David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Acta Biotheoretica 53 (1) (2005)
The cybernetic definition of a living individual proposed previously (Korzeniewski, 2001) is very abstract and therefore describes the essence of life in a very formal and general way. In the present article this definition is reformulated in order to determine clearly the relation between life in general and a living individual in particular, and it is further explained and defended. Next, the cybernetic definition of a living individual is confronted with the real world. It is demonstrated that numerous restrictions imposed on the cybernetic definition of life by physical reality imply a number of particular properties of life that characterize present life on Earth, namely: (1) a living individual must be a dissipative structure (and therefore a low-entropy thermodynamic system out of the state of equilibrium); (2) spontaneously-originated life must be based on organic compounds; (3) evolutionarily stable self-dependent, free-living individuals must have some minimal level of complexity of structure and function; (4) a living individual must have a record of identity separated from an executive machinery; (5) the identity of living individuals must mutate and may evolve; (6) living individuals may collect and accumulate information in subsequent generations over very long periods of time; (7) the degree of complexity of a living individual reflects the degree of complexity of its environment (ecological niche) and (8) living individuals are capable of supple adaptation to varying environmental conditions. Thus, the cybernetic definition of a living individual, when confronted with the real physical world, generates most of the general properties of the present life on Earth.
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