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Boiling Down the Meaning of Life

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the why-are-we-here-what's-life-all-about dept.

Earth 218

Shipud writes "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."

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218 comments

Monty Python (2)

jcreus (2547928) | more than 2 years ago | (#39009959)

Monty Python already knew what it was: look here [wikiquote.org] for some quotes.

Re:Monty Python (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010001)

Monty Python already knew what it was: look here [wikiquote.org] for some quotes.

Well according to the Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy the meaning of life the universe and everything is wait for it 42

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aboZctrHfK8

Re:Monty Python (1)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010251)

Well according to the Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy the meaning of life the universe and everything is wait for it 42

And that boils down to:
6.48074069840786

Re:Monty Python (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010659)

Well according to the Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy the meaning of life the universe and everything is wait for it 42

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aboZctrHfK8

No, that's the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything.

Definition vs Meaning (5, Insightful)

bazald (886779) | more than 2 years ago | (#39009963)

Life may have many definitions but no meaning at all.

Re:Definition vs Meaning (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010309)

"Life may have many definitions but no meaning at all."

You're taking the word meaning out of the context it was said.

Re:Definition vs Meaning vs Purpose? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010411)

But!

The purpose of life is to end.

It is........inevitable!

8)

Re:Definition vs Meaning (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010465)

The meaning of life is for each being to create their own meaning.

Why do we need consensus? (2)

Improv (2467) | more than 2 years ago | (#39009971)

Seriously, what's wrong with having a bunch of competing definitions?

Re:Why do we need consensus? (4, Insightful)

epyT-R (613989) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010009)

because the passive aggressive culture we have today needs it in order to feel secure. it loves argumentum ad populum (among others).

Re:Why do we need consensus? (2, Interesting)

gox (1595435) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010237)

because the passive aggressive culture we have today needs it in order to feel secure. it loves argumentum ad populum (among others).

Most insightful comment I've seen in ages.

The need to distinguish life from non-life arises from the need to define will, which human society sorely needs in order to find stable footing in the void left by religion. It's a hopeless endeavor, as we witness in the article, since will is but a bunch of norms. There is no rigid barrier between "things that act by themselves" (conventionally animals, God, but not zombies) and "things that are devoid of motive". It ultimately boils down to where the norms of the physical universe (laws of physics) come from. This is a problem posed by materialism. Biology, being materialistic, can never have an opinion on this.

What Biology is actually is doing, is trying to define its boundaries. Re-phrase it like that and all is fine.

Re:Why do we need consensus? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010129)

Of course we need a consensus! How else could we force our values and wage wars?

Re:Why do we need consensus? (3, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010243)

Seriously, what's wrong with having a bunch of competing definitions?

It would cost Apple more to patent them all.

My favorite definition (2)

tchuladdiass (174342) | more than 2 years ago | (#39009973)

An entity that a) reduces local entropy, and b) came into existence via being replicated from and by another similar entity. Thus, you have the requirement of self replication, consuming resources, etc., which allows for those who can't reproduce, and rules out fire.

Re:My favorite definition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010043)

"The first"[1] living thing did possibly not come into existence via being replicated from and by another similar entity, as there probably was no such entity. Therefore, no life exists at all by your definition.

[1] Whatever this term means. I think an established consensus is that the first live form gradually evolved from dead matter. Anyway, the beginning is tricky ...

Re:My favorite definition (1)

gox (1595435) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010253)

I think a living thing by itself does not reduce local entropy, but arguably might itself have low entropy. For instance, what we do on earth is actually increase the entropy. Again, arguably, it is made possible by living things. In other words, the circumstances produced life in order to increase entropy more efficiently.

Second, I don't see self replication as a proper definition, but a theory. It may be true that in this universe life can only come by through self replication, though I don't believe it. I can imagine a sentient thing evolving in a different manner than self-replication. Plus, for instance, are man-made sentient computers living if they replicate, but not living if not? That would be a useless term.

Re:My favorite definition (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010557)

I think a living thing by itself does not reduce local entropy

A lion reduces its own entropy by increasing that of antelopes.

