Tomonori Totani asks the age-old question, “What is life?”

Totani, T. Emergence of life in an inflationary universeSci Rep 10, 1671 (2020).

Homepages: University of Tokyo Wikipedia

There are popular articles written about Totami’s article, i.e. Sci News, where they open the discussion: “In spite of recent rapid development of biology, chemistry, earth science and astronomy, the origin of life through abiogenesis is still a great mystery in science.”

In the comments section for this article (Sci News), I responded:

“We are taught to be arrogant and self-assured. The 400,000 years of our human record are such an infinitesimal slice of the 13.81 billion years. Let us start with the most simple things and see if we can grasp those mysteries. Thinking of pi and circles and spheres, what do we know about that finite-infinite relation? The numbers go on and on, but we are so reluctant to engage those never-ending numbers. Telling us something about continuity, symmetry and harmony, here are the three faces of pi and the sphere as well as rationality and logic.

“We got our start thinking about these things in a high school geometry class: and today we know these questions will be with us until our end!” -Bruce E. Camber,

First email: 16 October 2021

Dear Prof. Dr. Tomonori Totani:

I have commented on an article about your work in Science News (the most recent comments are at the bottom of that page). 

In July 1979 I pulled together a display project — “What is life?” — under the dome at MIT. It drew from the first principles of the major academic disciplines to attempt to answer that question. For an international conference, Faith, Science and the Human Future, over 7000 people had come for those discussion. Seventy-seven of the world’s leading living scholars participated to develop the display. I remember being confronted by the then president of MIT, Jerome Weisner; he had initially thought it had something to do with the right to life movement. He settled down when he saw that many of MIT’s finest professors were part of the project and it had all transpired under the guidance of the chancellor of the school.

Of course, Erwin Schrödinger had raised the question in his 1944 book, What Is Life? and, of course, his work inspired the name of this display project.

I thought you might be interested to know.

I have started a page of references to your work here: which will also include a copy of all my correspondence. Thank you.

Warmest regards,


PS. In relation to current questions in cosmology, epistemology and ontology, you might appreciate some of my current work here: Thanks again. –BEC