Now that I think about it, I don't know that we can know what it means to be alive, for the same reason we can't know what it means to be conscious (or the eye can't see vision). The categories of being alive and conscious are simply the conditions of knowing anything.
Nevertheless, even if the problem isn't soluble, it's thinkable, at least with the proper tools. Caldecott suggests that life "unites, binding many parts into a single whole." I might add that it is both a dynamic wholeness and a timebound wholeness.
In other words, a nonliving entity can still be a whole -- a unit -- but it is a whole in space only. When the body becomes a corpse, it has made the transition from spatiotemporal wholeness to mere spatial wholeness -- until even that decays and dissipates, since there is no longer any interior principle -- the soul -- holding it all together.
Bearing this in mind, Caldecott goes on to say that the "secret of life" must have something to do with "memory, understanding, and love," to which I would add the very important and expensive category of anticipation, in order to account for the future-orientation of life, to go along with past (memory) and present (understanding). And again, each of these must be dynamic, not static.
That is to say, as alluded to in the previous post, our lives must be open systems at each level of existence. Obviously we will die if we do not exchange matter and energy with the environment, but the same holds true of information and emotion. Babies will literally die -- or at least become sickly and stunted -- in the absence of love, and what is sickness but an absence of wholeness (health and whole being cognates)? And the typical low-information liberal is dead from the neck up and the heart in. Stupidity kills!
Now, "When Christians speak of immortality, we are referring to the existence we receive when God remembers, understands, and loves us" (ibid). Tomberg makes the same point somewhere -- that just as death is related to sleeping and forgetting, life is related to awakening and remembering. Brings to mind the second criminal, who said to Jesus: "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom" (Luke 23:42).
Reflecting on love and memory, Caldecott says that "in our own love for others is revealed that interior dimension through which we ourselves are renewed and resurrected." Not so sure about that last one, since human love, in the absence of divine intervention, is also the most painful kind of crucifixion.
An elderly Catholic neighbor of mine told me the story of losing his five year old son to leukemia back in the early 1960s. That's crucifixion, and it is precisely the dilemma that urgently introduces the need for renewal and resurrection. But how?
I wish I could remember the whole story -- it's probably been 10 years -- but he told of how, in the hospital, he had the experience of a kind of unimaginable peace descending from above. That doesn't mean he didn't grieve -- even Jesus cries at Lazarus's grave -- but it does mean that the ingression of divine Love and Recollection assured him that somehow everything was going to be alright in the end.
I'm also now remembering a patient who worked in a jewelry store and was involved in a robbery. While one monster was ransacking the place, the other monster had her on her knees with a gun stuck in the back of her head. She began praying, and again described the descent of a kind of total peace. Whereas before she had been thinking about her orphaned children and widowed husband, now it was as if she were being offered a preview of heaven.
Could it have simply been shock? I don't think so, because I've seen plenty of traumatized people whose minds shut down in the midst of the trauma, and it is more analogous to a photographic negative of the above; instead of widening, there is restriction; instead of vivid feeling, there is numbness; instead of peace, there is deadness.
In these latter cases the trauma isn't healed, but is merely kept in psychic escrow for later processing. The person has the traumatic experience, but it comes out later in piecemeal fashion, in the form of symptoms of PTSD.
But the woman referenced above didn't even need treatment. I saw her once, and that was it. I informed her of all the usual symptoms of PTSD, and instructed her to call me if she were troubled by any, but I never heard from her again. (I might add that I didn't have the sense that she was merely in denial; rather, it seemed to me that her preemptive healing was deep and robust, not brittle and superficial.)
Caldecott next goes into a discussion of Christopher Alexander, whose works we toyed with during the month of March. Alexander believes -- as does The B'ob -- that Life Itself is not, and cannot be, just a highly improbable concentration of local complexity in defiance of Big Entropy, but that it must be a more general property of the universe. It's frankly everywhere. It's just that it is brought out more intensely and vividly under certain local conditions.
I see that I said as much on p. 61: "Thus, while life arose through the universe, by no means are we justified in saying that it was a dead universe" -- if only because in a relativistic cosmos we must look at the time dimension in a different manner. If time is spatialized, then it becomes obvious that life is everywhen. You might say that the cosmos spent nine billion years just clearing its throat before uttering LIFE! some four billion years ago.
To quote the B'ob again, in order to comprehend our metacosmic egosystem, "we must read the fine print represented by Life itself, not just the large-print, condensed version produced by physics" for the consumption of cardiomyopic flatlanders.
I mean, I just don't see how one gets from non-life to Life in any other way: "Alexander argues that matter and space are not 'dead' but possess degrees of life..." (Caldecott). Only because the cosmos is already a field-like structure can we have the field-like structure of life -- which again forms a field in space and time.
Temporal glue. That's what life is. Regular glue only holds together things in proximity, but temporal glue holds together everytime from embryo to old man. And transtemporal glue affixes the latter timestream to O. Come to think of it, you could say the Trinity is a kind of dynamic glue, the glue being a very frisky love eternal.