definition of life

Paul Schlosser SCHLOSSER at ciit.org
Thu Feb 10 14:48:45 EST 1994


In  <Pine.3.05.9402101413.A9418-a100000 at dux>
G.LEWIS at dundee.ac.uk ("G. Lewis - Biological Sciences - S.C.R.I. 562731 ")
writes:

>> Why must it be by nucleic acids?  What about hypothetical life from another
>> planet that uses something else?
>> 
>> -Paul
>> schlosser at beta.ciit.org        
>> 
>
>Hypothetical yes, fine. What about hypothetical stars made of icecream?
>
>In other words, you show me life made of anything other than nucleic acids
>
>Graham Lewis................

Give me a break, life without nucleic acids is a heck of a lot more likely 
than stars made of ice-cream.
For example, what about some of these computer programs?  If you drop the
nucleic acids qualifier, then they are, in an objective sense, alive.  The
only reason we say that they aren't alive is that they are made by people
from non-biological sources, which goes against the deeply ingrained idea
that life can only be created by God.  I.e., it is impossible for people to
create life, so anything that people create must not be alive.  Well, that 
doesn't seem to be a terribly rational way to limit the definition of life.  
Just because we can completely control their environment and (hopefully) 
can eliminate them at will does not mean that these programs aren't "alive."  

Again, this comes back to the issue of: are we trying to find a set of words
which describes exactly those things which we, in an intuitive way, recognize
as alive (it moves, breaths, sucks water, etc.), or are we looking for a 
definition which is "universal" and which may include some things that are
not currently perceived as being alive because of an old, irrational,
definition from which it is difficult to free ourselves?  If you already
*know* what is alive and what is not, then no definition is needed.  If you
want to create a standard to which all things, including those that we have
not yet discovered, may be compared, then a definition limited to only what
we've discovered so far won't get you very far.

Paul
schlosser at beta.ciit.org







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