Life is a Concept - Invented by Us

Now, here is an interesting article. Does life really exist? Or, is it a concept invented by us? From Ferris Jabr at Scientific American. (Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.)


Why is defining life so frustratingly difficult? Why have scientists and philosophers failed for centuries to find a specific physical property or set of properties that clearly separates the living from the inanimate? Because such a property does not exist. Life is a concept that we invented. On the most fundamental level, all matter that exists is an arrangement of atoms and their constituent particles. These arrangements fall onto an immense spectrum of complexity, from a single hydrogen atom to something as intricate as a brain. In trying to define life, we have drawn a line at an arbitrary level of complexity and declared that everything above that border is alive and everything below it is not. In truth, this division does not exist outside the mind. There is no threshold at which a collection of atoms suddenly becomes alive, no categorical distinction between the living and inanimate, no Frankensteinian spark. We have failed to define life because there was never anything to define in the first place...

...Recognizing life as a concept in no way robs what we call life of its splendor. It’s not that there’s no material difference between living things and the inanimate; rather, we will never find some clean dividing line between the two because the notion of life and non-life as distinct categories is just that—a notion, not a reality. Everything about living creatures that fascinated me as a boy are equally wondrous to me now, even with my new understanding of life. I think what truly unites the things we say are alive is not any property intrinsic to those things themselves; rather, it is our perception of them, our love of them and—frankly—our hubris and narcissism.