Copying from Slashdot;

A recent article in Journal of Biomolecular structure and Dynamics proposes to define life by semantic voting [Note: open-access article]: ‘The definitions of life are more than often in conflict with one another. Undeniably, however, most of them do have a point, one or another or several, and common sense suggests that, probably, one could arrive to a consensus, if only the authors, some two centuries apart from one another, could be brought together. One thing, however, can be done – short of voting in absentia – asking which terms in the definitions are the most frequent and, thus, perhaps, reflecting the most important points shared by many.’ The author arrives at a six-word definition, as explained here.

Taking a look at that definition;

Life is autonomous self-reproduction with variations.

I see the key here as “variations“. Why do you think?

34 thoughts on “Life

    1. That may be the intention of the author. However, one could argue that true variation cannot be predetermined – as that would make a star itself conform to this definition of Life (star gets born, gathers mass, burns mass, explodes, gives rise to new stars (replication) – but not the exact same mass and certainly not the same composition as the “mother star”, etc. So, “variation” here must non-deterministic variance to set Man apart from Star. Thus pointing to my blog post “Change”, the article “On Will” and many other blog posts here.

    1. Hmm, I feel that article is kind of missing something, because I would guess the fittest means that form of life that not only survives once or twice, but survives in such numbers over such many generations that it actually is increasing it’s numbers to a different scale.

      Which I think can be summed up as it systematically survives and re-produces …

      … or ? 🙂

  1. Assuming the physical universe with its laws of physics is a fixed process, as in determinism, then it seems that results would not vary except where there is some outside influence not accounted for in those laws – such as “life”. However, if randomness, rather than a fixed process, exists in the physical universe itself, and that randomness includes spontaneous, random and varied production, then I guess there could be random variations that would not be “life”. But is there such a thing?

    1. There may well be such a thing – but then there is no difference between Star and Man by this definition.

      1. Right. That was my point and reason for wondering if such a thing exists. I thought such data might be included in physics (where my knowledge is very limited but I’ve seen the word tossed around :)).

        So if there is no agreement or certainty about randomness, then the above definition seems good – except that there is more to life than self-production. The definition does precisely narrow it down by excuding everything that isn’t life and I guess that’s a “differentiative definition”. But it obviously doesn’t say what life IS, as would a “descriptive definition” – which would be so much better.

        1. The existence of randomness wouldn’t matter with this defintion:

          Life is autonomous self-reproduction with the potential for intentional variations.

        2. “… there is more to life than self-production.”

          Hmm, I guess that as a musician an dedicated soccer-fan I must agree …

          However I would state that the self-reproduction if one the most enjoyable ones … 😀

          1. Uh huh, typical Tor Ivar humor. 😀

            Actually, when I said “there’s more to life” it might have sounded like I meant this definition of life: “the character or existence of an individual’s existence” – as in, “the life of a comedic musician” 😉

            And I just posted a comment on the “Change” thread, quoting two other definitions of life which I myself have been mixing up a bit on this thread. One is “living organisms considered together” (as in “Life on Earth could not survive on Mars”). The other definition is “the quality that makes living organisms different from dead organisms and inorganic matter” (sometimes called “spirit”).

            In the opening post definition of “life”, I think the one he’s talking about is the “living organisms” one, rather than the “spirit” one. Would you agree?

            1. Applause !!!

              … and yes I agree, as this definition started out from physicists I think, who are quite material in there approach to science. So yes I believe it is the definition “living organisms considered together” that we’re talking about …

              Something completely else.

              As I do not have the abilities to “sense” your whereabouts, I have tried some qualified guessing from when you are replying and the time difference …

              Are you located in one of the western states, California, Oregon, Washington, or one of those just east of these ?

            2. Agreed – the material-oriented physicist sees all variations as a result of physical universe dynamics only. They don’t recognize the other factor – i.e. the other definition of life, which is “spirit” (or, just for you, “theta” – gotta keep up your indoctrination ;-)).

              And the answer to your question is – yes. 😀

            3. Theta, hmmm, heard that word somewhere, isn’t it that the FAT greek letter ? 😀

              Ah, it has some other meanings as well, OK … 😀

              OK, I have at least limited the selection to say 7 out of 50 states, that’s nice guessing isn’t it.

              Funny hting, really the only place I’ve been in US is LA, and I satyed in Long Beach.

              So I met this person coming from California who studied at my hometown (we have the agricultural university of Norway there), and she was from ……….. Long Beach … 😛

              Best guess, are you californian as well ?

            4. You’re playing the odds pretty well. California is not only the most populous state but has the highest population of Scientologists (Church connected or not) and also ex-Scn’ists. And the highest concentration of Scientologists in California is in southern Calif in the LA area.

              But…I’m a “northerner,” San Francisco Bay area. This is the second most concentrated area of Scientologists, even more so than Clearwater where Flag is :-).

            5. Hmmm, there’s a guy living here in Oslo who’s from Frisco, Matt Gray his name is, he started telling me how similar it was to Oslo ,,, 😛

              Took awhile before I realized he was NOT joking … 😀

    2. I think that variation as a requirement might to strict. I would guess that there are species that produce individuals with very little variation, however this might also be only to degrees that we can measure …

      I would also believe that many of variations that come up with self-reproduction would be random but limited within predicle intervals. …

  2. Virus Life, is autonomous self-reproduction with variations. In abscence of free will to create new forms by choice one can not assume real life, just a machine ( virus, robot ? ). In order to create new forms by choice some transcendental values should be admited as regards the good, bad, beauty, ugly and a purpose to guide these to a goal.

