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Lifelines: Biology Beyond Determinism Hardcover – 4 Dec 1997


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Review

"In the current intellectual and political climate, there is a desperate need to return to the real biology of real organisms, including human beings, in a real world. For the general reader wanting to know how this might be done, there can be no better guide than Rose's book."

"Steven Rose, starting from his experience in the molecular biology of learning, has writen a guide book for coming to accept how things really are. He creates a new approach by what amounts to a Copernican coordinate transformation, that places the center not in a particle or a gene but in an
organism. Thereby he complements the twin pillars of genetic and environmental determinism with a third pillar: the capacity of organisms to organize and direct their own trajectories. He establishes this principle at the start of his book and builds on it stepwise with brilliant commentary and
lucid illustrations. Unlike complexity theory, this is not rhetoric. It is solid science come to maturity, that can profitably be absorbed alike by physicists, biologists, sociologists, and the general reader."--Walter Freeman, Professor of the Graduate School, University of California at Berkeley
"Here are answers for those uncomfortable with the ultra-Darwinism and extreme reductionism that characterizes much of modern biological thought. Rose is one of a small but growing group of biologists who argues instead that we can only understand genes, cells, and organisms by looking at their
current and historical locations and contexts. He provides a welcome antidote to the gene's-eye view of the world."--Anne Fausto Sterling, author of Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Women and Men
"Clearly reasoned, full of information, and highly readable, Lifelines offers a much needed antidote to the reductionist and biodeterminist tracts that have given currency to selfish genes' and similarly inappropriate metaphors."--Ruth Hubbard, Professor Emerita of Biology, Harvard University
"Anyoneinterested in knowing the truth about the relation between genes, cells, environment and chance processes in living systems ought to read this book."--R.C. Lewontin, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University
"Steven Rose's lucid, thoughtful and systematic analysis remeinds us yet again that our forms and functions are shaped continuoulsy by highly complex gene-environment interactions. Genetics simply confirms opportunities and constraints--as do environments. This book is a must read for all who have
been dazzled by Dolly."--James L McGaugh, Director, Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, University of California, Irvine



"Steven Rose, starting from his experience in the molecular biology of learning, has writen a guide book for coming to accept how things really are. He creates a new approach by what amounts to a Copernican coordinate transformation, that places the center not in a particle or a gene but in an
organism. Thereby he complements the twin pillars of genetic and environmental determinism with a third pillar: the capacity of organisms to organize and direct their own trajectories. He establishes this principle at the start of his book and builds on it stepwise with brilliant commentary and
lucid illustrations. Unlike complexity theory, this is not rhetoric. It is solid science come to maturity, that can profitably be absorbed alike by physicists, biologists, sociologists, and the general reader."--Walter Freeman, Professor of the Graduate School, University of California at Berkeley
"Here are answers for those uncomfortable with the ultra-Darwinism and extreme reductionism that characterizes much of modern biological thought. Rose is one of a small but growing group of biologists who argues instead that we can only understand genes, cells, and organisms by looking at their
current and historical locations and contexts. He provides a welcome antidote to the gene's-eye view of the world."--Anne Fausto Sterling, author of Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Women and Men
"Clearly reasoned, full of information, and highly readable, Lifelines offers a much needed antidote to the reductionist and biodeterminist tracts that have given currency to selfish genes' and similarly inappropriate metaphors."--Ruth Hubbard, Professor Emerita ofBiology, Harvard University
"Anyone interested in knowing the truth about the relation between genes, cells, environment and chance processes in living systems ought to read this book."--R.C. Lewontin, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University
"Steven Rose's lucid, thoughtful and systematic analysis remeinds us yet again that our forms and functions are shaped continuoulsy by highly complex gene-environment interactions. Genetics simply confirms opportunities and constraints--as do environments. This book is a must read for all who have
been dazzled by Dolly."--James L McGaugh, Director, Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, University of California, Irvine


