A possible definition of life.

acad acad at ACCEFYN.ORG
Tue Apr 22 19:32:39 EST 1997

A possible def of life has becoming a very interesting topic, more  and 
more now when we have computers that can have simulations of living 
sistems, what is a living sistem? may be the right question, the sistem 
defines the propieties of its elements, or at lest some of them, is there 
any kind of comparison betwen living sistems and computer viruses? some 
how a computers virus is very similar to a siving sistem, and a computers 
antivirus is some how like a inmunitarian system, the best computer virus 
is the one that become much like the inmune system, is there any 
comprison, any paper about this similarity? thanks.

On 21 Apr 1997, James Foster wrote:

> Date: 21 Apr 1997 09:11:20 -0700
> From: James Foster <foster at skink.cs.uidaho.edu>
> To: mol-evol at net.bio.net
> Subject: Re: A possible definition of life.
> In article <m0wJE9u-0004XxC at uctmail2.uct.ac.za> ed at MOLBIOL.UCT.AC.ZA ("Ed Rybicki") writes:
>    > In article <m0wHUt6-0004OBC at uctmail2.uct.ac.za> ed at MOLBIOL.UCT.AC.ZA ("Ed Rybicki") writes:
>    > 
>    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.
> 	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? 
>    > Personally, I think defining life is a fool's errand.  We're not
>    > really interested in "what is life".  Ed is interested in how viruses
>    > do what they do.  Alife people are interested in algorithms which
>    > display interesting behaviors.  You don't have to define the term to
>    > justify what you do, or even as a prerequisite to doing it.
>    Of course you don't: but as intelligent apes, we are driven 
>    inexorably to try to find reasons for things, and definitions to 
>    order things.  Personally I don't give a damn, but it is an 
>    interesting philosophical exercise (Damn!  There went the P word, 
>    after I've been rubbishing it these many years.  Ah, well, and I used 
>    not to be a taxonomist, either...).
> Actually, I think the need to "define" is a holdover from our anal age
> of enlightenment.  The idea that definition has to precede discover
> is, too.  Taxonomy has it's place, but it is inherently a posteriori!
> 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.
> -- 
> James A. Foster			email: foster at cs.uidaho.edu
> Laboratory for Applied Logic	Dept. of Computer Science
> University of Idaho		http://www.cs.uidaho.edu/~foster
> pgp key available at: ftp://ftp.cs.uidaho.edu/pub/foster/pgp-key.asc

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