Reclassifying Viruses as Living?

Gordon Ramel g.ramel at EARTHLIFE.NET
Fri Mar 17 09:11:55 CST 2006

As Richard said,

The danger, I think, comes when we fall into the trap of seeing these boxes
as "real" ("natural")

And I am not, and never was, suggesting we give up using boxes (nouns), but
I do think we should teach what we actually believe, that the boxes
(nouns/labels) we use are, like words themselves, attempts to represent, for
the sake of communication, both internal and external, the  reality we

However it was really in the arguement about the viruses, viroids and prions
etc that I thought the 'box' philosophy was more trouble than it was worth,
in other words I would contend that the box 'living vs nonliving' has lost
its functionality.  We can see the transition (evolution), as best our
current science allows, from the energy flux of  0.1 second after the point
of origin, through quarks, to atoms, to molecules and crytals, to complex
molecules, and on to us.  I think many people would feel that the degree of
difference between a Virus and Einstein or Ghandi is greater than the degree
of difference between a Virus and a nonliving crystal, which nevertheless
grows if it is in the correct medium.  As has been pointed out, the box
'physics' leads inevitably, as far as I can see, to the box 'biology' and
then the smaller box 'sentience' and ultimately to my personal box of 'I'.

Why do we need to define 'living' vs 'nonliving' in an absolute sense??  As
scientists I don't think we do. In future years the question of when does an
artificial intelligence have the right to be called living will through some
pretty heavy spanners into the works anyway.

The word 'living' would still have value in a relative sense and as people
(and not scientists) we will just have to work a little harder in answering
the question "Daddy/Mummy what is the difference between a rock and a
puppy?" than saying, "Well dear the puppy is alive and the rock isn't."

For those who feel we must have our boxes another possibility would be to
instigate a demilitarised zone between
A) crystals and non-replicating (organic) molecules
and B) the traditional Prokaryotes,
and invent another box, such as 'quasi-living'


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