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What is the Meaning of Life?


May 10, 2021 • 12:00 pm PDT

“I intend to live forever, or die trying,” said Groucho Marx. Distinguishing between life and its end may be easy for comedians, even immortal ones. But the task has proven surprisingly hard for biologists, who know too much about nature’s bewildering diversity. Modern science, for all its breakthroughs, has yet to produce a standard definition for life. What does it mean to be alive—and how have our answers to that question evolved over time? What roles do cells, genes, evolution, chemistry, and information play in determining life? And what does it really mean to create and protect life in our age of apocalypse and artificial intelligence? Sir Paul Nurse—Nobel Laureate, director of the Francis Crick Institute in London, and author, most recently, of What Is Life?—visits Zócalo to discuss the search for the meaning of life.

Photos courtesy of Sir Paul Nurse and Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz.