Human genome: in pitiless detail, exactly what it means to be human
The chemicals in a cell are the hardware. The information encoded in the DNA is the preloaded software. The interactions between the cellular chemicals are like the constantly changing states of processing and memory chips. All the information needed to make a cell is squirreled away in the DNA. Yet the whole is somehow greater than the sum of its parts.
SHOOT: Fascinating, and our every behaviour, every activity, every thought, modifies and is condified into our DNA.
In one way, post-genomic biology—biology 2.0, if you like—has finally killed the idea of vitalism, the persistent belief that to explain how living things work, something more is needed than just an understanding of their physics and chemistry. True, no biologist has really believed in vitalism for more than a century. Nevertheless, the promise of genomics, that the parts list of a cell and, by extension, of a living organism, is finite and cataloguable, leaves no room for ghosts in the machine.
Viewed another way, though, biology 2.0 is actually neo-vitalistic. No one thinks that a computer is anything more than the sum of its continually changing physical states, yet those states can be abstracted into concepts and processed by a branch of learning that has come to be known as information science, independently of the shifting pattern of electrical charges inside the computer’s processor.