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

The noncomputational life of organisms (3)

IF THE ORGANISM WERE MODELED after a computer, it would have to be a computer that builds itself--or, rather, grows itself. But no computer functions by growing the organs of its own functioning--that is, by overseeing the growth of its own hardware.

The issue here has indeed been routinely acknowledged--where “routinely” means “without much thought”. One experiences a kind of mental vertigo upon reading the casual and unexplained remark by Jacob that the organism “determines the production of its own components, that is, the organs which are to execute the programme” (1973, p. 9). Or Mayr’s equally bald assertion that “one of the properties of the genetic program is that it can supervise its own precise replication and that of other living systems such as organelles, cells, and whole required the rise of computer science before the concept of such a program became reputable” (1982, p. 56).

Embraced by unreflective biologists, perhaps--but reputable? How does an all-but-unthinkable concept--that of a computer that grows itself and all its parts even as it operates--become reputable?

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