Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > Genes and the Central Fallacy of Evolutionary Theory > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

Development is a transformation of the whole (2)

There is no construction process in the cell corresponding to the step-by-step assembly of a Lego-block construction. Altering any one part of the cell would in fact very likely change the configuration of many others, even blurring their identities. There is, to be sure, a more or less stable DNA sequence, but there is no foundational explanatory power offered by some fixed structure to which molecular nuts and bolts, gears and levers — or informational “particles” — can be neatly added, subtracted, or substituted for each other in isolation from larger processes.

Yet every lineage of cells proceeds along its path in a perfectly coherent, well-organized way, with transformations occurring in a proper, adaptable, and fluent order. The cell is an activity, with its own spatial and temporal patterns of behavior. And these patterns of behavior, situated within the choreography of the larger organism and its environment, are what hold the cell lineage together as a unified and well-directed process of differentiation.

Actually, cumulative or directional change is possible in development only because the organism does not have to add or alter one piece after another successively in the way we build machines. It happens because every change is already a functional modification of other parts. Changes occur as in an improvisational symphony, where a shift in one instrumental part immediately lends a different harmonic significance to other parts and sends them in new directions. The organism functions integrally, and if it could achieve its harmonious unity of performance only by individually altering many other parts in response to every change in any one part — and if it had to do so in discrete, “mutational” steps — the task would prove impossible.

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