "material cause" of the living creature. Later, in the 10th through the 15th centuries, the Scholastic theory postulated a "vital force" or vitality principle [cf., pneumatism theory, proposed by the early Greek physician Erasistra-tus (c. 310-250 B.C.), is the semi-mystical proposition that breathing is caused by a "vital principle" or "holy spirit;" Erasistratus also asserted that the soul resides in the brain, and was the first to suggest a distinction between sensory and motor nerves], in addition to those of mechanical action and chemical organization (cf., principle of conservation of energy and law of natural selection which subsequently challenged this position). Historically, in addition to mechanical and chemical factors, the ignorance concerning the precise and essential nature of life and living matter was cloaked in the term vitalism (cf., vital fluids theory - posits that the loss of seminal fluids drains vital fluids from the body and/or brain, and deprives one of one's strength; and doctrine of creationism - asserts that all living organisms were created separately and suddenly by a supreme spiritual power, known under various names; this position is maintained by a number of cultural and religious groups, including Aztecs, Native Americans, various African tribes, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, and ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans). The question as to whether or not vital changes (such as those of development and growth) can be adequately accounted for as transformations of the known forms of energy led to the vitalistic or neo-vitalistic viewpoint which holds that some sort of "new force" or "new energy" (e.g., the "genetic energy" of Williams; the "growth force" of Cope) is operative, some property of "self-adaptation" or "direction" occurs, or some form of a "directive force" serves to guide physical energy [cf., theory of congruent transcendency - posits that life form, for example, one's personality is governed by a kind of master plan that permits integration of present status with the "ultimate life form;" Van Kaam (1964/1980; 1966); transmigration theory - holds that one state of existence or essence may change into another one, specifically the notion that the soul of a person leaves the body at death and goes into another body, such as allegedly occurs in the process of "resurrection" or "reincarnation" in certain religious belief systems; and the Gaea/Gaia hypothesis (named after the ancient mythological Greek goddess of the earth) - posits that the earth is a separate self-regulating and functioning organism with all flora and fauna determining the planet's health in interaction with the atmosphere and oceans to maintain its existence; according to this hypothesis, the earth is neutral in regard to its inhabitants; the hypothesis was first proposed by the British organic chemist James E. Lovelock (1919- ) and the British molecular biologist Lynn Margulis (1938- ), where the stability of atmospheric components over many eons is cited as evidence for this controversial notion]. It is notable for theory development in psychology that the "directive force" approach gave the concept of consciousness a new and important role in the discussion and represented a tendency to restate the older philosophical question of life in terms of a dualism between matter and mind rather than between matter and life. On the related issue of death/dying, theoretical conjectures focus on the dying process (i.e., psychological processes occurring in a dying person are usually feelings of anger, fear, sadness, and shame) and on stages of dying [according to the Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1926-2004), there are five major attitudes/stages experienced by dying persons: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and where "hope of survival" persists through all the stages; cf., Gompertz hypothesis (named after the self-educated English mathematician Benjamin Gompertz (1779-1865) - states that the probability of mortality increases geometrically as a function of the length of time the person has lived]. See also CONSCIOUSNESS, PHENOMENON OF; CONSERVATION OF ENERGY, LAW/PRINCIPLE OF; DARWIN'S EVOLUTION THEORY; DEVELOPMENTAL THEORY; LOEB'S TROPISTIC THEORY; NATURAL SELECTION, LAW OF. REFERENCES

Baldwin, J. M. (Ed.) (1901-1905). Dictionary of philosophy and psychology. New York: Macmillan. Van Kaam, A. (1964/1980). Religion andper-sonality. Denville, NJ: Dimension books.

Van Kaam, A. (1966). Existential foundations of psychology. Pittsburgh, PA: Du-quesne University Press. Kubler-Ross, e. (1969/1997). On death and dying. New York: Macmillan/Scrib-ners.

Lovelock, J. (1988). The ages of Gaia: A biography of our living earth. New York: Oxford University Press.

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