How do you define life? (They’re made out of meat!)


Jul. 24th 2008 in we recommend

© Andre Andreev

A year ago I had a conversation with a real exobiologist (yes, they do exist).

His current work involved the creation of a simple set of rules which would allow us to recognize life on other planets. He was fully aware that finding life depends very much on our definition of life.  It is quite possible that we may see life, fly through life, step on life, and still not recognize it as such.

I asked him for his current definition and he explained that life tends to  changes its environment. For example, if you see elements which are usually spread apart gathered in one place, it is possible that a living entity moved them closer. Also, organizing “things” at the expense of energy could be a sign of life.

I asked him whether crystals could be considered life. He said yes.

I found a short story by Terry Bisson on the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) fiction website. It reminded me my conversation…

What I find truly inspiring, is the fact that SETI exists. It contains countless (some huge) projects funded with government money. Which  means that our governments believe that extra terrestrial life exists. That more life exists out there. And that it’s worth the effort to reach for it. To acknowledge it. To connect.

Is it possible that the part of us which knows this fact, is also the part athat already connects us… already experiencing itself through both us and the other forms of life, now ready to experience each through the eyes of the other?

Back to the story, They are made out of meat! shows another perspective on what we take as the norm. It’s a 5-minute read. Enjoy!

And when you are done reading – how do you define life? What are the most interesting-but-sounding-true examples from science fiction and nature? Hit the comments!


  1. Andre's Gravatar
    Andre, July 24, 2008:

    Now that I think about it… In one of Stanislav Lem’s stories, human explorers encountered life in the form of magnetic field. When exposed to it, humans would lose all their memory and return to a baby-like state.

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