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How did you come along with your definition of characteristics Life after my last post ‘I Dare you to Define Life?

Hoverflies characteristics, mating in midair... much more difficult than Kama Sutra

Hover flies characteristics, mating in midair… much more difficult than Kama Sutra (click for photo credit)

For want of a couple of words or a one sentence definition of Life, like: ‘an organism that displays certain characteristics between its birth and death’, which is rather general, some of those characteristics need to be detailed. Let’s do it.


In my last post I discussed sustainability: the need to produce enough energy, not only to keep the organism running like a couch potato, but with surplus energy in order to add value to and contribute to its environment. Imagine if all living organisms were couch potatoes!

I was going to say ‘simple’ energy production, but it’s really complex: the organism has to have access to and assimilate the correct fuel, the proper variety of food year round. It then has to break down that food into ‘chunks’ to transform it into energy, metabolism, to digest and convert it into chemicals to run its ‘machinery’. It also needs a process to keep its own machinery running smoothly and eliminate waste products. All of this just to sustain life… and that’s only one piece of the puzzle.


Life must reproduce itself. It must bring forth new life, of and by itself, without any external help in manipulating the elements that are a part of the original living entity. We’re talking about a system of reproduction, be it asexual or sexual, but it has to be a system that can reproduce because if it cannot go onto a second and third generation that’s not ‘life’. In that case it lasts for a certain period of time and it’s snuffed out, game over.

If it can’t reproduce regularly, develop a self-sustaining population, then you’d have to recreate life all over again, start from scratch and bring all the elements together again as we did.

When the organism reproduces, depending on its complexity, it needs to copy itself, but not exactly. It needs some plasticity, otherwise we’d have a bunch of robotic dogs with robotic humans. Not only no variety, but the problems that would arise from consanguinity and genetic disorders would put an end to life.

If two parties are involved in reproduction questions arise: what does each contribute? How do they mate? Think about the two hover flies above, quite an acrobatic feat going on here. How does gestation work? What happens at birth? And many others like: is this fetus internal or external to the one or both of the progenitors? How does the fetus get fed? And it goes on…

These are various situations that have to be worked out hopefully ahead of time, BEFORE a weed or an orchid plant, peach tree or a couple of fish, birds, deer or humans go into reproduction mode.

Sustainability and Reproduction are part of the fundamental definition of life.

There are other necessary characteristics to define ‘Life’. Sign up, in the right column, for notification of upcoming stimulating questions in our undertaking to do an Inventory of the Universe Your email and details will be kept totally private. I promise.


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