Science & the Search for Meaning: What is Life?

Scientists can now explain virtually every stage of the evolutionary process. But there’s a basic question that still mystifies even the best scientists: How did life first begin on Earth? Or to put in another way, how did non-life somehow turn into life? And can we say the Earth itself is alive? In this hour of To the Best of Our Knowledge we’ll talk with James Lovelock about his Gaia theory, and explore the question, What is Life?


This hour explores some of the fundamental mysteries of life - from how it first started on Earth to the possibility of supremely intelligent life on other planets and why technology is evolving like life itself. We begin with a rare recording of Nobel Prize winning physicist Edwin Schrodinger and comments on his book "What Is Life?" from Nobel Prize winning biologists James Watson and Harold Varmus. We also hear from Ken Miller, co-author of the most widely used biology textbook in American high schools, and Craig Venter, widely regarded as one of science’s leading innovators. Venter, who’s come as close as anyone has to creating life in a test tube, tells Steve Paulson what drives him. And we hear from some ordinary people about what they think life is.


University of Wisconsin geochemist Nita Sahai talks with Anne Strainchamps about how life might have begun on Earth. On the other hand, maybe the Earth itself is alive. That’s the remarkable idea behind the Gaia hypothesis. James Lovelock came up with it in the 1960s and at first no one would take him seriously. Lovelock, now in his nineties and one of our most celebrated scientists, tells Steve Paulson where the Gaia theory came from and how it’s evolved.


Kevin Kelly is one of the founders of Wired magazine. He’s also the author of a provocative book called "What Technology Wants." Kelly tells Jim Fleming that the sum total of our technology - what he calls "the technicum" - is taking on the properties of life itself. And anthropologist Tom Boellstorff takes us on a tour through the virtual world of Second Life. Astro-biologist Paul Davies chairs the SETI Post-Detection Task Group and is the author of "The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence." He tells Steve Paulson that alien intelligence might be stranger than anything Hollywood has dreamt up.

Also huffduffed as…

  1. Science and the Search for Meaning, Part One: What is Life?

    —Huffduffed by peeja on December 20th, 2010

  2. Science & the Search for Meaning: What is Life?

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  3. Science & the Search for Meaning: What is Life?

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  4. Science & the Search for Meaning: What is Life?

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  5. Science & the Search for Meaning: What is Life?

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  6. Science & the Search for Meaning: What is Life?

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  7. Science & the Search for Meaning: What is Life?

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  8. Science and the search for the meaning of life

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  9. Science & the Search for Meaning: What is Life?

    —Huffduffed by snapncrackle on May 17th, 2011

Possibly related…

  1. Paul Davies: Are we alone in the universe?

    Is intelligent life trying to communicate with us from space? Professor Paul Davies explores the potential and limits of research into the origin and evolution of life, and the search for life beyond Earth. Has ET maybe visited our planet ages ago and left us a message? At the Australian National University, Paul Davies discussed his latest book The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe?

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  2. Looking Back At The Year In Science

    Ira Flatow and a panel of science writers and editors discuss the top science stories of 2009, from the discovery of water on the moon to the unveiling of human ancestor Ardipithecus ramidus to public health controversies like the new mammography guidelines and the swine flu vaccine.


    Paul Raeburn, biology and medical writer, Knight Science Journalism Tracker, author forthcoming book Why Fathers Matter, New York, N.Y.

    Mariette DiChristina, editor in chief, Scientific American and Scientific American Mind, president, National Association of Science Writers, New York, N.Y.

    Nicholas Thompson, author, The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War, senior editor, Wired magazine, New York, N.Y.

    Phil Plait, author, Death from the Skies! These are the Ways the World Will End…, author, Bad Astronomy blog for Discovery Magazine, Boulder, Colo.

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  3. Richard Dawkins: The Greatest Show On Earth

    British biological theorist Richard Dawkins is perhaps the world’s best known atheist. He is certain that we have evolution to thank for life on earth, not a creator. Evolution is the topic of his new book, "The Greatest Show On Earth." Dawkins says the book is his "personal summary of the evidence that the ‘theory’ of evolution is actually a fact - as incontrovertible a fact as any in science." He joins Doug on Tuesday to discuss the evidence for evolution.

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