Looking at pizza boxes around me (1)

ziemianin (2572589) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010257)

I am constantly incereasing local entropy around me, so you say I am not alive?

Re:Looking at pizza boxes around me (2)

tchuladdiass (174342) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010333)

But you are also decreasing local entropy -- That is, you take in raw materials and form them into physical ordered structures (cells, brain material, etc). That's what I meant by "local" entropy -- extremely local.

My favorite definition (5, Interesting)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010267)

The definition I like came from NASA astrobio asking the question, what would be an observable indication of life on a remote planet. That what might exist in spectra, or surface photos or any remote observation that would be a hallmark of life.

One definition promoted by David Wolpert was the notion of self dissimilarity across scales. Consider that perfectly organized things (crystals) and perfectly disorganized things (gas) are both dead. So a hallmark of life is not entropy. Gas and crystals are dead because as you zoom out on them, their organizational simmilarity does not change (seen a small region of gas or a small region of a crystal, and you can extrapolate or predict all properties of the organization at a larger scale.). On the otherhand life has organizations that change as you zoom out. atoms become become proteins, become complexes, become organelles, become single cells. Single cells become organs. Organs organize into animals. Animals organize into packs. Different kinds of animals form an eco system. And so on.

At each scale, the organization observed remains predictable for a while as you zoom then it abruptly shifts to a new one. The idea is that a hallmark of life is that if you look how each scale can be predicted from the scales below it, that this predictcablilty, perhaps measured as information surprisal, is nearly constant over a range, and then abruptly goes to zero at some scale.

You should therefore look for this same scaling phenomena in spectra or sand dunes or whatever you can remotely observe. A planet that displays anomolies in this probably has some sort of activity that is partially organizing it.

Re:My favorite definition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010353)

It will be fuzzy definition of life, as implied by the hedge "similar", thus having a fuzzy border between "not just life" and "just barely life. If you are more inclined to creationism you should drop the word "similar".

Re:My favorite definition (2)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010525)

Interestingly enough, by your definition, my hive of neural networks evolved via genetic programming are considered alive.

Now, I'd like to hear your favorite definition of person. I'm sure they'll qualify for that soon as well; If not, then dolphins and apes will.

Ok ok...I'll tell you! (5, Funny)

deesine (722173) | more than 2 years ago | (#39009985)

"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."

Forget water boarding: just use that sentence.

Re:Ok ok...I'll tell you! (5, Funny)

edittard (805475) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010155)

The article crashed my browser so I can't decisively, notwithstanding that it was in quotes, determine if that awful prose you rightly cited is the submitter's own words or not, however it is undeniably (though some might disagree) neither the first, nor likely on the balance of probability the last heap of inaccurate, illegible and (to some ears, arguably illegible) tripe to be posted on Slashdot, all of which begs the question: "is our editors editing?"

Re:Ok ok...I'll tell you! (1)

sempir (1916194) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010223)

"is our editors editing?"

Oh they is.....just not the way you wanted, or even how others wanted, but editing they is. It's a part of life!

Re:Ok ok...I'll tell you! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010345)

Let's do that again in small sentences: "Every widely held definition of life expresses at least something interesting about what life is. Some of these definitions were made centuries apart. If the people who made them could be brought together despite that, then perhaps they could arrive to a consensus." I find the point being made in the summary stupid and uninteresting, yet I have to admit that I prefer the single sentence. It's not clearer, but it is closer to a thought that a human might have than a staccato machine gun spew of full stops. The only problem I see with that kind of sentence is if you had to read it more than once to understand it.

A Starting Point (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39009987)

Let's start with Islamics. Human? NOPE...

Re:A Starting Point (1)

toriver (11308) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010003)

Are you trying to create a modern equivalent to the Nazi song "Das ist kein Mensch, das ist ein Jude"?

And not all life is human. Whether they believe in any variant of a certain dominant monotheistic faith system or not. So you totally missed what the point was. My suggestion: Stay anonymous and stay coward.

one word != one intended meaning (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010005)

It would be better if everyone who uses the definition of life (or any other ambiguous term), to refer to the actual definition used, much like an open source project depending on others..

