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International Socialism, March 1998


John Parrington

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it


From International Socialism 2:78, March 1998.
Copyright © International Socialism.
Copied with thanks from the International Socialism Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Steven Rose
Penguin 1997

Science is neutral and abuses of science are aberrations in an otherwise healthy system – or such is the view of most mainstream philosophers of science and certainly of most working scientists themselves. [1] Therefore to venture beyond attacking those pseudo-scientists responsible for bringing science’s good name into disrepute, and to suggest that such abuses are but a symptom of a wider problem in the philosophy of science, might reasonably be expected to cause a certain amount of friction. A geneticist reviewing Steven Rose’s new book Lifelines in the prestigious science journal Nature illustrates the point. On the one hand, he acknowledges how genetics in Nazi Germany ‘served as an argument for mass murder’, and in the United States it ‘was used to legitimise mass sterilisation, laws against racial mixing and a restrictive immigration policy’. [2] Yet he spends the rest of the review blindly defending the mainstream biological reductionism that was used to justify such atrocities. In the end his worst fear appears to be that Rose may be ‘successful in selling his idea to young biologists who might read the book’!

It is not only conservative scientists who are a little perturbed by Lifelines. [3] This is because in this book Rose goes much further than in previous work, such as the now classic Not in our Genes [4], which largely concentrated on the immediate task of challenging the views of the sociobiologists. The most notorious of these, Richard Dawkins, went so far as to argue that human beings are merely ‘robots ... blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes’. [5] Not in our Genes was a marvellous polemic that provided crucial ammunition in the battle of ideas that raged in biology during the mid-1980s. In contrast, Lifelines has a more ambitious goal. It sets out to challenge the much wider set of assumptions that the reductionist programme is ultimately based upon, and which is still accepted by the majority of biologists. In doing so it also provides an alternative, far more sophisticated ‘dialectical’ viewpoint.

Still putting out fires

One of the co-authors of Not in our Genes, Richard Lewontin, previously commented that fighting biological determinism is like putting out fires. [6] Every time you extinguish one, another starts somewhere else. In fact there has been a rise in biological determinist arguments in the 1990s, partly for ideological reasons, and partly because of the acceleration in genetic technology, the pinnacle of which is the current human genome project. [7] So a part of Rose’s argument consists of bringing up to date and expanding some of the concepts developed in previous work. He points out that one of the ways in which complex social behaviour becomes labelled as having a biological basis is by what he describes as ‘reification’. This means converting a dynamic process into a static phenomenon. In practice it can result in lumping together all sorts of diverse social activities as if they had one unitary cause.

One example has been the way biological explanations have been put forward to explain ‘violence’. [8] One of the bogeys raised by tabloids and politicians in the 1990s has been the idea that there is a rising spiral of ‘inner city violence’. [9] How convenient it would be if violence in society was found to be, not a social problem, but due to ‘bad genes’. Rose describes how, in the biological determinist’s eyes, acts of violence as disparate as ‘a man abusing his lover or child, fights between football fans, strikers resisting police, racist attacks on ethnic minorities, and civil and national wars’ are all seen as manifestations of ‘aggression’. [10] It is of course assumed that this must be the same ‘aggression’ that is measured as the time taken for a laboratory rat to kill a mouse placed in its cage – so called ‘muricidal’ behaviour! The search then begins for the genes that cause this phenomenon. The description of what such genetic ‘research’ actually involves is worth dwelling on here because it shows, on the one hand, the flawed assumptions that guide such work, and on the other, the total lack of scientific rigour that would never survive in any other field of biology.

