BIOLOGY:Defining "Life"

David Musick (
Fri, 10 Jan 97 07:51:32 UT

Why do people look try to define "life", as though it was some simple
property? I think it is ridiculous to try to divide the movements and
interactions in this vast universe into "living" and "non-living" systems.
Each system that is studied should be studied for the particular properties it
exhibits. For example, when studying mules, their lack of reproductive
ability should be noted, as well as their metabolizing ability, as well as
their parentage, as well as their cells, as well as many many other details,
classifying the system as either "living" or "non-living" adds nothing to our
understanding of the system. We can study viruses and analyze their molecular
structure and the way they interact with other systems and how certain types
of interactions result in more of the same type of system, but whether we call
it "living" or "non-living" is irrelevant to the virus' actual properties. We
can notice similarities among systems, such as having cells and DNA or being
mobile, or using ATP to store energy, but I think it is useless to try to put
all these systems into one, single category which they, and only they, belong
in. Doing so does not really help us understand any particular systems in the

Sometimes categorizing things is useful, sometimes it's not. Categorizing
systems into "living" or "non-living" is utterly useless. It adds no useful
information or generalizations to systems. Besides, the whole idea that there
is a singular quality that marks a system as lving or non-living is bogus; it
is a relic from the days when people beleived there was a mystical
"life-force" in living things. (Which, apparantly, is still today. Oh, well.)

By the way, "conscious being", "sentient" and "mind" are other examples of
useless categories, for pretty much the same reason.

- David Musick

-- Be open to how things are; don't force your concepts onto the world. --