Turner’s book is fascinating, stimulating, and befuddling by turns. He has interesting ideas but little to back them up, and in places the prose goes fuzzy, perhaps because there is little to go on. His ideas are only in the beginning stages, and need to be tested and evaluated, because they are controversial.
For example, we already know that organisms modify their environments to fit their physiological needs, whether it be microbial mats, termite mounds, or human beings. That is not controversial. I find the idea of alternate sources of cellular memory most intriguing, and already there are experiments that support this idea, though more work is needed. This is less controversial, though it goes against the standard DNA-centric model. The idea that in the search for regulatory elements in physiology, more and more control elements are required, until you reach the level where every cell is involved, I find fascinating. It certainly corresponds to the increasing detail at the molecular level everywhere. The thing I have most trouble understanding is his idea that cognition preceded life — if cognition at the most primitive requires membranes and membrane receptors that send signals to the cell’s interior to influence its behavior, then either I have misunderstood, or cognition could not occur until after the first life.
This provocative book deserves to be read and considered by anyone interested in the question of evolution and adaptation. … More.
It will be interesting to see whether his ideas are just too controversial to be tested.
See also: Ouch! Scott Turner on “settled science”
J. Scott Turner on why we do not have a coherent theory of evolution…
Reading and discussion guide for J. Scott Turner’s new book Purpose and Desire