What is “Life”

article_imgEveryone feels like that can tell you what “life” is. It is pretty obvious. Well, unless you get near the edges of the definition.

My son just started High School here in the USA and is taking his first biology course. One of their first assignments was to decide if a virus is alive. My poor boy had to put up with his ‘ole man lecturing him on the arbitrary nature of the word “life”. He felt that “life” was an idea that needed to be discovered, but quickly saw that “life” is not a concrete thing, but an abstract word created by people that masquerades as a concrete thing.

He soon realized that to decided whether a virus was a form of life, he needed an arbitrary man-made definition of “life”. Next, he saw that the definitions everyone put forth were fuzzy and loaded with assumptions.

Like the words “religion” and “patriot”, people generally feel they know exactly how to use the word “life” and intuitively know what it means until they are up against things on the edge or people who don’t agree with their use of the word.



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2 responses to “What is “Life”

  1. I’ve always been wondering whether there is a “continuum” in life, both temporally and specially. Temporally, we know a bit (or quite a bit) about evolution of life. I don’t think there is a defining moment which sharply distinguishes the transition from non-life to life. In space, however, that is, at a given moment of time, things are a bit more complicated. And we’ll never be able to ask a virus if it feels alive!

  2. Right, Takis, if life evolved from non-life, there must be some point when it became life or there is no difference or it is all a matter of arbitrary definition. I lean toward the later.

    You may “feel alive” but that is easy since you made up the word! 🙂

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