Meaning of life? in 6 words?.... (1)

ernar (2567515) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010013)

Can be done with just one, and you also get the universe and everything to boot! 42

Here's the six word definition (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010015)

"Life is self-reproduction with variations"
If the RSS feed actually had the link to TFA in it, I wouldn't have had to come here to get it, and then spoil it all for you.

Re:Here's the six word definition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010195)

"Life is self-reproduction with variations"

I am sterile, you insensitive clod!
Does that mean I'm not alive?

Re:Here's the six word definition (2)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010201)

"Life is self-reproduction with variations"
If the RSS feed actually had the link to TFA in it, I wouldn't have had to come here to get it, and then spoil it all for you.

Except that that's not the author's answer. If you, or TFS submitter, or the editor had bothered to read it through (I know, tall order for /.), you'd see he argues for that definition being flawed, and arrives at a seven word definition:

Life is autonomous self-reproduction with variations.

Is roast beef life? (1)

wreakyhavoc (1045750) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010027)

This points to the distinction between "life" and "alive". Is roast beef life? No. It was once life.

So, is a virus life?

Is a bacterium or spore floating in space at super-low temperature alive? What if it has had 10 percent of genetic information damaged by cosmic radiation?

My favourite Gödel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010033)

It follows from GIT the various meanings of life must contradict, or they would be meaningless.

Human Life (0)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010059)

According to most medical professionals, human life starts at 22 or 23 weeks. Before that? Just an undefined non-viable biological spongy thingy... Whip out the vacuum!

By the way, I support abortion for the same reason I support the Death Penalty: Necessary in a practical sense, but over all pretty gross...

Re:Human Life (3, Insightful)

Jappus (1177563) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010145)

By the way, I support abortion for the same reason I support the Death Penalty: Necessary in a practical sense, but over all pretty gross...

That's probably raising lots of flames and will burn some karma, but I find it difficult to see practicality in the death penalty. Abortion now, at least indeed has undeniable practicality in some cases, like where the birth would simply kill the mother. It's hard to argue against that point.

But the death penalty -- at least in its incarnation where you don't just shoot/hang/burn the first person you think is guilty -- seems awfully impractical. Compared to life imprisonment it costs the same (or sometimes even more) and has the same outcome of preventing recidivism (re-offending). But, unfortunately it does cause psychological strain on those having to dish out the penalty (that life imprisonment certainly doesn't) and prevents any sort of future moral insight in the guilty, no matter how unlikely you deem it.

A further difference is what some victims feel, namely the warm gut feeling of satisfied murderous revenge ... which is most likely what the person who got the penalty also got at some point and is even maybe what they might have gotten the penalty for to begin with. But since the logical outcome of life and death penalty is ultimately the same anyway (death); only one with more delay than the other, you can't really say that the latter is more practical in that regard either. In both cases, they will never see freedom again or get a chance to repeat their action until they die (and if you're not religious and there's no after-life, this lack is permanent).

As such, I see no reason how practicality could decide the question of the use of the death penalty, as it seems to me just as practical (or even a smidgeon less practical, I admit) than real life imprisonment.

Of course, practicality and morality are two different things that need to be evaluated differently, and thus -- at least for me -- the question is a moral, and not a practical one.

Re:Human Life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010209)

Abortion now, at least indeed has undeniable practicality in some cases, like where the birth would simply kill the mother. It's hard to argue against that point.

Challenge accepted!

It would kill the mother, but it would produce new life, which would go on to live another 20 ~ 40+ years longer than the mother would live. Replace one life with another, in total longer lived life.

Your turn.

Re:Human Life (1)

Jappus (1177563) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010283)

Challenge accepted! It would kill the mother, but it would produce new life, which would go on to live another 20 ~ 40+ years longer than the mother would live. Replace one life with another, in total longer lived life.

Your turn.

Thanks, you've just vindicated my first point. As I said, practicality does undeniably enter into the pro-life/pro-choice debate. If, without abortion, death for both is certain; pure practicality demands to save the mother's life. If the mother's death is certain (for example in the most extreme case of her being already brain-dead), practicality demands to save the child, even if this will kill the mother.

