Articles, Blog

What is life? Are viruses alive?

December 16, 2019

So I wanted to redo this one. The original
didn’t make any sense. I’ll keep it one as “unlisted” and can be accessed from here,
link in description. But it should have been like a side notes thing. So this is that,
a more coherent form… of that entirely unqualified conjecture.
Viruses, the things that can give you a cold or herpes, are basically just some DNA or
RNA with a little something to protect them and … that’s… it. They don’t really do
anything and most of them don’t have any moving parts. They work by: if they bump into a cell
and the DNA enters, the components of the cell will produce proteins from that viral
DNA. Then those proteins will go on to form more DNA in capsules, more viruses. There’s
tons of diversity with viruses, they infect different cells in different ways and there
can be proteins and other stuff in there too in there too. But essentially viruses are
just some DNA with a little delivery mechanism. So if that’s all they are… are they alive?
What does it even mean to be alive, to be an organism? I mean, I have this idea that
I am me, I am…one thing. Even though I’m a butt load of cells.
And all organisms on the planet, us, plants, fungi, bacteria, protists, are all cells.
1 cell or lots of cells together. Except for viruses. the virus. Which is why they’re often considered
to be not really alive. If you just removed the DNA from a cell, it’s
wouldn’t be considered alive, right? But then again, none of the individual components
of the cell would really be considered alive. They can be in a shape that is unique and
assembled by living systems. But enzymes, cell membranes, ribosomes, nutrients, water.
None of the stuff that’s in there is alive either.
Life might not be a bunch of objects that you can hold like that. Maybe it’s what they
do together that makes life life? But if we look at the way each component interacts,
we wouldn’t see any phenomena that you wouldn’t be able to explain… studying physics or
chemistry. What I mean is everything going on happens predictably and just follows the
fundamental physical properties of the atoms like attraction and repulsion and different
ways of bonding. But the interesting thing taking place is,
well it’s kind of like a rube Goldberg machine. Each aspect is inanimate, but each product
of one interaction goes off and interacts with another, and another and etcetera. In
such a way that the system looks animated. But this machine isn’t alive. Where’s the
“life” happening? A rube Goldberg machine behaves with potential energy, one bit setting
off another bit. And when it’s done… it’s done, until someone puts that energy back
into it by resetting the bits. In a cell, the machine is branching and elaborate
in ways I couldn’t begin to break down…. here represented by these lines with arrows.
But some of the components are able to get energy from light or chemicals and gather
other molecules as nutrients. and in that way they supply themselves with the tools
to reset or remake the pieces and it continues the motion on its own.
Also another thing the cell machine can do is assemble other machines that are structured
very similar to the original. This is what allows us not to just see the machine. But
to continue to see the machine? Organisms breaking down or getting eaten is pretty inevitable,
if organisms didn’t assemble new organisms then all life would eventually end.
Those seem to be the differences. It’s like a multi-branched, reproducing rube Goldberg
machine that doesn’t stop. What do viruses fit in?
Viruses can kind of show us how central DNA is to the whole process. DNA isn’t just another
domino or cog in one stretch of the machine. It stores the information for the structure
of all the proteins of the cell. Since proteins basically do or control or build everything
in the cell, DNA controls what each component looks like, so it sort of designs the whole
machine and the processes it does. Different DNA means different components and
different processes. That’s why you can have a different set of
instructions come in and code for different proteins that do different things. In this
case, just make more DNA in capsules. Could you have that DNA come in and instruct
the cell to do something else? Like let’s say the a virus came in and told a cell to
make a bunch of enzymes or something. That’s fine I guess, that could theoretically exist.
But then after, you would never see that virus again. Just like with all DNA, viral DNA has
to code for something that helps that DNA reproduce or you won’t see it anymore.
It just so happens that there’s plenty of cells around for this viral DNA to interact
with without ever needing to code for or keep its own cell.
And it works well as a “strategy” that DNA can take. Viruses are one of, if not, the
most numerous organism on the planet. If they are an organism….
Are viruses alive? Maybe virus itself is an object that doesn’t
live any more than any other cell component. But a virus inside a cell is performing life
just like the other components of that cell. Are they an individual? I guess that depends.
Is the code the individual? Such that any set of DNA travelling and reproducing together
is 1 organism. Is the code with the cell the individual? since the cell is the smallest
unit that performs life. Or is it about how things are attached and that’s why we can
consider ourselves to be one organism. Same with those trees that can be an entire forest
large and thousands of years old since they’ve all stemmed from the same cloning root system.
I think “how things are attached” is the generally accepted definition of the organism.
But then where do viruses fit in? Is this one organism and this another organism? How
about now, is this an entirely new organism or is this more analogous to a parasite infecting
a host? Or is this just some special case since viruses aren’t alive at all so we don’t
even call them an organism. Maybe trying to point out which of these sets
of objects is alive as an individual life form distracts from the processes that demonstrates
what life is? Maybe life is the cycling interactions and
it doesn’t matter how it’s attached? Viruses have a discrete set of DNA with genes
that reproduce on their own incentives so it’s convenient to just call it an organism?
Anyways, I don’t know. I’m just talking outta me butt. Let me know what your butts have
to say in the comments. ….those blueprins aren’t evolving.
Keep in mind, it’s not the DNA itself changing. It’s just the information: the order of nucleotides,
that’s being copied and changed. New DNA is assembled with each new cell, and the old
DNA eventually falls apart. The thing that passes from one individual
to the next, is the information, for the order of the nucleotides. Overtime, the incidental
and random changes in the sequence, and whatever works long to reproduce again, results in
all the different genomes and organisms we see.


