There have only ever been three approaches to thinking about life: SOUL, MEAT, and PATTERN. Within this trinity is everything deemed to be animate, living, and vital. 'Soul' is not just the Scholastic, theological, personal soul, but the Aristotelian principle of life (psyche), the principle of its organization. The vegetative soul of plants, the animate and sensate soul of animals, and the rational soul of human beings. The hierarchy of souls is not unlike the Great Chain of Being, a biological theology of divide-and-hierarchize. By contrast, 'meat' is brute matter, unthinking mechanism, the clockwork organism, the bête machine described by Descartes -- animal or machine, it makes no difference. Mechanism is, in a sense, a thinking about life as meat, and meat as lifeless (the life that is lifeless is meat or machine). Finally, distinct from 'soul' and 'meat' is a third approach, that of 'pattern.' It would seem that the emphasis on pattern is a distinctly postmodern phenomenon, the terrain of cybernetics, information theory, self-organization. But this is only part of the story. Again, Aristotle the biologist equates form (eidos) and 'soul' as the distinguishing mark between the plant, the animal, and the human; it is in their mode of organization, how they self-actualize in time ('if it moves, it's alive'). Yet, Aristotle is linked to contemporary self-organization research in that neither can explain how organization occurs, other than to reiterate that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Thus, 'soul,' 'meat,' and 'pattern' form a trinity. The trinity is also a triptych: soul in the center, meat on the right-hand side, and on the left, pattern. An image of thought that continuously switches, swaps, displaces, and replaces the place-holder that defines life: from psyche to mechanism and animal electricity to the 'gemmules' and 'pangens' to DNA and the 'code of life.' However, these three approaches do not form a periodization, with Aristotle's psyche followed by Descartes' clockwork body followed by the genetic code. Instead, as a trinity-triptych, they form a kind of portrait, a face, a faciality, a field of black holes and white walls, within which and upon which is often written: 'life is that whose essence can be deduced and yet whose essence escapes all deduction.' Soul-meat-pattern. Each of these posits a central, universal, external principle of organization that culminates in the living, the organism, a life-force. We can simply refer to this as the principle of life, the central concept that structures a whole field of investigation. Each approach differs in its place-holders, but there continues to be a transcendental locus that minimally guarantees a description of life, something that enables one to point and say 'over there...' (or perhaps, 'it's alive...alive!' or again, 'shoot anything with more than two legs!'). In positing such principles of organization, the soul-meat-pattern triptych also articulates boundaries: living-nonliving, organic-inorganic, animate-inanimate, but also animal-machine, human-animal, human-savage, species, races, populations, genomes... We can refer to this practice as boundaries of articulation. Together, the principle of life and the boundaries of articulation are the two methods through which the West has ceaselessly reinvented its thinking about life.
There is an inward-turning and an outward-turning aspect of this thinking. The inward-turning divides, orders, and interrelates species and types; the outward-turning manages boundaries and positions the living against the nonliving, making possible an instrumentality, a standing-reserve. The inward-turning aspect is metabolic, in that it processes, filters, and differentiates itself internally; it is the breakdown and production of biomolecules, the organization of the organs, the genesis of species and races. The outward-turning aspect is immunologic, for it manages boundaries, exchanges, passages; it is the self-nonself distinction, the organism exchanging with its environment, sensing its milieu, the individual body living in proximity to other bodies. Nevertheless, there is always something that complicates both aspects. The inward-turning aspect is just fine until the outward-turning aspect loses its grip on things. An example is epidemics. An epidemic cannot be limited to the individual organism, for its very nature is to pass between organisms, and increasingly, to pass across species borders (and national borders). What is the unit of analysis for an epidemic? Likewise, the outward-turning aspect is able to manage boundaries without problem until the inward-turning aspect is discovered to be an illusion. For instance, if the outward-turning aspect is that which posits the individual organism as distinct from its environment, therefore enabling an instrumental relationship, a standing reserve, what then is the inward-turning aspect? We would assume it is the whole spectrum of understanding about that organism -- its biological, physiological, cognitive processes. But isn't each of these really a nested, outward-turning aspect in itself? What are the systems, networks, and pathways of the organism if not nested layers of the outward-turning aspect? The inward-turning and outward-turning aspects thus complicate each other ceaselessly, and it is therefore not inaccurate to describe their relationship, as Deleuze does, as one of folding (in-folding, out-folding, an embryology having nothing to do with 'development').
