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Keller questions why biology has gone down such a different path to physics in the twentieth century, and by looking at models, analogies and metaphors employed by biologists, she seeks to show how biology is formed by a variety of explanatary goals. In short, Making Sense of Life draws our attention to the temporal, disciplinary, and cultural components of what biologists mean, and what they understand, when they propose to explain life.
Preface Introduction PART ONE Models: Explaining Development without the Help of Genes 1. Synthetic Biology and the Origin of Living Form 2. Morphology as a Science of Mechanical Forces 3. Untimely Births of a Mathematical Biology PART TWO Metaphors: Genes and Developmental Narratives 4. Genes, Gene Action, and Genetic Programs 5. Taming the Cybernetic Metaphor 6. Positioning Positional Information PART THREE Machines: Understanding Development with Computers, Recombinant DNA, and Molecular Imaging 7. The Visual Culture of Molecular Embryology 8. New Roles for Mathematical and Computational Modeling 9. Synthetic Biology Redux-Computer Simulation and Artificial Life Conclusion: Understanding Development Notes References Index
Evelyn Fox Keller is Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and numerous honorary degrees, she is the author or co-editor of ten previous books. Including Keywords in Evolutionary Biology and the 2001 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award finalist. The Century of the Gene (both from Harvard).
"Making Sense of Life is about the importance of recognizing [the] tight connection between the use of language in the social domain and how it produces biological "understanding" [...] The central arguments of Making Sense of Life are made with grace and authority. Those who are unsettled by them, and who wish to take issue with Keller, could not ask for a more accomplished and eloquent adversary."
– Lisa Jardine, New Scientist, 2002-05-10
"Keller writes beautifully, explains exquisitely, does a really good job of showing how today's four-dimensional color gene-product-marked embryo pictures, available to all on the Web, have answered most of the old questions [...] and how they have generated a whole new set: about artificial life, about complex systems and emergence, about what we want to understand development for [...] I hope she finds a new generation of biology students, as well as historians, who'll appreciate her subtle thinking; this book makes sense of embryology at last."
– Jack Cohen, Biologist, 2002-12-01
"Evelyn Fox Keller, once a mathematical physicist but now primarily a historian of biology, has analyzed the varied attempts of 20th-century biologists to provide an explanation for the nature and origin of life [...] Keller's achievement is to historicize 20th-century biological concepts, so that we can begin to see that they are not inevitable, springing directly from a realization of "how nature is", but rather are culturally located, and shaped by complex social forces."
– Steven Rose, Lancet, 2003-02-08