In the introduction to Leviathan (1651), Thomas Hobbes offers a view of life which is remarkably forward-looking considering that he wrote in the midst of the seventeenth century:
Seeing life is but a motion of limbs, the beginning whereof is in some principal part within; why may we not say, that all ‘automata’ (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch) have an artificial life? For what is the ‘heart,’ but a ‘spring’; and the ‘nerves,’ but so many ‘strings’; and the ‘joints,’ but so many ‘wheels,’ giving motion to the whole body, such as was intended by the artificer?
Hobbes says that what lives is alive because its motion springs from within. This makes you and me, and other living things, automata. We are like pocketwatches, ticking away, passing time, rewinding at mealtimes. It also makes creating life a very simple matter; any watchmaker can do it.
Hobbes means to demystify living things by reducing them to selfmovers. His idea of life is oversimplified. Nevertheless, his idea helps to illustrate an important point: to understand death we need to understanding life in some detail, since a death occurs when a life ends. If Hobbes's simple conception of life were correct, death would be an equally simple matter: we would die when our ‘movements’ fail, and motion ceases to come from within.