“Live”, Life, and Humanity From Different Perspectives

August 8, 2022


Date / Time: 
August 8th 3:30 a.m. PDT | 6:30 p.m. Beijing time

Streaming Platform:
Bilibili | No registration is required.


About the Event
Do biologists and humanists agree that “human beings are biological organisms”? Is there a boundary between “human beings” and “other animals”? If yes, where should the boundary be drawn? If not, what does it mean to be a “human being”? How could a boundary be meaningful for the understanding of human beings and of life?

Continuing from our first dialogue, this second event in the series will feature experts in the field of humanities and social sciences as keynote speakers. We have invited two senior scholars in the field of Chinese philosophy to share their professional perspectives and different viewpoints on questions of “what is life”, “what is a human” and “what does it mean to be alive”. The discussion will be moderated by Prof. Shunong Bai.

Discussion Topics

  • What are the different views of sheng ming (‘life’) in Chinese philosophical traditions?
  • How does ancient Chinese philosophy define humans and our relationship with other living beings?
  • How does ancient Chinese philosophy understand sheng (to ‘live’ or ‘be alive’) as opposed to si (to ‘die’ or ‘be dead’)? Is there any difference between shengand sheng ming (‘life’)?

CHEN Xia, Professor, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS)
2022-2023 Berggruen Fellow

Xia Chen is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Philosophy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Beijing. She is a member(2020-2023)of the International Council of Philosophy and Human Sciences (CIPSH) Executive Committee and the Co-Chair of the Scientific Panel, UNESCO Silk Roads Youth Research Grant. She has been a visiting scholar at Harvard, SOAS, University of Missouri-St. Louis, Science Po Bordeaux, and a Fulbright Scholar at Brown University. Prof. Chen taught the course “Chinese Philosophy” for CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) students for several years. She also served as the chairperson for the section of Daoist philosophy at the 24th WCP in Beijing. Her specialty is in Chinese Philosophy and Religions, concentrating on Daoism.

Director, Center for Buddhist Studies of Peking University
Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Peking University

WANG Song received his B. A. and M. A. in Philosophy from Peking University and a Ph.D. in East Asian Buddhism from the International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies, Tokyo. After conducting his postdoctoral research as Overseas Researcher of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), he has been teaching Chinese Buddhism and Japanese Buddhism at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies of Peking University. His studies have been focusing on the history and thought of Huayan/Kegon School and he has published several books, such as: A Study on the Thought of the Huayan School in the Song Dynasty (Beijing: Religious Culture Press, 2008), Japanese Buddhism: From the Beginning till 20th century (Beijing: Chinese Social Science Academy Press, 2015), and A Critical Annotation and Study on the Huayan Fajie Guanmen (Beijing: Religious Culture Press, 2016), in addition to numerous papers on East Asian Buddhism in Chinese, Japanese and English.

BAI Shunong
Professor Emeritus, School of Life Sciences, Peking University
2020-2021 Berggruen Fellow

Bai Shunong is a Professor Emeritus at the School of Life Sciences, Peking University. Since the beginning of his postgraduate training in 1983, his research activities on plant development phenomena have led him to form an unconventional perspective on plant development. He believes that it is necessary to revive the views proposed by the founders of modern botany — that a plant is not an individual, like most animals are; rather, it is a colony of many developmental units, essentially equivalent to the animal “individuals.” The “Plant Morphology 123” theory he proposed, regarding plant development, integrates previously proposed novel concepts such as the “plant development unit,” “sexual reproduction cycle,” and “plant development program” into a self-consistent conceptual system. Seeking to understand the internal driving force of plant morphogenesis, Bai Shunong realized that instead of asking “what is life”, people should first ask “what is live [lahyv]”. In cooperation with two mathematicians, he proposed that the “structure for energy cycle” is what can be called “live”, and the origin point of the entire living system we experienced on the earth.

About the Dialogue Series: When Science and Humanities Face Life Together
Since March 2022, the Berggruen Research Center at Peking University has launched a series of workshops called “When Science and Humanities Face Life Together,” inviting life science scholars, humanities and social science scholars, artists, and cross-disciplinary thinkers to discuss questions of “what is human” and “what is life” under differing perspectives. The series aims to promote mutual understanding between the “two cultures”, and to provide an incubator for diversified views to interact, to foster new ideas in understanding human transformation.

composed by Arswain
machine learning consultation by Anna Tskhovrebov
commissioned by the Berggruen Institute
premiered at the Bradbury Building
downtown Los Angeles
april 22, 2022

Human perception of what sounds “beautiful” is necessarily biased and exclusive. If we are to truly expand our hearing apparatus, and thus our notion of beauty, we must not only shed preconceived sonic associations but also invite creative participation from beings non-human and non-living. We must also begin to cede creative control away from ourselves and toward such beings by encouraging them to exercise their own standards of beauty and collaborate with each other.

Movement I: Alarm Call
‘Alarm Call’ is a long-form composition and sound collage that juxtaposes, combines, and manipulates alarm calls from various human, non-human, and non-living beings. Evolutionary biologists understand the alarm call to be an altruistic behavior between species, who, by warning others of danger, place themselves by instinct in a broader system of belonging. The piece poses the question: how might we hear better to broaden and enhance our sense of belonging in the universe? Might we behave more altruistically if we better heed the calls of – and call out to – non-human beings?

Using granular synthesis, biofeedback, and algorithmic modulation, I fold the human alarm call – the siren – into non-human alarm calls, generating novel “inter-being” sonic collaborations with increasing sophistication and complexity. 

Movement II: A.I.-Truism
A synthesizer piece co-written with an AI in the style of Vangelis’s Blade Runner score, to pay homage to the space of the Bradbury Building.

Movement III: Alarmism
A machine learning model “learns” A.I.Truism and recreates Alarm Call, generating an original fusion of the two.

Movement IV: A.I. Call
A machine learning model “learns” Alarm Call and recreates A.I.Truism, generating an original fusion of the two.

RAVE (IRCAM 2021) https://github.com/acids-ircam/RAVE