A possible definition of life.

Ed Rybicki ed at MOLBIOL.UCT.AC.ZA
Tue Apr 22 02:58:51 EST 1997

> From:          foster at skink.cs.uidaho.edu (James Foster)
> Subject:       Re: A possible definition of life.

>    The phenomenon is life: it is associated with the very act of 
>    replication of entities that encode themselves - like us, or viruses 
>    (analogue or digital).  
> What is this "it" that is associated with "the very act"?  You say
> you're proposing a definition, but instead give us a description of
> something associated with the thing being defined.

Life is "it": given that it is an elusive phenomenon, you shouldn't 
be surprised if it is slippery to define B-)

> 	Your photocopier is not alive as it does 
>    nothing except transcribe - it certainly doesn't make more 
>    photocopiers.  Your copy programme probably can't copy itself (you 
>    would almost certainly get an error to do with it being active while 
>    was trying to copy itself).  It can copy another copy of itself, but 
>    that isn't the same, is it?
> Enter this on your unix workstation: mv 'which mv' new.copy.mv
> That will replicate your copy command.  Or on DOS "copy copy.com
> new.copy.com".  Your last question begs the quesion...how does another
> "copy of itself" arise if not by replication? 

Please understand: if I copy something, I am replicating it - it is 
not replicating itself.  I can cause a computer program to copy 
another computer programme; until it does it by itself (like a 
computer virus does), then I wouldn't dignify it by the term "alive".

> btw...I used to be a philosopher, and I got out of it precisely
> because of this sort of stuff.  It's easy to spend your whole life
> talking about what you should be talking about, and in the end the
> only thing that gets done is...lots of talking.

Quite...!  Another definition: Life is something that goes on while 
you're busy making other plans (culled off a badge I was given many 
years ago).

                     Ed Rybicki, PhD  
      Dept Microbiology     |   ed at molbiol.uct.ac.za   
   University of Cape Town  | rybicki at uctvms.uct.ac.za
   Private Bag, Rondebosch  |  phone: x27-21-650-3265
      7700, South Africa    |   fax: x27-21-689 7573
    WWW URL: http://www.uct.ac.za/microbiology/ed.html      
    "Out here on the perimeter, there are no stars..."

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