Synopses & Reviews
describes the transformative role played by andldquo;outsidersandrdquo; in the growth of the modern life sciences. Biology, which occupies a special place between the exact and human sciences, has historically attracted many thinkers whose primary training was in other fields: mathematics, physics, chemistry, linguistics, philosophy, history, anthropology, engineering, and even literature. These outsiders brought with them ideas and tools that were foreign to biology, but which, when applied to biological problems, helped to bring about dramatic, and often surprising, breakthroughs.and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;This volume brings together eighteen thought-provoking biographical essays of some of the most remarkable outsiders of the modern era, each written by an authority in the respective field. From Noam Chomsky using linguistics to answer questions about brain architecture, to Erwin Schrandouml;dinger contemplating DNA as a physicist would, to Drew Endy tinkering with Biobricks to create new forms of synthetic life, the outsiders featured here make clear just how much there is to gain from disrespecting conventional boundaries. Innovation, it turns out, often relies on importing new ideas from other fields. Without its outsiders, modern biology would hardly be recognizable.
"Making Sense of Life is about the importance of recognizing [the] tight connection between the use of language in the social domain and how it produces biological "understanding"...The central arguments of Making Sense of Life are made with grace and authority. Those who are unsettled by them, and who wish to take issue with Keller, could not ask for a more accomplished and eloquent adversary." Lisa Jardine, New Scientist
"Keller writes beautifully, explains exquisitely, does a really good job of showing how today's four-dimensional color gene-product-marked embryo pictures, available to all on the Web, have answered most of the old questions...and how they have generated a whole new set: about artificial life, about complex systems and emergence, about what we want to understand development for...I hope she finds a new generation of biology students, as well as historians, who'll appreciate her subtle thinking; this book makes sense of embryology at last." Jack Cohen, Biologist
"Evelyn Fox Keller, once a mathematical physicist but now primarily a historian of biology, has analyzed the varied attempts of 20th-century biologists to provide an explanation for the nature and origin of life...Keller's achievement is to historicize 20th-century biological concepts, so that we can begin to see that they are not inevitable, springing directly from a realization of "how nature is", but rather are culturally located, and shaped by complex social forces." Steven Rose, Lancet
A terrific book full of thought-provoking and original ideas and observations. Keller's discussion of "explanation" in the life sciences is easily one of the very best and most interesting treatments of this topic that I have ever read." Jim Woodward, J.O. and Juliette Koepfli Professor of the Humanities, California Institute of Technology
What do biologists want? If, unlike their counterparts in physics, biologists are generally wary of a grand, overarching theory, at what kinds of explanation do biologists aim? How will we know when we have "made sense" of life? Such questions, Evelyn Fox Keller suggests, offer no simple answers. Explanations in the biological sciences are typically provisional and partial, judged by criteria as heterogeneous as their subject matter. It is Keller's aim in this bold and challenging book to account for this epistemological diversityparticularly in the discipline of developmental biology.
In particular, Keller asks, what counts as an "explanation" of biological development in individual organisms? Her inquiry ranges from physical and mathematical models to more familiar explanatory metaphors to the dramatic contributions of recent technological developments, especially in imaging, recombinant DNA, and computer modeling and simulations.
A history of the diverse and changing nature of biological explanation in a particularly charged field, Making Sense of Life draws our attention to the temporal, disciplinary, and cultural components of what biologists mean, and what they understand, when they propose to explain life.
Explanations in the biological sciences are typically provisional and partial, judged by criteria as heterogeneous as their subject matter. It is Keller's aim in this book to account for this epistemological diversity - particularly in the discipline of developmental biology.
About the Author
Evelyn Fox Keller is Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at MIT. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and numerous honorary degrees.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Outsiders as Innovators in the Life Sciences
Oren Harman and Michael R. Dietrich
I Outsiders Before the Inside
1 The Many Sides of Gregor Mendel
2 Louis Pasteur: The Chemist in the Clinic
3 Fand#233;lix dand#8217;Herelle: Uncompromising Autodidact
William C. Summers
4 The Paradox of Samuel Butler: Insider or Outsider?
II Outsiders from the Physical Sciences
5 Erwin Schrand#246;dingerand#8217;s Excursus on Genetics
6 Linus Pauling: Leading Exporter of Chemical Insights into Biology
Gregory J. Morgan
7 From Bomb to Bank: Walter Goad and the Introduction of Computers into Biology
III Outsiders from Mathematics
8 R. A. Fisher and the Foundations of Statistical Biology
Michael R. Dietrich and Robert A. Skipper, Jr.
9 Nicolas Rashevskyand#8217;s Pencil- and- Paper Biology
Maya M. Shmailov
10 Searching for Patterns, Hunting for Causes: Robert MacArthur, the Mathematical Naturalist
IV Outsiders from the Human Sciences
11 Noam Chomsky and the Biology of Language
W. Tecumseh Fitch
12 Dunking the Tarzanists: Elaine Morgan and the Aquatic Ape Theory
Erika Lorraine Milam
13 David Hulland#8217;s Philosophical Contribution to Biology
T. J. Horder
14 Ilya Metchnikoff: From Evolutionist to Immunologist, and Back Again
Alfred I. Tauber
15 Franand#231;ois Jacob: Tinkering with Organisms and Models
VI Outsiders from Informatics
16 Theoreticians as Professional Outsiders: The Modeling Strategies of John von Neumann and Norbert Wiener
17 On the Importance of the Parvenu: The Amazing Case of George Price in Evolutionary Biology
18 Outsiders and In- Laws: Drew Endy and the Case of Synthetic Biology
Epilogue: The Problem with Boxes
Richard C. Lewontin
List of Contributors