what is alive?

Kaj Stenberg kstenber at cc.Helsinki.FI
Wed Oct 16 02:41:09 EST 1996

Johnjoe McFadden <j.mcfadden at surrey.ac.uk> wrote:
> Steve McGrew writes:     

> .....................................
> I don't like this 'degree of alive' notion and agree with Arthur Chandler's
> comments that life does appear to be a binary phenomenon - alive or dead. If
> we allowed degrees then we would expect a smooth transition between living
> and dead things - but there is not. The simplest self-replicating organisms
> are bacteria - extrodinarily complex compared to the most complex inaminate
> systems. Therealso  doesn't seem to be any transitional state between being
> alive and dead - that would surely imply that the process should be
> reversible but death is unfortunately irreversible.

Consider me getting an electric schock stopping my heart. Without any
outside help I will start to decompose (= definitely dead). With correct
treatment I might survive (=definitely alive). But when do I die?
Immediately? Surely not, I can be rescued. After 1 minute? 5? 20? Seems
like different "degrees of life", since the limit is not absolute. If
you say that I died after it was impossible to rescue anything of me (10
minutes?), that is when the process is irreversal, how do you account
for modern technology. 500 years ago I died after 10 sek, still being
concious (irreversible failure). Now I die after a longer period?
Just a small thought, I didn't pay 2 cents.

Kaj Stenberg

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