David's "Language vs. Death" unit here on The Ingredient should have concluded long ago. On and on it continues to unspool though, and to my profound stupefaction I have been driven to an essay on protoplasm by Charles S. Peirce that appeared in the October 1892 issue of The Monist (vol.3,no.1), pp. 1-22. "Man's Glassy Essence" is the title, a phrase that occurs nowhere inside the article itself that I can find. Don't ask me to sum it up or even explain what it's about, but let me drop the needle where he explains the difference between mineral and living matter:
"The life-slimes have, further, the peculiar property of growing. Crystals also grow; their growth, however, consists merely in attracting matter like their own from the circumambient fluid.... But to say that such formation is as regular and frequent as the assimilation of food is quite another matter. It is more consonant with the facts of observation to suppose that assimilated protoplasm is formed at the instant of assimilation, under the influence of the protoplasm already present. For each slime in its growth preserves its distinctive characters with wonderful truth, nerve-slime growing nerve-slime and muscle-slime muscle slime, lion-slime growing lion-slime, and all the varieties of breeds and even individual characters being preserved in the growth."

Now bear in mind that I am making this up as I go along when I write that self-replication is a common goal of language and living matter. When I say "goal" what do I mean. A tendency, I guess--in this case toward avoidance of death through guile and proliferation. Peirce calls it a "habit," and seems to explain the origin of the universe and everything in it when he says the "principle of habit, itself due to the growth by habit of an infinitesimal chance tendency toward habit-taking, is the only bridge that can span the chasm between the chance-medley of chaos and the cosmos of order and law." As habits go, death-avoidance is neither base or noble, but it is a precondition for continued existence generally. What does not fight for survival perishes. And what does not call its own name aloud will surely disappear.


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