Thursday, June 28, 2018

Life and self-representation

Here’s another try at an account of life. Maybe:

  1. x is alive if and only if x has a non-derivative self-representation.

Consider: Anything that engages in reproduction must represent itself in order to reproduce (note: the growth of a crystal is not reproduction, however, because it does not make another crystal in the image of its own self-representation). Indeed, (1) covers all the organisms we are confident are organisms. And whether a virus represents itself non-derivatively or only derivatively in relation to the transcription mechanisms of a host is unclear, and (1) rightly thus rules that it is unclear whether a virus is alive.

Moreover, God and angels know themselves, and do so non-derivatively, so they count as alive according to (1).

It could be that (1) is a necessary truth, but nonetheless does not capture the concept of life. For there seems to be something more to life than just non-derivative self-representation, even if it turns out that necessarily all and only the non-derivative self-representers are alive. Aquinas thinks life needs operation or activity.

Here is a suggestion that expands on (1):

  1. x is alive if and only if x pursues an end for itself in the light of a non-derivative self-representation.

Thus something that merely thinks of itself, without having any ends, won’t be alive. On the other hand, anything that intentionally pursues ends that it non-derivatively represents itself as having satisfies (2). So, once again, God and angels count as alive. And so does any organism, since pursuit of reproduction always satisfies (2).

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