Sunday, June 24, 2007

Alternative Life - Biota Podcast

I would have passed 'Artificial Life' as a nightmarish concept from a bad SciFi novel. As in: "Now that my minions are emerging from the laboratories, there is nothing that can stop me anymore." Dr. Enzymic burst out in a cackling laughter and with a gasp of fear the gorgeous Georgina grabbed my arm. "Not if I can help it," I shouted. Enzymic even smiled. "Jon Halbard, my once worthy but now so pathetic adversary," he cried, "nothing can stop my artificial life, especially not you, with your pounding heart and your stinking sweat." If anything, it taps into negative prejudice.

But here is a quote from Chris G. Langton
Biology is the scientific study of life - in principle, anyway. In practice, biology is the scientific study of life on Earth based on carbon-chain chemistry. There is nothing in its charter that restricts biology to carbon-based life; it is simply that this is the only kind of life that has been available to study. Thus, theoretical biology has long faced the fundamental obstacle that it is impossible to derive general principles from single examples.

Without other examples, it is difficult to distinguish essential properties of life - properties that would be shared by any living system - from properties that may be incidental to life in principle, but which happen to be universal to life on Earth due solely to a combination of local historical accident and common genetic descent.

In order to derive general theories about life, we need an ensemble of instances to generalize over. Since it is quite unlikely that alien lifeforms will present themselves to us for study in the near future, our only option is to try to create alternative life-forms ourselves - Artificial Life - literally ``life made by Man rather than by Nature.''

So, as it appears, Artificial Life is genuine (theoretical) science and it appears there is a podcast as well: Biota. I found it, because they interviewed the familiar Dr. David van Nuys of Shrinkrapradio. As a psychologist, Dr. Dave is asked to dwell (among others) on the subject of self.
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