Are you alive? If so, can you define what that means?
December 7, 2013 2:57 PM   Subscribe

Why Life Does Not Really Exist
posted by Brandon Blatcher (85 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Life does not really exist? I refute it thus!

*shoots self in head*
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:07 PM on December 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


"'Oh, that was easy,' says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing."
posted by entropicamericana at 3:12 PM on December 7, 2013 [24 favorites]


Don't be afraid, you're already dead.

A ton of things do not really exist, people really need to work on their nihilism.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 3:14 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have been contemplating adopting "Sod off!" as an affectation/rejoinder. I believe it applies as an answer to the question posed, so let's give it a go:

Sod off!

Yep, very satisfying.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:16 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Guess there's no point in paying the bills this weekend, eh?
posted by HuronBob at 3:17 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fascinating. Life is a socially constructed concept.
posted by erlking at 3:17 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course you should pay your bills! As Lyotard very helpfully said, "You're not done living because you chalk it up to artifice"
posted by erlking at 3:18 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Golly, I kinda thought there we some pretty accepted working definitions that guy pretty much ignores in his vague "science has a difficult time defining this" gloss of this subject.
Guy doesn't seem to have many bona fides to be raising this question in the first place and seems easy to ignore.
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:20 PM on December 7, 2013


If life didn't exist then I wouldn't have to worry about nasal tics.
posted by The Whelk at 3:21 PM on December 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


Are they anything like nasal ticks? Cause...ew.
posted by umberto at 3:23 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I kinda thought there we some pretty accepted working definitions

I don't think he's denying that there are accepted working definitions.

As ever, when people draw attention to the philosophical assumptions on which much science rests (whether scientists see that or not), it's no good, as a riposte, to just restate those assumptions, or to note that thousands of scientists have been quite happy to make them.
posted by oliverburkeman at 3:26 PM on December 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


Strip it all away and there's still that sense of being alive, though, which probably will always be a conundrum.
posted by planetesimal at 3:27 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bill Vallicella's response to Scientific American
posted by Gerard Sorme at 3:29 PM on December 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."
posted by Flunkie at 3:34 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


If there's no such thing as being alive, it kinda deflates the big finale of "Company."
posted by Bromius at 3:35 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Vallicella's explanation is much better.
posted by polymodus at 3:36 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bill Vallicella's response to Scientific American

This is a useful complement to the post, but I have two problems with it: one, that it's a bit unfair of him to be so snide about non-professional philosophers when there are professional philosophers who are eliminativists about consciousness and thus equally preposterous by his standards; two, I'm not sure it's always legitimate to apply the strictures of professional philosophy to journalism. I think there is a real and valid sense in which we all do really know exactly what the author means when he says "life doesn't exist"; he means it doesn't seem possible to find a non-subjective criterion dividing life from non-life. That language wouldn't fly in a philosophy journal but I'm not sure we should care about that.
posted by oliverburkeman at 3:38 PM on December 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Omni animata.--Spinoza
posted by No Robots at 3:38 PM on December 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Having used the device a couple of times myself, any time a piece contains an entire paragraph consisting of the sentence "allow me elaborate," one should put on one's hip boots and prepare to be blasted by the full output of an industrial grade bullshit generator.
posted by localroger at 3:38 PM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


when people draw attention to the philosophical assumptions on which much science rests (whether scientists see that or not), it's no good, as a riposte, to just restate those assumptions

On the other hand, when people do sophomoric, question-begging philosophy of science and then publish their results as "everything you thought you knew is WRONG!" clickbait articles, it's no good, as a discussion, if we treat their conclusions too seriously. That this guy hasn't thought through what it means for something to "really exist" before sharing his dorm-room bull session with the world is the problem here, not the concept "life."
posted by RogerB at 3:39 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