Soul-meat-pattern. Again, this is not a telos, as if to imply that genetic and information technologies are the most advanced mode of inward- and outward-turning. Yet, in a time of networks, swarms, and multitudes, it would seem that the third approach -- that of 'pattern' -- is today dominant in the life sciences (genetics, genomics), health care (biotech industry), technology (a-life, AI, networks), war (bioterror, emerging epidemics) and even alternative scientific viewpoints (biocomplexity, emergence) . A new, vital pattern pervades systems of all kinds -- global economies, social systems, immigration patterns, information exchanges, mobile and wireless communications, and so forth. Despite this, have we rid ourselves of the divide-and-hierarchize mentality of thinking about life? Is 'pattern' simply the new 'soul'? Traditionally, these questions about the principle of life come under the domain of the philosophy of biology. But what would it mean to invert the philosophy of biology? What would it mean to invert this thinking (soul-meat-pattern) and this dualistic method (principles of life, boundaries of articulation), and consider instead a biophilosophy? Perhaps it is precisely 'life itself' that is the problem, not the aim or the goal. Instead of considering the intrinsic properties of life, what about considering life as extrinsic, as always going outside of itself? Instead of centering life (an essence, an organizing principle), what about considering life at the peripheries? Extrinsic life, a life always going outside of itself, peripheral life...
Biophilosophy vs. Philosophy of Biology
What, then, is biophilosophy? To begin with, biophilosophy is not the same as the philosophy of biology. What is usually referred to as the philosophy of biology has both a syntagmatic and a paradigmatic side to it, a horizontal and vertical dimension to it. The horizontal dimension is the elucidation of universal characteristics of the organism which are perceived to be part of its essence or principle of organization (growth and decay, reproduction and development, evolutionary adaptation). The vertical dimension is the development of this thinking historically in Western thought, from Aristotle, to natural history, to Darwinian evolution, to the new synthesis in genetics and biochemistry. In general, the philosophy of biology highlights and extends the philosophical dimensions of biological knowledge. Issues pertaining to evolution, biological determinism, dualism, mechanism, and teleology may be considered in the context of the life sciences such as comparative anatomy, physiology, genetics, biochemistry, embryology, germ theory, developmental systems theory. The philosophy of biology informs the three approaches to thinking about life mentioned above: soul-meat-pattern. The philosophy of biology also undertakes the twofold method of identifying a principle of life and boundaries of articulation. It can be understood as an attempt to pose the question 'is the living different from the non-living?' -- an ontological question -- in the context of another question, 'is the study of the living (biology) different from other fields of study?' -- an epistemological question.
Is biophilosophy simply the opposite of the philosophy of biology? Not quite. Biophilosophy is certainly a critique of the triptych of philosophy of biology. But it is also a way of moving through the soul-meat-pattern approach, while taking with it the radicality of the ontological questions that are posed, and which often get reduced to epistemological concerns over classification. Whereas the philosophy of biology is concerned with articulating a concept of 'life' that would describe the essence of life, biophilosophy is concerned with articulating those things that ceaselessly transform life. For biophilosophy, life = multiplicity. Whereas the philosophy of biology proceeds by the derivation of universal characteristics for all life, biophilosophy proceeds by drawing out the network of relations that always take the living outside itself. An extrinsic diagram as opposed to intrinsic characteristics. Whereas the philosophy of biology (especially in the 20th century) is increasingly concerned with reducing life to number (from mechanism to genetics), biophilosophy sees a different kind of number, one that runs through life (a combinatoric, proliferating number, the number of graphs, groups, and sets). Whereas the philosophy of biology renews mechanism in order to purge itself of all vitalism ('vitalism' is one of the curse words of biology...), biophilosophy renews vitalism in order to purge it of all theology (and in this sense number is vitalistic).
