Mankind has always been curious about the possibility that “we’re not the only ones in the universe.” A great deal of effort has been spent on the attempt to find extraterrestrial life. Unfortunately for us, we may not even know what we’re looking for.
Image from Sea Frost
The New Scientist says that life is so incredibly hard to define that we may never know if it’s out there.
Citing over 280 definitions of life–all of which miss the point somewhat– Sohan Jeeta, an astrobiologist, floated his own definition this week at an astrobiology conference:
“Life is a thermodynamically open chemical system with a semi-permeable boundary. It contains an information-based complex system with emergent properties, part of which drives a metabolism based on a proton gradient. The said gradient generates the necessary potential difference across the semi-permeable boundary. The information is heritable and coded in such a way as to allow variation and thus evolution.”
Schoolchildren all over the world are rejoicing over the possibility of this being on a test. But why does life need a definition?
Because without one, we won’t know if what we find out in interstellar space is indeed life. The vast differences in environment would obviously create a form that’s almost entirely unrecognizable to us. Looking for amino acids, or any other essentials to life on earth, would leave us missing the point with something that’s adapted to a completely different world.
First defining life, and in the most open-ended manner possible, is the only way to design experiments and instrumentation to be able to look for aliens. Unless, of course, they show up and try to kill us. That’s always an option, too.
We’ll even throw in a free album.