On what it is to fly can tell us something about what it is to live

Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres 40 (2):169-177 (2010)
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Abstract

The plurality of definitions of life is often perceived as an unsatisfying situation stemming from still incomplete knowledge about ‘what it is to live’ as well as from the existence of a variety of methods for reaching a definition. For many, such plurality is to be remedied and the search for a unique and fully satisfactory definition of life pursued. In this contribution on the contrary, it is argued that the existence of such a variety of definitions of life undermines the very feasibility of ever reaching a unique unambiguous definition. It is argued that focusing on the definitions of specific types of ‘living systems’ – somehow in the same way that one can define specific types of ‘flying systems’ – could be more fruitful from a heuristic point of view than looking for ‘the’ right definition of life, and probably more accurate in terms of carving Nature at its joints.

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Christophe Malaterre
Université Du Québec À Montréal (UQAM)

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