Making Sense of Life

Front Cover
What do biologists want? If, unlike their counterparts in physics, biologists are generally wary of a grand, overarching theory, at what kinds of explanation do biologists aim? How will we know when we have "made sense" of life? Such questions, Evelyn Fox Keller suggests, offer no simple answers. Explanations in the biological sciences are typically provisional and partial, judged by criteria as heterogeneous as their subject matter. It is Keller's aim in this bold and challenging book to account for this epistemological diversity--particularly in the discipline of developmental biology. In particular, Keller asks, what counts as an "explanation" of biological development in individual organisms? Her inquiry ranges from physical and mathematical models to more familiar explanatory metaphors to the dramatic contributions of recent technological developments, especially in imaging, recombinant DNA, and computer modeling and simulations. A history of the diverse and changing nature of biological explanation in a particularly charged field, 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.
 

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Contents

Introduction
1
Models Explaining Development without the Help of Genes
11
Synthetic Biology and the Origin of Living Form
15
Morphology as a Science of Mechanical Forces
50
Untimely Births of a Mathematical Biology
79
Metaphors Genes and Developmental Narratives
113
Genes Gene Action and Genetic Programs
123
Taming the Cybernetic Metaphor
148
Machines Understanding Development with Computers Recombinant DMA and Molecular Imaging
199
The Visual Culture of Molecular Embryology
205
New Roles for Mathematical and Computational Modeling
234
Synthetic Biology ReduxComputer Simulation and Artificial Life
265
Understanding Development
295
Notes
305
References
351
Index
382

Positioning Positional Information
173

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About the author (2002)

Evelyn Fox Keller is Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at MIT. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and numerous honorary degrees.

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