As Dennett tends to say, every macroscopic object is really nothing more than a pattern, and we should judge the 'reality' of such a pattern by the part it plays in our explanations. So life can be both - just a concept AND also real, at the same time.
posted by pixelrevolt at 3:39 PM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


If I were not alive, could I yet succumb to this linkbait?
posted by aaronetc at 3:39 PM on December 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


Life is a glowing yellow-green fluid that Jeffrey Combs injects into the dead. I learned this from movies.
posted by fleetmouse at 3:41 PM on December 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


This kind of reasoning very quickly leads to the conclusion that nothing exists except for bachelors and vixens.
posted by painquale at 3:43 PM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


....sharing his dorm-room bull session.... Yep, that's what it feels like.... I suspect that if we were all sitting on the floor, sharing a joint, and drinking cheap wine, this discussion would be much deeper...

yes, I understand some of you ARE sitting on the floor, smoking a joint and drinking cheap wine, but I like to think you're in the minority around here.

I could be wrong.

posted by HuronBob at 3:43 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Life does not really exist.

Hmmm?

I guess I buy it, life being a noun, this experience of being alive being ill-served by any noun.

Thanks to Buckminster Fuller for that insight.

I live on Earth at present, and I don't know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process — an integral function of the universe.

Of course, it follows that there are no actual nouns, nothing actually being inert once you get to the atomic and subatomic levels.

So whatever. Nice day for a walk.
posted by philip-random at 3:44 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Looking forward to reading this article carefully.

My last unfinished literary critical study was arguing, among other things, that "life" is an hypostasized phenomenon, and that an examination of the similarity and ductility of all machines, bodies, organs, and objects might usefully and productively describe aspects of human and non-human biopolitical organization, interconnection, and production.

I think of P. K. Dick's Dr. Bloodmoney, George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, and David Cronenberg's eXistenZ. Another knot might have considered Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series, and Ralph Ellison's Invisble Man.

But no one really needs this book, do they?

Anyway, like I said, looking forward to the read. Thanks for posting this, Brandon Blatcher!
posted by mistersquid at 3:45 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


How could life exist, when matter doesn't exist either? 'Cuz I'm pretty sure we could re-purpose most of his arguments to apply to "matter" instead of "life".

When I'm Dictator of the World, the first batch of people up against the wall will include headline writers.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:47 PM on December 7, 2013


Life is a fuzzy set. That's fine. If you want to build some new taxonomy that includes some statistical model for how certain you are that some organism is alive or not, by your own pet definition of life--go nuts.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:47 PM on December 7, 2013


That this guy hasn't thought through what it means for something to "really exist" before sharing his dorm-room bull session with the world is the problem here, not the concept "life."

Actually I think watching thought in progress is one of the great strengths of blogging like this. (You're obviously welcome to confine your reading to more finalized sorts of writing; people's tastes differ.) The merit of this piece isn't that he has made some breakthrough about what reality/existence/concepts/life are, but just that he's questioning something he previously hadn't questioned and that I bet many of his readers hadn't questioned either. This is rarely a bad thing!
posted by oliverburkeman at 3:48 PM on December 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


The instinct to precisely define life is misguided, but life’s physical reality is real.
posted by cell divide at 3:49 PM on December 7, 2013


Cogito ergo sum...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 3:50 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I live on Earth at present, and I don't know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process — an integral function of the universe.

Excellent. I am going to use this in lectures about fallacies of the use/mention distinction.
posted by painquale at 3:51 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I spent most of my childhood obsessed, tortured, and terrified by exactly these sorts of questions, but fortunately, somewhere along the way, the resultant searing philosophy headaches finally burned out the circuitry in my brain that can conceive about why these questions are so important, leaving only the traces of concern like the shadow of the Lode Runner score bar on the monitor connected to my Commodore 64. This is particularly nice because it makes religion meaningless as well. What's left is good bread, the tao, and shoes.
posted by sonascope at 3:56 PM on December 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


