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Lifelines: Biology Beyond DeterminismLifelines : Biology Beyond Determinism
by Steven Rose


For most laypersons, Darwin's theory of evolution equals survival of the fittest, with one species gaining ascendancy over another in nature's brutal war of attrition. For most biologists, however, evolution is far more complicated. Advanced studies in genetics have given rise to the theory of evolution on a genetic scale, with "selfish genes" battling for supremacy within organisms. Taken to its most extreme, species themselves become almost incidental to the genetic warfare that rages within them. Other biologists take a less narrow view of evolution, believing that many factors--both genetic and environmental--affect how an organism evolves; in Lifelines: Biology Beyond Determinism, author Steven Rose comes firmly down on this side of the argument.

Rose, a biochemist, specializes in how memory works, and his book includes some fascinating information about the influence of chemistry in the development of our bodies. So delicate is the balance of DNA chemistry and environment, in fact, that Rose finds the periodic announcements that scientists have "found" a gene responsible for sexual orientation or criminal behavior, for example, to be outrageous and downright dangerous. Simple answers to complicated processes worry him, which may be why he strenuously attacks the genetics-as-destiny stance championed by such well-known scientists as Richard Dawkins.

Text Excerpt
Read the first chapter of this title.

The New York Times Book Review, David Papineau
Unfortunately, the vigor of his polemic is not matched by the clarity of his analysis. Readers hoping to be tutored in the nuances of the debate are likely to go away disappointed.

In Lifelines, biologist Steven Rose offers a powerful alternative to the ultradarwinist claims of such notable science writers as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and other advocates of reductionism, arguing that there need to be a specific focus on the organism in question and, in particular, on the organism's lifeline.

Card catalog description
In Lifelines, biologist Steven Rose offers a powerful alternative to the ultra-Darwinist claims of Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, Daniel Dennett, and others. Rose argues against an extreme reductionist approach that would make the gene the key to understanding human nature, in favor of a more complex and richer vision of life. He urges instead that we focus on the organism and in particular on the organism's lifeline: the trajectory it takes through time and space. Our personal lifeline, Rose points out, is unique - even identical twins, with identical genes at birth, will differ over time. These differences are obviously not embedded in our genes, but come about through our developmental trajectory in which genes, as part of the biochemical orchestra of trillions of cells in each human body, have an important part - but only a part - to play. To illustrate this idea, Rose examines recent research in modern biology, and especially two disciplines - genetics (which looks at the impact of genes on form) and developmental biology (which examines the interaction between the organism and the environment) - and he explores new ideas on biological complexity proposed by scientists such as Stuart Kauffman. He shows how our lifelines are constructed through the interplay of physical forces - such as the intrinsic chemistry of lipids and proteins, and the self-organizing and stabilizing properties of complex metabolic webs - and he reaches a startling conclusion: that organisms are active players in their own fate, not simply the playthings of the gods, nature, or the inevitable workings out of gene-driven natural selection. The organism is both the weaver and the pattern it weaves. Lifeline will be a rallying point for all who seek an alternative to the currently fashionable, deeply determinist accounts which dominate popular science writing and, in fact, crowd the pages of some of the major scientific journals. Based on solid, state-of-the-art research, it not only makes important contributions to our understanding of Darwin and natural selection, but will swing the pendulum back to a richer, more complex view of human nature and of life.


Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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