'A life' not A-life
The difficulty with the philosophy of biology -- as with nearly all philosophical thinking of 'the animal' -- is to resist the anthropomorphism of our thinking about life. The approach of the philosophy of biology, the approach of soul-meat-pattern, centers and raises up the concept of the human so that it is not only isomorphic with life, but so that it may rise above life ('life itself' as the pinnacle and 'mere life' as the base or foundation). This has a number of effects on our thinking about life, for it simultaneously places the human at the top of the Great Chain while also reserving a qualitatively distinct, non-animal place for the human. This is the tired drama of the human, at once partaking of the animal, natural, biological world, and yet incessantly striving above and beyond it, producing abstract knowledge-systems, constructing world and life, aspiring for the spiritual (recall Heidegger's thesis concerning animality: the stone is worldless, the animal is poor-in-world, and the human is world-building). It is a drama that is by turns tragic and absurdist. Contemporary bio-art practices can be understood as a commentary on this drama, producing dadaist mammals, extra ears, pigs with wings, activist crops, and 'fuzzy biological sabotage' .
Biophilosophy implies a critique of all anthropomorphic conceptions of life. But is it possible to think this nonanthropomorphic life? Are we determined to yet again supplant a new term ('multiplicity') for an old one ('pattern')? The problem is not simply a nominalist one, not simply a game of logic; the problem is the very relation between 'life' and 'thought' (both Canguilhem and Foucault note that the most accurate concept of life would be life itself). Biophilosophy is an approach to nonhuman life, nonorganic life, anonymous life, indefinite life -- what Deleuze calls 'a life.' But the trick is to undo conventional biological thinking from within. Biophilosophy focuses on those modes of biological life that simultaneously escape their being exclusively biological life: microbes, epidemics, endosymbiosis, parasitism, swarms, packs, flocks, a-life, genetic algorithms, biopathways, smart dust, smartmobs, netwars -- there is a whole bestiary that asks us to think the life-multiplicity relation.
Life is X
The central question of the philosophy of biology has to do with an essence of life, a 'principle of life.' What is life? Life is X -- whatever X happens to be, eidos, mechanism, life-force, selection, code. The concept of 'life itself' promoted by geneticists during the post-WWII era (the genetic 'coding problem') was a renewal of a concept articulated by Aristotle in De anima as well as his 'biological' treatises. The implication of the very concept of 'life itself' is that 'life' is One. Whatever it is, life is one thing, essentially one thing, for otherwise we could not say 'Life is X.' Even when life reveals its contradictory nature, that contradiction is the ineffable key to life. An example is animal motility. Aristotle posed the question 'what makes the animal go?'; that is, from where does its energy come? The problem was picked up by the application of thermodynamics to animal physiology, with talk of animal 'electricity' and 'irritability' and 'vital forces.' Soon there was an ineffable 'life force' coursing through the animal, enabling it to counter the laws of thermodynamics.
Today a similar process is happening with studies in self-organization and emergence. The question has changed, but its form of the problem is the same: 'how do simple local actions produce complex global patterns?' The effects of self-organization can be analyzed forever (e.g. 'ant colony optimization') and they can be applied to computer science (e.g. CG in film, telecommunications routing). But a central mysticism is produced at its core, for if there is no external, controlling factor (environment, genes, blueprints) then how can there be control at all? Again, 'life itself' the ineffable, the absent center. In this sense life follows the laws of thought: it is self-identical (whatever is living continues to be so until it ceases to be living), non-contradictory (something cannot both be living and non-living), and either is or is not (something either is or is not living, there is no grey zone to life). It is in this sense that 'life' and 'thought' find their common meeting point. Biophilosophy implies a critique of the dialectics of 'life itself.' It abandons the concept of 'life itself' that is forever caught between the poles of nature and culture, biology and technology, human and machine. Instead it develops concepts that always cut across and that form networks: the molecular, multiplicity, becoming-animal, life-resistance...But the point is not to simply repeat deleuzianisms, but rather to invent or diverge: the autonomy of affect, germinal life, wetwares, prevital transductions, organismic soft control, abstract sex, molecular invasions, geophilosophy, and what Deleuze calls 'the mathematico-biological systems of differenc/tiation' .