"Steven Rose, starting from his experience in the molecular biology of learning, has writen a guide book for coming to accept how things really are. He creates a new approach by what amounts to a Copernican coordinate transformation, that places the center not in a particle or a gene but in an organism. Thereby he complements the twin pillars of genetic and environmental determinism with a third pillar: the capacity of organisms to organize and direct their own trajectories. He establishes this principle at the start of his book and builds on it stepwise with brilliant commentary and lucid illustrations. Unlike complexity theory, this is not rhetoric. It is solid science come to maturity, that can profitably be absorbed alike by physicists, biologists, sociologists, and the general reader."--Walter Freeman, Professor of the Graduate School, University of California at Berkeley
"Here are answers for those uncomfortable with the ultra-Darwinism and extreme reductionism that characterizes much of modern biological thought. Rose is one of a small but growing group of biologists who argues instead that we can only understand genes, cells, and organisms by looking at their current and historical locations and contexts. He provides a welcome antidote to the gene's-eye view of the world."--Anne Fausto Sterling, author of Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Women and Men
"Clearly reasoned, full of information, and highly readable, Lifelines offers a much needed antidote to the reductionist and biodeterminist tracts that have given currency to selfish genes' and similarly inappropriate metaphors."--Ruth Hubbard, Professor Emerita of Biology, Harvard University
"Anyoneinterested in knowing the truth about the relation between genes, cells, environment and chance processes in living systems ought to read this book."--R.C. Lewontin, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University
"Steven Rose's lucid, thoughtful and systematic analysis remeinds us yet again that our forms and functions are shaped continuoulsy by highly complex gene-environment interactions. Genetics simply confirms opportunities and constraints--as do environments. This book is a must read for all who have been dazzled by Dolly."--James L McGaugh, Director, Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, University of California, Irvine



"Steven Rose, starting from his experience in the molecular biology of learning, has writen a guide book for coming to accept how things really are. He creates a new approach by what amounts to a Copernican coordinate transformation, that places the center not in a particle or a gene but in an organism. Thereby he complements the twin pillars of genetic and environmental determinism with a third pillar: the capacity of organisms to organize and direct their own trajectories. He establishes this principle at the start of his book and builds on it stepwise with brilliant commentary and lucid illustrations. Unlike complexity theory, this is not rhetoric. It is solid science come to maturity, that can profitably be absorbed alike by physicists, biologists, sociologists, and the general reader."--Walter Freeman, Professor of the Graduate School, University of California at Berkeley


"Here are answers for those uncomfortable with the ultra-Darwinism and extreme reductionism that characterizes much of modern biological thought. Rose is one of a small but growing group of biologists who argues instead that we can only understand genes, cells, and organisms by looking at their current and historical locations and contexts. He provides a welcome antidote to the gene's-eye view of the world."--Anne Fausto Sterling, author of Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Women and Men


"Clearly reasoned, full of information, and highly readable, Lifelines offers a much needed antidote to the reductionist and biodeterminist tracts that have given currency to selfish genes' and similarly inappropriate metaphors."--Ruth Hubbard, Professor Emerita of Biology, Harvard University


"Anyone interested in knowing the truth about the relation between genes, cells, environment and chance processes in living systems ought to read this book."--R.C. Lewontin, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University


"Steven Rose's lucid, thoughtful and systematic analysis remeinds us yet again that our forms and functions are shaped continuoulsy by highly complex gene-environment interactions. Genetics simply confirms opportunities and constraints--as do environments. This book is a must read for all who have been dazzled by Dolly."--James L McGaugh, Director, Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, University of California, Irvine


--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author


Steven Rose is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Biology, Open University. He won the 1993 British Science Book Prize for The Making of Memory, and is also the author of The Conscious Brain and Not in Our Genes.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Amazon.com: HASH(0x982fc498) out of 5 stars 8 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9830409c) out of 5 stars An Argument for Complexity 25 Feb. 2007
By David B Richman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
There has been a general argument going on for several years in biology over deterministic reductionism (as exemplified by sociobiology and evolutionary psychology) and its implications (actually the restarting of an argument that has flared up every so often over the last few hundred years at least!) Unfortunately almost all of the participants are given to overstatement and polemical diatribes when deriding their opponents (an unfortunate human habit, perhaps adaptive in providing the derider with more progeny?}

