The Software of Life

Being alive, we tend to think that life is easy to grasp. In the accepted classification of sciences, mathematics is thought to be the queen, and the most difficult to grasp, followed by physics, chemistry, and, finally, biology. But this scientific hierarchy is false and misleading: we now know that biology contains more mathematics than we ever imagined.

When molecules entered the scientific understanding of life with the discovery of DNA, biology climbed one step up the scale, to chemistry. Then, with recognition of the abstract schemas dictating how genes are expressed, biology climbed even closer to mathematics.

Today’s buzzword in the study of life is “systems” biology. For a long time, those who studied the nature of life and heredity were divided into two camps: epigeneticists , who emphasized environmental influences on living organisms, and preformists , who stressed the similarities between parents and progeny. The epigeneticist view was clearly wrong, because something stable had to be transmitted across generations. But the preformist view that the entity transmitted across generations was the whole organism was contradicted by the impossibility of segmenting objects infinitely.

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