To develop a better perspective of living and non-living cells and a better understanding of life, consider a fully automated modern factory manned entirely with industrial robots and equipped with smart machines, with no human beings on the production floor. The facility utilizes the internet of things (IoT) and big data, and there is continual real-time communication and information flow among all machinery and equipment, including robot-to-robot, machine-to-machine and robot-to-machine communications. All operations are fully automated. When the amount of a supplies drops below a certain level, a gate opens, and forklifts bring the needed materials in. A conveyor belt transports the waste material to the trash bin to be picked up by trucks. All finished goods are moved out of the factory floor through another gate, and the goods are loaded onto trailer trucks for delivery to the market.
Now imagine Henry Ford is suddenly resurrected and enters such a modern automotive manufacturing facility. Try to guess Ford’s reaction—with his knowledge and understanding of the world in the 1940s—a time where there were no electronics or data centers, no software, no computer-controlled machines, no internet, no machine vision, no robots working in full coordination and no digitization of knowledge. Can you imagine his amazement? He would probably think he was dreaming and pinch himself to return to the reality of 1940s, when hundreds of living, intelligent, conscious, sentient, seeing, speaking, hearing, thinking, trained workers understood what they are doing and their roles on the production floor.
After the initial shock, Henry Ford would probably begin to watch the operation closely to make some sense of it, since there are no people around to ask questions. He would quickly realize that the production machinery is similar to the ones in his factory, performing similar tasks, except that there are no human operators to run the machines. He would also realize that the robots that perform various tasks from welding to painting are also made of parts and are not alive. Supplies like steel, plastics, aluminum, and paint (and also electricity and fuel for energy) enter from one end of the factory while assembled cars leave from the other end, all done by eyeless, earless, lifeless and thoughtless machines, which are themselves bolted assemblies of material parts, working in harmony.
Now suppose that while desperately trying to solve the puzzle of this mysterious operation, Ford discovers an instructions manual that describes all the operations in the factory in full detail. He checks and confirms that everything in the factory runs as instructed in the book. At first, he thinks he solved the puzzle of this wondrous unmanned car factory. But his excitement diminishes quickly as he realizes that the book is nothing more than ink on paper like all other printed books, and this instructions manual is no more capable of running this operation than a recipe book being capable of preparing meals. This is because the instructions manual is not even aware of itself, since it has no life and consciousness of its own, and it has no power to order things around.
The curiosity of Henry Ford would probably be satisfied when he walks into a control room of the factory upstairs, meets the technical team, and receives a crash course on the marvelous technological developments of this information and communication age. He would probably immerse himself in the knowledge of these new technologies at work. He would realize that it is the life, consciousness, intelligence, knowledge, purpose, willpower and the communicative ability of the technical team in the control room upstairs, in addition to the electromagnetic waves that occupy no space and are practically everywhere, that makes the machinery in the production facility act like it possesses these attributes.
A current-age industrialist visiting this futuristic factory, on the other hand, would immediately express his high praise and admiration for the technical team before even meeting with them since the intriguing activities in the production facility are reflections of their abilities. All the intelligent acts the lifeless and unconscious devices perform on the factory floor stem from the intelligent and conscious people in full control of all the equipment and machinery. If the robots and machinery were let loose by disabling the central software and stopping the communications with the central control room, the production facility would turn into ruins in no time.
The functioning of a cell is not much different than the modern factory described above. The cell also receives supplies and delivers finished goods while all the parts in the cell work in complete harmony as “one.” But this unified operation requires a powerful command center that knows everything, sees everything, and firmly rules over everything in the cell authoritatively. Yet, there is no such apparent center within a cell. The DNA molecule is not a candidate for such a position since it is simply an unconscious instructions book written with atoms instead of letters that has no ability to even comprehend what its inscriptions are, let alone to impose the instructions on billions of other independent agents in the cell. Therefore, there must be an invisible, immaterial command center or “spirit” with the attribute of life that has full control over the cell.