Genes - Fact and Fiction, Science and Philosophy

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Genes - Fact and Fiction, Science and Philosophy

<p>Unravel the web of confusion with a methodical enquiry into the science of life and evolution, and into the origin, purpose and limitations of the genetic information data base.<br/><p><br/><strong


Unravel the web of confusion with a methodical enquiry into the science of life and evolution, and into the origin, purpose and limitations of the genetic information data base.


  • J. Lawrenz: Mind & Life: A Philosophical Quest (Cambridge Scholars)
  • C. De Duve: Vital Dust (Basic Books)
  • G. Cairns-Smith: Seven Clues to the Origin of Life (Cambridge UP)
  • P. Agutter & D. Wheatley: About Life (Springer)


  • Understanding the nature of genes requires us to see them in light of their purpose. Life differs from non-life by the intervention of intentionality. Therefore we find innumerable unique processes occurring in living cells that have no match in the non-living world. In this session we lay out the ‘nuts and bolts’ of genetic emergence.
  • Purpose is fundamental, yet it lands us in a methodological predicament. What is the purpose of the genetic databank? We confront the strange contradiction between theories which posit the origin of life from genes and the fact that genes are made by organisms. Also the evident self-assembly of many organic fibres without explicit genetic coding. From this ensues the surprising revelation that no new life is ever instantiated by genes.
  • Definition of the ‘living state’. Consequences in terms of chance vs intentionality. The philosophical dillemma: The inability of science to give a sufficient reason for the evolution of life from unguided chemistry. We look at hints for emergence from the conditions underlying the formation of biogenic substances (‘homeodynamic phase changes’).
  • Precursors of genetic science: Darwin, Mendel and Schrödinger. How genes were discovered as physical memory devices (Crick, Watson 1953). The downplayed aspect of obvious intentional manipulation. The imperative of genetic adaptation for survival. Evolution targets organisms, not molecules: A case study (sickle cell anaemia).
  • Resemblance of the code to a recipe. A cardinal error of media propagnda: mistaking the map for the terrain. The 4-letter dictionary of genetic coding using analog devices (not to be confused with digital computer flow charts!). What happens during fertilisation. Structure of the double helix.
  • Our advantage in the dispute between ‘mechanism’ and ‘intelligent manipulation’: the existence of intelligent agents. Chance vs ‘can do’. What living cells do to overcome the impassivity of chemical assembly. The principle of ‘priming’. The difference between causality and the ability to negate. Life is possible without genes, but genes serve to remember successful adaptation and survival measures. The principle of anticipation.
  • Genetic is a science full of unanswered question and unasked answers. Public knowledge about genes is in a disastrously defective state. Many confident assertions are merely tentative and self-contradictory. In this summing up we endeavour to secure what can be known and why the artifical creation of life is not an empirical (or even merely theoretical) issue.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Knowledgeably discuss key aspects of genetic transmission
  2. Discriminate possible problems of self-contradiction between biological evolution and genetic theories.