The number three is unbreakable. Unlike the wooden hull of a sailing ship or the metal bearings of a car, a number cannot wear out. A sailing ship or car may last for years; but eventually both break. Unless fixed, they cease to work.
Numbers never wear out. They are mathematical patterns. Computer programs are built from mathematical objects. The components are unbreakable. And every similar one is identical. This enables developers to create complex entities, with thousands or millions of lines of code.
But the components of a computer program can be combined wrongly, or the programmer can insert the wrong components, or leave them out. Or one aspect may unexpectedly influence another.
Even when we start with components that are unbreakable, we rapidly create objects that break or wear.
Nature does the same. It creates substances that rot.
In the kind of circumstances conducive to our kind of life, atoms are unbreakable. Under the conditions we humans live, you cannot add to or split off part of an atom or fission it in two.
Moreover, atoms of the same kind are nearly identical. Different isotopes of the same kind weight differently. They move at different speeds at the same temperature, and their spectra are slightly different. However, isotopes of the same are identical. Their differences come from differences in locations and velocities, as well as from the energy and number of their electrons.
Living organisms started with atoms a very long time ago. They survived and multiplied in `friendly' environments environments without too many strong ultraviolet photons breaking molecules, with enough thermal energy to move components around, with many water molecules, with photons of the right energy or molecules of the right sort for energy transfer and so on. These kinds of environments, while rare in the universe at large, was frequently available on earth.
Because atoms were unbreakable, and molecules always break in the same ways, early self-replicators did not have to deal with `worn' or `rotten' parts. Either a molecule was right for its task, or it was not. Only after organisms became more complex did rotten or otherwise inadequate substances become a problem. Such substances are like complex computer programs. They contain the biological equivalent of computer bugs. A rotten substance may contain the wrong atoms, or lack the right ones, or contain atoms ones wrongly combined. Its complexity becomes so large that the unbreakable nature of its components becomes irrelevant.
In human societies, sacred postulates are also unbreakable. They may be replaced by others, but they cease to be sacred when shown to be false. That is why the better ones cannot be falsified but only replaced.
Laws also are built from unbreakable components, like the admonition not to murder your neighbor. And like complex organisms, the nature of the unbreakable component may be come irrelevant as the body of law becomes more complex, which occurs when the question circles around the legal definition of `neighbor'. Is the person breaking into your house at night a neighbor or a thief? What rights and obligations do you have towards him?
The as-yet imaginary, human-made, extremely small self-replicators, the nanotechnological self-assemblers that people are designing, will work with atoms.
Although the first human-made, nano-sized self-assemblers may have a complexity equivalent to a very early proto-bacterium (according to von Neumann, a complexity of 25 150 kilobytes), I expect them soon to become as complex as more recent bacteria, and perhaps more so.
Entities stop becoming more complex, stop becoming more prey to rot, only when the complexity or rot kills enough of them.
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