what is alive?

Arlin Stoltzfus arlin at is.dal.ca
Sun Sep 15 09:36:08 EST 1996

Mario Vaneechoutte wrote:

> Strange, I would define prions as alive according to the broad
> definition of life (or living information) I favour: living information
> is that information which is capable of making more material
> instantiations of itself by copying already existing instantiations of

I don't understand this definition.  In my way of thinking, 
"information" isn't capable of doing anything, but is an 
abstraction that is only detectable (and can only have effects)
if it is instantiated in the real world.  When one asks how
viral "information" has to be instantiated in order to do 
anything, one sees that it requires a cellular host.  In order
to serve as 'information', i.e., in order to be copied, it 
requires a cellular host.  Based on the use of information,
it is the parasite-host symbiont that is alive, not the parasite
by itself.  But perhaps this is an unsophisticated use of 
the concept of "information", which I don't claim to understand


Arlin Stoltzfus
Department of Biochemistry
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4H7 CANADA
(email) arlin at is.dal.ca 
(phone) 902-494-3569 
(fax) 902-494-1355

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