What is Life?
is not an inherent property of matter. Life is indeed associated
with matter, but it appears only under very specific conditions and,
when it does, it expresses itself in very diverse and individual ways...We
shall come closest to understanding the principle of life if we can
discover the principles according to which life could begin...How
life did begin, however, can only be understood by appeal to
Manfred Eigen 1
alive is being sensitive to specific cues in the environment, to transduce
and amplify minute signals into definite actions. Being alive is to
achieve the long-range coordination of astronomical numbers of submicroscopic,
molecular reactions over macroscopic distances. It is to be able to
summon energy at will and engage in extremely rapid and efficient
Mae-Wan Ho 2
special about living systems and their relationship to the environment?
In this unit, we seek to understand some of the organizing principles
of living systems, recognizing with humility what Manfred Eigen and Mae-Wan
Ho say--that we can only understand what happened, not why it did.
on the nature of life even for a short while brings to mind the awesome
variety, coherence, and organization in the functioning of live organisms.
Exchange of materials with the environment and adaptation to environment
are also evident. While we can try to understand these interactions, and
guess at how life might have evolved on Earth, we can only guess at how
life did begin and survive. In the words of the Nobel Laureate
Manfred Eigen, "life is historical reality."
Eigen, Manfred. Steps Towards Life: A Perspective on Evolution.
Mae-Wan Ho. The Rainbow and the Worm, Singapore: World Scientific
Publications, 1994. p. 10