What Genes Can't Do by Lenny MossWhat Genes Can't Do by Lenny Moss

What Genes Can't Do

byLenny Moss

Paperback | January 30, 2004

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The idea of the gene has been a central organizing theme in contemporary biology, and the Human Genome project and biotechnological advances have put the gene in the media spotlight. In this book Lenny Moss reconstructs the history of the gene concept, placing it in the context of the perennial interplay between theories of preformationism and theories of epigenesis. He finds that there are not one, but two, fundamental -- and fundamentally different -- senses of "the gene" in scientific use -- one the heir to preformationism and the other the heir to epigenesis. "Gene-P", the preformationist gene concept, serves as an instrumental predictor of phenotypic outcomes, while "Gene-D", the gene of epigenesis, is a developmental resource that specifies possible amino acid sequences for proteins. Moss argues that the popular idea that genes constitute blueprints for organisms is the result of an unwarranted conflation of these independently valid senses of the gene, and he analyzes the rhetorical basis of this conflation.

In the heart of the book, Moss uses the Gene-D/Gene-P distinction to examine the real basis of biological order and of the pathological loss of order in cancer. He provides a detailed analysis of the "order-from-order" role of cell membranes and compartmentalization and considers dynamic approaches to biological order such as that of Stuart Kauffman. He reviews the history of cancer research with an emphasis on the oncogene and tumor suppressor gene models and shows how these gene-centered strategies point back to the significance of higher level, multi-cellular organizational fields in the onset and progression of cancer. Finally, Moss draws on the findings of the Human Genome Project, biological modularity, and the growing interest in resynthesyzing theories of evolution and development to look beyond the "century of the gene" toward a rebirth of biological understanding.

Lenny Moss is Associate Professor of Philosophy and a Senior Fellow at the ESRC Center for Genomics in Society, University of Exeter, UK.
Title:What Genes Can't DoFormat:PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.5 inPublished:January 30, 2004Publisher:The MIT PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0262632977

ISBN - 13:9780262632973


Editorial Reviews

Forty years ago it seemed to me that the fledgling field of Artificial Intelligence had taken over from philosophy a mistaken computational/representational model of human being and made it into a research program. Besides setting unrealistic research goals, this misunderstanding was gaining the dignity of a new 'scientific' social self-understanding. What Computers Can't Do was meant to call attention to this problem and suggest a more promising approach. In this important and original book, Lenny Moss draws on his experience as both a molecular cell biologist and a philosopher to criticize -- historically, scientifically, and philosophically -- our current model of living beings as the product of pre-formed representations embedded in genes. His work provides a perspective from which a new philosophical anthropology can weave together biological and phenomenological insights into a realistic non-reductionist understanding of life and of human being.