Steven Rose, a Professor of Biology at Britain's Open University, jumped into this debate in 1998 with his "Lifelines", which I have just gotten around to reading. The first part in indeed very engaging. In fact I pretty much agree with both Rose and Ernst Mayr ("Toward a New Philosophy of Biology") that reduction of an organism to the level of molecules only tells part of the story. Indeed, James Watson's view that "there is only one science, physics: everything else is social work" and his insistence that organismic biology was a waste of time stimulated E. O. Wilson to develop sociobiology in order to save some part of organismic biology at Harvard!

Rose goes on to expand on Theodosius Dobzhansky's thought that "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" by adding both the history of the earth and the history of biological thought as well, a grouping of which I heartily approve. If you do not understand how we got to this point in the scientific dialog, you really cannot understand the debate!

An example of one contentious argument developed in this book is that of the effects of sexual selection on human reproductive success. Rose's point (in chapter seven) that rich men are not automatically reproductively successful is not without foundation, but must also be compared to the success in this area by very rich men such as Kings and Sultans, who were successful enough to get large harems and thus produce large numbers of offspring. It simply may not work as well today because rich men are not as often allowed the luxury of obtaining a huge number of wives (but see the Sultan of Brunei!) Many modern rich men may have substituted money for sex as their main preoccupation! However, from a purely genetic point of view, at least some rich men may be unfit to produce viable progeny. Also social custom, such as the killing of siblings as possible rivals (as was notorious in the Ottoman Empire) and female infanticide (common in China and India) can mitigate that success. Finally wealth does not guarantee successful child rearing! It might also be noted that in most countries large families often were poor ones! Poor people needed more hands to do the work and might have 20 children by one or more wives! On top of everything else, we have no idea how humans behaved in the Pleistocene! Behavior is not fossilized! As usual things are more complicated then we might think, whatever the "apparent" tendency!

Unfortunately, Rose starts to use the term ultra-Darwinist in Chapter eight. While his points are well taken, I do wish that both sides of this essentially unprovable argument would cease and desist in their name-calling. Such tactics remind me of creationists' characterizing of all evolutionists as Satan-loving, God-hating, moral relativists who have no scruples and are trying to ruin our society! Because of the use of "ultra-Darwinist" I dropped Rose's book to four stars.

As a field biologist I have always been impressed with the complexity of ecosystems and organisms. I also like solid data for every claim in a theory, if at all possible. I sometimes think that these preferences are what separates those who believe in the complexity of nature and those who seem to require a simple system that can be easily understood! Rose has said essentially "It's not that simple," and I am inclined to agree, although I also understand the need to try and model nature to make it more understandable. Let's just not confuse the model or the hypothesis for the real thing!

An engaging book to read, along with those of Gould, Dennett, Mayr, Dawkins, and Wilson. However, I would take no one's word that the final definitive book has been writen on the subject!
29 of 40 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x983040f0) out of 5 stars Argues against reductionism in biology 2 May 2001
By Dennis Littrell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
We are not objects. We cannot be defined by our genes. It is only through an understanding of our developmental history in interaction with our environment that we can hope to know who we are.

Thus Steven Rose, molecular brain biologist and staunch foe of reductionist biology, has called upon the metaphor "lifelines" to describe our "trajectory" through time and space. We are processes. Furthermore, we are not passive processes, tossed hither and yon through life by a blind watchmaker and the dictates of our selfish genes, but active participants, helping to shape our destinies as we go along. We are to some significant degree "self-created." Rose writes: "The central property of life is the capacity and necessity to build, maintain and preserve itself, a process known as autopoiesis" (p. 18). On page 6, he opines, "We are...the products of the constant dialectic between the biological and the social."

