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At Vox: What is life? Scientists still can’t agree

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Life's Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive - Zimmer, Carl

Featuring science writer Carl Zimmer:

“No one has been able to define life, and some people will tell you it’s not possible to,” says New York Times columnist and science reporter Carl Zimmer on Unexplainable — Vox’s podcast that explores big mysteries, unanswered questions, and all the things we learn by diving into the unknown.

It’s not for a lack of trying. “There are hundreds, hundreds of definitions of life that scientists themselves have published in the scientific literature,” says Zimmer, who wrote about them in his book Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive. They include everything from simple definitions like “Life is a metabolic network within a boundary” to sentences that seem to require a PhD to decipher: “Life is a monophyletic clade that originated with a last common universal ancestor and includes all its descendants.” – Brian Resnick (March 16, 2023)

Here’s the book (Dutton, 2022). Here’s the podcast (26 min).

You may also wish to read: The Science Fictions series at your fingertips – origin of life What we do and don’t know about the origin of life.

Comments
Alan Fox @ 5 Dear Mr Fox With the greatest respect, your revision to what you wrote is STILL nonsense . According to your revised test, my car is alive. Here it is your revision: “One test you can apply to decide whether a particular entity is alive is to establish if it is maintaining itself out of THERMAL equilibrium with its immediate surroundings.” Whenever my car is running,, the radiator, the exhaust, and engine block are all much hotter than the surrounding air.. Thus the car is "maintaining itself out of THERMAL equilibrium with its immediate surroundings". Thus, by your test ,it is alive. If my car were to run out of gas, it would cool down and attain thermal equilibrium with its surroundings. . Then, it would be no longer be alive.. Just like me, if I stopped eating food. I'd cool down to room temperature too. And there would be one less Creationist to flummox our nice Atheist friends I hope that my examples have helped your understanding of equilibrium.TAMMIE LEE HAYNES
March 20, 2023
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By that test, my car is alive.
I don't think so. Is your car maintaining itself out of thermal (excuse typo) equilibrium? Is it brand new? Are there any rust spots?Alan Fox
March 19, 2023
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Alan Fox @ 3 Dear Mr Fox With the greatest respect, what you wrote was nonsense . Here it is: "One test you can apply to decide whether a particular entity is alive is to establish if it is maintaining itself out of thermodynamic equilibrium with its immediate surroundings." By that test, my car is alive. Say it is going down the highway at 60. That is out of thermodynamic equlibrium. And it can it maintains itself in that state using the crusie control to stay at 60. Which you say makes it alive. Of course if it runs out of gas, it will stop, and wont be alive. Just like if I didnt eat food for a few months. PS, I had no education beyond graduating from a Creationist Christian High School and we never heard of the term "thermodyamic equilibrium". Instead, when I took Physics, we got taught that there are 4 types of equibrium: Unstable, Neutral, Metastable and Stable It appears that you are referring to Stable Equilibrium, which us Creationsts define by stating................." A system is in a state of Stable Equilibrium if it is hopelessly improbable that it can do a measurable amount of work without a finite and permanent change in its environment. Note: The phrase "hopelessly improbable that it can do a measurable amount of work" is used instead of "impossible that it can do work" to account for the fact known from olden days that it is possible in a perpetual motion machine for the entropy of an isolated system to decrease.TAMMIE LEE HAYNES
March 19, 2023
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Are you alive? How do you know?
One test you can apply to decide whether a particular entity is alive is to establish if it is maintaining itself out of thermodynamic equilibrium with its immediate surroundings.Alan Fox
March 19, 2023
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Seversky at 1, Are you alive? How do you know?relatd
March 19, 2023
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It seems to me the famous quote from the Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke concerning the difficulty of drawing a precise line marking night from day ...
“Though no man can draw a stroke between the confines of day and night, yet light and darkness are upon the whole tolerably distinguishable.”
… might also apply to the difficulty of distinguishing life from non-lifeSeversky
March 18, 2023
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