Being, Time, Number
The philosophy of biology is an epistemological endeavor, while biophilosophy is an ontological one. The philosophy of biology asks 'which category?', while biophilosophy asks 'affected or affecting?' Biophilosophy ceaselessly spins out ontologies, none of them final, none of them lasting. An example: perhaps what Heidegger pointed to as the defining philosophical concern of modernity -- Being or dasein -- has permutated into one of the guiding concerns of the new millennium -- the problematic of 'life itself' or the zoe/bios distinction. We are no longer worried about the grand metaphysical concerns of Being, Time, and the One. Biophilosophy is a permutation and transmutation of these concerns: not Being but the problematic of 'life itself', a concern that asks us to rethink the concept of the vital and vitalism. Similarly, the concern with Time has become an interest in variation, transformation, change -- difference and repetition (the repetition of the different and the difference of each repetition). The contemporary interest in the event, becoming, and the virtual-actual pair are further variations of this. Finally, the imperative of the One -- that Being is One, that Time is One, that the subject is singular, that identity is the identification of the One, even the strange sameness of the Other in ethical thought -- all of this asks us to pose the question: what would we have to do to the concept of 'number' to think beyond the One-many dichotomy? This is the question posed by Deleuze's Difference and Repetition, but it is already there in Plato's Parmenides. Hair, mud and dirt. Is there a concept of multiplicity that moves beyond the One-many? Could such a concept resist a simple denunciation of 'number' (quantity vs. quality, extensity vs. intensity, explication vs. implication). If there is a concept of number that runs throughout multiplicity (a proliferative, pervasive number), and if multiplicity is related to life, is there a living number -- a vitalist matheme -- that would move out of the philosophy of biology's trinity of soul-meat-pattern? Instead of what Badiou calls the split between the quantitative and qualitative, the closed and the open, 'number and animal,' is there an animal number? Being, Time, and the One thus get recombined as 'life itself,' becoming, and number, which in turn ask us to consider or reconsider vitalism, the virtual, and multiplicity.
The philosophy of biology poses the question, 'what is life?' In doing so, however, it rarely asks the inverse question, 'what is not-life?' Certainly death is not-life. But so is the rock, the chair, the clouds. What about the computer, lunch, or a nation-state, are they not-life as well? What about a doll? Memories? There is a whole negative classification of not-life implied in the positive question 'what is life?' Better yet, rather than the question of what is not-life, we can pose the question of the life that becomes not-life, an other-than-life, a becoming-nonliving. Four, preliminary examples:
Ancient Life (or, the Biology of Cthulhu)
'Biophilosophy for the 21st century' is an ambiguous statement. Biophilosophy does not begin with information networks, biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, or intelligent software. In a sense, Presocratic thinking is biophilosophical thinking. Heraclitus refers to a nonorganic life in this three examples of fire (formlessness in identity), flows (stepping into the river), and the body (stability through growth and decay). A common logos to all change. His opposite -- but in many ways his compliment -- is Parmenides, whose concept of the All-One attempts to comprehend multiplicity as another form of univocity. And then there are the Greek atomists, particles infinitely dense and mobile...
Immediately a dissenting point is raised: 'are we not being reductive in our concept of life, as if life were only biological life, and not social, cultural, economic, religious and political life as well?' Indeed, isn't the problem the way in which biological and biomedical life has come to be the foundation of our emerging 'biopolitical' regimes? This 'bare life' serves as the alpha and the omega of social and political life, at once safeguarding the security of 'the population' while also producing a state of exception, a state of emergency, in which 'bare life' is both under attack and the object of preemptive strikes. Undoubtedly. Except that this cordons off our ability to think about life within the chess-match between disciplines. To the scientist who says 'life is genetic code' there is the sociologist who says 'life is the discriminatory implementation of genetics.' To the physicist who says 'life is the self-organization of matter and energy' the political scientist says 'life is the struggle between human groups to instrumentalize natural resources.' To the humanities professor who says 'life is the set of metaphors we forget are metaphors,' there is the engineer who designs 'programmable matter' and 'smart dust.' Once in a while, there are synergistic couplings, noisesome crosstalk that produces monsters: in the 1980s there was talk of chaos, in the 1990s talk of complexity, and crossing the millennium talk of networks. Or so the story goes. Perhaps we would like to do away with disciplines; and yet, for all the talk of 'third cultures' we still find the two cultures in the most banal, everyday instances.
