This is the name of a Montessori exercise for preschool children. It is their introduction to science, and it accurately reflects a dichotomy that Western Civilization has enjoyed since Aristotle.

I suggest that there are issues we face as a society for which this dichotomy loses its usefulness. Abortion being the most significant. This occurred to me over the weekend when my family and I watched the Imax film, The Human Body. (Also, super cool teaching aid available here.) The film literally shows an egg being fertilized. You see the tiniest embryo & fetus forming.

You also hear a mom talking about feeling the life within her. In contrast to the never-before-seen nature of the pictures of blood and cells, this is striking because it is familiar.

I’ve always felt that the notion that life begins at conception or birth is silly. I’ve always felt that it had to begin somewhere in between these markers. I think it is better to realize that life does not begin. Nature is more complex than that.

Of course, this frustrates the hell out of the law that is always looking for neat Aristotelian divisions. I suppose it is one reason I think the law is not capable of regulating this area of human life.

NOTE: How do you know when life begins? is one of the six questions I put out in cards at coffee shops as Discussion Starters. Now, I wonder if it is badly phrased.

One reply on “Living/Non-living”

I love that you’ve brought this up. Nature is always messy.

I was doing some reading the other day on speciation, and of course the state of the art on thinking about species is that no only is the boundary of species non-specific, but different kinds of animals and plants need to have different definitions for what a species even is.

With where life starts we have another fuzzy line. Sperm are alive by themselves to a great degree. While I am pro-choice, I don’t necessarily buy the argument that if a newborn is alive, a ninth-month fetus is not, or if a ninth-month fetus is a live, a sixth-month is not. You can back me up until I am pretty clear that once I throw out really arbitrary distinctions, a fertalized egg is pretty much a living human being.

I’m still pro-choice and i have no idea how those two things square.

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