Rose also points out that our ability to perform experiments in the real world is limited; how even the most dedicated and thorough scientist in the field can only hope to observe a sampling of the behavior of the animals he or she is watching; how the variables in the real world are so very, very many; and how our attempts to control them can actually result in a falsification of the environment we want to observe. He argues convincingly that the hard sciences, especially physics, have yielded to reduction simply because they are not anywhere near as complex as biology.

Consequently I was very impressed with this book for the first 174 pages or so. Then came the chapters on evolution. Suddenly Rose unaccountably loses his objectivity and his reasoned tone and starts inventing straw men, one he calls "sociobiology" and puts these macho words in its mouth: "Males and their sperm compete, females and their ova quiescently await their fate" (p. 198).

Oops, have I picked up the wrong book? Could this be some rad fem polemic intent on winning some political point? This claim that sociobiologists think that females "await their fate" is particularly startling since on the previous page Rose writes that "Darwin's view was that, by and large, it is the female of the species that does the choosing." Rose then mocks the idea that there might be universal standards of beauty (that would be politically incorrect, no doubt). But the truth is, that while people can and do differ in details, a young, healthy, well-proportioned ("symmetrical," if you will) woman is recognized as attractive in any culture that I have ever heard of. On the next page (199) he makes fun of the idea that human females may choose males with resources ("the Porsche and the Rolex") adding that "wealth is no measure of genetic fitness...nor is there much evidence that its possession results in a greater number of offspring."

Rose knows this is fatuous. It is universally recognized that females across cultures prefer men of means. Why would a reasonable woman, given a choice, choose a poor, ineffective, unsuccessful man, to one who has the ability to help her provide for her children? Rose allows that sexual selection "may be--probably is--an important mechanism...but...we should not let its enthusiasts blind us to the more obvious explanations for the complexity of human sexual arrangements." Those "enthusiasts" are, one presumes, misguided sociobiologists. (Perhaps Rose would like to be regarded as a biology "enthusiast.") And just what are those "more obvious explanations"? Rose does not say.

He goes on to altruism but doesn't mention the handicap principle from Zahavi, Amotz and Avishag. The Handicap Principle: A Missing Piece of Darwin's Puzzle (1997), which I recommend that he read. This principle accounts for some acts of altruism by showing that such acts are the advertising of one's ability to others, in particular members of the opposite sex, and are therefore adaptive. He closes the section with a story about "two human sociobiologists" who thought that they had demonstrated that parents who both voted Conservative were more likely to send their child to a private school. Oh boy, and I might find two biologists who voted Liberal who were therefore more likely to send their child to a non-denominational school. As Rose's esteemed colleague, Steven Jay Gould likes to say, "So what?"

Rose begins the next chapter by asserting that "ultra-Darwinism" has "a metaphysical foundation" that includes the premise that "the purpose...of life is reproduction." I don't know who these "ultra-Darwinians" are but most experts on evolution tend toward the idea that "purpose" is an anthropological idea inconsistent with evolutionary theory.

So why is this book reasonable and fair three quarters of the way through and then suddenly we come upon prejudicial attacks against nonexistent bogeymen? It's the same old problem: a personal agenda. No matter how expert one may be, if the subject strays to the area of one's prejudices there is the chance that one may suddenly become as fair and objective as a radio talk show host.

