The big ideas

This page explains the “big ideas” behind the stories from Nowhere Wood. In doing so, it tells the story of life. The big ideas are in bold text and are grouped into categories. This helps to trace the unfolding of the big ideas across the stories. 

Beyond MRS GREN

What is life? This is a question that has been asked for tens of thousands of years by philosophers, poets and scientists.

It is still a very difficult question to answer, although you may get glimpses of answers from the stories from Nowhere Wood.

Scientists find it easier to describe what living organisms do. We uses MRS GREN as an acronym to stand for the seven life processes:

  • Movement
  • Respiration
  • Sensitivity (to changes in the environment)
  • Growth
  • Reproduction
  • Excretion
  • Nutrition

An organism is alive when it does all of these seven processes. It is not alive if it does not do these seven processes.

A process is a series of actions that achieve a particular goal. This requires the parts of the organism to work together properly, else the process fails and the goal is not achieved. Living organisms are not static “things”. They are collections of processes that keep the organism alive.

This is good, but what is life? To begin to understand that, we need to go beyond MRS GREN.

Organisms are alive because their cells are alive

Cells are organised into tissues, organs and organisms. Organisms are organised.

Organisms are alive only when  their cells are alive. Although cells are alive, their component parts (organelles and molecules) are not alive.

 

Life emerges in a cell only when all of the component parts work together properly. If the parts fail to work together properly, then the cell dies. If enough cells die, then the organism dies.

All living organisms are made by their parents, and will (sooner or later) die.

Birth and death are essential parts of being alive.

Organisms are interconnected in time and in space

A living organism is on a journey, travelling through time and space, between birth and death.

A living organism has a history:  it is connected to its parents who made it and to their ancestors through the inheritance of genetic information (genomes).

Life is a relay race, passing on (genetic) information from parents to offspring,  The race has gone on for at least 3.5 billion years, when one organism existed that became the parent of all life on Earth. It is called Luca. All living organisms that have ever existed, which exist now or which could ever exist are descended from Luca.

All living organisms have inherited genetic information from Luca.

This means that all life on Earth is interconnected in time.

Living organisms are also connected in space. Organisms organise themselves into ecosystems, which are communities of organisms that live together in a particular habitat. Ecosystems are also alive, the living organisms depend on each other to survive. Life depends on life.

Ecosystems are also alive: they respond and adapt, responding to changes in the environment.

Life only exists in an external environment. Life exists only when living organisms are able to respond to changes in their environment.

In turn, organisms can change their environment, affecting other organisms that also live in that environment.

Organisms are being and becoming

At every moment of time every living organism is doing two things.

Firstly, it is continuing to stay alive. Energy and nutrients are flowing into the cells living organisms from their environment. Organisms use the energy and the nutrient molecules to repair broken parts of cells and also to grow larger by making new parts.


The organism is also changing the environment by adding waste products to the environment.

In our stories, we say that the organism is being, when it is continuing to stay alive.

Secondly, each living organism is moving forwards into the next stage of its life. This might include reproducing and making new organisms.

Moving forwards into the next stage of life includes growing old and (sooner or later) dying.

When an organism dies, its store of energy and chemicals become available to other organisms. Energy flows into other organisms and its molecules are recycled. The organism becomes a habitat for decomposer organisms.

In our stories, we say that the organism is becoming, when it is moving to the next stage of its life.

Living organisms have adventures in time and in space

You might think that only superheroes have adventures, but life is an adventure, and all living organisms are having their own different adventures. 

Life is an uncertain journey for all living organisms. They could die at any moment, and the journey has no guarantee of success. It is an adventure.

The word ‘adventure’ has two parts:

Ad means moving towards something.

Venture means attempting something dangerous or difficult, that is risky, with no guarantee of success.

Put the two together and you get the idea that the lives of all living organisms are risky journeys into the future, with no guarantee of success or survival.

In our stories, we say that all living organisms have adventures in time and in space.

The story of life on Earth is how living organisms are able to solve the problems of their existence so that they are fully being and becoming.

This resource contains stories of some of the adventures of the organisms that live in Nowhere Wood.