This is just my feeling I don't have a developed defense of it but I suspect that it will take a much better understanding of consciousness and its relationship to matter/energy/space/time before we really move towards understanding what life is.
All the biology that is being done is very important but so much remains. The functioning chemical complexity of a cell is so staggering. Is it entirely based on chemical reactions? The function that the ancients called spirit or soul might more accurately be termed consciousness. Does consciousness have yet unrecognized roles in the function of cells? I am not speaking of the self consciousness of humans using various abstract systems but of something more elementary.
My bias is that I would like this to be the case but I don't see anyway to know if it is at present. You've been interested in this subject. I'd liked to hear your comments.
My interest in consciousness is ultimately my interest in my own subjectivity and some sort of desire to tie it to the apparent objectivity of matter/energy/space/time. The approaches of meditation are pragmatic and the other is philosophy, possibly phenomenology.
One of my suspicions is that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe, sort of like the inside of matter/energy but it's just a hunch that makes a sort of sense to me. I don't have a great grasp of what I mean by consciousness. I think of it as what I am and it can be very hard to see the seer.
I see the problem. It may be we just haven't come upon it yet.
The notion I put forward makes a certain sense to me in terms of qualia. Though I admit it's just a speculative hunch of a possibility. How do neurons give rise to the subject experience of red, or sour? I have no trouble with how vision, or taste works until the final step of the experience of it. Where does that come from?
Yes, process is a more accurate concept than object.
I could be approaching this from the wrong perspective or asking the wrong question but what I'm wondering is something like this:
When I examine the processes of another organism I see matter/energy in space/time as say neurons processes resulting in sensory/motor behaviour. And I know that my observation uses that same sort of processing that I am observing but I experience something else. So, I'm wondering if what I'm experiencing is in some sense a hitherto unidentified "inside" of the process.
I'm doing this to avoid dualism. So if electrons say have some properties like mass, charge, spin that weren't all discovered at the same time perhaps they have have some other property that is the basis of this interior awareness, same goes for other particles, atoms, molecules, and forces like electromagnetism.
This is brain storming speculation. Consciousness is such a fundamental function and yet so slippery. Without it you and I wouldn't be writing this, so it is in one sense essential and yet it could be a local phenomena of life.
My bias is that everything in the universe arise from the same basics so somehow in someway consciousness has to arise from those basics or be in some sense basic itself. At this point Descartes' dualism sense to have been pushed hard until it broke and I haven't discovered anyway to fix it.
Life may have unique combinations of atoms but there is nothing unique about the atoms or forces it uses, so life is an inherent potential of the universe however unlikely it may be. I am speculating along the same lines with consciousness.
Well, I'm not really debating this. I'm just musing on the problem. I gave up proposing topics a long time ago. My topics came out slow and promptly died.
I like your notion of approaching the objective from the subjective. It's how Ramana frames his teaching. That is something I want to explore for sure.
In line with Ben's earlier comment about life is how you see it. I think I'll end this off topic drift with a radical redefinition and say that the universe is life. Organisms on earth being just one developed refinement of that life.