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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Public Lecture - Can we define 'Life'?

29th March 2010, 18:30, Birley Room, Hatfield College, Randall Perry (Imperial College)

Although there have been attempts at a definition of life from many disciplines, none is accepted by all as definitive. Some people believe that it is impossible to define ‘life' adequately. On linguistic grounds, this point of view appears to be correct. Here we will be examining the different types of definitions, the contexts in which they are used and their relative usefulness as aids to arriving at a scientific definition of life.

Some of the more recent definitions will be analysed in the light of this developed criteria for a good definition. It is argued here, that since there are so many linguistic and philosophical difficulties with definitions of life, what is needed is a series of working descriptions, which are suited to the audience and context in which they are used and useful for the intended purpose. Ideas and examples will be provided of the form these may take.