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I was wondering why the definition of life has always been so abstract and so I was thinking It's because there is so many things that are considered to be alive. (Although not much is sentient)

Example: Humans are alive and a virus is alive and germs are alive and so on. And in the future there will be living machines aswell.

A physicist would say that: all living things is a made up out structures of atoms and molecules. However its not quite correct because livings things change their structure all the time, as they grow, as they reproduce, as they move.

I think that a simplistic and more general definition of life would be a Changing Pattern trying to survive. That would include all current living lifeforms aswell as the living machines in the future, and also "living" computer viruses or AI's. Ofcourse we only change within certain evolutionary limits.

I Google'd this and found nothing "Life is a Changing Pattern trying to survive". So my initial thought is that I must be making some kind of logical thinking mistake, because someone must have thought of this before me.

My question is: Do you agree with my definition of life? That Lifeforms is a Changing Pattern trying to survive. That we are all changing patterns. Would love to hear peoples counter arguments. No religion please. Only Science.

I'd like to find a single sentance that can define life fairly accuratly.

closed as off-topic by Joseph Weissman Dec 30 '15 at 21:52

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  • actually, whether viruses are alive or not is a controversial matter. – Tames Jun 19 '12 at 14:45
  • that is why i want to find a better definition that includes them. i considered them alive, not everyone does and i didnt at first but now i do. – ColacX Jun 20 '12 at 14:53
  • why is it that you consider them alive? It all comes down to you definition, what it includes and what is left out of it. I just wanted to indicate a problem in the affirmation "viruses are alive" that appeared in your example. Maybe you could focus your question on this particular subject. – Tames Jun 20 '12 at 15:29
  • @Tames fixed. I changed title to Finding a Redefinition of life. – ColacX Jun 20 '12 at 15:39
  • Can you tell us a little bit more about your context and motivations? What might you be reading or studying that has made 'defining life' an urgent or critical concern? What sort of answer might you be expecting and what might you have found out so far? – Joseph Weissman Jun 20 '12 at 15:45
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Example: Humans are alive and a virus is alive and germs are alive and so on. And in the future there will be living machines aswell.

What makes you think that there will be "living machines"? To answer such a question already depends upon the very definition of life you claim to be proposing. Put another way: it appears that you have some intuition of what it means for something to be alive, and are now attempting to formalize it.

A physicist would say that: all living things is a made up out structures of atoms and molecules.

But that's not all a physicist would say, as rocks are clearly made up of structures of atoms and molecules as well. Have you consulted the various definitions of life used in the various branches of science?

I think that a simplistic and more general definition of life would be a Changing Pattern trying to survive.

But how would you definite "trying to survive" in this context? There are certainly physical phenomena which may appear to be self-preserving from the outside, but which are not generally considered to be living-- for example, a river will attempt to flow around any obstruction put in its way. Is a current of water alive?

So my initial thought is that I must be making some kind of logical thinking mistake, because someone must have thought of this before me.

It's more a problem of the rigorous definition of terms. I'd suggest you take a look at the Wikipedia article on Life which proposes a seven-step definition, and then continue reading the linked articles on each of the seven terms. This should get you started on the most common definition of life; you can then go on, if you wish, to explore alternative definitions (such as entropy-based or systems-based).

  • - I definitly belive that machines one day will be considered living. As they one day will be able to replace humans in almost everyway. I like your river example. In a sense a river does seem a bit alive. - Point of the post is to find a simple definition of life with a single sentance, and thus avoid the 7 statements. – ColacX Jun 20 '12 at 14:46
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    If advanced machines and rivers seem alive to you, I suggest that you are not trying to define life as much as redefine it, as both of those fall outside of the standard definition. As for the simplicity of the definition, there's no advantage to a definition which is brief but misleading--philosophy is concerned with investigating and defining things as rigorously as possible. – Michael Dorfman Jun 20 '12 at 15:28
  • Hmm i suppose you are right. Im not content with the current definition of life and so I do want to redefine it. And to do that I need to find a simplified sentence that says it all since standard definitions are a sort of popularity contest. You can come up with simple conclusion even after thorough investigations. – ColacX Jun 20 '12 at 15:35
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An evolutionary biologist would deny that life, categorically, is trying to do anything, something which implies a will and a clear intention (here, survival). Things exist because they exist in such a way that they happen to survive. And in biology, it's the survival of species, not individuals per se, that is generally of interest (although the definition of species is tricky, with at least 20 known definitions in the biological literature). I would never argue that things, least of all bacteria, are trying to survive. They just happen to.

But since this is a philosophical discussion, I will point you to a classical definition given by Aristotle which is, briefly, that which possess in itself the cause of its own motion (or change). You grow and move your arms because of causes inside you, while the changes which occur in a river, a rock or any other non-living thing can only be attributed to causes outside itself. Aristotle also held to finality which explained this internal cause, and the reasons for the observed changes.

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