From Gene Action to Genetic Programs: Narratives of Development and the Molecular Revolution

Friday, March 8th, 2002
Evelyn Fox Keller
Event Description

Keller argues that much of the theoretical work involved in constructing explanations of development from genetic data has historically been linguistic--more specifically, that it has depended on productive use of the cognitive tensions generated by ambiguity, polygamy, and, more generally, by the introduction of novel metaphors. Classical genetics sought to make sense of development through their use of the notion of gene action. Later, with the advent of molecular genetics, the gene acquired a concrete referent, a specific region of a molecular of double-stranded DNA, and with that advance, the earlier figure of gene action, depending as it had on the very uncertainty of the definition of the classical cal gene, could no longer satisfy. Geneticists required a new kind of narrative for thinking about development, and to fill the gap left by the demise of gene action, a correspondingly new figure of speech was introduced: the genetic program. Keller will discuss the history of these two linguistic structures, and examine the detailed workings of metaphor and multi-vocality in their respective uses.
(cancelled due to illness)

Evelyn Fox Keller

Program in Science, Technology and Society, MIT|