What Rose wants to save us from is determinism, particularly genetic determinism. He thinks that determinism in biology or psychology may lead to the justification of some discredited ideas from eugenics. I don't agree. I think we can safely bury eugenics and such delusions as I.Q. and racial significance. The ghosts of the past are scary and we should be on watch, but we don't have to discredit the insights and accomplishments of sociobiology and/or evolutionary psychology by falsely associating them with those old, tired delusions.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "Understanding Evolution and Ourselves"
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98b8e7a4) out of 5 stars Excellent book 10 Dec. 2005
By Bao Pu - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I found this book an enlightening book of biology and the current reductionistic philosophy now in vogue. Includes an interesting study of the history of science and its paradigms. Here's a quote:

Being and becoming

Living organisms exist in four dimensions, the three of space and one of time, and cannot be 'read off' from the single dimension that constitutes the strand of DNA. Organisms are not empty phenotypes, related one-to-one to particular patterns of genes. Our lives form a developmental trajectory, or lifeline, stabilized by the operation of homeodynamic principles. This trajectory is not determined by our genes, nor partitioned into neatly dichotomous categories called nature and nurture. Rather, it is an autopoietic process, shaped by the interplay of specificity and plasticity. In so far as any aspect of life can be said to be 'in the genes', our genes provide the capacity for both specificity -- a lifeline relatively impervious to developmental and environmental buffeting -- and plasticity -- the ability to respond appropriately to unpredictable environmental contingency, that is, to experience. This autopoletic interplay is in some senses captured by that old paradox of Xeno -- the arrow shot at a target, which at any instant of time must be both somewhere and in transit to somewhere else. Reductionism ignores the paradox and freezes life at a moment of time. In attempting to capture its being, it loses its becoming, turning processes into reified objects. This is why reductionism always ends by impaling itself on a mythical dichotomy of materialist determinism and non-material free-will. Autopoiesis, self-construction, resolves these paradoxes. (p. 306)
11 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98304378) out of 5 stars A doctrinaire view of biology 7 Jan. 2005
By John Duncan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Most books that set out to explain why organisms behave as they do describe observations of behaviour on almost every page. The books of Richard Dawkins, whom Rose selects as his special target, illustrate this well: readers can reject all of his interpretations while remaining fascinated by the purely factual information that they contain. How one can hope to convince anyone of the truth of a theory without supporting it with abundant facts? Yet hard biological information is extremely sparse in Rose's book. There is a great deal about what he thinks of other biologists' opinions, but almost no observations from behavioural biology. Nonetheless, in his preface he aligns himself with the practising biologists "who spend a significant part of every working day thinking about and designing experiments", dismissing Dawkins and Daniel Dennett as "people who either no longer do science or never did it." What a pity, therefore, that he chose to include so little of the experimental basis of his ideas in his book. There are a few vague remarks about how chicks behave, and that's about it.
2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x983045b8) out of 5 stars Nature v. Nuture in Genetic Research 10 May 2005
By Deborah J. Orre - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The word that comes to mind in describing this book is `quandary'. As a non-scientist, with a background in nursing, I found the read both challenging and interesting. In fact, I wrote many marginal notes, generally reserved for books that capture my enthusiasm. I was fascinated by Rose's attention to the history of genetic research and appreciated his seemingly unique view on `nature vs. nurture'. I must admit that in this debate I am an ardent `nature' advocate myself. He, however, was able to convince me of suspending my judgment, at least temporarily, in appreciation of his line of reasoning. He supports his view of freedom of choice in relation to genetic predisposition with theories on the influence of the environment as well as genetics in determining behavior. He uses the analogy of life as a trajectory, or vector, from birth to death made up of inherent genetic predisposition in juxtaposition with the interplay of individuals and the events and circumstances that make up their day-to-day lives. People are able to alter the direction of their life vector, in his view, through the decisions that guide their actions as well as their overall developmental and genetic predisposition toward a particular course of action. He debates the scientific theories of reductionism and determinism in supporting his claim of free-will over destiny and artfully crosses the line between philosophy and objectivism in drawing the reader into his line of reasoning.

While Rose stimulated my thinking and educated me on scientific history, hegemony and recent developments in genetics, I found his theoretical basis weak, his ability to draw together his argument on the basis of research somewhat scattered and his argument confusing. I'm left wanting to know more of what this author thinks, however, due to his creative and at times witty approach to genetic research and to those scientists influencing efforts on its behalf. The book is worth reading and I look forward to its sequel.
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