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Suddenly, information matters in biology

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A friend writes to note changes atStanford Plato, a major 2016 revision from 2007:

Since the 1950s, the concept of information has acquired a strikingly prominent role in many parts of biology. This enthusiasm extends far beyond domains where the concept might seem to have an obvious application, such as the biological study of perception, cognition, and language, and now reaches into the most basic parts of biological theory. Hormones and other cellular products through which physiological systems are regulated are typically described as signals. Descriptions of how genes play their causal role in metabolic processes and development are routinely given in terms of “transcription”, “translation”, and “editing”. The most general term used for the processes by which genes exert their effects is “gene expression”. The fates of cells in a developing organism are explained in terms of their processing of “positional information” given to them from surrounding cells and other factors. Many biologists think of the developmental processes by which organisms progress from egg to adult in terms of the execution of a “developmental program”. Other biologists have argued for a pivotal role for information in evolution rather than development: John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmáry (for example) suggest that major transitions in evolution depend on expansions in the amount and accuracy with which information is transmitted across generations. And some have argued that we can only understand the evolutionary role of genes by recognizing an informational “domain” that exists alongside the domain of matter and energy. More.

(Begone, trolls. There is work to be done, and creative cursing is just not a job description around here any more.)

See also: Davies and Walker: Life not reducible to known physical principles

and

Understanding information theory

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10 Replies to “Suddenly, information matters in biology

  1. 1
    Dionisio says:

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. [John 1:1-3 (ESV)]

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    OT: Woo hoo! New book coming next year from Stephen Meyer, a scientific, philosophical and theological evaluation on Theistic Evolution, with experts in each field as editors!

    podcast – Frank Turek discusses theistic evolution with Dr Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in Seattle.
    http://crossexamined.org/podcast/

  3. 3
    tjguy says:

    Well, it’s hard to adopt an interpretation of the evidence that challenges your worldview/paradigm. We have a natural tendency to interpret it favorable to our worldview/chosen paradigm. I guess they are finally seeing the writing on the wall and are coming to understand they can not afford to ignore the importance of information. Sounds like some are still fighting the change though.

    See?

    Intelligent Design has had a positive influence on science!

  4. 4
    Dionisio says:

    “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
    ? Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers

  5. 5
    Axel says:

    It seems to me that quantum mechanics restored the anthropocentric paradigm subsumed under the Christocentric paradigm of Christendom, prior to the presumably satirically-named period of atheistic Enlightenment.

    Or is it a more praeternaturally-divine paradigm that information-prescribed design is leading to, since thought and mind, itself, are totally beyond the reach of our understanding.

  6. 6
    Axel says:

    Reflecting on Planck’s view :

    ‘I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.’

    …. I think one can see somewhere in play there, the sense of Aldous Huxley’s term, the ‘unitive intelligence’.

  7. 7
    Jorge says:

    NOTE: read the excerpt above and watch the 21-minute video. Therein the word “information” is mentioned scores of times. Yet not a single time do we see/hear: “Information is defined as…” or
    “By information we specifically mean …” A rather important omission, agreed?

  8. 8
    Dionisio says:

    Jorge @7

    Interesting observation.

  9. 9
    es58 says:

    Jorge @7: In a similar way, I’ve asked before, it seems Dawkins is free to say that biological systems “appear” designed, but, he doesn’t have to provide a rigorous definition of design, to show exactly *how* they differ. He just gets to say that they do.

  10. 10
    es58 says:

    tjguy @3 : ” I guess they are finally seeing the writing on the wall” … No, they always said it was information and always said it was important. You just haven’t been paying attention 🙂

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