But of course, as your point also shows, the very last sentence of my posting is also true: Even in questions where practicality is a useful criterion, others -- like morality -- have to be considered to cover the myriad of cases where pure practicality fails or gives an inconclusive or incomplete answer.

And in some cases -- like the death/life penalty debate -- I personally see all situations as being either uncovered by pure practicality or very slightly in favour of life-penalty.

Re:Human Life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010299)

You're assuming that the child would have lived through the birth as well. If there's some severe issue where the mother would die from giving birth, there's probably a decent chance the child wouldn't survive it as well.

Re:Human Life (1)

Thiez (1281866) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010669)

Your argument assumes that 'total longer lived life' is most important when determining the practicality of an action. By that reasoning it would be best to force everyone to reproduce as often as possible (e.g. by banning contraceptives) and to keep brain-dead people on life-support indefinitely.

I think it's obvious there are more issues to consider than just 'total lived life'. For instance, the effect of losing the mother on her friends and family. The effect on the child that has to grow up without a mother (and perhaps with the thought that they were to some degree complicit in her death). And, from a very heartless economic perspective, it would mean the loss of a tax-payer, likely before she had the chance to pay back (through taxes) the money that society had invested in raising and educating her.

Re:Human Life (1)

sonamchauhan (587356) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010301)

Hmm.. So you favour killing a human for no fault of theirs (abortion) but oppose killing as just punishment for an unjustified murder (say the murderer of a child... or a baby)?

Hmm...

Re:Human Life (3, Informative)

Johann Lau (1040920) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010395)

Heh. Have you even *read* the comment you replied to? How about in some cases, like where the birth would simply kill the mother. How does that constitute the child having no "fault"? Of course it's impossible to lay blame here, but that's hardly the point, since abortions aren't some sort of moral punishment. But let's say you'd detect something that means the child will kill the mother, then die, if brought to term. Sure, that may not be the common case. But to call it killing a human in any and all cases is just silly.

And you might even argue that as long as it's connect to the mother, it's part of her organism, to do with as she pleases. I don't agree with nilly-willy abortions, but you know what, neither does any woman I ever spoke to about the subject. I have not met a single woman who shrugged off having had an abortion. Those may exist, but personal anecdotal evidence suggests they take it more seriously than men (who would have thought). However, for other people to dictate them what to do with their womb, or to imply they are murderers without knowing anything about the specific circumstances, that's just not on. Fuck that.

Re:Human Life (1)

quintessencesluglord (652360) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010421)

Compared to life imprisonment it costs the same (or sometimes even more) and has the same outcome of preventing recidivism (re-offending).

Not really.

The costs of the death penalty are externally elevated. The cost of a bullet is quite cheap.

As far as re-offending-

The murder is not kept in perfect isolation (cruel and unusual), and has the opportunity to re-offend with what are essentially other wards of the state (not to mention prison guards). Anyone who has been around prisons knows there is far more crime in prison than outside.

So what do you do with a person with a life sentence who rapes/kills another prisoner? You have already invoked the worst punishment your scenario allows, and it has failed.

And what of the safety of the other prisoners? Is the state not obliged to keep them safe from further crime? The death penalty ends all future recidivism from this individual permanently.

(It should be noted I generally oppose the death penalty, but as a practical matter understand that it is, and should be, a method of last resort).

Oh, and the conflating with abortion? Pure ideological claptrap.

Re:Human Life (1)

Jappus (1177563) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010787)

Not really.

The costs of the death penalty are externally elevated. The cost of a bullet is quite cheap.

That's why I specifically stated: [...] But the death penalty -- at least in its incarnation where you don't just shoot/hang/burn the first person you think is guilty ---[...].

Just like in physics (or anything, really), the practicality of something depends on its entire cost and not just its cost in part of the system.

As far as re-offending-

The murder is not kept in perfect isolation (cruel and unusual), and has the opportunity to re-offend with what are essentially other wards of the state (not to mention prison guards). Anyone who has been around prisons knows there is far more crime in prison than outside.

I never said that the lock-away-and-forget approach is completely practical either. Most capital offenses occur on the spur of the moment -- even some cases of rape. For most people thus jailed, there is not a particularly high chance of them doing it again, if the situation in the prison is not living hell.

