Nature’s Relationships : What Is Life ?

If we could surrender to Earth’s intelligence, we would rise up rooted—like trees.”

~ Rainier Maria Rilke


What Is Life ? This is a question with many answers. A dictionary might tell us that life is a distinctive characteristic of a living organism that has he capacity to grow, metabolize, respond to stimuli, adapt, and reproduce. But, defining life requires a greater depth if we are to understand how Nature operates.


We can define living things by their structure:

  • Living Things are Composed of Cells
  • Living Things Have Different Levels of Organization
  • Living Things Are A Network of Systems


Or, we could define living things in terms of energy:

  • Living Things Transport and Transform Energy
  • Living Things Respond To Their Environment
  • Living Things Grow
  • Living Things Reproduce
  • Living Things Adapt To Their Environment


We can say that the essence of life is a process:

All life processes intermingle and are somehow dependent upon each other. Everything within Nature is interconnected and interdependent. More than mere interconnectedness, interdependence refers to the tendency of all life on Earth to be fundamentally linked and mutually dependent upon each other. Interdependence is a defining feature of all of Nature and Her ecosystems. Animals depend on plants for the production of oxygen, while plants absorb the carbon dioxide released by animals. Bees, butterflies, and birds assist in pollination and seed dispersal, enabling the reproduction of a multitude of plant species on which other organisms depend for food and shelter. And, of course, Earth’s connectedness with the sun’s energy is of primary importance because solar energy drives all life.


Life is a living system:

We can see that humans are also interconnected to and interdependent with Nature. Nonetheless, humanity fails to embrace the idea that every living thing on earth, including humans, is inextricably interconnected to every other living being. This refusal by humanity to accept our interdependence with Nature is a basic reason why the effects of human overpopulation and over-consumption exist.


Life is a collection of systems:

We will never understand life and we will be unable to resolve our population crisis until we recognize that life is a collection of systems. While we may not realize it, we encounter and connect with systems every moment of our lives. Our bodies are a large collection of interconnected, self-maintaining systems. Every person we meet, every organization we work with, every animal, every tree, and every ecosystem is a system.


Life is a continuum:

The endless complexity of life is organized into patterns which repeat themselves as they energize each hierarchical level of an ecosystem.  From the ceaseless streaming of protoplasm to the many-vectored activities of supranational systems, there are continuous flows through living systems as they maintain their highly organized steady states.


We humans need to embrace a systems view of life:

It is important to recognize that we need to understand systems and the systems view of life because systems are the networks by which life’s vital energy is transported and transformed. A thorough understanding of Nature’s living systems, as well as energy flow within these systems, is key to the development of conservation programs by human beings. When a conservation program developed by humans proves ineffective, it is usually because there was insufficient comprehension of living systems and Nature’s energy flow within these systems.



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Please share your definition of life in the comment section of this post. The purpose for these blogs is to develop a dialog between myself and my readers. Please leave your comments in the space provided below.

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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

One Response to “Nature’s Relationships : What Is Life ?”

  1. Jack L Davis says:

    A beautiful job, Bill. I would personally qualify a bit where you write humanity refuses to recognize to recognize the interconnected of all life. Native peoples—tho they are now few—did and do celebrate this interdependency. As an obnoxious academic and Buddhist and Bohm aficionado, I would also argue that the Western absolute distinction between living and nonliving entities is likewise a bogus concept. All living things are made precisely of the so-called nonliving elements of our cosmos. Nonetheless, a fine piece of expository writing. Jack L Davis

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