  • Reply A H. June 19, 2017 at 3:07 am

    Don't organisms need to be able to grow and react to stimuli (among many other things) to be considered alive?

  • Reply Krp Palas June 19, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    nicely explained

  • Reply General Dash June 20, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    -My butt, 2017

  • Reply Lauren Buss June 20, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    I only know what a rube goldberg machine is because of seventh grade science where we had to create one. @ Mr. Blabas. I'm such a loser ?.

  • Reply Insanity Cubed June 24, 2017 at 5:20 am

    If they make more of themselves, how are they not living? Continuing your existence, that's the only qualification for life in my opinion.

  • Reply Tyler Richardson June 24, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    my butt says "pffffbt"

  • Reply Jonathan Vazquez-Perez June 24, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    I've always thought that some things are more alive than others.

  • Reply Vaas Montengro June 25, 2017 at 5:57 am

    how about this, anything that can move without having to be moved by an outside force such as the wind or a tidal wave or something else is life, viruses can indeed move on their own therefore they are life

    EDIT:and it has to be organic so robots don't count….and has to have DNA

  • Reply Oga Takashi June 26, 2017 at 5:54 am


  • Reply fischX June 26, 2017 at 6:12 am

    is sperm alive? Or is it just some sort of life transmitter?

  • Reply Кирилл Давыдов June 26, 2017 at 9:39 am

    What is life? Baby don't kill me, don't kill me, no more!

  • Reply Harm Hoeks June 27, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Define 'alive'. Perhaps we – humans – are just very advanced Goldberg machines.

  • Reply Positron Decay June 29, 2017 at 2:34 am

    If all life is is a Rup Goldberg machine which randomly occurred, then why would it be immoral to interrupt it's mechanism, thereby killing the organism?

  • Reply John Stanley June 30, 2017 at 12:12 am

    this guy reminds me of Vihart

  • Reply Call Me Tess July 10, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    My view on this:
    A lot of terms humans have made to explain things are just for some sort of feeling of sense.
    The terms may become blurry when zoomed in on, but with a simplistic view, they make perfect sense.

  • Reply MemeLord BatGroot'n'Yoda July 11, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    I feel like your talking about conways game of life

  • Reply Draws Gaming July 12, 2017 at 11:21 pm

    My opinion :
    Any object that moves, interacts and creates approximate copies of itself is alive. This includes viruses and cells and a lot of other stuff.

