Reproduction is essential to life, but in my estimation it is a symptom of this wholeness: the functional closure of a set of material transformations which begin to act in concert because they are orchestrated by relationships which exist among the parts because of the whole. It is tempting, but maybe indulgent, to believe that the universe itself is also a similar kind of closed process in which parts exist through the whole, and that life is not a radical discontinuity in the fabric of nature, but simply a local instance of a pattern being repeated again and again at every scale, nature self-organizing as a means of making the possible actual and in the process occasionally “pinching off” a new, self-referential totality, dumbfounded by and exulting in its sudden and inexplicable freedom. Obviously that’s not a scientific claim, but it’s a personally palliative image.
At any rate we do not know the details of the earliest chemical organizations, and we may never. Whatever forms of chemical organization existed before the definitive establishment of the genetic code have been erased by the more sophisticated life which succeeded it. The logic of living organizations, however, is still there for all to see, and the physical conditions which made some form of organization necessary on the early earth are understood. So while we may never know precisely how life got started, why life exists has been clear for some time. I have tried here to lay out in non-technical terms the basis for our understanding of natural self-organization because the scientific consensus on these issues concerns, in the most intimate way, the sense in which we belong in nature.