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Denis Noble

The music of life

In The Selfish Gene Richard Dawkins argued that the gene was the most important part of living things. In The music of life:biology beyond the genome Denis Noble argues against such a reductionist viewpoint. He uses the metaphor of music, saying that just as a printed score or the data on a CD don't represent the emotional effect of a musical piece, so our genes don't code for the full complexity of a living organism. Others have made a similar claim, but in this case it is made by someone who has done significant work in computational biology and certainly knows what he is talking about.

Indeed the question in my mind was how much does Noble really escape from reductionism. One example he gives is of how in the early days of computing he wanted to model the operation of a heart. Computer time was precious, and one of the arguments against him was that his model had no obvious oscillation to represent the beating of the heart. No indeed, the beat arose as an emergent property of the model. But I would ask whether this is really anti-reductionist, or simply reductionism in another guise.

The later chapters look at the nature of consciousness, arguing against the physicalist philosophy, and claiming that there is more to our minds than simply the sum of our neuronal actrivity. Here Noble is on much shakier ground - it's worth reading for some of his thought provoking ideas, but don't expect any cut-and-dried answers.

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Hardcover 176 pages  
ISBN: 0199295735
Salesrank: 1536377
Weight:0.66 lbs
Published: 2006 Oxford University Press
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Hardcover 168 pages  
ISBN: 0199295735
Salesrank: 1134943
Weight:0.66 lbs
Published: 2006 OUP Oxford
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Hardcover 176 pages  
ISBN: 0199295735
Salesrank: 636040
Weight:0.66 lbs
Published: 2006 Oxford University Press
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Product Description
The gene's eye view of life, proposed in Richard Dawkins acclaimed bestseller The Selfish Gene, sees living bodies as mere vehicles for the replication of genetic codes. But in The Music of Life, world renowned physiologist Denis Noble argues that, to truly understand life, we must look beyond the "selfish gene" to consider life on a much wider variety of levels.
Life, Noble asserts, is a kind of music, a symphonic interplay between genes, cells, organs, body, and environment. He weaves this musical metaphor throughout this personal and deeply lyrical work, illuminating ideas that might otherwise be daunting to non-scientists. In elegant prose, Noble sets out a cutting-edge alternative to the gene's eye view, offering a radical switch of perception in which genes are seen as prisoners and the organism itself is a complex system of many interacting levels. In his more expansive view, life emerges as a process, the ebb and flow of activity in an intricate web of connections. He introduces readers to the realm of systems biology, a field that has been growing in strength in the past decade. Noble, himself one of the founders of this field, argues modern systems biology may be the view we need to adopt to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of life.
Drawing on his experiences in his research on the heartbeat, and on evolutionary biology, development, medicine, philosophy, linguistics, and Chinese culture, Noble presents us with a profound and very modern reflection on the nature of life.