Definition of Life - VIRUSES LIVE OK!!!!

Robert C. Colgrove robin at cco.caltech.edu
Wed Feb 9 15:34:55 EST 1994


Well, I'm not going to get dragged into a metaphysical argument
(I only do these with friends in a cozy pub over beer ;^)
but I am an actual virologist and infectious disease doc
and I wouldn't want folks to come away thinking that all us 
microbe hunters think viruses are bona fide living things.
Sort of like physicists and quantum-weirdness, most virologists
I know just work with the stuff and don't bother with the
slippery semantic slope of what constitutes Life. To the extent
that the subject comes up, viruses typically are descibed in 
qualified terms like "alive or not depending on your definitions"
and thus acknowledging the unclear quasi-live state of viruses.

For my own part, I think viruses are Gaia's Haiku:
Dense, compact, cryptic distillations of biological meaning
that are not alive as lone virions any more than a poem lives on the page.
Just as a verse comes to life only in the mind of a reader,
so a virus lives only within the cells of a host.

But I don't want to fight about viruses
any more than I would fight about poems
and with that, I think I hear some viral cultures
calling for my attention just now.
back to the hood...

		-robin
.




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