  • Reply Elisabeth Ann Farrell July 21, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    butt? why? this video would have been better without it. No class.

  • Reply Ralph Latham July 23, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    "It's life, Jim- but not as we know it…"

  • Reply Bad Apple In The Bunch July 25, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    what is life virus don't hurt me don't me no more

  • Reply Gringocolombian 3 July 27, 2017 at 1:53 am

    head hurts

  • Reply Peter Müller July 27, 2017 at 10:39 am

    To me life is every physical object or collection of objects that evolution applies to

  • Reply Trevor Lindholm July 28, 2017 at 5:12 am

    I questioned the fuck out of my highschool biology teacher freshmen year regaurding similar ideas! i kept referring to virus "death' and he kept correcting me!!!

  • Reply qualityrenov July 30, 2017 at 11:44 pm

    you gave more questions than answers! I wouldn't want to be a school boy or a girl going to this posting and ending up more perplexed after watching this.

  • Reply CaityReads August 13, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    I would argue that no, viri are not alive. They're inconvenient little shits of molecules that behave sorta like they're alive, but being sorta alive isn't being alive. Someone who sits a test and falls one point short of passing has not passed, how ever close they might have come. That's the dividing line.
    I sense that this problem is more one with language than with science. We know that viri are different from living things and that they are different from dead or inanimate things, the same way that we know that all living things are different from one another. Life is a very exciting property for stuff to have and that's why the debate as to whether or not viri should be considered living is so animated, but 'alive' is an individual property of an object just as much as 'yellow' is.

  • Reply Dry Guy August 25, 2017 at 2:31 am

    No but atleast there's beaver. Now, steal the spice trade. That's not a question but the Dutch did it anyway.

    Wait wrong video.

  • Reply 50srefugee October 19, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    "Viruses are just bad news wrapped up in a bit of protein." — Peter Medewar [ Rene Dubos would delete the word "bad".]

    In other words, they're like cassettes or flash keys.

  • Reply Fernando Giubilei October 22, 2017 at 2:08 am

    2:23 Does that look like dignity to anyone else? Remember, from The Simpsons?

  • Reply klawypl November 23, 2017 at 4:37 am

    Actualy what i can think of if that viruses are just an information, imagine you have program on your pc, then someone else is trying to change this program so he sends an "command" to it. And that what they bassicly are, the information/command for cell, evrything else is just effect of that information. And for ones that will say something like "but if its not alive, how it can take possesion over cell and change it", first of all, you dont need to posses something to change it, secondary… put a hand on hot stove…. seriously… stove its definytly not an organism but when is very hot it will change how your cells will work and deform them.

  • Reply deep hazarika December 15, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    oh! all this rambling. can you try to approach the problem from the most fundamental? can't you see that a virus is actually NEVER active? i mean a virus by default can't do anything, but more importantly even when they hijack a bacteria/cell it's always the cell's machinery which is used. on the other hand the cell/bacteria will ALWAYS have to be active. this may or may not define life but it's a un-ambiguous distinguishing factor between a cell/bacteria and a virus.
    also things become a lot clearer if you consider living things as complex adaptive systems

  • Reply AwkwardNoah February 5, 2018 at 2:21 am

    AFAIK A virus can't reproduce on its own, so it can't be alive?

    It's like a factory that makes bits of factories that come together to make a factory that can do the exact same thing. But a virus is like a piece? of a factory or a product of said factories. Because then it would be like saying a Hammer is a factory because it came from a factory and can be apart of factories. But the idea of a factory is larger than that of a hammer so a hammer isn't a factory but both a product and a piece of said factory. So I guess it isn't alive

  • Reply Volunteer work February 10, 2018 at 11:11 pm

    Virsuses are just hackers that found out how to survive without doing jack shit

  • Reply Zappa Woman February 10, 2018 at 11:15 pm

    The Narrator's voice sounds like the singer from Primus.

