Three reflections on the synthetic life conference in Roskilde in August.

First, it would be great to bring the science/art perspective into the discussion. Art works inspired by the idea of synthetic/artificial life forms (like Reiner Matysik‘s) will probably contribute to the production and circulation of popular doxa in the field, which will in turn speed up funding of the research effort.

Second, the Roskilde University based organising committe (Vincent F. Hendricks, Poul Holm, Frederik Stjernfelt, Anette Warring, Jeppe Dyre, Jacob Torfing, and John Gallagher) have backgrounds in philosophy, history, literary theory, physics, political science, and computer science—but nobody from the life sciences is taking part. Which raises the interesting question whether current research on synthetic life in general is actually advancing outside the framework of the life sciences?

Third reflection: if the synthetic life theme is pursued by computer scientists, nanoengineers and physical chemists, and is considered too ‘far out’ for mainstream life sciences, are we then actually witnessing a situation analogous to the rise of molecular biology 60-80 years ago? Historians of molecular biology have convincingly demonstrated that most biologists were oblivious to the questions raised by emergent molecular biology in the 1940s and 1950s, and that the coming of molecular biology (later molecular genetics, biotechnology etc) was to a large extent nurtured by people trained in physics. Is the synthetic life movement a kind of redux phage group?

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