If it is, then you have a wholly different slew of problems. Someone greater than me (Dostojevski) once said, that "“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons". He was right, you know. As such, it does not help the argument for the death penalty to point out that you can make prison itself a place worse than death.

Of course, there are people usually falling into the blurry category of "criminally insane". These of course need a different treatment, but "off-with-their-head" is a highly unilluminating one. Instead, it is far more helpful to try to understand what made them do what they did and what causes them to do it again and again. As horrible as their crimes are, learning what caused them is a far more useful approach for society. You know, maybe you will find a cure and prevent future murders, either by treating the condition or at least recognizing it earlier from small warning signs. If you ask me, that sounds much more practical.

Of course, that too ultimately enters territories that go beyond mere practicality. Crime and Punishment is simply a far too encompassing problem to be treated with just one approach to analysis and judgement -- which was the entire point of my initial posting.

So what do you do with a person with a life sentence who rapes/kills another prisoner? You have already invoked the worst punishment your scenario allows, and it has failed.

And what of the safety of the other prisoners? Is the state not obliged to keep them safe from further crime? The death penalty ends all future recidivism from this individual permanently.

(It should be noted I generally oppose the death penalty, but as a practical matter understand that it is, and should be, a method of last resort).

I quoted this separately, because while all the above applies, too, there's another hidden insight here in regard to the "practicality argument" and why it seems inapplicable to me:
As a deterrent, the death penalty is just as effective as life imprisonment. Either you're doing the crime out of affect, in which case you do not think about the consequences by definition; or you do it pre-mediated, in which case your intention is to not get caught; again making deterrence pointless.

In cases where you are aware of the punishment and do it nevertheless; deterrence was again pointless. Only in the remaining few cases where you fear being punished enough, to not do the crime, deterrence plays a role. And in that state of mind: How many people are additionally deterred by being killed versus how many are deterred by being imprisoned permanently? Remember the restrictive set of circumstances: It has to be a pre-mediated crime, with the expectation of being caught, made by someone not essentially mad (apart from even considering the crime to begin with).

Given that, I find it hard to believe how one could use the deterrence point of view based on pure practicality arguments.

As for recidivism after you are already imprisoned: The only issue of practicality here is how to prevent you from shanking your other inmates or wardens. As I outlined above, there are more practical approaches than immediate killing. Further more, killing someone for a crime they did not yet commit (after all, recidivism is always an act of the future) is generally accepted as being a very bad idea -- but that of course again goes beyond mere practicality considerations.

And a last note concerning the state's responsibility to protect their citizen's life; yes it is there and no, it has nothing to do with the wardens and inmates in a prison and practicality. After all, with the very same reasoning, you could say that the state should abolish making any fire, to protect the firefighters. You could say that the state should abolish cars, to protect everyone. You could even say that the state should abolish all research, in case of a lab accident or military application.

You of course might argue that some are due to higher powers (i.e. random chance and physics) and some others due to human nature; but ... that's not an argument from practicality, is it? :)

Oh, and the conflating with abortion? Pure ideological claptrap.

Yes.

Re:Human Life (1)

Jappus (1177563) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010817)

Sorry, I mangled the formatting a bit in the previous posting without noting it.

Everything after the "(It should be noted" line is my answer up until the last properly quoted part.

One of these days, Slashdot should allow you to edit your posting again for a short while after you've hit submit. :)

Re:Human Life (1)

thomst (1640045) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010673)

Jappus argued:

I find it difficult to see practicality in the death penalty. Abortion now, at least indeed has undeniable practicality in some cases. It's hard to argue against that point.

But the death penalty -- at least in its incarnation where you don't just shoot/hang/burn the first person you think is guilty -- seems awfully impractical. Compared to life imprisonment it costs the same (or sometimes even more) and has the same outcome of preventing recidivism (re-offending). But, unfortunately it does cause psychological strain on those having to dish out the penalty (that life imprisonment certainly doesn't) and prevents any sort of future moral insight in the guilty, no matter how unlikely you deem it.

