Information and Living Systems

Information and Living Systems

Philosophical and Scientific Perspectives

Edited by George Terzis and Robert Arp

The informational nature of biological organization, at levels from the genetic and epigenetic to the cognitive and linguistic.

A Bradford Book





The informational nature of biological organization, at levels from the genetic and epigenetic to the cognitive and linguistic.

Information shapes biological organization in fundamental ways and at every organizational level. Because organisms use information—including DNA codes, gene expression, and chemical signaling—to construct, maintain, repair, and replicate themselves, it would seem only natural to use information-related ideas in our attempts to understand the general nature of living systems, the causality by which they operate, the difference between living and inanimate matter, and the emergence, in some biological species, of cognition, emotion, and language. And yet philosophers and scientists have been slow to do so. This volume fills that gap. Information and Living Systems offers a collection of original chapters in which scientists and philosophers discuss the informational nature of biological organization at levels ranging from the genetic to the cognitive and linguistic.

The chapters examine not only familiar information-related ideas intrinsic to the biological sciences but also broader information-theoretic perspectives used to interpret their significance. The contributors represent a range of disciplines, including anthropology, biology, chemistry, cognitive science, information theory, philosophy, psychology, and systems theory, thus demonstrating the deeply interdisciplinary nature of the volume's bioinformational theme.


$53.00 X ISBN: 9780262201742 464 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 21 b&w illus.


George Terzis

George Terzis is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University. His articles have appeared in such prominent journals as American Philosophical Quarterly, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Philosophical Psychology, and Philosophical Studies.

Robert Arp

Robert Arp is a researcher and analyst for the U.S. Army at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, who has worked on ontologies for the U.S. Air Force and the National Institutes of Health. He is the author of Scenario Visualization: An Evolutionary Account of Creative Problem Solving.


  • [Information and Living Systems] will certainly be thought provoking and useful for researchers in the field.


  • Whether interested readers want to deepen their understandings of topics close to their own fields or expand them by venturing farther away, this book is likely to offer something for most. Perhaps more importantly, however, this book very aptly presents, as the editors say, 'different, albeit overlapping, scientific and philosophical approaches to information-related issues within [many fields]' (p. xxxvi) at a time when this is needed.

    Emily Miller

    Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology

  • ... [A]n important challenge to a traditional, and intuitive, view of the epistemic efficacy of introspection, and to the prospects for a successful science of consciousness and mind; it merits the attention of anyone interested in these issues.

    Kevin Morris

    Philosophy in Review

  • This book is an excellent addition to the literature on information and living systems.

    Barton Moffat



  • Since the time of the discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA and its expression, scientists and philosophers have become increasingly aware that information is integral to the understanding of the organization of life—indeed, to the understanding of life. Information and Living Systems covers the gamut of issues—from the properties of the organism itself to epigenetic and evolutionary considerations to cognition, language, and personality. It transcends in scope and depth any available publications on bioinformation known to me. It is an important scholarly contribution that will interest professional biologists, philosophers, and information theorists, and will be very useful in courses for advanced undergraduate and graduate students.

    Francisco J. Ayala

    University Professor and Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, University of California, Irvine

  • Since the 1960s at least, it has become clear that we cannot content ourselves with describing living systems, and their life cycles, only in terms of matter and energy. An additional dimension—information—is the necessary complement. However, following an initial enthusiasm for an information-based approach to biology, conceptual developments and practical applications have been slow, to such an extent that doubts have eventually arisen, among biologists and philosophers alike, as to the real relevance, if not the legitimacy, of this approach. How profoundly ill-advised were those concerns is dramatically demonstrated by this excellent collection. Information and Living Systems provides a convincing and healthily fresh overview of this subject area in many of its ramifications, throughout the whole of biology.

    Alessandro Minelli

    University of Padova

  • Terzis and Arp have brought together an international array of experimental and theoretical scientists, philosophers, and cognitive scientists to explore the most consequential notion in modern biology—information. The notion is indispensable to molecular biology, and yet we have no idea how seriously we need to take it in that domain. The role of information is equally central to the origin and maintenance of life in a Second Law-driven world that destroys order. And the naturalization of information is the only bridge that can be crossed from cognitive psychology to neuroscience. All of these issues are faced squarely and accessibly in this important volume.

    Alex Rosenberg

    Duke University

  • This volume has the virtue of airing a number of refreshing voices that are not often heard on this side of the Atlantic, and that bring perspectives that should energize our conversations about information in living systems.

    Evelyn Fox Keller