Living Things Are Not Alive

Have you ever sat for hours wondering what it means to be alive? No? Well this is awkward... If you had, you would find that it's not actually that easy to define.

I used to think life was this force, like gravity, that animated our bodies. Unfortunately, that's not true. Life doesn't really exist, at least not in the way you probably think.

Psst: if you prefer watching videos than reading things: 1) you're a lazy millennial 2) check out this great youtube video instead.

Belief: living things are different from dead things

  • This is how most of us start thinking about life.
  • It stems from our basic observations of the world.
  • There are things that are dead (stones, water, dirt)
  • And there are things that are alive (plants, animals, people)

But what is really alive?

When you look at any living organism and begin to drill down into what part of it is alive, things get a little unclear.

  • Every living organism is built up of cells.
  • Cells are the building block of everything we think of as alive.
  • Our bodies have about 10 trillion of them.
  • Biologists have studied cells a lot.
  • Cells themselves appear to be "alive", they eat, move, reproduce, and evolve.

Inside the cell

  • However, when you look inside a cell, there doesn't seem to be anything alive.
  • Cells comprise of simple proteins and chemicals.
  • When something happens, a chemical reaction is kicked off, which causes another chemical reaction, which causes another chemical reaction, ad infinitum.
  • In a sense, cells are "animated" because of a chain of chemical reactions.

As good-as-it-gets definition

Organisms are open systems that maintain homeostasis, are composed of cells, have a life cycle, undergo metabolism, can grow, adapt to their environment, respond to stimuli, reproduce and evolve. – Wiki

If you want to know the currently "agreed" upon criteria of life, this article is pretty good.

Fact: Living things are completely comprised of non-living things

  • All living things are made up of cells.
  • Cells themselves are made up of non-living proteins and chemicals.
  • Cells simply respond to chemical reactions from within and without.
  • Life therefore, is an extremely intricate balance of non-living chemical reactions that manages it's own lifecycle, and can reproduce.

Feeling angry or depressed?

How can I say that life is just chemical reactions when you're sitting there reading this article?

Life doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. It's a cool phenomenon, but not really what you care about. You care about consciousness.

Don't get the difference? Check out this article on the meaning of life.


Sebastian Kade, Founder of Sumry and Author of Living Happiness, is a software designer and full-stack engineer. He writes thought-provoking articles every now and then on

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.