Molecular biology is based on two great discoveries: the first is that genes carry hereditary information in the form of linear sequences of nucleotides; the second is that in protein synthesis a sequence of nucleotides is translated into a sequence of amino acids, a process that amounts to a transfer of information from genes to proteins. These discoveries have shown that the information of genes and proteins is the specific linear order of their sequences. This is a clear definition of information and there is no doubt that it reflects an experimental reality. What is not clear, however, is the ontological status of information, and the result is that today we have two conflicting paradigms in biology. One is the ‘chemical paradigm’, the idea that ‘life is chemistry’, or, more precisely, that ‘life is an extremely complex form of chemistry’. The other is the ‘information paradigm’, the view that chemistry is not enough, that ‘life is chemistry plus information’. This implies that there is an ontological difference between information and chemistry, a difference which is often expressed by saying that information-based processes like heredity and natural selection simply do not exist in the world of chemistry. Against this conclusion, the supporters of the chemical paradigm have argued that the concept of information is only a linguistic metaphor, a word that summarizes the result of countless underlying chemical reactions. The supporters of the information paradigm insist that information is a real and fundamental component of the living world, but have not been able to prove this point. As a result, the chemical view has not been abandoned and the two paradigms both coexist today. Here, it is shown that a solution to the ontological problem of information does exist. It comes from the idea that life is artefact-making, that genes and proteins are molecular artefacts manufactured by molecular machines and that artefacts necessarily require sequences and coding rules in addition to the quantities of physics and chemistry. More precisely, it is shown that the production of artefacts requires new observables that are referred to as nominable entities because they can be described only by naming their components in their natural order. From an ontological point of view, in conclusion, information is a nominable entity, a fundamental but not-computable observable.
One contribution of 21 to a theme issue ‘DNA as information’.
- Accepted July 1, 2015.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.