Member # 1
posted 02. June 2003 09:23
Complexity Volume 8, Issue 3, 2003. pp. 31-41
Investigating a General Biology
by John R. Bracht
Abstract: Investigations is Stuart Kauffman’s attempt to answer the question: what is life? Kauffman points out that life contains an essence, a quality, which is fundamentally different from anything we currently understand in science: "While we have, it seems, adequate concepts of matter, energy, entropy, and information, we lack a coherent concept of organization, its emergence, and self-constructing propagation and self-elaboration." In his quest, Kauffman hopes to arrive at a general biology which encapsulates this defining essence of life itself: consistent with the usual subjects of scientific investigation like physical laws, matter, and energy, yet somehow transcending those categories and able to act on its own behalf. The essence of life, Kauffman argues, is bound up in the idea of an autonomous agent, a conglomeration of matter that can carry out work cycles and reproduce itself. It is from this definition of life that the rest of the book flows. In his call for a general biology Kauffman points to important issues within biological science. However, I propose that he does not go far enough. Our modern conception of science does fail to account for autonomous agency as an emergent concept; however, Kauffman fails to account for the essence of autonomous agents--a form of functional information which Paul Davies terms "tightly specified complexity" and equates with meaningful information. Kauffman is right that there are higher-level emergent properties that we must account for in modern science, but he overlooks the underlying information that causes and regulates the emergence of autonomous agency. Any general biology must incorporate the often-overlooked yet crucial role played by information in autonomous agency.