Next week on Eubulides' blog: why heaps of BS do not really exist.
posted by roystgnr at 3:56 PM on December 7, 2013


Just further evidence for my contention that everything is the movie Jacob's Ladder.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:57 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't see what the problem is saying that certain things like viruses don't qualify as life by our standard definition. It doesn't invalidate the basic definition, it just means that there are things that are not in neat categories. Maybe viruses are not life, even though they have life-like traits.
posted by graymouser at 3:58 PM on December 7, 2013


If anything, I thought the article just underlined how there is always so much more to understand about the world around us that has and will change the game when it comes to understanding and perceiving it. The author mentions molecules as one - we didn't understand the things that make up the world quite like we did once we could see the molecular and the atomic structures in everything. We didn't know what the nature of those shiny things in the sky at night were exactly until we built things that allowed us to observe them more closely, and even now Curiosity is still reshaping the game of how this is done and what can be known. I feel like the mapping of the genome is another such discovery - it dramatically moves the goalposts around in terms of how we understand how living things work.

We create taxonomies to try to make sense of the seemingly endless variety of life in the universe, not because they're meant to be some sort of immutable law, right? So life doesn't fit nicely into a box - that's good. I take comfort that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.
posted by koucha at 4:02 PM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


OK, so I'm a librarian, and I spend a lot of time thinking about classification, and this is a pretty simple classification problem. Any classification system, on close analysis, is going to have fuzzy spaces where things fit poorly into the classification or fit equally well into multiple parts of it. This is not terribly rare -- pretty much any classification is broken by closely examining its boundaries. In most cases, the system will work fine at standard temperatures, pressures, speeds, and other conditions, and the existence of outliers doesn't really affect the utility most of the time. The trick is to remember that classification systems, while useful, are constructs of our minds and only reflect reality; they are not reality itself (which also breaks down under close observation).
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:04 PM on December 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


Why Life Does Not Really Exist

Wow, what an incredibly extraordinary claim! What discovery or utterly novel way of thinking could yield such a startling assertion?

No one has ever managed to compile a set of physical properties that unites all living things and excludes everything we label inanimate. There are always exceptions.

Huh, well, I guess that saying such a thing is kind of like proving that it's not actually possible to distinguish between living and non-living things. What else?

Most people do not consider crystals to be alive, for example, yet they are highly organized and they grow.

Uh...crystals are actually very simply organized. By geometry. And they don't grow, exactly, unless the semantic instability of the term equates to a lack of distinction between organismal, cellular-tissue-system growth and mineral accretion (my thought: it doesn't!).

Fire, too, consumes energy and gets bigger.

Okay, but so what? The similarity of chemical reactions to biological processes might be because the latter supervenes on the former rather than because there isn't any distinction, no?

A tardigrade can survive without food or water in a dehyrated state for more than 10 years

Granted, this quote is not from the body of the article, but I think it illustrates the problem. You can't confidently refer to survival without conceding that there's a difference between being alive and not being alive, and if that difference is accepted as real and observable, the question of whether or not life exists disappears.

The mere fact that there exist things which are both alive and very different from other things that are alive is a pretty poor excuse for denying that "alive" is a meaningful category. Of course things get fuzzy way out at edge cases -- that doesn't mean that there's something wrong with classification itself or the clearly meaningful and useful distinction between "alive," "dead" and "not alive". Unless you're pathetically desperate for pageviews, I guess.
posted by clockzero at 4:07 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you whack your own genitals with a meat tenderizing hammer and you howl and scream in pain, you are certifiably alive.

This is why most philosophers and scientists are happy to just take the existence of life on faith.
posted by delfin at 4:08 PM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure "Are you alive?" is the first sentence spoken in the Battlestar Galactica 2003 miniseries.

I prefer Marvin, though: "Life. Don't talk to me about life."