  • Reply Warwick R February 27, 2018 at 5:28 pm

    Oh man. Best TROLL TIME I've ever seen at 1:43. Draws you in with an innocent looking "Fructose Bisphosphate Aldolase" until you realise that the whole time you've just been staring at Fructose Bisphosphate ADolase like a cross-eyed cretin. Vintage troll. Sweet Burn. Game set and match, thanks for playing everyone. Competition over.

  • Reply pepper kelleher April 21, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    I LOVE this is exactly hat i was looking for. A virus and its specific mutation I would consider one single organism. Spread through many hosts that keep on spreading. Its when any of the millions of single parts of this organism that mutates that I consider it a new one. And yes! I would see an infected cell as a paraysted cell

  • Reply shmoobalizer May 13, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    This video raises more questions than it answers

  • Reply Here's Hot Rod July 18, 2018 at 2:30 am

    I believe that virus were created :/

  • Reply Gen Mystical July 19, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    Why not just considering viruses as living organisms how stops their activities outside hosts?

  • Reply Venkatesh babu August 30, 2018 at 6:31 am

    Did virus create life subject to conditions and mutant enhancers.

  • Reply Logan October 2, 2018 at 4:20 pm

    Everything is alive.

  • Reply Mr.sunflower October 26, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    i think life is the prosess of wht things evolve to

  • Reply hev gamer November 3, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    would self replicating robots be alive?

  • Reply anthony cannet November 12, 2018 at 3:51 am

    What if we define life as a self contained system that can take in, store, convert, and use energy to maintain itself, find more sources of energy, and reproduce without relying on other organisms’ methods of reproduction

  • Reply god lopez November 19, 2018 at 9:44 pm

    That was in my book, sooooo interesting!

  • Reply Brad Partain November 25, 2018 at 8:23 pm

    Well, we now have the RNA World Hypothesis which might explain why viruses exist.

  • Reply CatGods November 30, 2018 at 9:46 pm


  • Reply totally original nickname December 1, 2018 at 8:02 am

    7th grade biology
    methabolism+ability to greed=life

  • Reply Ninandl December 3, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    Viruses are not alive. Now you have your answer and it turned out the entire video was pointless.

  • Reply Pyro December 4, 2018 at 6:10 pm

    your side notes are longer than the original XD

  • Reply Sketchy Dood December 5, 2018 at 10:53 am

    Idk I would just call it a parasite

  • Reply William Guy Thilgen Jr. December 5, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    Everything in the known and I'll assume unknown universe can be catorized into one of three catorgories. Those are Animal, Vegatable and Mineral. Only the first two consits of what we've deemed as biological life, minerals do not. Separation ourselves from the Vegatable is not always accepted by human to an exact form. Animal and Vegatable have extremely close simularities in far to many numerious ways. Which leads to the undeducated having concerns and doubtls that casue for more of a separation then educated individuals will admit too; Though both agree on minerals!

    Humans are the only animal species that has the ability to consider ourselves above what WE deem as the lower forms. Ironically, we are also the only spiceies capable of exterminating our selves along with some of the other supposed lower forms. And though WE are aware of it, WE refuse to do anything about it unless there's a profit involved. Until such time as destroying any and everything conducive to mans existence is no longer profitable, it will continue. At which point the whole human existence will start again from scrach as it's done numerious times previously. The Egytians didn't build the Pyramids, nor did the Myans build theirs. They simple converted existing structors they came accross that managed to weather time long enougth. into structors for their own particular agendas. Hence all the various separate reasons individuals will state as to why they exist today.

    Tis ironic how some religions will state that man's existence is only 6 to 12 thousands year old. But were able to find the use of technology that we can't copy today. There's no known technoly or tools known today, even if one had sufficent funds that would allow modern man to build such a Pyramid such as the one's in Egypt or Sourth America. There fore it would stand to reason, they were built prior to the era or conception of what we refer to as Mankind. Assumably by a form of mankind that like ourselves will eventually do, and completly disapear from the surface of Earth leaving only extremly well built stuctors still in place.

