What is life? This question has been posed numerous times since Charles Darwin admitted his puzzlement in The Origin of Species (1859). Amazingly, the intervening years have brought scientists no closer to a convincing answer. This is despite the fact that biology has made huge strides in understanding life processes to the molecular level.
I have an intense interest in this question because life is what I am trying to preserve in my efforts to find a solution to the ecological crisis. I have therefore examined the issue in some detail and have written a document titled Life, Biology, and Capitalism that outlines my current answer. Briefly stated, my conclusion is that the essence of life is awareness – a subjective state that is rooted in the objective world of physical reality.
In the document I outline my reasons for this conclusion. I also make the case that standard biology should be replaced by vital biology as soon as this is feasible. This new discipline, like the old one, would limit its studies to the objective world. However, it would diverge by recognizing subjective awareness, and would thus acknowledge that life’s behavior, whether instinctive or learned, is driven by volition and purpose.
I conclude by suggesting why biology has become a purely mechanistic discipline – that is, one based entirely on the concepts of chemistry and physics. My view is that political pressures associated with the rise of capitalism forced biologists to repudiate the subjective side of reality. This made the discipline more useful to economic production, but stripped the living world of its distinctive elements.
If you have comments on the ideas presented in this document, please contact me to discuss.