Information and Living Systems
Philosophical and Scientific Perspectives
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: The MIT Press
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This volume is the product of talks we had about the important ways in which information shapes our understanding of biological organization, and more generally, of the difference between living and inanimate matter. It later occurred to us to broaden our conversation to include other researchers, both philosophers...
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The idea of information has become increasingly important in our efforts to understand the nature of biological organization. It is now generally recognized that information-related ideas play a key role in characterizing life at every organizational level. Familiar examples of these ideas include: how DNA codes for...
I. The Definition of Life
1. The Need for a Universal Definition of Life in Twenty-first-century Biology
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Twentieth-century biology was based on and shaped by the concept of the gene, thus yielding extraordinary results, like the development of molecular biology and the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory (Keller 2000). The idea that processes in biological systems could be explained solely in terms of the...
2. Energy Coupling
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As opposed to nonliving systems, living systems can reproduce as well as collect, process, and exchange information in order to control and direct energy and matter they receive from their environments. Living systems extract free energy from the sun, store it, and use it for sorting and motile activities. Chloroplasts...
II. Information and Biological Organization
3. Bioinformation as a Triadic Relation
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Information is seen today not as a unitary concept, but as a family of concepts whose members lack any clear interconnection. The relationships of this family’s members with neighboring notions, such as knowledge, form, entropy, correlation, probability, meaning, order, organization, and complexity...
4. The Biosemiotic Approach in Biology: Theoretical Bases and Applied Models
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Biosemiotics is a growing field that investigates semiotic processes in the living realm in an attempt to combine the findings of the biological sciences and semiotics. Semiotic processes are more or less what biologists have typically referred to as “signals,” “codes,” and “information processing” in biosystems, but these...
5. Problem Solving in the Life Cycles of Multicellular Organisms: Immunology and Cancer
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The aim of the present inquiry is to incorporate our current understanding of information processing and problem solving in biological systems into an evolutionary perspective. Because our discussion centers on biological phenomena in multicellular organisms, and those especially relevant to human medicine, we also...
6. The Informational Nature of Biological Causality
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Biological entities constitute highly complex systems. Since Darwin, this complexity has been thought to result from a long-term historical and collective process that goes far beyond the ontogenetic trajectories of individual living beings. In that framework, one in which biological activity takes place in a physically...
7. The Self-construction of a Living Organism
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Recent developments in genetics and developmental biology have shown that the role of genetic information in living organisms is, in one sense, stronger than had been thought and, in another sense, weaker. Insofar as the living organism has certain material constituents — namely DNA, whose sequence...
8. Plasticity and Complexity in Biology: Topological Organization, Regulatory Protein Networks, and Mechanisms of Genetic Expression
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This discussion is aimed first at studying some important aspects of the plasticity and complexity of biological systems and their links. We shall further investigate the relationship between the topological organization and dynamics of chromatin and chromosome, the regulatory proteins networks, and the mechanisms...
III. Information and the Biology of Cognition, Value, and Language
9. Decision Making in the Economy of Nature: Value as Information
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Cognition, to use Reuven Dukas’s formula, is the set of “neuronal processes concerned with the acquisition, retention, and use of information” (Dukas 2004, 347). Decision making is one of the principal uses of that information. Classically, decision making is not a topic of discussion in biology and philosophy of biology...
10. Information Theory and Perception: The Role of Constraints, and What Do We Maximize Information About?
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Because human and nonhuman primates are highly visual animals, an important step in understanding how their brains operate is to understand how they see: that is, how they transform the structured, colored, and dynamic pattern of light surrounding them into knowledge about the world they live in. Over the...
11. Attention, Information, and Epistemic Perception
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Attention became a topic studied in experimental psychology by the end of the nineteenth century. With the subsequent development of psychology, interdisciplinary research on attention became an integral part of the cognitive and medical sciences (Posner and Raichle 1994; Parasuraman 1998; Wright...
12. Biolinguistics and Information
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Modern (theoretical) linguistics was born half a century ago in the midst of what is often called the cognitive revolution. Noam Chomsky (1956, 1957), Morris Halle (1995, 2002), Eric Lenneberg (1967), and others distanced themselves from the then-dominant behaviorist paradigm, and reached back to earlier philosophical...
13. The Biology of Personality
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The biology of personality can be described at multiple, complementary levels of analysis: descriptive, behavioral-genetic, neuroanatomical, neurochemical, situational, and behavioral-ecological. None of these individual levels of analysis separately presents a complete picture of the biology of personality...
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Page Count: 464
Publication Year: 2011