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Information and Living Systems: Philosophical and Scientific Perspectives

Edited By: George Terzis and Robert Arp

MIT Press

Hardback | May 2011 | #191477 | ISBN-13: 9780262201742
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NHBS Price: £34.95 $43/€39 approx

About this book

Information shapes biological organization in fundamental ways and at every organizational level. Because organisms use information--including DNA codes, gene expression, and chemical signaling--to construct, maintain, repair, and replicate themselves, it would seem only natural to use information-related ideas in our attempts to understand the general nature of living systems, the causality by which they operate, the difference between living and inanimate matter, and the emergence, in some biological species, of cognition, emotion, and language. And yet philosophers and scientists have been slow to do so.

This volume fills that gap. Information and Living Systems offers a collection of original chapters in which scientists and philosophers discuss the informational nature of biological organization at levels ranging from the genetic to the cognitive and linguistic. The chapters examine not only familiar information-related ideas intrinsic to the biological sciences but also broader information-theoretic perspectives used to interpret their significance. The contributors represent a range of disciplines, including anthropology, biology, chemistry, cognitive science, information theory, philosophy, psychology, and systems theory, thus demonstrating the deeply interdisciplinary nature of the volume's bioinformational theme.

This volume has the virtue of airing a number of refreshing voices that are not often heard on this side of the Atlantic, and that bring perspectives that should energize our conversations about information in living systems. --Evelyn Fox Keller, MIT "Terzis and Arp have brought together an international array of experimental and theoretical scientists, philosophers, and cognitive scientists to explore the most consequential notion in modern biology--information. The notion is indispensable to molecular biology, and yet we have no idea how seriously we need to take it in that domain. The role of information is equally central to the origin and maintenance of life in a Second Law-driven world that destroys order. And the naturalization of information is the only bridge that can be crossed from cognitive psychology to neuroscience. All of these issues are faced squarely and accessibly in this important volume." --Alex Rosenberg, Duke University "Since the 1960s at least, it has become clear that we cannot content ourselves with describing living systems, and their life cycles, only in terms of matter and energy. An additional dimension--information--is the necessary complement. However, following an initial enthusiasm for an information-based approach to biology, conceptual developments and practical applications have been slow, to such an extent that doubts have eventually arisen, among biologists and philosophers alike, as to the real relevance, if not the legitimacy, of this approach. How profoundly ill-advised were those concerns is dramatically demonstrated by this excellent collection. Information and Living Systems provides a convincing and healthily fresh overview of this subject area in many of its ramifications, throughout the whole of biology." --Alessandro Minelli, University of Padova "Since the time of the discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA and its expression, scientists and philosophers have become increasingly aware that information is integral to the understanding of the organization of life--indeed, to the understanding of life. Information and Living Systems covers the gamut of issues--from the properties of the organism itself to epigenetic and evolutionary considerations to cognition, language, and personality. It transcends in scope and depth any available publications on bioinformation known to me. It is an important scholarly contribution that will interest professional biologists, philosophers, and information theorists, and will be very useful in courses for advanced undergraduate and graduate students." --Francisco J. Ayala, University Professor and Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, University of California, Irvine

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George Terzis is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University. His articles have appeared in such prominent journals as American Philosophical Quarterly, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Philosophical Psychology, and Philosophical Studies. Robert Arp has authored numerous articles and book chapters in ontology (in the information science sense), philosophy of mind, philosophy of biology, modern philosophy, and popular culture. He is the author of Scenario Visualization: An Evolutionary Account of Creative Problem Solving (MIT Press, 2008). He is also coauthor of Building Ontologies with Basic Formal Ontology (MIT Press, in preparation) and Reasoning Well: An Introduction to Critical Thinking and is coeditor of Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Biology and Philosophy of Biology: An Anthology.

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