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

Every organism is telling a story

Everything implied in asking what the elements of the cell are doing suggests that we are looking at a story. And, in fact, biology is primarily a narrative discipline. Every organism is telling a story. Its meanings are storied meanings. When the stories end, the organism is dead....

[Italicized words refer to a quoted molecular biological abstract:] There is virtually nothing but story here, with the emphasized terms only being the most obvious contributors to the narrative element. The larger story has to do with the overall life-trajectory (development) of an organism that strives to maintain its well-being (health), inevitably ages, and can become diseased in a way that threatens a premature denouement. But within that story, there is a diverse ensemble of sub-narratives, all being orchestrated into a whole.

And so there are tasks to perform, things that can go well or badly, mistakes and corrections, sensing and responding, and communication in all directions (signaling and trafficking). Even a word such as mutation, in this biological context, implies an expected or normative course of events that has somehow been controverted. And in an inanimate world without biographies we would not extend the story across generations by speaking of inheritance. (We do not say that crystals “inherit” each other’s form, even when a tiny bit of one crystal “seeds” another.)

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