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Sounding the Limits of LifeEssays in the Anthropology of Biology and Beyond$
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Stefan Helmreich

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780691164809

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691164809.001.0001

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What Was Life?

What Was Life?

Answers from Three Limit Biologies

Chapter:
(p.1) Chapter 1 What Was Life?
Source:
Sounding the Limits of Life
Author(s):

Stefan Helmreich

Sophia Roosth

Michele Friedner

Publisher:
Princeton University Press
DOI:10.23943/princeton/9780691164809.003.0001

This chapter examines three limit biologies that theorize what life was—that is, they declare the possible end of “life”: Artificial Life, marine microbiology, and astrobiology. Artificial Life is a genre of theoretical biology that flourished most vigorously in the 1990s and sought to model living things in the medium of computer simulation. Marine microbiology is a field that has as its object of study the world's tiniest, most abundant, and metabolically extreme ocean creatures, including microbes at deep-sea volcanoes. Astrobiology is the study of life as it might exist on other worlds. The chapter argues that the conceptual trouble bedeviling “life” is shadowed by worries about what form “theory” might take in natural and social analysis these days. The emphasis is on how accounts of life forms in biology and ideas about social and cultural forms of life inform and deform one another.

Keywords:   limit biologies, life, Artificial Life, marine microbiology, astrobiology, microbes, theory, life form, biology

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