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Stanford historian examines age-old inquiry about what it means to be 'living'

Headshot of Jessica Riskin
Jim Block

In research covering four centuries of scientific debate, Stanford historian Jessica Riskin investigates different views of man and machine, and how this debate laid the groundwork for later theories of evolution and science.

By Anita Law
The Humanities at Stanford

What do human beings and machines have in common?

Stanford historian Jessica Riskin argues that philosophical debates stretching back to the 17th century have profoundly shaped current ideas in the life sciences about what makes a living thing alive – and what makes it act and change.

For centuries, philosophers and scientists have regularly compared living things to machines, but they have meant very different things by the word "machine," according to Riskin, a professor of history who writes about these issues in her new book, The Restless Clock.

Riskin investigates the history of lifelike machines and the philosophical and theological debates surrounding them, and explores how...

For the complete article, visit the Stanford Report