"No one even mentioned it." -- Arthur.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:09 PM on December 7, 2013


There's a series of six lectures by a famous physicist on the topic of What Is Life. I thought it was Heisenberg but I can't find them now (at a birthday party for my mother-in-law).
posted by newdaddy at 4:13 PM on December 7, 2013


I had a book years ago that was, like, "1,001 misconceptions" or something like that, and I remember a lot of them being, like, "Oranges aren't actually orange! Like everything else, light simply reflects off of them in a certain way, and in this case gives them the appearance of being orange," and I'm like, "well maybe you don't understand what a misconception is."
posted by Navelgazer at 4:29 PM on December 7, 2013 [14 favorites]


I read the SA piece as saying just exactly that there is no set of necessary and sufficient substrate properties such that these reduce the property "life." He is clearly not saying that the concept has no useful applications, denying the meaningfulness of statements like "x is alive", etc. (yes, despite the click bait title). Now here comes tired-ass "maverick philosopher" to repeat exactly these same points in a maximally scold-y and jargon-y way, and then rehearse a little argument against elminativism which is both bad and irrelevant. Pfui.
posted by batfish at 4:56 PM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


"I'm just an object like the rest. I have a will. That's the only thing that makes me different."

"Except you're alive."

"Ha. Yeah. Unfortunately."

The Lost Room
posted by quiet earth at 5:05 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


We should acknowledge the problem of the many. We might as well say that because we cannot precisely map the boundaries of any physical thing from anything else, "physical things" do not exist.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:05 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Few things have given me more pleasure today than Navelgazer contemplating the question of what an orange looks like.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:15 PM on December 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


newdaddy, that would be Erwin Schrödinger: "What is Life".
posted by pjm at 5:23 PM on December 7, 2013


This article is one of countless examples of western thinkers re-inventing/discovering tiny microcosms of eastern thought. Words are just concepts that help us organize thought and have no precise existence in reality - you don't say!?!
Shuzan held out his short staff and said: "If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact. Now what do you wish to call this?"
posted by crayz at 5:52 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


A thing is hard to define in language with absolute precision. Therefore, that thing does not exist in reality!

Where do I hand in my first-year paper?
posted by Dasein at 5:59 PM on December 7, 2013


I kind of lost interest in finishing when he suggested the parasite worm is a foil to the idea that viruses aren't alive because they require a host to propagate.

Because you could make the same flawed claim about any life, at any scale. Fish require plankton to survive. Lions require elk to survive. Humans require the entire planet earth to survive. But the problem isn't with the idea of "life", nor is it that viruses don't neatly fit into that categorization.

Does love not exist, even though we have good working definitions, because they don't perfectly fit everyone's experiences?

And that's why I felt like this was linkbait and stopped reading.
posted by danny the boy at 6:01 PM on December 7, 2013


Well we know the answer to the question "What is love?"

baby don't hurt me, baby don't hurt me, no more.
posted by The Whelk at 6:11 PM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Semantics.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:21 PM on December 7, 2013


Yes Schrodinger. There's an excellent book based on the lectures. Highly recommended.

My understanding is that some modern definitions of life encompass notions of information and entropy.
posted by newdaddy at 6:25 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read the article a couple days ago and thought it was kind of fun.
posted by nangar at 6:40 PM on December 7, 2013


Adapts to one's environment, and stores the result of that adaptation for future use.

A prion that never adapts may very well never be seen as life; a virus that does may very well.
posted by effugas at 6:41 PM on December 7, 2013


When you get up there in years, you sense that you are alive but you are closing in on Not Being...You have friends, loved ones, relatives...and they arte not around. Why? They are DEAD
posted by Postroad at 6:57 PM on December 7, 2013


If there's no such thing as being alive, it kinda deflates the big finale of "Company."

