Definition of Life

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


In article <2jankp$rsa at vixen.cso.uiuc.edu>
jjh37997 at uxa.cso.uiuc.edu (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
scientist.


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



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