A further difference is what some victims feel, namely the warm gut feeling of satisfied murderous revenge ... which is most likely what the person who got the penalty also got at some point and is even maybe what they might have gotten the penalty for to begin with. But since the logical outcome of life and death penalty is ultimately the same anyway (death); only one with more delay than the other, you can't really say that the latter is more practical in that regard either. In both cases, they will never see freedom again or get a chance to repeat their action until they die (and if you're not religious and there's no after-life, this lack is permanent).

As such, I see no reason how practicality could decide the question of the use of the death penalty, as it seems to me just as practical (or even a smidgeon less practical, I admit) than real life imprisonment.

Of course, practicality and morality are two different things that need to be evaluated differently, and thus -- at least for me -- the question is a moral, and not a practical one.

I agree that the death penalty is impractical, but for entirely different reasons than the ones you put forth.

You admit that your objection to the death penalty is a moral one, and your arguments all flow from that. Mine are entirely practical ones:

  1. A. The death penalty, as practiced in the United States of America, costs FAR more than life imprisonment. With automatic and discretionary appeals, the taxpayer-financed legal costs are astronomical. And
  2. B. It is a totally ineffective deterrent. Although the story is somewhat different in backward states such as Texas and Florida, in most states of the Union, the appeals process draws out the actual infliction of the death penalty to the point that, in California (to take another extreme), the chances that a Death Row inmate will actually be executed by the state are so remote that, for all practical purposes, they're nearly equivalent to those of winning the lotto. That is profoundly ineffective as a deterrent, and it certainly does not justify the expense of the protracted appeals process (or that of maintaining a separate Death Row facility within the larger prison facility. Finally,
  3. C. If an innocent prisoner is executed, there's no calling that penalty back. If life imprisonment is the ultimate penalty, at least a wrongfully-convicted prisoner has some chance of eventually gaining release.

Basically, it costs too much, it doesn't actually deter criminals from committing murder or high treason, and it is provably misapplied from time to time. It's past time we did away with it, and saved the taxpayer the expense of an expensive, ineffective, and occasionally supremely unjust Medieval legal sanction.

Re:Human Life (1)

Johann Lau (1040920) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010367)

who the fuck are those "medical professionals"? people who sell medical rubber gloves?

george carlin set the bar pretty high by pointing out that "life started millions of years ago and hasn't stopped since".

and the death penalty isn't good for anything, at all? that it's gross is not really a convincing argument for it, either.

Re:Human Life (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010389)

for the same reason I support the Death Penalty: Necessary in a practical sense, but over all pretty gross...

There's at least one good reason I will never support the death penalty, and that is that the justice system is imperfect. Probably the best example are rape cases where DNA has shown they were in fact innocent many years later, but we've had murder sentences lifted based on deathbed confessions. Sometimes they've even confessed because they were half retarded, they were misidentified by witnesses and wrongly picked out in a lineup, beyond reasonable doubt does not mean beyond and and all doubt. Currently the US is executing around 50 people a year, if we say they live on average 60 years in prison instead that's 3000 people in a population of 300 million or 0.0001% the population. I'm prettty sure the justice system would not collapse over that, particularly since you would free up many other resources too.

"Life" vs. life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010065)

This is an instance where some amount of rigor seems important. The issue is what the meaning of "life" is, not what the meaning of life is, where putting the word in quotes is used to designate the meaning of the word rather than a use of the word. Doing some textual analysis couldn't possibly tell us the meaning of life (in fact, there probably is no such answer), but it might tell us the meaning of "life".

(and) six-word definition, as explained here: (5, Funny)

hihihihi (940800) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010093)

"Service Temporarily Unavailable"... nah, its just three words based on my definition of counting :)

But if we look deep into the message and add "try again later", i think author is spot on.

And the linkbait answer is... (-1, Offtopic)

TheMiddleRoad (1153113) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010097)

Go fuck yourself!

Shit, that's three words. I'm not clicking on the fucking article. Are you?

gray areas (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010163)

Language is just a way to put boundaries on the usualy continious things in the universe. Why even attempt to do this?