Let's not even discuss what it does to one of the big numbers in Fiddler on the Roof. "To the Animate" lacks a certain oomph.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:20 PM on December 7, 2013


I have yet to find a practical problem that depends on having an accurate closed-form definition of "alive." Are viruses alive or not? Would an answer to this question change how we deal with viruses? Nope, OK, pass this question to the philosophers.
posted by serif at 7:33 PM on December 7, 2013


Dude, it's, like, nothing really exists, y'know? You think there are, like, things, but they're just, in your mind, I mean, the universe is all just, like, atoms and vibrations and shit, and what if there's, like, there's no more meaning to it, y'know?
posted by narain at 8:18 PM on December 7, 2013


I would go with this:
1. Able to reproduce
2. Uses energy
3. Not crystalline

It leaves viruses out but I could live with a definition that didn't include viruses.

(And I don't think that it's important that there can be individuals who are sterile without being dead. I'm setting rules for collectives of individuals who are very similar, not for single instances.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:26 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]



1. Able to reproduce

Surely, "able to reassemble similarly".
posted by panaceanot at 9:32 PM on December 7, 2013


1. Able to reproduce

So not mules?

3. Not crystalline

Wrong. Crystalline_entity_pwned!
posted by batfish at 9:42 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


This just seems obvious. Of course "life" is a concept. Of course it has fuzzy borders and edge cases and isn't capable of being defined with zero ambiguity. Most important concepts *are* like that. Even most scientific concepts are like that, if you dig deep enough. Why is this controversial, and why does Jabr think that means it doesn't "exist"?

This just seems simple-minded to me. Very few things "exist" then.
posted by edheil at 9:52 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm reminded of the Professor in Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast who espouses a philosophy that everything in the world is an illusion, even sensations such as pain.

An argument which is refuted by one of his students setting fire to his beard.
posted by walrus at 11:17 PM on December 7, 2013


yes, I understand some of you ARE sitting on the floor, smoking a joint and drinking cheap wine, but I like to think you're in the minority around here.

I could be wrong.


What's the bar on "cheap"?
posted by flaterik at 11:34 PM on December 7, 2013


Isn't complexity just a function of observational distance and time?
posted by carsonb at 11:52 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Life temporarily defies entropy.
posted by panaceanot at 12:57 AM on December 8, 2013


I control-F'd for Schrodinger and on seeing no results decided not to waste my precious lifespan on reading this.
posted by moorooka at 2:13 AM on December 8, 2013


I'm reminded of the Professor in Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast who espouses a philosophy that everything in the world is an illusion, even sensations such as pain.

An argument which is refuted by one of his students setting fire to his beard.


This is a bit silly, since Buddhism and Pyrrhonian Scepticism assert something like "the world is an illusion," and neither would be impressed with assault as a refutation, since the assault is also
an illusion. When a friend mocked Pyrrho for showing fear when a dog lunged at him, he replied " it is difficult to stop being human."
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:35 AM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


This article is one of countless examples of western thinkers re-inventing/discovering tiny microcosms of eastern thought. Words are just concepts that help us organize thought and have no precise existence in reality - you don't say!?!

Are you suggesting that there's something the be ashamed of when people think similar thoughts across time and space?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 4:50 AM on December 8, 2013


If, as he says, we have failed in our attempts to define life, I'd like to suggest that he has failed in his attempt to un-define it.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:25 AM on December 8, 2013


Most of you totally missed the whole point of the article. GenjiandProust nailed it though.
posted by chisel at 7:46 AM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sometimes philosophers get a little carried away with the realization that repeating any word often enough eventually makes it sound like meaningless gibberish, because--well, all word meanings are socially constructed. That doesn't mean the things our imperfect little socially-constructed representations are meant to point to aren't really still there in some form or fashion. It just means the obvious: language is like a kind of algebra that works by describing the relations of unknown terms whose real values/meanings only become evident through use. Yes, there's no absolute sense in which "life" means something; but that observation doesn't mean anything either.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:51 AM on December 8, 2013


Anyone who doesn't believe that life and consciousness are chemical needs to do more drugs.

