Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > The Unbearable Wholeness of Beings > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

Different languages apply to the live organism and the corpse (4)

On its face, the language reviewed aboverecognize, respond, function, adapt, regulate, and so on — suggests that something is going on over and above a physically lawful performance. In employing the conventional terminology, we describe a kind of directed choreography — a performance whose nature and intent is sufficiently clear for us to judge when errors occur or injury supervenes. (Rocks and clouds do not commit errors or suffer injury.) This implies that we are comfortable making qualitative and aesthetic judgments about health, and can distinguish between coherent and errant meaning in the various informative exchanges continually taking place throughout cell and organism.

We speak, in other words, as though the performer (whatever subject we intend for verbs such as “regulate” and “adapt”) were a real entity or being, capable of signaling or otherwise communicating its own needs and designs, able to make sense of the signals coming from its environment, and, amidst it all, striving to maintain its own distinct, healthy identity.

bullet Locate this passage inThe Unbearable Wholeness of Beings