What is Life?

Legal Definition
Life outside the Solar System

Life
is a characteristic distinguishing physical entities having biological processes, such as signaling and self-sustaining processes, from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased, or because they never had such functions and are classified as inanimate. Various forms of life exist, such as plants, animals, fungi, protists, archaea, and bacteria. The criteria can at times be ambiguous and may or may not define viruses, viroids, or potential artificial life as "living". Biology is the primary science concerned with the study of life, although many other sciences are involved.

The definition of life is controversial. The current definition is that organisms maintain homeostasis, are composed of cells, undergo metabolism, can grow, adapt to their environment, respond to stimuli, and reproduce. However, many other biological definitions have been proposed, and there are some borderline cases, such as viruses. Throughout history, there have been many attempts to define what is meant by "life" and many theories on the properties and emergence of living things, such as materialism, the belief that everything is made out of matter and that life is merely a complex form of it; hylomorphism, the belief that all things are a combination of matter and form, and the form of a living thing is its soul; spontaneous generation, the belief that life repeatedly emerges from non-life; and vitalism, a now largely discredited hypothesis that living organisms possess a "life force" or "vital spark". Modern definitions are more complex, with input from a diversity of scientific disciplines. Biophysicists have proposed many definitions based on chemical systems; there are also some living systems theories, such as the Gaia hypothesis, the idea that the Earth itself is alive. Another theory is that life is the property of ecological systems, and yet another is elaborated in complex systems biology, a branch or subfield of mathematical biology. Abiogenesis describes the natural process of life arising from non-living matter, such as simple organic compounds. Properties common to all organisms include the need for certain core chemical elements to sustain biochemical functions.

Life on Earth probably arose between 3.8 and 4.1 billion years ago. It is widely accepted that all of Earth's current life descended from an RNA world, but RNA-based life may not have been the first. The mechanism by which life began on Earth is unknown, though many hypotheses have been formulated and are often based on the Miller–Urey experiment. In July 2016, scientists reported identifying a set of 355 genes believed to be present in the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) of all living organisms.

Since its primordial beginnings, life on Earth has changed its environment on a geologic time scale. To survive in most ecosystems, life must often adapt to a wide range of conditions. Some microorganisms, called extremophiles, thrive in physically or geochemically extreme environments that are detrimental to most other life on Earth. Aristotle was the first person to classify organisms. Later, Carl Linnaeus introduced his system of binomial nomenclature for the classification of species. Eventually new groups and categories of life were discovered, such as cells and microorganisms, forcing dramatic revisions of the structure of relationships between living organisms. Cells are sometimes considered the smallest units and "building blocks" of life. There are two kinds of cells, prokaryotic and eukaryotic, both of which consist of cytoplasm enclosed within a membrane and contain many biomolecules such as proteins and nucleic acids. Cells reproduce through a process of cell division, in which the parent cell divides into two or more daughter cells.

Though currently only known on Earth, life need not be restricted to it, and many scientists believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life. Artificial life is a computer simulation or man-made reconstruction of any aspect of life, which is often used to examine systems related to natural life. Death is the permanent termination of all biological functions which sustain an organism, and as such, is the end of its life. Extinction is the process by which an entire group or taxon, normally a species, dies out. Fossils are the preserved remains or traces of organisms.
-- Wikipedia
Legal Definition
The aggregate of the animal functions which resist death. Bichat.

2. The state of animated beings, while they possess the power of feeling and motion. It commences in contemplation of law generally as soon as the infant is able to stir in the mother's womb; 1 Bl. Com. 129; 3 Inst. 50; Wood's Inst. 11; and ceases at death. Lawyers and legislators are not, however, the best physiologists, and it may be justly suspected that in fact life commences before the mother can perceive any motion of the feotus. 1 Beck's Med. Jur. 291.

3. For many purposes, however, life is considered as begun from the moment of conception in ventre sa mere. Vide Foetus. But in order to acquire and transfer civil rights the child must be born alive. Whether a child is born alive, is to be ascertained from certain signs which are always attendant upon life. The fact of the child's crying is the most certain. There may be a certain motion in a new born infant which may last even for hours, and yet there may not be complete life. It seems that in order to commence life the child must be born with the ability to breathe, and must actually have breathed. 1 Briand, MÇd. LÇg. 1ere partie, c. 6, art. 1.

4. Life is presumed to continue at least till one hundred years. 9 Mart. Lo. R. 257 See Death; Survivorship.

5. Life is considered by the law of the utmost importance, and its most anxious care is to protect it. 1 Bouv. Inst. n. 202-3.
-- Bouviers Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
That state of animals and plants or of an organized being, in which its natural functions and motions are performed or in which its organs are capable of performing their functions. Webster. The sum of the forces by which death is resisted. Bichat. -Life-annuity. An engagement to pay an income yearly during the life of some person; also the sum thus promised.
-- Black's Law Dictionary