(I'm not even kidding.)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:48 AM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


One good toke of salvia would put this whole silly discussion to bed, yes.
posted by planetesimal at 9:54 AM on December 8, 2013


I think life does not exist, therefore I am.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:43 AM on December 8, 2013


since Buddhism and Pyrrhonian Scepticism assert something like "the world is an illusion," and neither would be impressed with assault as a refutation, since the assault is also
an illusion.


and a damned painful illusion, it's worth adding. Man, I hate those pain-inflicting illusions.

Most of you totally missed the whole point of the article. GenjiandProust nailed it though.

Where? In the bit I just quoted, or here?

The trick is to remember that classification systems, while useful, are constructs of our minds and only reflect reality; they are not reality itself (which also breaks down under close observation).

Because the former is sloppy on the level that it seems to want to trump actual experience (ie: evidence of the senses) with constructed theory. But the latter I mostly agree with ... due to the experience of my senses (ie: certain psychedelic experiences some decades ago). Indeed, said psychedelic experiences went a long way toward my concluding that our deepest metaphors weren't images we'd constructed to help us understand life, but that life was the metaphor, the deep study of which would get us closer to the Ultimate Truth, which was glimpsed (occasionally) via those deep "metaphors".

Deep shit indeed, and I got well mired in it.

So in the end, I decided it was no model to get by on. Existence just doesn't work very well when you try to deny so-called consensus reality. Not only does it make communication difficult, but sometimes (like I suggested already) it can really hurt. Also, if you're a little lucky, if you're doing it right, if you shrug off your ego demands to MAKE SENSE of it all, it can be darned pleasurable.

So yeah. Life, and the world within which we lead our lives, goes on. That I believe.
posted by philip-random at 12:11 PM on December 8, 2013


and a damned painful illusion, it's worth adding. Man, I hate those pain-inflicting illusions.

Well, sometimes it's painful and sometimes its pleasurable, but it's always transitory, which makes it illusionary to some degree. Anyway, my point was that setting someone's beard on fire, although a funny story, doesn't really disprove the claim. Boswell's story:
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- "I refute it thus."
Doesn't help, either. Johnson refuted nothing, although he was quite correct that the claim is sort of trivial. The refutation is trivial as well. I am not sure what Pyrrho would have said.

Anyway, I assume the "nailing" was the classification issue, which doesn't really have anything to do with perception so much as all classification systems seem to have fuzzy boarders when observed closely enough. The distinction between living and unliving, plant and animal, and so on, is always going to be presented with situations where you either end up drawing a very crooked line indeed with a lot of exceptions and hand-waving, or you accept that the system tends to break down at the margins, especially when we get to individual cases (like the reproduction "rule" above where a sterile individual is not alive even though the species is....
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:32 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why Life Does Not Really Exist

Why Scientists and Science Writers Should Study Philosophy
posted by Golden Eternity at 3:19 PM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


> When a friend mocked Pyrrho for showing fear when a dog lunged at him, he replied "it is difficult to stop being human."

Articles like the one in the original post have me as having an unstated assumption that it's good for a philosopher to try to stop being human. This bothers me, and I give their arguments and conclusions much less weight.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:43 AM on December 9, 2013


A topic that has occupied many of the great minds of humanity. Steve Martin, for example...

"The dogma of the church was challenged in the mid-17th century by Rene Descartes' famous pronouncement "Cogito ergo sum" ("I am nervous about having to add"), and the age of rationalism began. Rationalism then gave way to empiricism, and David Hume declared that it was impossible to know if anything existed at all, though later he recanted when he stubbed his toe on a doorjamb."
- 2000 Years Down the Tube
posted by Zack_Replica at 1:44 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


This recent New Yorker article on plant intelligence brought this thread to mind.
posted by bubukaba at 7:56 PM on January 6


I find it more reminiscent of this thread, personally.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:35 PM on January 6


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