Definition of Life

Mark D. Garfinkel garfinkl at
Wed Feb 9 13:12:50 EST 1994

In article <2jankp$rsa at>
jjh37997 at (James J. Herlburt) writes:

>On 9 Feb 1994, Julian Blanc wrote:
>> [...] A living
>> thing must a physical dissipative structure having the following
>> characteristics:
>>       - Variation
>>       - Reproduction
>>       - Heredity
>>  [...]
>This definition also allows us to include computer virues and the like. As long
>as we don't mind excluding the need for a physical structure. Can a computer
>program have a physical structure? Free-flowing electrons, perhaps?

	The computer columnist Steven Levy, in a book called
"Artificial Life," made basically this point. The CS types have
written computer programs that reproduce by copying their own code
from one region of dynamic RAM to another; they are mutable in that
they sometimes make errors while copying their own code; they undergo
a type of sexual reproduction by recombining with one another &
swapping code segments. These computer programs can be described
as inhabiting RAM; their medium is electricity.

	There's been a lot of cross-fertilization and exchange of
metaphors & analogies between computer science on the one hand with
genetics on the other. Goes back to the 1940s, I guess, and
John von Neumann, the prominent mathematician & pioneer computer

Mark D. Garfinkel (e-mail: garfinkl at
My views are my own, which is why they're copyright 1994

More information about the Bioforum mailing list