Starts with L, Rhymes with Rife

If you sometimes look around and ask yourself, “So what is life, anyway?”–even if you haven’t ingested some illegal substance–you may be interested in a story I’ve written for Seed magazine. “The Meaning of Life” is the cover story for the August issue, which just turned up at my doorstep. The story isn’t online yet, but when it does pop up, I’ll make a note of it.

The idea for the story crystallized during the course of my work on my next book. My initial idea for the book was to investigate this very question, “What is life?” There is actually a lot of new research and thinking going into this ancient puzzle. But I recognized that I probably would not come out of such a vast enterprise alive, or at least with my wits intact. So I narrowed the question as tightly as I could, to one species–E. coli. And even under such tight constraints, I wonder from time to time how much of my wits has (have?) survived the experience.

The question “What is Life?” is not purely a scientific question. It helps to think about it philosophically. What I particularly enjoyed in my first experience writing unbloggily for Seed was that the folks at the magazine were not scared off by the thought of an article that tried to look at both biology and philosophy. Whether I’ve succeeded I’ll let others judge. I don’t want to give away the goods on the story and spoil the surprise, but if you finish the story and want to learn more, check out the work of Carol Cleland of the University of Colorado, NASA’s philosopher-in-residence. Here’s the Google scholar page for one of her key papers, “Defining ‘Life.'”