Being And Hyperbeing: Life Beyond Life-Forms

by Jochen Szangolies

Figure 1: Eukaryotic life in some of its many forms. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.5.

In the 1994 science fiction film Star Trek Generations, while attempting to locate the missing Captain Picard, Lt. Cmdr. Data is given the task to scan for life-forms on the planet below. Data, an android having recently been outfitted with an emotion chip, proceeds to proclaim his love for the task, and makes up a little impromptu ditty while operating his console, to the bewilderment of his crew mates.

The scene plays as comic relief, but is not without some poignancy. The status of Data himself, whether he can be said to be himself ‘alive’ and therefore worthy of the special protection generally awarded to living things, is a recurring plot thread throughout the run of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In his struggle to become ‘more human’, his attainment of emotions marks a major milestone. Having thus been initiated into the rank of an—albeit artificial—life-form, one might cast his task as not so much a scientific, but a philosophical one: searching for others of his kind.

It is then somewhat odd that there is apparently a mechanizable answer to the question ‘what is life?’, some algorithm performed on the appropriate measurement data returning a judgment on the status of any blob of matter under investigation as either alive or not. If there is some mechanical criterion separating life from non-life, then how was Data’s own status ever in question? Read more »


by Aditya Dev Sood

Vanaprastha photo I think it was the beginnings of the meltdown, almost three years ago, that I first came upon the City Forest. I was talking into my cellphone with someone, maybe my Dad, about where the economy was going, where it was taking all of our clients. It was about finding ways to ride it out. I remember walking and talking further and further away from the office till I ended up at a large half-open garbage collection center. Cycle-rickshaws came by from time to time to drop off refuse from the neighborhood that a truck would later load up and take to a landfill somewhere. Behind it was a small gateway, and behind that another kind of reality altogether.

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