I believe in life. I believe we are a part of nature and not apart from nature. As such we have everything to learn from life; who we are, how we came to be and what is our role here. You see, I am a biologist and biology is the study of life. Some people ask me when I became a biologist. I have been a biologist my whole life, for as long as I can remember, but I think it started when I was five. I caught frogs in kindergarten during recess with my friend Joey Landgraf. That spring, I put frog eggs into a paper cup, brought them home and put them into my goldfish bowl. They hatched into tadpoles and I watched them lose their tails, grow legs and turn into frogs. Later, much later, I studied DNA, genetics and the complexities of gene expression in plants, and I have never lost my wonder or sense of awe or beauty for life. In fact, it has only increased and deepened.
I now ask my students to consider the question; What is life?, in fifty words or less. While it sounds simple, the diversity and complexity of life abounds with contradictions and exceptions which mock naïve definitions. So I have had to come up with my own, which I still consider insufficient, but evolving. It goes like this –
“Life is an information processing system capable of replication with variation mediated by metabolism through biochemistry in an aqueous environment and subjected to selection in the stochastic chance and necessity consequential from the big bang resulting in perceptions of beauty, knowledge, truth, love, consciousness, free will, morality, self, and life.”
As a lifeist, I believe in life and the study of life. Through this lens we can understand the Torah, the Bible, the Quran, the Vedas and the Tao Te Ching. I believe that life would show us the superficial nature of racism, sexism and other xenophobias. There are a lot of sayings and quotes about life and I am sure you know many of them; life is short, life is precious, life is what you make it, but I still like the one by Abraham Lincoln because life teaches us also about death, as a part of the process of life.
And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years – Abraham Lincoln
I believe that life can also teach us everything we need to know about politics and government, war and peace, economics and money, art and artists, sex and love, family, relationships and the mystery of children. We might also learn about frogs. I wonder where is Joey now.