My working definition... (2)

DrkShadow (72055) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010189)

Life: something which defies the apparent path of least resistance (which would be to sit down and do nothing/die.)

Conciousness, of course, is much more involved.

Other meanings of life (1)

onthree_one_two (2570253) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010217)

I like Mike Russell's ultra reductive statement,
"The purpose of life is to hydrogenate carbon dioxide." [slashdot.org]

or Schrödinger's tongue in cheek definition,
Matter is alive “when it goes on doing something” longer than we would expect it to."

Re:Other meanings of life (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010687)

"The purpose of life is to hydrogenate carbon dioxide."

Am I dead then? I don't think I hydrogenate carbon dioxide, or at least not very well; in fact I seem to produce more of it than I take in.

A recent quote I read (2)

msobkow (48369) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010229)

I like a quote I read recently:

The meaning of life is to give life a meaning.

Hitchhikers quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010265)

Cirka.. :)

Life is that part which dissapears as a result of falling from a statue 16 miles up in the air.

The 6 Word Definition (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010273)

"The author arrives at a six-word definition, as explained here."

Life is autonomous self-reproduction with variations.

(Thanks for not mentioning it in the summary, sigh.)

Re:The 6 Word Definition (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010553)

So if a person is infertile then they are not alive?
Or if we genetically changed a person so that their offspring was a clone of them (no variations) then they would not be a life form?

Yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010627)

> So if a person is infertile then they are not alive?

Those are called carbon-based robots.

> Or if we genetically changed a person so that their offspring was a clone of them (no variations) then they would not be a life form?

No, they would be self-replicating carbon-based robots.

I welcome our new robot overlords.

Actually I might even be one. Crap, I'm might be a Cylon!

Wait, does cell replication occurring in my body count? Whew, I think I dodged a bullet there.

Then again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010663)

Then again I might just be a system comprised of living beings and abiotic matter, an ecosystem.

That would make me... God?

Overheard at the Beverly Hilton Hotel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010287)

When you came in here, did you see a sign?

Where's the 'sci-fi in seven words' /. article? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010289)

Slightly OT, but my search skills are scant, can anybody link me to it?

Life is... (1)

wjcofkc (964165) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010323)

Life is paradoxically coincidental to the ironical tyranny applicable to the unparalleled definition of reverse entropy.

Meaning of life and voting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010335)

Maybe the author should grow up before wasting my time with shit.

By Definition (1)

someWebGeek (2566673) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010339)

In an extensional definition (exemplar listing) of the "over-definition" flaws inherent in intensional definition (attribute listing), one might cite this..

Re:By Definition (1)

Myu (823582) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010445)

Intensional definitions work if we think we can "fence off" our ontologies to localised domains - if we're only worried about discussing a theory of some sample space. The mistake this article makes from that perspective is that he tries to give the definition of Life; something intensional definition proponents might discard as a silly idea anyway.

Why one definition? (1)

jouassou (1854178) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010349)

When trying to define life, we try to draw a sharp line somewhere in a continuum of chemical systems. I believe that a better approach would be to create different classes of life, with different requirements. Thus a virus can well be a class I life form, while humans register as class III.

For instance, one suggestion for such a classification would be:
  • Protolife: Reproducing structure
  • Class I: Also capable of undergoing evolution
  • Class II: Also capable of metabolism
  • Class III: Also capable of seeking a better environment

The definition of protolife is wide enough to envelop both normal chemical systems (fire and crystals) and certain computer systems, but it has to be wide in order to cover protocells and possibly some lifeforms that we haven't encountered yet. When you get to the class I definition, a virus would qualify due to its genetic material. Class II covers most plants and microorganisms. The last class covers humans and animals due to (i) our ability to move around and (ii) our ability to transform our environment.

If we try to look at artificial life forms, then a lot of software would register as protolife. Software that modifies itself to adapt to environmental requirements, would register as class I. I believe hooking up to the electrical grid should count as metabolism, so hardware with mutating software would go as class II. The last class would cover reproducing robots with mutating software.

Meanwhile, on another level... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010355)

"The author arrives at a six-word definition, as explained here."

Bonus points if all six words have 7 letters each.