Rose discusses the case of a Dutch family, some of whose male members were abnormally violent, their behaviour including ‘aggressive outbursts, arson, attempted rape and exhibitionism’. All the men possessed a mutation in a gene coding for an enzyme, monoamine oxidase, associated with production of a chemical produced by the brain. Eventually the author of the study dissociated himself from his previous claim that there could be a unitary cause for the widely different behaviour patterns. But this didn’t prevent, two years later, a paper appearing in the prestigious journal Science, describing a study of mice which had been genetically engineered to lack the enzyme. [11] It was noted that the mice showed ‘trembling, difficulty in righting, fearfulness, frantic running and falling over ... disturbed sleep ... propensity to bite the experimenter ... hunched posture’. Yet of all these features the authors only highlighted ‘aggression’ in the paper’s title! When Rose raised this point in a letter to Science, he was telephoned by one of the authors who explained they had highlighted aggression in this way because it seemed the best way of drawing attention to their results! Rose points out that this sort of evidence is being used by the US Federal Violence Initiative, which aims to identify inner city children regarded as ‘at risk’ of becoming violent in later life due to predisposing biochemical or genetic factors. [12]

Reductionist method and reductionist philosophy

Many scientists would accept Rose’s criticisms of the studies we have just mentioned. He faces a much larger obstacle in seeking to challenge reductionism as a whole. One of the main problems is the very success of the reductionist method. As Rose points out, the power of modern science lies in the fact that it is about more than just passively observing and recording the natural world. Instead scientists seek to understand the world by ‘actively intervening in it, by first controlling it and then experimenting on it’. By necessity this approach must be reductive, because ‘it works by attempting to isolate from the flux of the everyday world just the one aspect, the phenomenon that we wish to study, and then changing one at a time the conditions we believe may affect it’. [13] In biology, the words of Alexander Pope may be true: ‘Life following life through creatures you dissect, you lose it in the moment you detect’, [14] but it is also true that the power of modern medicine and the dizzying pace of molecular biology over the last few decades draw their strength from such a reductive approach.

A problem arises, however, when the power of the reductionist method becomes confused with the idea that the natural world really exists in such an atomised form. Reductionist method becomes reductionist philosophy and thus we get scientists like James Watson, one of the co-discoverers of the helical structure of DNA, arguing that, ‘There is only one science, physics; everything else is social work’. [15] As Rose points out, such a view is nonsensical because it misses completely the fact that true understanding of the natural world can only come about through a combination of analysis from different levels. To understand what takes place when a frog jumps after a fly for instance, what Watson would see as the most ‘fundamental’ level, ie the atomic structure of the molecules in the frog’s muscle, would explain little. We also need biochemistry to understand the chemical changes taking place, physiology to comprehend the nerve-muscle connections, ecology to understand the life pattern of the frog and its interactions with other species, and so on.

Rose’s point is that although science has created a hierarchy of analysis, we should not be fooled into thinking this reflects a hierarchy in nature itself. What is happening at the different levels is happening simultaneously, not as part of some cause and effect chain. But Rose also makes it clear that if we are to go beyond reductionism, we must also provide a new way of understanding how these different levels fit together. And the only philosophical viewpoint that can really get to grips with the complexity of the interactions taking place is a dialectical one. [16]

It is here that I have a certain criticism of Rose. He is quite correct in his argument about how the philosophy of reductionism stifles a correct understanding of the natural world. But I think he sometimes underestimates the extent to which a dialectical way of looking at things can often be forced upon scientists, even if they do not consciously acknowledge it, precisely because in a number of emerging fields it is impossible to understand the phenomena one is looking at in any other way. This has occurred in two particular areas which Rose himself dwells upon – chaos and complexity theory on the one hand, [17] and my own field of embryology on the other. The first area has already been discussed from a dialectical standpoint in this journal. [18] It is undoubtedly true that a dialectical viewpoint could have greatly aided the transition to a more sophisticated understanding in the field of embryology. However, it is also true that without the empirical discoveries, often achieved with the most reductive methodology, the only point that a dialectical viewpoint could supply would be vague generalisations. Dialectical ‘laws’ are still best illuminated through nature in all its messy concreteness, however haphazard may have been the path that led us to such knowledge. [19]

The problem of metaphor

If Rose can be criticised for his underestimation of some scientists’ ability to transcend their reductionist philosophy under force of circumstance, this is a minor point when viewed against the success of Lifelines’ critique of reductionist philosophy. The book succeeds not only in its scope, but also in the way it draws together a number of important conceptual advances which have been germinating in Rose’s earlier work and in the work of others who seek an alternative to reductionism in science. [20] The rest of this review will look at what I consider to be the most important strands.

