Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > The Poverty of the Instructed Organism > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

How biologists were seduced by the model of the computer

THIS IS THE SOLUTION I mentioned at the outset: dumb mechanism somehow manifesting wise purpose, courtesy of information and computation. The biologist could finally accept the purposeful organism without shame. François Jacob, who won his Nobel Prize for discoveries in gene regulation, summarized the matter with French flair: “For a long time, the biologist treated teleology as he would a woman he could not do without, but did not care to be seen with in public. The concept of [a computer] programme has made an honest woman of teleology” (1973, pp. 8-9).

[One of the twentieth century’s preeminent evolutionary theorists,] Ernst Mayr was no less unequivocal. “All organisms possess a historically evolved genetic program, coded in the DNA of the nucleus of the zygote...Nothing comparable to it exists in the inanimate world, except for manmade computers” (1982, p. 55).

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