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Friday, February 13, 2009

Organism? One body, one mind one soul

Point, counter point: What defines a single living organism? The burner has been turned to high on this weeks ever captivating, always stimulating never ending, debating series that pits normally amiable Buffalo Bulletin reports against each other in a no-holds-bar intellectual death match. Remember to weigh in with your perspective and your vote for the argument of
triumph.

I'm afraid Mr. Smith is fighting an uphill battle from the get go with this week's Point/Counterpoint. An organism, by anyone's standards, is by definition a SINGLE entity, one that functions as a SINGLE system that utilizes energy and is capable of metabolic functions.

Take our friend Mr. Smith. By powers unbeknownst to me, Mr. Smith is able to survive off of a simple diet of cigarettes, Ramen noodles and Maker's Mark. He separates the three into meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner respectively) and by some metabolic miracle, his self-contained and self-sufficient body is able to produce the energy he needs to slump and sidle his way from place to place.

Upon closer review, we find that Mr. Grant's case is not so surprising. In the kingdom of what we call "living organisms," there exist many species that use chemical substances that, though extremely poisonous to other species, suit the organic needs of that creature. It is the symbiotic nature of existence. Humans inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide while plants do just the opposite. By reasonable deduction, we can infer that Mr. Smith is, in fact, not at all human. He is instead a strange unidentified organism probably born in a Waffle House somewhere.

Nonetheless, the noodles, smoke and alcohol that enter Mr. Smith's body (or the organism we will call "Spaceship Grant) are converted, through the work of his team of bodily functions, into energy that he can uses to continue to imbibe, inhale and ingest. The waste, via yet another system found aboard "Spaceship Grant," is expelled in any number of ways, each of which is found to be equally offensive to his nearby coworkers.

Doing our best to keep ourselves out of the technical jargon that inevitably traps most scientists struggling to create a de facto, universal classification, we will employ simple reasoning to conclude that "Spaceship Grant," as a single entity, can be suitably classified as an organism. To be led astray by arguments founded in DNA theory that try to define an organism as anything but a SINGLE entity capable of the above-mentioned processes is, in the end, a pointless exercise in academic blathering.

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