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Ursula Goodenough

Re-posting my list with additional commentary in boldface..


I’ve lost track of which “Western science” definition(s) of life are to be included in the forthcoming glossary, but I’ll go ahead and offer the ” minimal list of list of features that constitute all present-day organisms on planet earth” that I offered in our course The Epic of Evolution. 


1) Ability to capture and utilize energy from the environment.


Modern organisms possess an attribute I call “discernment,” a manifestation of which is displayed in their capture and

utilization of energy from the environment. As contrasted with non-organisms, they utilize selected facets of the energy

spectrum, ignore most others, and shield themselves from toxic features. Examples include atmospheric oxygen,

wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, and metals.




2) Self-maintenance.


Organisms construct and maintain a self, one of the many words in our conversation that muddy quickly. The self-

maintenance has everything to do with autopoiesis/emergent properties — these concepts are fully imbued in “western

science” thinking, contra to some claims that they are rejected.


3) Reproduction of one’s kind.


Modern organisms on this planet all utilize DNA/RNA to encode key features of their “kind,” instructions that are copied

and transmitted, with or without occasional mutations, to future generations. The notion that this feature can be

extrapolated to speculations about multiple universes is to me forced to the max.


4) Capacity to undergo biological evolution evolve


The fact that the mutations can give rise to amended instructions, and that these are on occasion adaptive and hence

selectively spread into the population, is the basis of biological evolution. It’s important, and I neglected to do so in my 

list (I didn’t in my course!) to distinguish between evolution as “change” and biological evolution.


The first three can be subsumed under the category of “purposive” or “teleodynamic” which, in my view, is a phenomenon that showed up on this planet with organisms.