One of the great failures in science is still haunting us, the failure to discover why living things are alive. One of the most promising theories was known as vitalism, which held that some undiscovered “life force” or “spark of life” is what separates living things like trees, cats, and amoebas from non-living things like rocks, water, and salt. Vitalism was once so promising that the Nobel Prize was given to a champion of vitalism, the French philosopher Henri Bergson, in 1927. But significantly, the prize was in literature, since no one, however enamored of vitalism, could provide scientific evidence for any kind of life force.
The tables were decisively turned to the opposite of vitalism, known as functionalism, which breaks life down into processes like metabolism, growth, reproduction, adaptation, evolution and extinction.. That’s where we find ourselves today, which poses a huge problem. Vitalism and functionalism are opposites, which implies that in the game of either/or, if one is false, the other must be true. But unfortunately, functionalism doesn’t explain life, either. It explains how life behaves, which isn’t the same thing.