We have already seen how Rose challenges the idea that human behaviour is determined by our genes. But he also challenges the very notion of what constitutes a gene. In particular he questions the way in which DNA, the stuff out of which genes are made, has become symbolised as the ‘blueprint’ of life. One important point that Rose makes is about the role of metaphors in biology. He discusses how changes in the workings of society as a whole are often passed on metaphorically to biology. Thus, ‘brains, once perceived as functioning on hydraulic principles, and later as telephone exchanges, are now supercomputers, another part of biology’s information highway’. [21] In descriptions of the living cell, we find that,

… in the biochemical literature of the 1930s to the 1950s, cells were pictured as small factories, with ‘powerhouses’ (mitochondria) and energy currency systems (ATP), whose central function was maintaining a balanced energy budget ... by the 1980s energy budgets had been relegated to a minor league. Dominant now were concepts of control processes and information flow within the cell, whose functions were no longer seen in terms of crude energy, but of sophisticated management. [22]

It was information technology that supplied the metaphor for DNA almost from the moment of its discovery in 1953 by Crick and Watson – from now on it became viewed as a ‘code’. [23] In line with this, it became part of the ‘central dogma’ of molecular biology that the passage of information from DNA to the proteins it specified was a one way trip. [24] Even the language molecular biologists use to describe this process – transcription of DNA into RNA (the intermediary molecule), translation of RNA into protein – betray the origins of the metaphor in information theory. Now, in many ways the metaphor has been a very valuable one. The idea of a linear code has become one of the great concepts of biology. The problem is that its very success is in danger of obscuring our true knowledge of DNA’s place in the cell.

The problem with the DNA centred view

The main problem with the DNA centred view is that the ‘central dogma’ is simply not true. As Rose tells us: ‘Far from being isolated in the cell nucleus, magisterially issuing orders by which the rest of the cell is commanded ... genes are in constant dynamic exchange with their cellular environment’. [25] Rose refers to the idea developed by complexity theorist Stuart Kaufmann of the ‘cellular web’. [26] As an analogy, consider a piece of weaving:

[This] has a pattern, which resides not in any of the individual threads which constitute the warp and weft of the fabric, but in the product of their interactions. Furthermore, although the threads are individually quite weak, woven together they have considerable strength. And perhaps even more relevant, neither the pattern nor the strength depends on any one ‘master thread’. Remove any individual thread and the pattern, strength and stability of the fabric are only marginally affected.

It is similar with the network of cellular components:

Once it reaches a sufficient degree of complexity, it becomes strong, stable and capable of resisting change; the stability no longer resides in the individual components, the enzymes, their substrates and products, but in the web itself. The more interconnections, the greater the stability and the less the dependence on any one individual component. [27]

We can only really get to grips with the role of DNA in the cell by understanding its place within this cellular network. What this means in practice is that it is not simply the case that the cellular contents are read off from the DNA ‘code’, because the DNA itself can only be expressed through its interaction with other components of the cell. As Rose argues:

In the digital information metaphor, these cellular mechanisms play no part ... They are as dumb as the mechanism by which a cassette player converts the trace on a magnetic tape into a Beethoven violin concerto or a Miles Davis jazz track. All that the tape head and the speakers do is to follow the instructions given by the tape. They can influence the quality and the fidelity of the sound that is emitted, but they don’t carry information. The symphony remains in the DNA. But this is not how cells work. Unlike the cassette player, they don’t merely play their ‘tape’ at constant speed and hang the consequences. They instruct the tape as to which bits to play and when to play them, and they also edit the output. And of course, also quite unlike the cassette player, they continually reconstruct themselves throughout the cell cycle and the lifetime of the organism which they comprise. In so far as the information metaphor is valid at all, it can be expressed only in the dynamic interaction – the dialectic, therefore – between the DNA and the cellular system in which it is embedded. Cells make their own lifelines. [28]

