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

The molecules in our cells know their tasks

THE ACTIVITY OF THESE MOLECULAR COMMUNITIES tends to be highly specific to their immediate environment. An improbable combination of molecules performs in concert to carry out an almost unthinkably intricate series of tasks in just the right, highly directed, yet non-“hardwired” sequence — all this as opposed to wandering off in other directions and engaging in perfectly respectable molecular behavior unrelated to the current needs of the organism or this particular tissue or this particular cell or this particular stage of the cell cycle. A dividing cell “asks” very different things of its molecules than, say, a cell in resting stage.

And why should the molecules not wander “off-topic”? Such undirected behavior is, in fact, the rule for those same molecules when they move about in a decaying corpse rather than a living organism. It is not, after all, the business of molecules, understood solely in terms of physical law, to “know” what their task should be here and now, as opposed to there and later. It is not their business to pay attention to the needs of anyone or anything. Yet such needs and such attention are exactly what the biologist is continually tracing.

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