  • Reply Hypnotic Moai December 7, 2018 at 2:25 am

    This is a great way to explain it! I've always thought of life this certain way, but never been able to put it into a good example!

  • Reply james real last name December 7, 2018 at 3:57 am


  • Reply Jarmo LatvaKokko December 8, 2018 at 3:31 am

    So if I made a machine, where a ball rolls down a ramp, and gets launched back up every time, and connected a button that made a 3d printer print another one to it, would it be alive?

  • Reply The Steadfast Duelist December 9, 2018 at 5:09 am

    If viruses weren't alive, then wouldn't they all died out a long time ago?

  • Reply G.G. December 10, 2018 at 12:24 am

    Life is an illusion as many know it.
    In reality, we are complex chemical computers that work on feelings and sometimes reason.

  • Reply I want to Die December 11, 2018 at 3:46 pm

    Baby don’t hurt me

  • Reply Purpleboye_ December 14, 2018 at 6:48 am

    Life is that which houses a soul

  • Reply Mature Gambino December 15, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    Well, maybe it could be not alive because it couldn’t reproduce through it’s own natural means.

  • Reply Francesco Sorce December 16, 2018 at 7:30 pm

    a video that talks about the cell and no comment is from a creationist

    I have LONG waited to see this

  • Reply Sancheneering December 21, 2018 at 10:11 am

    Mann such a good video! How did you animate it????

  • Reply T. J December 22, 2018 at 11:18 am


  • Reply Sebastian December 22, 2018 at 6:02 pm

    baby don't hurt me
    no more

  • Reply Rick and Rygel December 23, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    Viruses aren't organisms because they don't have organelles.

  • Reply sugibudder December 25, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    All my butt does it talk shit.

  • Reply Zach Plowe December 25, 2018 at 7:05 pm

    Life is only patterns of information. We don't consider hibernating, inactive cells that can revive as "dead", why should viruses which can activate later, reproduce, and evolve, be considered "dead"? Evidence is starting to suggest viruses may be the original life form and can form spontaneously.

  • Reply OHM-968692 December 30, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    It's very interesting to apply this to morality. Is it wrong to kill "animals"? Who gets to live and who doesn't?

  • Reply Will Van Moss December 30, 2018 at 11:55 pm

    I think because viruses don't have a mechanism to check if their DNA/RNA has any mistakes, like we do, it is not alive.
    If a virus has a faulty DNA/RNA it'll just not function, cells have adopted to this and became alive when the DNA became 'aware' that mistakes could happen!

  • Reply DustMonkey92 January 4, 2019 at 6:12 pm

    What if there are aliens who are basically viruses. Would we see them as organisms?

  • Reply Tube January 16, 2019 at 3:20 am

    You're just a predictable robot, so what is life?

  • Reply Iceypumpkin head January 22, 2019 at 4:07 am

    Life is an experience in the flesh. You are a guest, the gods are the Admins.

  • Reply Deyvid's Channel February 23, 2019 at 3:02 am

    In my "expert" opinion, if it has DNA, it's alive

  • Reply Mark Daniel March 16, 2019 at 6:38 pm

    Viruses had to evolve after multi-cellular organisms arose, because their existence depends on multi-cellular organisms. Is this correct? What are the implications?

  • Reply Jason Cortez March 18, 2019 at 12:52 am

    Giant viruses are suggestive of being alive

  • Reply Asher schmidt April 5, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    My butt talking: "So, basically you're saying  _life is meta_"

  • Reply Mom April 6, 2019 at 9:19 am

    Has existential crisis

  • Reply Shiroyasha April 10, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Biology is so cool

  • Reply Dominic Zigan-Voyles April 11, 2019 at 6:34 am

    Dna is a map. Alive is something that uses the map. Viruses are like a box with a map in it floating through the sea. If a ship(something that already has a map) sees that box, they're probably gonna grab it and use it. Hence, changing course, changing maps. To me, yes, that's similar to a parasitic relationship in that often, the virus leads the ship off course. But not a parasite in that it doesn't always seem intentional malign. Imagine a virus that helps your body. Gives you superhuman strength. No longer a parasite, but still a forceful restructuring, and still benefiting itself. In a way, I guess you could consider most viruses parasites, and others, a lucky map.

