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Can the New Science of Evo-Devo Explain the Form of Organisms?

Stephen L. Talbott

This essay is part of a work in progress and is subject to continual revision. Originally published in NetFuture #171 (Dec. 13, 2007). Date of last revision: January 28, 2008.

Copyright 2007, 2008 The Nature Institute. All rights reserved. You may freely redistribute this chapter for noncommercial purposes only.


What is so frightening about the form of living things? Nothing, it might seem. Much of our biological science is a science of form, a science whose task is to understand why proteins and cells, tissues and organs, plants and animals have the form they do, and how they get that way.

But what is so frightening about the form of living things? Everything, it might seem. For the treatment of form in biology is continually "hushed up" in explanations that are as devoid of form, as silent about form, as we can possibly make them.

Today in particular we find powerful urges to engage the problem of organic form with scientific understanding, and yet an equally powerful reticence to reckon with or even acknowledge the forms we can so readily see, as if every such form somehow masked a shameful or threatening countenance.

The problem of form