  3. Isene – Variations are required in order to adapt to an ever changing physical environment. Cellular genetic replication without any variation would not allow for mitosis, cellular division. Even if the variation is simply the fact that the cell, or genetic viral material, is able to exist in a different spacial location.

    A virus is a piece or section of genetic code that is not capable of autonomous self-reproduction. It requires the services of the host.

  4. It seems to me that unless one defines the meaning of “variations” in this context, the definition does not limit the defined set to that of Life, and the definition is thus not true to the origins of the word “definition”:

    from Latin definire, from de- + finire to limit, end, from finis boundary, end

    …beside that; If both a Man and a Star is covered by this definition, the definition is useless.

    1. Doesn’t this definition also exclude “clones”, they are exact replicas aren’t they, with no possibility of “variation” ?

      Wouldn’t it also exclude single-cell-organisms, or do they have variations ?

      A bit problematic this def, but I see the point. The variations will of course be in the differences from mixing genes, from random changes in the genes, and from mutations due to external influences EG. like radioactive radiation …

      1. Even single cell organisms evolve. This is how bacteria become resistant to drugs, chemicals, etc. A physical clone is a replica. Think of making plastic models. A genetic clone merely starts with the same original genetic code but there is variation and change occurring due to the influence of the feed, weather, exposure to disease elements, etc. What starts as a clone then becomes slightly different. This is the exact basis for the problem with GMO (genetically modified organisms) corn, soy beans, etc. The original mutation which was purposely created then becomes an unknown and unwanted mutation of which nobody has any control over. Roundup resistant corn fields now have roundup resistant weeks growing in them with no way to kill the weed as the genetics of the weed have altered by the bacteria interaction with the roundup resistant corn that was planted. Life always has a change element.

        1. OK, thanks Earthling, for the illumation, that is really not my subject. 🙂
          I take it, though that the above definition then includes both clones and single cell organsims.

          But, do you agree on what I write about the “categories” of variations ?

          1. Tor,
            I agree with categories of the causes behind the variations. But to finish on your comment about clones and single cell organisms. Clones don’t have autonomous reproduction so must be synthetically or artificially created. Easiest way to think of this is when you hear of a hybrid type of seed used in agriculture. This hybrid/clone is incapable of growing another plant from seed and what does grow isn’t the same. Single cell organisms can auto replicate without artificial inputs or causation.

    2. Yes, that seems right. If change = the difference between input and output, then output = input plus change. Or, reworded – variation = input + change.

      Now, if both input and change were pre-determined by set physical universe laws, then output/variations would also be pre-determined, set and potentially predictable.

      But with the factor of life entering in, variations would not be based (or not fully so) on physical universe factors and laws and would not be predictable. So the definition for variations would have to run along those lines.

      The above definition for life might be expanded to: Life is autonomous self-reproduction with variations that are not solely the result of, and can’t potentially be explained by, physical universe factors.

      1. Defintion amended to include “capable of”: Life is capable of autonomous self-reproduction with variations that are not solely the result of, and can’t potentially be explained by, physical universe factors.

    3. You seem to find increasingly consistent ways to spread the word. You are making profound statements about inconsistencies that had blown right past me. I am light years behind.

    1. I think there’s a grammar point here as regards the present tense form of the verb “is” in the definition. Two of the uses of present tense are (1) what is general, habitual, usual or characteristic – as in: “February is the coldest month in this region.” (i.e. generally, but not always); or (2) what is always or necessarily true – as in: “The sun sets in the west”.

      So in the sentence “Life is autonomous self-reproduction with variations”, the question is – does it mean always or usual but not always?

      I thought about this after seeing posts about clones and hybrids, etc..

      (And what’s the significance of 4082 maggie, may I ask?)

      1. 4082maggie was an old pseudonym which I haven’t used in years. Inadvertently logged on with a laptop which remembered that name so you won’t be seeing it anymore…unless its life and will are greater than my own.

  5. I see this quality called life like an evolving subject, in his first stage it is like a purposeless self-replicating machine, it evolves to a metabolized growing organism ( bacteria, fungi, plants ) thru a more movil and conscious metabolized organism ( but still a machine ). These earlier states of the living things serve a purpose as symbionts aiding upper level life forms like the human and human groups who, if don´t use his awareness level to guide his conduct with a proper purpose, they act like a inferior life form ( animal, robot ) or the organization is declared dead for the functional failure. For me life is not just a specific condition.

    1. Good get Tor. I have been following him, and listened to him on NPR radio this past week where he was promoting his “Origins” program. Very interesting and enthusiastic guy.

      On the subject of this guy’s “stardust,” and on topic with the OP; the more I learn about myself, the less anguish I feel toward the future, the more natural it all seems. I seem to be losing my fixation on “my” ego, or “the” ego, however you think it seems better to say it. Rather than losing my “faith” in forever, I seem to be gaining an expanding consciousness that — not unlike an expanding universe — might be merging with the rest of what is.

      It is hard work being a body. Continually asserting my separateness from everything and everyone takes concentration. It is no longer natural to me. Wrapped in a cocoon of my own skin and flesh and bones and organs and blood and universes of activities to support the idea of individuality is no longer a warm comfort but sometimes a tedium.

      As my sense of myself diminishes, my sense of freedom and of discovery increases. Not easy to describe but overall it is a pleasing sensation. Questions remain about the future but no particular anxiousness because all my research shows me glimpses of a possibly finer wavelength of existence. No matter the types of interactions, it is all about a more aesthetic and beautiful reality and it exists as soon as we are ready to let it. Like right now.

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