Seven, according to the author (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010387)

But he's counting "self-reproduction" as two words.

Re:Seven, according to the author (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010535)

But he's counting "self-reproduction" as two words.

So are or aren't viruses "alive" by this definition? They don't reproduce by themselves, they require a host environment... much like the first reproducing chemical chains required a primordial soup, or how Humans require another human along with their ambient environment, or how my neural network machine intelligence requires a computer system to breed within.

Single Definition? Why? (1)

Myu (823582) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010427)

I don't think the search for a single definition of the word "Life" is a fruitful endeavour, even within the field of Evolutionary Biology. (A Doctor, for instance, will have an equally technical but distinct understanding of "living" in accordance with the use to which that notion is going to be put)

Perhaps we are interested in focusing on the evolution of a particular genus of plant. In this case, our theories may be overdetermined if we insist that it should account for how living plants have something in common with humans and something distinguishing it from this wine bottle.

On the other hand, if we think that we should restrict what we say about living things in this model because of the possibility of treating digital life, then this might well negatively impact what we can do in this theory. I don't mean any kind of ethical restriction; I just mean that weakening assumptions about what it takes for a plant to be considered alive could skew our models of how they react and respond to environmental effects.

The search for a "single definition" through consensus is a sign of very bad metaphysics if we have importantly distinct notions at work. If this is taken seriously, we should be looking for philosophers of biology to fire for not doing their job properly.

Better word than "variation" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010441)

Life is self-reproduction with inheritance.

"Variation" is too vague. It doesn't specify what kind of variation is relevant (e.g., if I get a nasty scar or shave my head, does that count as "variation"? Larmark-style, it would). The key thing is that there is both reproduction, variation, and inheritance of those variations from generation to generation. With those in combination the system will evolve. Any imperfect copying system is inevitably going to introduce variation, so variation is kind of implicit in the self-reproduction part. It's superfluous. But for a couple of extra words you could just throw "variation and inheritance" in there to make it explicit.

Like the 237 Reasons for Sex (1)

garthsundem (1702946) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010485)

This is spectacular. And it reminds me of researchers Cindy Meston and David Buss' 237 reasons for sex. They similarly tried to semantically define why people have sex and along those lines interviewed thousands of undergrads [nytimes.com]. The results? The stereotype that men have sex for pleasure while women have sex for love is unfounded. Also, some great answers like one woman saying, "I'd rather spend five minutes having sex with him than spend five days listening to him whine about how horny he is." Good stuff.

"Life is self-reproduction with variations." (2)

Snard (61584) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010505)

Guess how many characters there are in the above sentence? (between the quotes)

Okay, you don't have to guess... you can count them.

Re:"Life is self-reproduction with variations." (2)

Snard (61584) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010517)

Sorry for the self-reply, but I had to mention this too:

"Life is autonomous self-reproduction with variations." (the final version from the article) clocks in at 53 characters, which is unfortunately one short of the correct total of 54 (which, of course, is what you get when you multiply 6 by 9, in base 10)

Re:"Life is self-reproduction with variations." (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010561)

Guess how many characters there are in the above sentence? (between the quotes)

Okay, you don't have to guess... you can count them.

I didn't have to guess or count. I suspected, then estimated, and now your question has verified my suspicion. I may never know for sure, but I'm quite satisfied in thinking that I am.

Reality (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010537)

... is not obligated to supply phenomena that fit neatly into our preconceived ontological categories.

It is quite possible that any possible definition of life either includes things we don't think of as "alive" or excludes things we do.

"If it's moving, it's alive." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39010569)

"If it's moving, it's alive."

    Thus wind and fire share the realm. Consciousness is another dimension.

    Person-hood and self awareness a more complex level of the same.

    Ideas, being composed of energy are considered static points - the perceived movement between two ideas define the boundaries of 'movement', but that movement has no mass... Thus we define where from we perceive.

Dave_Matthews

Self-aware (1)

Lapog (1761760) | more than 2 years ago | (#39010773)

IMHO, without including the concept of 'self-awareness' (includes self-preservation at one end and empathy at other) the definition of Life will remain incomplete.

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