The contingency of genetic infromation: pro and contra

Философия. Журнал Высшей Школы Экономики 7 (1):317-339 (2023)
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Within the framework of historical epistemology (G. Canguilhem, M. Foucault, L. Loison) the key concepts of a scientific discipline are considered as historically and culturally contingtent, that is, predetermined by outside factors rather than by the internal logic of the development of science. A fundamental attempt to demonstrate the contingency of the concept of “genetic information” was made in 2000 by Lily Kay, who argues that there was an “epistemic rupture” between this concept and the previous biological discourse of “specificity”. As I. A. Kuzin has recently demonstrated, this work is essential not only for the history of biology, but also for the methodology of history of science and for modern biology as well. This paper contains a critical approach to both works. The sociocultural (externalist) conceptualizations of the history of biology contain serious difficulties and contradictions that internalism can successfully cope with. Being an explanans, “discourse” is not able to explain the key features of the history of deciphering the genetic code. “Discourse”, “concept” and “metaphor” of information are confused; two separated phases of the deciphering the code are separated groundlessly as “formal” and “material” stages; the transition from syntactic aspect of information to semantic one (from the “cipher” metaphor to the “code” metaphor) is at least problematic. The internalist approach preserves the idea of the contingency of the concept of information (in the form of methodological contingency instead of historical and cultural one), and at the same time incorporates it into the internal development of genetics and molecular biology.

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