- "What is life? It is a flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the
- winter time. It is the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset."
- Crowfoot, chief of the Blackfoot Indians, 1890
Life is a state that distinguishes organisms from non-living objects, such as non-life, and dead organisms, characterized by growth through metabolism and reproduction. Note that metabolism and reproduction are both self-* properties, they are associated with the self-reproduction of the body and the species, respectively. self-* properties belong to the most fundamental characteristics of life.
It is debatable if "life itself is evil", as Vasily Grossman asks in his book "Life and Fate", but it is certainly right to say that life is selfish. Life is an exceptional state characterized by strong self-* properties and high complexity which aries from selfish genes. The complexity arises partly from the tendency to increase order and decreases entropy - a physical characteristic of life. This is possible in open systems which are able to decrease their internal entropy at the expense of substances or free energy taken in from the environment.
Life emerges out of the organized interactions of a great number of nonliving molecules, with no global organizer or central controller responsible for the behavior of every part (although there are many distributed controllers in form of genes). Life is the behavior that emerges from out of all of the local interactions among individual behaviors.
An astronaut viewing earth from space would probably say life is where the earth is ("a blue planet in the vastness of empty space). A bushman from the Kalahari desert would perhaps say life is where water is ("a green oasis in an endless desert"), while an Inuit from the North Pole would argue that life is where light is ("a red fire at 20 degrees below zero surrounded by a desert of frozen ice").
Life is simply the opposite of non-life, a condition that distinguishes friendly from lethal environments, and organisms from inorganic objects. Since non-living inorganic objects are the majority in the universe, one can say that life is the exception. The abnormal condition ("disease") which can be found in small pockets of the universe at the edge of chaos, where self-replicating entities made of star dust resist the general tentency of increasing disorder and decay.
Life is the existence of organic entities with self-* properties in the void of empty space: entities which replicate, organize, generate, maintain and move themselves. It is a dynamic, self-organizing state of matter, controlled by information subject to natural selection. To see life as the breath of buffalo on a cold winter's day is of course much more poetic than to say life is a universal bundle of self-* properties located in a corner of the universe at the edge of chaos. Or is it?