- Reductionism— understanding complex processes by breaking them into simpler elements — dominates scientific thinking around the world and has certainly proved a powerful tool, leading to major discoveries in every field of science. But reductionism can be taken too far, especially in the life sciences, where sociobiological thinking has bordered on biological determinism.
- Thus popular science writers such as Richard Dawkins, author of the highly influential "Dawkins (Richard) - The Selfish Gene", can write that human beings are just “robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.” Indeed, for many in science, genes have become the fundamental unit for understanding human existence: genes determine every aspect of our lives, from personal success to existential despair: genes for health and illness, genes for criminality, violence, and sexual orientation. Others would say that this is reductionism with a vengeance.
- In Lifelines, biologist Steven Rose offers a powerful alternative to the ultra-Darwinist claims of Dawkins, Edward 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 play-things 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.
- Lifelines 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.
- Steven Rose is Professor of Biology and Director of the Brain and Behaviour Research group at Britain’s Open University, where he researches the molecular mechanisms of memory. He won the 1993 British Science Book Prize for The Making of Memory, and is also the author of The Conscious Brain and Not in Our Genes.
- "Here are answers for those uncomfortable with the ultra-Darwinism and extreme reductionism that characterizes much of modern biological thought. Rose is one of a small but growing group of biologists who argues instead that we can only understand genes, cells, and organisms by looking at their current and historical locations and contexts. He provides a welcome antidote to the gene’s-eye view of the world."
→ Anne Fausto Sterling, author of Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Women and Men
- "Steven Rose, starting from his experience in the molecular biology of learning, has written a guidebook for coming to accept how things really are. He creates a new approach by what amounts to a Copernican coordinate transformation, that places the center not in a particle or a gene but in an organism. Thereby he complements the twin pillars of genetic and environmental determinism with a third pillar: the capacity of organisms to organize and direct their own trajectories. He establishes this principle at the start of his book and builds on it stepwise with brilliant commentary and lucid illustrations.”
→ Walter Freeman, Professor of the Graduate School, University of California at Berkeley
Preface – vii
Credits – xiv
- Biology, Freedom, Determinism – 1
- Observing and Intervening – 21
- Knowing What We Know – 44
- The Triumph of Reductionism? – 73
- Genes and Organisms – 98
- Lifelines – 136
- Universal Darwinism? – 174
- Beyond Ultra-Darwinism – 209
- Origin Myths – 250
- The Poverty of Reductionism – 272
- Envoi: Making Biology Whole Again – 302
Bibliography – 310
Index – 321
In-Page Footnotes ("Rose (Steven) - Lifelines - Biology, Freedom, Determinism")
- Oxford University Press, 1998. Nice hardback copy.
- Two (!!) extra paperback copies held (different Penguins) - I've filed these in the guest room.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)