This not a manifesto. All the same, there are a number of misconceptions to address concerning biophilosophy. Biophilosophy is not a naïve embrace of 'life,' a belief in the altruistic holism of all life on the planet. It is, however, a rigorous questioning of the twofold method of the philosophy of biology (principle of life, boundaries of articulation), and the divisions that are produced from this. Biophilosophy always asks, 'what relations are precluded in such-and-such a division, in such-and-such a classification?' Biophilosophy is not and should not be simply another name for self-organization, emergence, or complexity. While there is a fertile exchange between philosophy and biology on this point, it is clear that the sciences of complexity are unable to think both ontologically and politically as well. More often than not, they create a new portrait of nature (a nonlinear, metastable, complex nature), or worse, they subsume all non-natural elements under this new nature (thus free markets and/or 'democracy' are self-organizing and therefore inevitable). Not everything comes under the domain of biophilosophy, but at the same time one of biophilosophy's major concerns is the supposed foundationalism of biology and the biological-biomedical definitions of life. Biophilosophy is not simply a new vitalism, arguing for the ineffability and irreducibility of life's description. Yet this is perhaps the most frustrating and ambivalent aspect of biophilosophy. Biophilosophy is an attempt to draw out a political ontology, and yet it is also politically agonistic, even apathetic. There is no ressentiment in biophilosophy; only a commitment to a 'vital politics' accompanied by this 'molecular-wide' perspective. Biophilosophy picks up and reinvigorates the ontological questions left behind by the philosophy of biology. Why 'life'?
 See my article 'Networks, Swarms, Multitudes' in CTHEORY (2004): part one (http://www.ctheory.net/text_file.asp?pick=422) and part two (http://www.ctheory.net/text_file.asp?pick=423).
 In particular, see the work of SymbioticA (http://www.symbiotica.uwa.edu.au), a group of artists and scientists engaged in exploring cell and tissue culturing techniques as artistic practice. In a different vein, Critical Art Ensemble (http://www.critical-art.net) has, for some years, explored the relationships between activism, art, and biotechnology.
 Aside from A Thousand Plateaus, see Deleuze's comments on life as 'resistance' in Foucault, trans. Seán Hand, London: Continuum, 1999. For a sampling of other divergings from life, see Keith Ansell Pearson, Germinal Life, New York: Routledge, 1999; Alain Badiou, "Of Life as a Name of Being, or Deleuze's Vitalist Ontology," Pli: The Warwick Journal of Philosophy 10, 2000, 174-91; Mark Bonta and John Protevi, Deleuze and Geophilosophy: A Guide and Glossary, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004; Critical Art Ensemble, The Molecular Invasion, Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2002; Manuel Delanda, "Immanence and Transcendence in the Genesis of Form," South Atlantic Quarterly 96.3, Summer 1997: 499-514; Richard Doyle, Wetwares: Experiments in Postvital Living, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004; Miriam Fraser, Sarah Kember, and Celia Lury, "Inventive Life: Approaches to the New Vitalism," Theory, Culture & Society 22.1, 2005, 1-14; Mark Hansen, "Becoming as Creative Involution?: Contextualizing Deleuze and Guattari's Biophilosophy," Postmodern Culture 11.1, 2000; Adrian Mackenzie, "Bringing Sequences to Life: How Bioinformatics Corporealizes Sequence Data," New Genetics and Society 22.3 (2003): 315-32; Lucianna Parisi, Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Bio-technology and the Mutations of Desire, London: Continuum, 2004; Luciana Parisi and Tiziana Terranova, "Heat-Death: Emergence and Control in Genetic Engineering and Artificial Life," CTHEORY, 2000: http://www.ctheory.net/text_file.asp?pick=127; Eugene Thacker, Biomedia, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.
 For a quick overview, see Eric Bonabeau and Guy Théraulaz, "Swarm Smarts," Scientific American (March 2000): 72-79. For a more thorough, and more technical introduction, see Bonabeau and Théraulaz, Swarm Intelligence: From Natural to Artificial Systems, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
 This is the phrase often used by John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt in their book on military swarming, Swarming and the Future of Conflict, Santa Monica: RAND, 2000.
Eugene Thacker is Assistant Professor in the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at Georgia Institute of Technology. He is the author of Biomedia and The Global Genome: Biotechnology, Politics, and Culture.