Dramatic proof of the reliance of gene expression on the cellular environment was provided by the cloning of the sheep Dolly. [29] Dolly’s genetic material all came from the udder cell of an adult sheep. In these cells there is a very restricted pattern of gene expression, just enough to cover the specialised components that such cells need. Yet under the influence of the egg into which the udder cell nucleus was transplanted, the restrictions were lifted and the DNA became capable of specifying a whole new sheep’s body. Totipotency, a natural feature in plants, [30] had now been achieved.

New views on the origin of life

The ‘decentralisation’ of DNA’s role within the cell raises important issues about how life arose in the first place. We know that the chemicals that make up living cells would soon be burned up in the earth’s oxygenated atmosphere if they weren’t contained within the protective enclosure of the cell. A major insight was supplied in the 1930s by the Russian scientist Oparin, whose dialectical way of thinking proved crucial. [31] He argued that, originally, the earth’s atmosphere must have been quite different from now. Instead of the present highly oxidising atmosphere, it must have been a reducing mixture of hydrogen, ammonia and methane, together with carbon dioxide, exactly the composition that the Galileo probe is now revealing on the surface of Titan, Jupiter’s moon.

The present day atmosphere is very different precisely because it is a by-product of life itself, in particular the photosynthesising work of plants. Following Oparin’s work it was shown that the major building blocks of life could be created spontaneously in such conditions. [32] However, major questions still remained. How did the living cell itself arise? And at what point did DNA appear on the scene? For those with a DNA centred view the answer is simple. DNA must have arisen first. But given what we have said about the reliance of DNA on the cellular environment, it seems hard to imagine how this could have been the case. In fact, it seems far more plausible, as Rose argues:

[that the] presence of the cell membrane boundary, rather than replication, was the first crucial step in the development of life from non-life, for it is this that enables a critical mass of organic constituents to be assembled, making possible the establishment of an enzyme-catalysed metabolic web of reactions. Only subsequently could accurate replication based on nucleic acids have developed. [33]

In fact, the creation of such a membrane and the concentration within it of the necessary chemical components is a process that can be mimicked experimentally today. In summary then, when DNA did finally arrive on the scene, it must have radically transformed the form of proto-life, but to do so there had to be the pre-existing cellular environment to receive it. [34]

The developing organism

If gene expression is profoundly affected by the state of the cellular environment, it is also true that is meaningless to talk about the ‘action’ of genes as if they were separate, isolated entities, an approach which Rose derides as the ‘beanbag’ view of genetics. [35] In a multicellular organism like a human being, the true effects of gene expression only become apparent at the level of the body as a whole. But at this level, what we view as a particular feature, say the colour of the eyes, is in fact only the end product of a complex chain of events involving many different genes. [36]

We can best see the true significance of these gene interactions if we turn to embryology. Rose points out that there is a major difference between the assembly of a car and that of a foetus. Living organisms are quite different from cars in that:

… from very early on in their development they have to be capable simultaneously of a quasi-independent existence, and of growing further towards maturity. Moreover, the attributes that enable them at any one moment to maintain their existence are not always merely ‘miniature’ forms of those they will need in adulthood.

This is obviously true for some life forms. ‘Frogs’ eggs become tadpoles become frogs; butterflies’ eggs become caterpillars and chrysalises before butterflies emerge. Each stage requires a radical transformation of body plan, yet during each transformation the functions necessary for life must be preserved.’ But it is also true in quite subtle ways for organisms which seem to show linear developmental trajectories without such radical breaks. As Rose concludes, ‘life demands of all its forms the ability simultaneously to be and to become’. [37]

