What is life? By Jianwei Li

Jianwei Li, head and torso, photograph in front of trees

Jianwei Li, Collegium researcher and group leader in MediCity

“Jianwei, can you tell us what life is?” This is a question asked by an opponent Prof. Harutyunyan in my PhD thesis defense. The answer to this question is quite simple by telling the audience without hesitation three main characteristics of life: compartmentalization, metabolism, and reproduction. Such a certain answer is well and perfectly defined if the word “life” means biological life in science. However, science is not all.If you have ever been asked the same question, I bet the first reaction of most of us is to regard the word “life” as our existence or everyday living and cannot come up with an answer immediately.

What is life in this respect? The answer becomes complicated. 1000 people have 1000 kinds of opinions. Life cannot be predicted precisely. Life may be trouble. No one can deny that troubles accompany us all the time. Yet, a surprise may come after. Life may be a rival. Yet, it is not an enemy. Sometimes it even becomes your best friend. Life maybe a glass of water. If we add salt, it tastes salty. If we add vinegar, it tastes sour, and if we add sugar, it is just sweet. It seems that we can make life to be what we want it to be.

Though life is extremely complicated which cannot be fully described in a sentence, or even in an article, we can still try to make it simple. The simplicity comes from the inner peace from our hearts and our attitudes towards life. I am happy to write this TCSM blog at the time when we know that normal life will gradually return from next week. Our new expectation of life is already on the way. The result of my application to the Academy Fellow will come out next week as well. The final result may be negative. So what? Keep calm and carry on! This is life.


Jianwei Li
TCSM Collegium researcher
Group leader at MediCity

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