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Pages 403-408
First published 2 September 2013

Biology of Digital Organisms: How Language and Tools Construct Reality

Orly Stettiner


When Christopher Langton first coined the term "artificial life" and organized the first conference of the nascent field in 1989, he envisioned that "We would like to build models that are so life-like that they cease to become models of life and become examples of life themselves." (Langton 1989). When Thomas Ray referred to his Tierra creatures four years later, he said: "These are not models of life, but independent instances of life" (Ray 1993).

Katherine Hayles, the American postmodern literary critic was startled by this vision and wondered how it was possible, in the late twentieth century, to "believe, or at least claim to believe, that computer codes are alive? And not only alive, but natural?" (Hayles 1996). The American philosopher of science Evelyn Fox Keller supported Hayles's view and generalized it into the linguistic domain (Keller 2002).

In this paper we briefly describe Hayles and Fox-Keller's claims, which will follow by an extended examination of how the usage of language, visualization and analysis tools have continued to construct and shape the field of ALife in the decade since their articles were published. Through this inspection, we suggest that the extensive usage of biological terminology and tools may give researchers a false impression regarding the validity and scientific significance of the experiments involving artificial simulated "organisms".