Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > How Biologists Lost Sight of the Meaning of Life > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

Denial of meaning

But tragedy intervened. For in biology there has also occurred what may be the greatest self-effacement of all time. Precisely at the point in evolutionary history where the understanding consciousness arises and becomes aware of itself, it begins to deny its own powers. We are those who, by grace of our own evolutionary inheritance, can in one way or another enter into the meaning of the life of every living creature and make it our own. Yet, fearing “anthropocentrism” — which is to say, fearing ourselves — we end up belittling the gift of understanding.

In biology, the result is that “meaning” itself has become a forbidden word, a shameful sign of the loss of hardheaded rigor. This is especially true since the discovery of the double helix in 1953 and the triumph of molecular biology. Naturalists have given way to rote data-gatherers and lab technicians. Nearly all the symbols by which we can most richly forge a cognitive connection to the world — by which we can invite the world to speak in us — have been derogated, with only the most de-meaned ones retaining respectability. Mathematics, information, algorithm, code, computation, the abstracted logical structure of mechanisms — never mind that these, too, are expressions of our own consciousness and mentality — have become the only philosophically “pure” terms of biological discourse. The organism is denied a full voice on earth through our refusal to lend it the full expressive powers of our own voice.

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