I feel there must be a more general definition for life, which could incorporate all possibilities of complexity, self-replication, etc. that make life different from non-life.
Language and meaning are derived from utility. I think the question you need to ask (and answer) in order to answer this question is,
For what purpose am I using the word "life"?
Once you answer that question, you can come up with a definition of life that fits your purpose and see what fits in it, and what falls outside of it.
Remember, though, that your purpose for the word "life" may not be the same as the purpose of others--and thus a different word might be more appropriate than "life". Overloading definitions like that usually just leads to confusion and unnecessary arguments over semantics.
Yes, it's been a long time, but it's good to talk again after a while and catch up.
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?
I agree with you that we're still at the stage where we're guessing--we're making progress with the simplifying assumption that everything is based on chemical reactions, but at the same time unable to know if we can account for everything that way. Seems to me the right way to proceed, but actually accepting the hypothesis at this unrefined stage is ... moving from science to philosophy it seems.
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.
I kind of understand. I'm not sure why you use the term "consciousness" to describe this possible phenomenon. Maybe due to what you've read. But anyway, I do understand that you dont' mean the self-consciousness of humans and I have some sense of what you mean by "consciousness" from previous discussions. But not a great grasp :)
I am definitely open to the possibility of such a phenomenon. But honestly at this point I am such a pragmatist that I don't even bother wondering about the "truth" of the matter or whether the answer is knowable. If the suggestion has use, if it pushes people to have better lives, to live more in harmony with each other and their environment, then it sounds good to me. :)
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.
I don't think there's any way to know it. And even if we are able to convincingly account for everything using explanations only from chemistry, that doesn't preclude there being some kinds of conscious forces anyway. They might operate at a super- or sub-chemical level, or they might just offer a different model with different explanatory power than a chemistry-based theory.
Which finally gets back to the topic at hand--the meaning of "life". It seems to me the desired meaning of "life" is tied so closely to a person's philosophy that it's actually impossible to be even remotely objective about it. There's never any necessity to admit anything is life. "Life" is one of those words that seem to be inextricably bound to our perceptions, rather than bound to objective measurements. Thus including or excluding entities within the word "life" would show simply a different philosophy, not an important phenomenon about the entity.
That's probably confusing. I'll leave it up to others to try and unravel it.