Readers of the Book of Life: Contextualizing Developmental Evolutionary Biology

Readers of the Book of Life: Contextualizing Developmental Evolutionary Biology

Readers of the Book of Life: Contextualizing Developmental Evolutionary Biology

Readers of the Book of Life: Contextualizing Developmental Evolutionary Biology


This is a wide ranging and deeply learned examination of evolutionary developmental biology, and the foundations of life from the perspective of information theory. Hermeneutics was a method developed in the humanities to achieve understanding, in a given context, of texts, history, and artwork. In Readers of the Book of Life, the author shows that living beings are also hermeneutical interpreters of genetics texts saved in DNA; an interpretation based on the past experience of the cell (cell lineage, species), confronted with and incorporating present environmental clues. This approach stresses the history, not only of the digital record saved in the DNA, but also of the flesh - the cellular organization which has a direct time-continuity with the very origins of life. This book is aimed at reconciling two opposite approaches to life. The first strictly sticking to a belief that all phenomena observed in the realm of the living can be explained from laws of physics. The opposite stressing the importance of features characteristic for a given level of description. To bring both views into a common understanding, the first part gives a comparison of the two problem solving strategies. The second part surveys the development of 20th century biology, bringing to light branches that never became part of the research mainstream. The third section of the book reviews a large body of recent evidence that can be interpreted in favor of the hermeneutic arguments.


Why should I, a busy man, read this book; and what may I gain therefrom?

Anonymous referee

Primarily, this book is not epistemology, despite its focus in part I. As a biologist, I try above all to contemplate what living beings are and how sciences have reflected their nature in the course of the last hundred years. My basic point here is that life is a hermeneutic category. But, then, who in natural sciences knows what hermeneutics is? Isn't it—God forbid!—a version of “postmodern,” or even New Age gobbledygook? I needed to start by introducing this method of interpretation, of unfolding meaning, which is widely used in the humanities. I chose to do so against the background of “objectivist” science, which is much more familiar to natural scientists. But in contrast to objectivism, hermeneutics might appear too “mystical” and incomprehensible for an untrained eye, thereby strengthening prejudices against humanities that exist in the scientific community. I therefore include a demonstration of a version of contemporary gnosis, as a true and opposite extreme to objectivism, simply to set the scene. What came out are chapters of the first, epistemological, part of this book: chapter 2 on hermeneutics is framed by chapter 1 characterizing objectivist science and by chapter 3 on contemporary philosophical gnosis.

Part II is devoted to the analysis of some currents of thought in twentiethcentury biology, often half-forgotten, distorted, or discarded. Today, they often persist only as anecdotal shortcuts, despite years of experimental and theoretical work of the highest quality. Information about such currents, even if . . .

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