The way this is achieved is that the developing organism is subject to two opposing forces – specificity and plasticity. A vivid illustration of these two forces at work is provided by the developing eye. [38] The eye develops in association with its connection to a brain that is also developing. As both eye and brain grow and mature, the connections between them are broken and reformed many times, yet the overall pattern of the relationship between eye and brain must be maintained if vision is not to be impaired. At the same time the developing eye seems to be resistant to environmental ‘noise’, yet is still sensitive enough to respond to changes in the environment if they are sustained. How is all this achieved? There appear to be ‘many alternative routes that the cell and the organism can adopt during development which can lead to an essentially identical end-point. In the presence of a particular gene and protein, one route is adopted, and in their absence another is taken. Once again, there is no linear path between gene and organism’. [39]

How evolution really works

Rose refutes the idea that it is the (selfish) genes themselves that natural selection acts upon. He argues that while selection ultimately works through changes in the genes, this is not where selection acts. [40] Instead it is action at a distance; it is action at the level of the organism as a whole, as part of a species and finally as part of an interacting ecosystem.

This has major consequences for the mechanism of evolution. Rose puts forward a view in which evolution is constrained by structural considerations, what he calls the ‘laws of form’. Its fundamental consequence is that every trait that is selected also carries with it interlinked traits. Or as Rose puts it, if evolution were a menu, it would be table d’hote, not à la carte! The interconnectedness we have described has major relevance for the increasing evidence that evolution does not take place gradually, as Darwin supposed. Instead it seems that organisms may retain a particular unchanging form for long periods of time; this stability is, however, punctuated by periods when relatively rapid change takes place. One way of explaining this would be, as Rose puts it, that ‘genetic variation can be damped, rendered essentially neutral, until such time as it accumulates sufficiently to tip the next generations of organisms into new stable states’. [41] It is one thing to concentrate on the individual organism but there are also further levels at which natural selection can act.

Much evolutionary theory ignores the fact that mutual interactions between organisms are an important feature of nature. Most people will be familiar with the example of plants which produce flowers which encourage bees or other insects to settle on them. Rose draws our attention to even more intricate relationships. For instance certain types of parasitical wasps which lay their eggs in caterpillars turn out to be attracted to the volatile chemicals in caterpillar faeces but they are also attracted to the plants on which the caterpillars feed. The plants have evolved a mechanism for secreting the chemicals to attract the wasps when they, the plants, are attacked by the caterpillars! [42] In other words, there is a complexity which means that the idea of a ‘balance of nature’ with its implicit message of unchanging stability is profoundly mistaken.

Against the new theology of nature

The main reason the Origin of Species so shocked Victorian society when it was published was its challenge to the religious idea of an ordered social world and natural world. [43] As Freud put it, the theory ‘destroyed man’s supposedly privileged place in creation and proved his descent from the animal kingdom and his ineradicable animal nature’. Rose argues that the ultra-Darwinism of Richard Dawkins and his friends actually ends up restoring the old theological vision. There is a fundamental contradiction in Dawkins’ argument. It is summed up by his statement that ‘we are built as gene machines ... but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators’. [44] As Rose points out:

[There is] something profoundly unsatisfactory about this argument. Either we, like all other living forms, are the product of our genes, or we are not. If we are, it must be that our genes are not merely selfish but rebellious ... If, on the other hand, it is not our genes that are rebellious, what other options are available? Dawkins never says but implicit in his argument is that there is some non-material, non-genetic force moulding our behaviour ... Thus despite Dawkins’ passionately explicit claims to atheism and expressed hostility to religion, the charge against him is that they fail to carry their own genetic argument to its logical conclusion. [45]

The importance of being human

If this review has largely been full of glowing praise for Lifelines, there is one criticism with which it seems apt to end. It hinges upon the use Rose makes of Marx’s famous quote that ‘men make history, but not in conditions of their own choosing’. He extends the idea to all living organisms. As we have seen, this is of immense value in arguing against the ultra-Darwinist view that living creatures are simply prisoners of their genes, blindly following the DNA ‘code’. But there is a danger in stretching the similarity too far. I can agree with most of the following passage from Lifelines but not with the last few lines:

