what is alive?
stevem at comtch.iea.com
Wed Sep 18 08:32:58 EST 1996
In article <m0v1SGm-0004N3C at uctmail2.uct.ac.za>, ed at molbiol.uct.ac.za wrote:
>For me, it's simple: it's not replicating; like fire, it is simply
>propagating a chemical reaction which varies according to its
>substrate; therefore, it is not alive.
I've come in late to this thread, so I apologize if this is
Wouldn't it make sense to consider "living" to be a matter of degree?
For example, a dried lotus seed or a frozen spore *must* be considered to be
alive to some degree, since it has the capacity for doing all the things
living things do. A person in a coma is less alive than one who is engaged in
a lively conversation. A virus is perhaps less alive than a eukaryotic
organism, which in turn may be less alive than a dog. And, a cancer cell is
certainly alive, but perhaps to a lesser degree than the organism whose stem
cells it arose from.
Certainly we could cook up a definition for "life" that would provide
a basis for calculating the "degree of aliveness" of a system, so that each
animal, plant, virus, autonomous robot and river system can be allocated its
I think a lot of the problem people have with the concept of "what is
alive" may come from the idea that there is a "spirit" that enters leaves the
body upon birth and leaves upon death: an on/off kind of quantity called
"life". In the context of current medical, biological, biochemical and
cybernetic knowledge, that idea is nonsense. If "life" is to be something
science deals with, it must be measurable, quantifiable-- and probably not a
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