  • Reply Ethan Wagner April 18, 2019 at 2:30 am

    Life is not something that we have, but what we do.

  • Reply Kajenx April 28, 2019 at 10:50 pm

    My butt says, "…"

  • Reply Gelatinocyte April 30, 2019 at 9:07 am

    But but but but

  • Reply J.J. Snel April 30, 2019 at 10:45 am

    There are rules that a organisme needs to be qualified for to be considerd living, and because of these rules a virus isn't considerd living. At least that is what we learn in school and i'm not sure if i agree with that. But hé

  • Reply Alexandru Lipan May 1, 2019 at 7:50 pm

    Life is a series of enzymatic reactions that forms a chained-response self-equilibrating mechanism

  • Reply Coffeesloth May 2, 2019 at 1:47 am

    My god, I'm a Rube Goldberg machine

  • Reply Philby Tan May 5, 2019 at 1:08 pm

    You raised more questions than answers

  • Reply Dávid Danos May 5, 2019 at 11:12 pm

    What if we consider for a moment everything everyone is "life" and alive. That rock, those cells, your ex, the universe, your mother and the trees that keep us breathing are all life and alive. What differentiates a virus from a river, a cell from a cat, a rock from a leaf? Everything is remarkably similar, especially considering vast time scales and less rigid definitions and/or theories. Think about a river, imagine every water molecule and from where they come who gives that to the streamlet who then gives to the river and the ocean in similar ways our blood and complexes deliver water and electricity (and rivers channel electricity too) up and through our system.

  • Reply Leven Peven May 6, 2019 at 11:04 pm

    dont know why this was on my recommendations but i love it

  • Reply Life on Mars May 9, 2019 at 2:03 am

    Now make another video about prions :_>

  • Reply AleK May 9, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    does a planet with no life on it have viruses on it

  • Reply Mini frigo May 12, 2019 at 9:18 am

    So that's it we are just billion of molecular reaction, we are not alive, we are just a phenomena. Maybe there is no such thing as free will, it's like all scripted and what i call "me" that is writing this comment it's just a result of a chain reaction started when i was born, or maybe when all of this came to existance.. it's like i am the universe itself

  • Reply Jagrati Bansal May 15, 2019 at 6:21 pm

    The animations are very creative. And the explanation is excellent too. Well done!

  • Reply Kaveevin May 16, 2019 at 1:39 am

    I'm €€€€€€

  • Reply Nyal Burns May 17, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    Life is an Illusion

  • Reply Dogol May 18, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    They are alive

  • Reply Mintakah May 20, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    The animation kept making me think my screen was dirty

  • Reply Danilo Mancini June 3, 2019 at 1:40 am

    This was 5 years ago? Damn, you're aging pretty well…

  • Reply Abandoned Void June 20, 2019 at 6:31 am

    The true wisdom of the ancients wasn't in recognizing that all things are alive, as New Age posits, but recognizing that there is no inherent difference between "living" things and inanimate things like rocks. That "living" things are just another type of thing. Even rocks respond to their environment, even fires die, even water has a life cycle. I don't think the conjecture around what defines life is capable of being meaningfully satisfied, because it's a division that obscures truth rather than reveals it. The truth is that life really isn't inherently different from a Rube-Goldberg machine, it just has more moving parts.

  • Reply Yippie37 June 30, 2019 at 4:05 am

    I'm wondering what this means for abortion, as in how each of the options of life you presented here affect our abortion debate, if we assume that our goal is to allow abortion as late as possible as long as we're not killing something that's alive.

  • Reply Raghavendran T B August 4, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    They are semi-life.

  • Reply Cal November 28, 2019 at 3:26 pm

    are they like sperm then?

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