Organisms do not sit waiting patiently for nature or the ‘environment’ to scrutinise them, but rather are actively engaged in working to choose and transform their environments, to adjust and appropriate them to their own ends. Autopoiesis, organisms as active players, is as apparent as when a single-celled organism swims away from a depleted food source towards a rich one as it is when a growing troop of axons from the retina of a cat seek, find and modify their target neurons in the lateral geniculate, in the symbiotic relationship of a leguminous plant with the nodules of nitrogen fixing bacteria in its roots, and in the decision of an impoverished Mexican to cross the border into California or an unemployed Newcastle builder to move to Düsseldorf. [46]

The fact is that the human choices employed here are not the same as the ‘choices’ that take place in the natural world. Both involve ‘active players’, but human beings are more than that. The crucial difference is that we also have the capacity to reason and to reflect on our actions, but also to discuss them with other human beings. However constrained were the actions of the Mexican peasant or the Newcastle builder, they were undoubtedly the result of much heart searching and discussions with friends, lovers and family. The other crucial difference in humans ‘making history’ is that ultimately we have the ability to transcend our current circumstances. And, criticisms aside, as part of that struggle, once again Steven Rose has supplied us with valuable ammunition.


1. For a fuller, recent discussion of these issues see J. Baxter, The Return of Political Science, in International Socialism 77, pp. 111–125.

2. B. Muller-Hill, Life’s Dead Letter, Nature 390 (1997), p. 36. Note the contrast with another review, published in the New Scientist, which, some quite valid criticisms aside, could hardly have been more complimentary. Interestingly this was written not by a biologist but by a social anthropologist. See T. Ingold, A Call to Arms, New Scientist, 22, November 1997.

3. At the launch of the new book I heard an interesting comment from a scientist who would probably be considered to be a scientific liberal, Professor Tim Bliss, who made his name in the same field of research into memory as Rose himself. Tim, who is a long standing friend and colleague of Rose, and who also happens to be my ex-head of department, confided to me that he thought this time Steven ‘had gone a little too far’. The present state of research into memory, and both Bliss and Rose’s place within it, is described in Rose’s previous book, The Making of Memory (Bantam 1992).

4. S. Rose, R.C. Lewontin, and L. Kamin, Not in our Genes (Penguin 1984).

5. R. Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press 1976).

6. Lewontin serves as a volunteer firefighter in Vermont. He of course himself has a distinguished service record in the battle against biological determinism, with books like The Dialectical Biologist (co-written with Richard Levins), (Harvard University Press 1985); and The Doctrine of DNA (Penguin 1991).

7. For more on the human genome project see J. Baxter, More than its Parts, in L. German and R. Hoveman (eds.), A Socialist Review (Bookmarks 1998), ch. 59.

8. For an example see W.W. Gibbs, Seeking the Criminal Element, in Scientific American, March 1995, pp. 76–83.

9. In fact in Britain a new survey has shown that the picture peddled by politicians and the media of an ever rising tide of violent crime is a myth. See Socialist Worker, 10 January 1998, p. 2.

10. S. Rose, Lifelines (Penguin 1997), p. 280.

11. Ibid., pp. 281–282. For further criticism of these studies, see Not by our Genes Alone, Editorial in New Scientist, 25 February 1995, p. 3.

12. S. Rose, Lifelines, op. cit., p. 282. My own experience of the way this ‘research’ is taken increasingly seriously was attending the 1994 International Biophysics Conference in San Francisco and finding a whole session on this area.

13. Ibid., pp. 27–28. As Rose reminds us, the reductionist method was first put forward as a scientific strategy by Francis Bacon, who was so dedicated to furthering scientific knowledge that he died in the pursuit of it. While travelling through Highgate in London, he got out of his coach in the middle of winter to see if snow would preserve meat. He caught a chill and passed away soon after!

14. Quoted in S. Rose, Lifelines, op. cit., p. 21.

15. Quoted ibid., p. 8.

16. In this, Rose is of course following on from a long tradition in Marxism, from Engels’ Dialectics of Nature (Moscow 1972) to Levins and Lewontins’ The Dialectical Biologist (Harvard University Press 1985). For a further discussion of the use of dialectical theory in science, see P. McGarr, Engels and Natural Science, in International Socialism 65, pp. 143–200.

