Dissolving the Question of Life

by falenas1081 min read14th Jun 201130 comments


Personal Blog

Recently, Hank Green posted a video discussing the definition of life.  He offered two definitions; that life acts in a manner to achieve a goal, and that life continuously decreases internal entropy.

There are problems with these definitions.  The first definition includes every machine that has a function.  The second one includes, for example, a machine that constantly reshapes parts of its body into a paperclip.

Other definitions of life are equally confusing, doing things like excluding viruses because they use other cells to reproduce, despite meeting the intuitive meaning we have for life.

So, dissolve "life."  Why do we care if something is alive?  To decide if its life has value.  Hank dances around the issue, showing that life has no inherent value by using mouthwash to kill billions of bacteria in his mouth.  But, he doesn't take this to its conclusion.  It doesn't matter if something is alive or not.  We won't suddenly care about the well being of viruses if a new definition of life comes along tomorrow pronouncing viruses to be living.  What we value is sentience.

Bugs are extremely low on the sentience scale, so we feel free to kill them.  Animals that are higher on the scale, such as cats, have laws preventing any sort of mistreatment.

tl;dr: Life is an ambiguous term, use sentience to describe a being's value.