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Biological Information: New Perspectives (Intelligent Systems Reference Library)
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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It makes a good case that biological life is not only matter plus energy, rather that information is at the heart of biological life, just as much as matter and energy. One of the aspects of information is its unpredictability from natural causes. For example, the traces left by the Great Bonneville Flood require no information for explanation despite the fact that its length and size left a rather complex record, everything can be explained from just matter and energy, but even the simplest of living organisms have a type of complexity that makes it unpredictable from natural causes, so unpredictable that the probability is virtually nil from natural causes.
This is a scholarly symposium with such high scholarship that even education people have trouble understanding it, and for that reason would not be recommended for all audiences.
1. "Not Junk After All: Non-Protein-Coding DNA Carries Extensive Biological Information." Note that this conference was held in May/June 2011, over a year before the 2012 ENCODE report that confirmed that much of "junk DNA" was not really junk, and
2. "The Membrane Code: A Carrier of Essential Biological Information That Is Not Specified by DNA and Is Inherited Apart from It." Again, I believe this was written relatively early in the "epigenetic revolution," so both of Wells' papers were somewhat prophetic.
I expect that other papers in this volume may be seen as "prophetic" in a few years.
... my reaction when I first discovered this downloadable (free) book which deals seriously with what I consider to be the quintessential scientific questions of our time: What is the origin and nature of biological information, of mind, and of the cosmos?
This compilation is the proceedings of a symposium held in the spring of 2011 at Cornell University. There are about thirty chapters, submitted by experts in "information theory, computer science, numerical simulation, thermodynamics, evolutionary theory, whole organism biology, developmental biology, molecular biology, genetics, physics, biophysics, mathematics, and linguistics."
If you haven't thought carefully about the notion of "information" before, consider the words you are reading at this very instant. They are likely on your computer screen, or you could be reading a printed copy. Nevertheless, the "information" conveyed is the same. Thus, the "information" is not the material (the medium), your 'mind' is not the cells in your body, and the 'laws of physics' are not the matter in the universe. (This not a new notion of course; consider Aristotle's discussions of form and matter.)
The origin and nature of biological information is becoming increasingly central to the frontiers of biology. Even though we can now efficiently read the `letters' in a biological DNA code, we are only just beginning to learn their meaning and function. And the complexity and sophistication of the information and its storage is far beyond what we'd previously anticipated.
In addition, an entire new field is emerging due to the surprising discovery that a great deal of biological information is "epigenetic," i.e., not stored in the DNA, but in the cellular constituents and architecture. Thus, it is not sufficient to merely tweak with the "machine code," one must also anticipate and/or make changes in the down-stream hardware (which is not described in the machine code) in order to preserve function.
The density and interdependence of information storage is also staggering, making evolutionary mechanisms which rely upon gradual, incremental changes problematic (as required in NeoDarwinism). For example, most genes perform multiple functions. While a small mutation in one part of one gene might produce some incremental advantage in one functional aspect, it would more likely destroy a dozen other functional advantages it previously had in combination with the other, non-mutated genes. Not to mention conflicts with the corresponding downstream, epigenetic structures (information) necessary to implement the affected functions.
Hold on to your hat! The biology paradigm train is racing ever faster. If you want to know where the train is, the chapters in this book provide valuable landmarks, signposts, and primers along the journey.
How nice to have so much of the leading-edge thinking collected into one volume!
I had the privilege of attending this conference, and must say that I was dramatically influenced by this group of scientists. The last two years of my Ph.D. research were influenced especially by the dismantling of "Junk DNA" by Jonathan Wells, which was indeed prophetic, as he arrived at his conclusions before the Sept 2012 ENCODE project dropped their pile of Nature/Science articles. The work by Sanford, Behe and Oller was also instrumental in enlightening my understanding biological systems.