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Who Wrote the Book of Life?: A History of…
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Who Wrote the Book of Life?: A History of the Genetic Code (Writing… (edição: 2000)

de Lily Kay

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421484,592 (5)1
This is a detailed history of one of the most important and dramatic episodes in modern science, recounted from the novel vantage point of the dawn of the information age and its impact on representations of nature, heredity, and society. Drawing on archives, published sources, and interviews, the author situates work on the genetic code (1953-70) within the history of life science, the rise of communication technosciences (cybernetics, information theory, and computers), the intersection of molecular biology with cryptanalysis and linguistics, and the social history of postwar Europe and the United States. Kay draws out the historical specificity in the process by which the central biological problem of DNA-based protein synthesis came to be metaphorically represented as an information code and a writing technology--and consequently as a "book of life." This molecular writing and reading is part of the cultural production of the Nuclear Age, its power amplified by the centuries-old theistic resonance of the "book of life" metaphor. Yet, as the author points out, these are just metaphors: analogies, not ontologies. Necessary and productive as they have been, they have their epistemological limitations. Deploying analyses of language, cryptology, and information theory, the author persuasively argues that, technically speaking, the genetic code is not a code, DNA is not a language, and the genome is not an information system (objections voiced by experts as early as the 1950s). Thus her historical reconstruction and analyses also serve as a critique of the new genomic biopower. Genomic textuality has become a fact of life, a metaphor literalized, she claims, as human genome projects promise new levels of control over life through the meta-level of information: control of the word (the DNA sequences) and its editing and rewriting. But the author shows how the humbling limits of these scriptural metaphors also pose a challenge to the textual and material mastery of the genomic "book of life."… (mais)
Membro:dweinberger
Título:Who Wrote the Book of Life?: A History of the Genetic Code (Writing Science)
Autores:Lily Kay
Informação:Stanford University Press (2000), Edition: 1, Paperback, 472 pages
Coleções:Sua biblioteca
Avaliação:
Etiquetas:infohist, information theory

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Who Wrote the Book of Life?: A History of the Genetic Code de Lily E. Kay

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This book is a remarkable achievement.
Kay has had the insight into the history of science and of ideas to focus on something that really surprised me once I got it: there was a time when the concept of information was not used to describe molecular biological processes, e.g., the genetic code. Most people could probably not say in a cogent way what the genetic code actually is, but they have heard of the human genome and DNA, and take for granted that the gene stores information about how the organism is put together. The fact that Lily both explains and documents is that there is a historical point in time--the late 1940s--when some molecular biologists stopped talking about organization and specificity started talking about information. She describes how they thought before this happened, and she explains the threads that led to this sea change in how people talked and thought about cellular processes. And she shows how this created the intellectual infrastructure, as it were, that made it possible to begin thinking about a "code" to explain how cells use DNA to make proteins after Watson and Crick published their model of DNA in 1953.
I could go on if I had more time, but one more thing I'd like to add is that she uses the explanatory framework of "discourse" and "texts," as popularized by Continental philosophers like Foucault and other philosophers, and shows how appropriate it is for this topic, as opposed to the "paradigm change" model of Kuhn. This will also be a revelation to many.
  mkelly | Jan 30, 2010 |
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This is a detailed history of one of the most important and dramatic episodes in modern science, recounted from the novel vantage point of the dawn of the information age and its impact on representations of nature, heredity, and society. Drawing on archives, published sources, and interviews, the author situates work on the genetic code (1953-70) within the history of life science, the rise of communication technosciences (cybernetics, information theory, and computers), the intersection of molecular biology with cryptanalysis and linguistics, and the social history of postwar Europe and the United States. Kay draws out the historical specificity in the process by which the central biological problem of DNA-based protein synthesis came to be metaphorically represented as an information code and a writing technology--and consequently as a "book of life." This molecular writing and reading is part of the cultural production of the Nuclear Age, its power amplified by the centuries-old theistic resonance of the "book of life" metaphor. Yet, as the author points out, these are just metaphors: analogies, not ontologies. Necessary and productive as they have been, they have their epistemological limitations. Deploying analyses of language, cryptology, and information theory, the author persuasively argues that, technically speaking, the genetic code is not a code, DNA is not a language, and the genome is not an information system (objections voiced by experts as early as the 1950s). Thus her historical reconstruction and analyses also serve as a critique of the new genomic biopower. Genomic textuality has become a fact of life, a metaphor literalized, she claims, as human genome projects promise new levels of control over life through the meta-level of information: control of the word (the DNA sequences) and its editing and rewriting. But the author shows how the humbling limits of these scriptural metaphors also pose a challenge to the textual and material mastery of the genomic "book of life."

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