Rethinking the Meaning of Biological Information

Biological Theory 4 (2):159-166 (2009)
Throughout the history of molecular biology, the primary meaning of biological information has been taken from the image of a word-based linguistic code. I want to argue that the metaphor of such a code does not begin to capture either the variety or the richness of the processes by which nucleotide sequences inform biological processes. Current research demonstrates that nucleotide sequences inform not only development but also heredity and evolution, and they do so in all sorts of ways. Even though they do not exhaust the varieties of biological information employed in these processes, I claim that the power of DNA sequences to inform these processes is richer and perhaps far greater than the conventional understanding of genetic information permits, indeed richer than what any of our images of simple linguistic codes or of senders and receivers permits. Rather than a tape in a Turing machine or a message or signal sent through the generations, DNA is first and foremost a physicochemical structure with a range of potential uses by the physicochemical arsenal of biological cells that is so large as to expose the poverty of our most familiar metaphors. Recognition of this fact leads us to conclude that DNA is both more and less than we thought—more because it carries both symbolic and non-symbolic information and less because accepting that fact undermines its radical distinction from other biological molecules
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1162/biot.2009.4.2.159
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 16,667
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Christophe Menant (2003). Information and Meaning. [Journal (on-Line/Unpaginated)] 5:193-204.
Anna Latawiec (2008). The Essence of Life in Context of Biological Information. Proceedings of the Xxii World Congress of Philosophy 44:45-51.
Barton Moffatt, “A Reexamination of Biological Information From the Perspective of Practice”. Society of Philosophy of Science in Practice Conference Paper (2009).

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

72 ( #47,201 of 1,726,249 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

6 ( #118,705 of 1,726,249 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.