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The Organic Codes: An Introduction to Semantic Biology Paperback – January 2, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0521531009 ISBN-10: 0521531004
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Editorial Reviews


"The text of Barbieri's book is clear and very enjoyable to read...introduc[ing] relevant and challenging ideas to the body of thought of biologists and of other science readers..." Genetics and Molecular Biology

Book Description

In this book, Marcello Barbieri sets out his theory that there are many more organic codes in nature than just the genetic code. He states that the existence of these codes and their corresponding organic memories can be used to explain the major steps in the evolutionary history of life, with major events corresponding with the appearance of new codes. The organic codes and their corresponding organic memories can also shed new light on the problems of epigenesis and how embryos generate their own complexity.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (December 23, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521531004
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521531009
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,663,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

2.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John Duncan on January 31, 2005
Format: Paperback
Nowadays everyone has heard of the genetic code (in the singular). There is a certain amount of confusion in many people's minds, encouraged by the journalistic use of the phrase "genetic code" to mean what a biologist would call the genome, i.e. the complete DNA sequence for an individual. Nonetheless, there are plenty of good sources, ranging from the highly technical to the popular, to clarify the matter for those who want to be set straight.

Marcello Barbieri is talking about something different, that is not only little known to the general public, but is also far less well known among biologists than it deserves to be. For him "codes" is plural, and he means more than just the familiar set of rules that say, for example, that when the triplet AAA occurs in an appropriate context in the DNA of a cell the aminoacid lysine needs to occur in the sequence of the corresponding protein. For Barbieri this is just one of numerous organic codes. Some of the others are also "genetic", in the sense that they involve reading more from DNA sequences than just aminoacid sequences, but others are not, as they involve information coded into structures such as sugars and histones that are not nucleic acids.

All this should have considerable interest for the biologist even if we just stop there, but Barbieri goes on to build a theory of evolutionary complexity on the existence of multiple codes. Each time a new code appears during evolution it allows a large jump in the complexity of the organisms that possess it, but it does not replace earlier codes, which continue to be used, and it does not cause the simpler organisms to disappear. Thus modern organisms constitute a sort of pyramid in which the simplest organisms, the bacteria, use the ordinary genetic code and nothing else.
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12 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Alex Tolley on December 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book has a germ of an idea, but overall the author's exposition is confused and unconvincing. The big idea is that life is a set of organic codes and that codes imply meaning, hence the "semantics" in the title. Barbieri attemps to show that codes are necessary mappings between domains that e.g. allow information stored in the genome to be translated into the organism through development. A key point is that the genome contains insufficient information to fully describe the organism. From this, the author posits codes for other processes, e.g. exon splicing and signal transduction, although he offers no evidence and just suggests biologists haven't looked for them. He also tries to use his ideas to "explain" evolution, especially the Cambrium explosion of phyla.
I found his ideas unconvincing. His ideas rest on his model of how complexity needs to be generated, based on algorithms to reconstruct CAT scan images. He uses a new term "convergent increase in complexity" to mean "reconstructing a structure from incomplete information", which is based on these CAT scan image algorithms. However, a wealth of literature on cellular automata (finite state machines) shows that complexity can be generated by simple rules. Furthermore, repeatable, complex structures can be observed by these processes. If one needs convincing about this, just look at the biomorph images in Dawkins' "The Blind Watchmaker" for taste of how simple rules can create complex, "body plans". L-systems are another example.
But despite his claims, Barbieri does not really offer falsifiable hypotheses and for this reason alone, it is difficult to understand how anyone can build on this work as a model of biology.
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2 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Sei Kameoka on January 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
The book contains 280 pages of text, 25 pages of refenreces, 7 pages of INDEX, and many figures and cartoon to explain the concept of author's hypothesis. Barbieri was a development biologist at MRC in Cambridge, NIH, and Max Planck.

This is a typical anti-Darwinism semi-pseudoscience book. I picked up the book because the book cover had a Chomsky's accolade. It's not as obvious and outrageous as Intelligent Desing-sort of book, but the author cites his own book to explain his main points. Many biological facts in the book are real and correct, but there is no scientific logical structure to support the author's "semantic" theory. I was struck by the fact that this book was published from Cambridge University Press.
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The Organic Codes: An Introduction to Semantic Biology
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