17. Ibid.

18. The two scientists most associated with discovery of the so called homeotic genes, Ed Lewis and Christiane Nusslein-Vollhard, subsequently received the Nobel Prize.

19. As the great Marxist psychologist Lev Vygotsky pointed out, a dialectical science ‘has to be built [by discovering] the essence of the given area of phenomena, the laws according to which they change’. In other words, there are no short cuts – L.S. Vygotsky, Mind in Society (Harvard University Press 1978) p. 8. I myself remember writing an essay during the final year of my degree, shortly after I had read Not in our Genes, criticising the model of body polarity as it then stood, and suggesting a different one based on interactions between the genes. The reality turned out to be far more complex and dialectical than I could have imagined then!

20. Rose draws on the work of Lewontin, Levins, Gould and Stuart Kaufmann in particular, but what is interesting too is how much continuity there has been with earlier radical scientific thinkers in the 1930s. In particular, both the Communist Party influenced scientific left in the 1930s and Soviet thinkers turn out to have influenced a much wider layer of more liberal scientists than I had suspected. So, for instance, genetics in the young Soviet Union adopted a very sophisticated stance and, despite being effectively destroyed by Stalin and his protégé, Trofim Lysenko, its influence survived into the US genetic tradition, via Theodosius Dobzhansky, who left Russia for the United States at the end of the 1920s and who later influenced Lewontin! See S. Rose, Lifelines, op. cit., pp. 216–217.

21. Ibid., p. 53.

22. Ibid., p. 52.

23. It was probably no coincidence that Crick was formerly a physicist who worked on radar in the war and thus was familiar with the new science of cybernetics. For what is still probably the best account of the discovery of DNA, see H. Judson, The Eighth Day of Creation (Cape 1979).

24. As Crick put it, ‘Once information has passed into the protein it cannot get out again.’ Quoted in S. Rose, Lifelines, op. cit., p. 120.

25. S. Rose, Lifelines, op. cit., p. 125.

26. See S. Kaufmann, At Home in the Universe: the Search for the Laws of Complexity (Viking 1995), which is a brilliant development of complexity theory.

27. S. Rose, Lifelines, op. cit., p. 164.

28. Ibid., p. 130.

29. For the background to Dolly, see J. Parrington and P. Morgan, Seeing Double, in Socialist Review 207, pp. 18–19. For the latest developments see New Scientist, 17 January 1998.

30. Totipotency in plants is often demonstrated in school classrooms by taking a sliver of carrot and placing it in water, after which it will grow into a complete new plant.

31. A. Oparin, The Origin of Life on Earth (Macmillan 1938). See also J.B.S. Haldane’s seminal article The Origin of Life, in On Being the Right Size and Other Essays (Oxford University Press 1985).

32. This was the work of Stanley Miller in the US, who synthesised amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, in simulated primitive earth conditions.

33. S. Rose, Lifelines, op. cit., p. 254.

34. As Rose mentions, it is increasingly thought that the intermediary molecule between DNA and proteins, RNA, may have appeared first. See ibid., pp. 269–270.

35. Ibid., p. 216.

36. Ibid., p. 115.

37. Ibid., p. 142.

38. Ibid., pp. 142–143.

39. Ibid., pp. 132–133.

40. Of course the transmission belt of selection is that certain gene mutations become favoured over others, but the act of selection is indirect and mediated through the higher levels described by Rose.

41. S. Rose, Lifelines, op. cit., pp. 235–236.

42. Ibid., pp. 227–228.

43. For the background to the reaction to evolutionary theory see A. Desmond and J. Moore, Darwin (Michael Joseph 1991).

44. R. Dawkins, op. cit., p. 215.

45. S. Rose, Lifelines, op. cit., p. 214.

46. Ibid., p. 245.

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