Since the first observation of microscopic life in the mid-1600s, there has been a tension in the development of biology between two streams of thought sometimes called vitalism and reductionism.
Vitalism maintained that life itself could never be reduced to chemistry and physics.1 It maintained that there was a “vital essence” that explained manifestations of life for which the sciences couldn’t account. Reductionism insisted that the processes of biology were all dependent on physical phenomena that eventually could be learned and studied through the sci ences. Neither one of them could explain life in its fullness. Or explain why a living thing dies at a particular moment.