Definition of life: Currently we do not have a definition for life. I have some ideas.

Definition of a term is easy to disprove. All you need is a counter-example in real world or in unknown world.

I tried to define life and got a surprising result: a disturbance propagating through a medium which has a system that can fetch energy and medium from it’s environment to propagate and thus preserve itself(disturbance).

In earth ‘medium’ is organic compounds. It propagates through medium because it continuously rebuilds itself with a system.

I do not have any contact in academia. I am absolutely okay if I am wrong. edit: I had an intuition that correct definition of life can be figured out in terms of waves.

This is first draft. article.pdf (54.6 KB)

Hi Darshan,

You may be aware, but Erwin Schrodinger wrote What is Life?, a fairly famous inquiry into the nature of life (he was of course among the most famous ‘wave theorists’ to have ever lived :slight_smile: ). I think I read somewhere that book supposedly inspired Crick and Watson to some degree (can’t seem to remember the reference…so may be wrong).

I think you have to be careful when using some of these terms. For instance there are differences between say quantum and classical waves. Also, as De Broglie showed, we have known about matter waves for a long time. So in some sense, at a deep enough level, you could say everything is a ‘wave’ or ‘wave function’ (at least prior to observation), but this I think doesn’t explain much about life in particular. In a technical sense, one could explain life in terms of QED (assuming infinite computational power), but this doesn’t do us much good right now. So somehow you have to have a reducible theory that can make predictions which can be tested (or…you could do as the string theorists do and not worry about making testable predictions :slight_smile: …in which case you will need a whole boatload of fancy math!).

Dear Grant,

I think you are confusing between “Matter waves” and waves that flow through matter. For example, One could say that air particles are “matter wave” but still sound waves are waves with air as medium. I have made a case that life wave flows through matter, just like sound travels through air. This is not as complicated as you interpreted.

I would love to know your reply!

I suppose I am just encouraging you to try to formalize your definition (in mathematical terms). Part of your definition is: ‘has a system that fetches energy from the environment’, this I think requires further definition. What is a ‘system’, what is the boundary between that which ‘has’ and the ‘environment’?

Overall, without a mathematical formalization, I would find these types of definitions hard to reason about in a precise way.

Boundary is nothing but the boundary of organism itself. Like what constitutes the body and what does not. System is set of things working together as parts of a mechanism, goal of such system in a living thing is to gain energy and medium from environment. I had also given analogy of what a system is by taking examples of living things.

As I said earlier I do not have any contacts in academia. That’s the reason I came here for help. It would be so nice if you lend even a little bit of your time discussing this.

I’m happy to provide a few comments (though I am quite overburdened time wise currently and so cannot comment in depth). In general, I think these definitions (of life) are often too broad. For instance a self driving car would I think fit your description: it certainly creates a disturbance, and it’s easy to see how it could pump its own gas, and so also has a system for harnessing energy from the environment…so is it alive? Typically the definition of system is more specific, alluding to some idea of metabolism.

Words mean different things to different people, and so while I think it’s a great exercise to build these concepts conceptually with natural language, I would not call these precise scientific definitions (even NASA’s definition would change if we found new or better explanations of life–for example it might include CRN’s (chemical reaction networks) as a more precise description).

So as an independent researcher (and there are many of us here), if this is something you are passionate about, I would encourage you to learn some of these other languages, maybe CRN’s in particular. I would not worry about academic contacts, I have them, and they are of little if any help! :slight_smile:

Great reply. I was expecting some attempts to counter the definition. In self driving cars disturbance does not propagate thorough any medium. Matter that constitutes a car is same at all points in time, unless a external disturbance(actions of mechanic, owner) impacts them. In other words a car does not propagate through a medium. Calling car a disturbance itself is a bold claim. I would call it a object or system. Even if it is a disturbance it does not fetch medium. Life forms continuously rebuilds itself with new matter.

Waves can transfer energy without transfer of matter, so is life. Waves can transfer information without transfer of matter, so is life.

Definition: a disturbance propagating through a medium which has a system that can fetch energy and medium from it’s environment to propagate and thus preserve itself(disturbance).

“Medium” is a important word.

CRNs are great but can we be sure that life is possible only in realm of organic chemistry or even chemistry? What about life we do not know? My definition is compatible when we can take CRN as the “system”. Mine is more abstract than that. My definition can even define life in another universe.

If I had some contacts we could submit the new definition to NASA. At least try to do it (after validating it with someone credible). I am really confidant about my definition and have thought of so many examples to counter myself.

I did not read your article, but your definition sounds very similar to the one proposed by Lovelok: something that takes energy from the environment to preserve itself and locally reduces entropy. :slightly_smiling_face:

Your definition is great and you’re right to be confident, but it’s not new. As far as I know, NASA already uses this definition to detect life in other planets.