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Life: The Unfinished Experiment

Angely Mondestin's picture

American microbiologist, Salvadore E. Luria wrote a book titled Life: The Unfinished Experiment. The book discusses various concepts in relation to science and the need to understand and approach it in an effective way. In the book Luria mainly focuses on the study of evolution and what can be attributed to it. He objectively approaches the process of evolution and praises the creation of life as an endless progression.

I noted many of the same concepts that we have discussed in Biology 103 this semester. When I first read the title I automatically began to recall the idea that Professor Grobstein introduced. If life is presented as an “unfinished experiment” we can then make the assumption that  “Science = Life.” This suggests that life is a process of evolution that progresses more and more with the presence of new species. However, if we looked at the word unfinished more closely does this mean that life will inevitably end eventually? Is it possible to make this assumption: that different species will no longer co exist? Maybe I’m taking the word too literally. It could just mean that Life is “incomplete’ because of evolving species. Regardless of the exact meaning of the word, the title makes the analogy of life symbolizing an experiment possibly performed in science.

We can then tie this idea into the notion of approaching new experiments with the intention of getting things “progressively less wrong” as Professor Grobstein encouraged the class to do.  As we have learned in class, we can never really ‘finish’ an experiment. There will always be more observations that can then be used to further the observations that were presented in the experiment. In this sense if the experiment is never ‘finished’ than we can never get it ‘right.’ Therefore, in the processes of getting it “less wrong”, we leave room for other scientists to use our findings. We can now look at this concept through life. We should not view homo sapiens as  “getting it right” in terms of evolution. We don’t know if we can ever “get it right” for that fact that we could potentially be replaced by a new species in the future which then breakdowns the notion that we are the best species.

 Luria also uses the past in reference to artifacts that are studied by archaeologists. He notes that their archaeologists make observations according to these artifacts and make various interpretations on what potentially could have happened in the past (Luria 10).  They don’t make any attempt to form a “complete record of the past” as Luria phrases it (10). This relates to our Professor Grobstein’s idea that there are always a number of possibilities when making observations though experiments and through life. Luria then makes the suggestion that “living organisms of today are the incomplete record of the possibilities of the past” (Luria 11). We can then interpret this to mean that we don’t know for sure how exactly we evolved from past species but from the observations of different historians and archaeologists we can assume that we are somehow related.

In the chapter titled Life, Luria brings up the creation of language, which makes it possible to retell different experiences and observations to new generations (Luria 138).  We can relate this to the idea of science as a form of storytelling that we learned in our class discussions. There are endless possibilities that can be formed through communication. Through this we provide ourselves with the opportunity to create new observations in light of these stories. With these observations we can then form new stories.  But does the process ever end?  Answer to that question – NO.




Luria, Salvadore E. Life: The Unfinished Experiment. New York: Charles Scribner's Stone, 1973. 1-165.