Parallel Minds, 113–120


Inorganic Organisms


Miller and Urey’s discovery completed the work begun by Wöhler in the nineteenth century, eliminating once and for all any doubt that the biological molecules that make up living organisms could have been generated spontaneously under particular environmental conditions. However, a mixture of molecules, however complex, is not in itself sufficient to produce life. There is something more to living organisms, in comparison to the primordial broth from which they emerged: they are endowed with a particular form that emerges and changes over time. Life is an organisation of matter in space and time, the evolution of which is designated by the term morphogenesis, the process by which a form grows and changes. While the synthesis of organic molecules in the laboratory suggests that the chemical ingredients of life can be produced from inorganic substances, this fact gives us no indication as to how these ingredients interact with each other in order to create the enormous variety of different dynamic structures that populate the living world. In the process of artificially reproducing life, form and substance present two complementary and indissoluble aspects of the same problem. The first attempts to develop artificial life forms in the laboratory date back to the second half of the nineteenth century, and were focussed on the artificial replication of the processes of morphogenesis observed in living organisms.…