evelyn fox keller

evelyn fox keller

intro’d via reading Steven Johnson‘s emergence..

p 12

the story begins in the late 60s in nyc, w a scientist named… Evelyn Fox Keller… (and Lee Segel)

p 13

when the environment is less hospitable, the slime mold acts as a single organism; when the weather turns cooler and the mold enjoys a large food supply, ‘it’ becomes a ‘they.’

the slime mold oscillates between being a single creature and a swarm..

zoom dance.. ni ness.. re wire.. via hosting-life-bits.. a nother way

p 14

one of Turing’s last published papers, .. studied the riddle of ‘morphogenesis’ – the capacity of all life-forms to develop ever more baroque bodies out of impossibly simple beginnings…. it (his paper) demo’d using mathematical tools how a complex organism could assemble itself without any master planner calling the shots..


the huge ness of non-prescription

thinking of this ted: grow a forest – https://www.ted.com/talks/shubhendu_sharma_how_to_grow_a_tiny_forest_anywhere?language=en

pacemaker ness –

until Keller began her investigations, the conventional belief had been that slime mold swarms formed at the command of ‘pacemaker’ cells that ordered the other cells to begin aggregating. in 62, harvard’s b.m. shafer showed how the pacemakers could use cyclic amp as a signal of sorts to rally the troops; the slim mold generals would release the compounds at the appropriate moments, triggering waves of cyclic amp that washed through the entire community, as each isolated cell relayed the signal to its neighbors. slime mold aggregation, in effect, was a giant fame of telephone – but only a few elite cells place the original call..

so much Ed ness here… even Dave‘s campfire.. here..

it seemed like a perfectly reasonable explanation. we’re naturally predisposed to think in terms of pacemakers, whether we’re talking about fungi, political systems, or our own bodies.

our actions seem governed for the most part by the pacemaker cells in our brains, and for millennia we’ve built elaborate pacemakers cells into our social orgs, whether they come in the form of kings, dictators, or city councilmen. much of the world around us can be explained in terms of command systems, and hierarchies – why should it be any diff for the slime molds..?

but shafer’s theory had one small problem:

no one could find the pacemakers….

all cells in community were effectively interchangeable.. none of them possessed any distinguishing characteristics that might elevate them to pacemaker status.. shafer’s theory had presumed the existence of a cellular monarchy commanding the masses, but as it turned out, all slime mold cells were created equal.

for 20 yrs that followed publication… mycologist assumed that the missing pacemaker cells were a sign of insufficient data, or poorly designed experiments.…. the generals were there somewhere in the mix, the scholars assumed – they just didn’t know what their uniforms looked like.. but keller and segel took another , more radical approach.

Turing’s work on morphogenesis had sketched out a mathematical model wherein simple agents following simple rules could generate amazingly complex structures;

perhaps the aggregations of slime mold cells were a real-world example of that behavior. Turing had focused primarily on the interactions between cells in a single organism, but ti was perfectly resonable to assume that the math would work for aggregations of free-floating cells. and so … keller started to think…. what if shafer had it wrong… what if the community of slime mold cells were organizing themselves…

what if there were no pacemakers..?

keler and segel’shunch paid off dramatically. while they lacke dthe advance visualization tools.. they scratched out a series of equations..

p 16

.. that demo’d how slime cells could trigger aggregation w/o following a leader, simply by altering the amount of cyclic amp they released individually, then following trails of the pheromone that they encountered as they wandered through their environment.

whoa.. total app/chip idea… hosted life bits idea… trail rather than proof/prescription…
just huge

story in my head…
don’t need mtgs/assemblies/consensus… as we know them…
just need.. each unit/cell/person… listening/consensus ing/ deciding/assessing …. w self……. (self-talk as data) ……and then…. leaving a trail … (hosted-life-bits)… that can io dance…. w others…

as the day… no other orders…
from para…. importance of random wandering.. in that city/trail/forest/….

if the slime cells pumped out enough cyclic amp, clusters of cells would start to form..

ie: enough cyclic amp.. via enough people free and playing

cells would begin following trails created by other cells, creating a positive feedback loop that encourage more cells to join the cluster.

here.. i think best to zoom back to individual.. and individual consensus w/in one body/cell.. if.. my whimsy .. as the day ness.. groundhog day ness… everyone getting a go everyday ness.. creates positive feedback loop to eudaimonia.. the joining of clusters isn’t from following other people’s trails… it’s from following your own.. and tech helping us find the others.. that would be a more natural cluster.. a less prescribed/peer-pressured/credentialed-campfire/course-like… cluster..

h u g e

if each solo cell was simply releasing cyclic amp based on its own local assessment of the general conditions, Keller and Segel argued in a paper published in 1969, then the larger slime mold community might well be able to aggregate based on global changes in the environment – all w/o a pacemaker cell calling the shots.

ginormous.. as this is where ongoing/re-generating/authentic/ginormously-small energy comes from as well..


h   u   g   e

the response was very interesting, keller says now.. for anyone who understood applied mathematics, or had any experience in fluid dynamics, this was old hat tot hem. but to biologists, it didn’t make any sense. i would give seminars to biologists, and they’d say, ‘so” where’s the founder cell” where’s the pacemaker?’ it didn’t provide any satisfaction to he whatsoever.. indeed the pacemaker hypothesis would continue as the reugning model for another decade, util a series of experiments convincingly proved that the slime mold cells were organizing from below..

it amazes me how difficult it is for people to think in terms of collective phenomenon, keller says today

… keller’s colleague at mit – mitch resnick.. developed a computer simulation of slime mold cells aggregating, allowing students to explore the eerie, invisible hand of self-org by altering the number of cells in the environment, and levels of cyclic amp distributed…….. some of today’s most popular computer games resemble slime mold cells because they are loosely based on equation that keller and segel formulated by hand in late sixties


from (trying to take her in) – 2013 -Paradigm Shifts and Revolutions in Contemporary Biology

6 min – relation between science and language..

7 min – diff in way language is used.. and way that bares on revolution

8 min – kuhn – a lexicon is a way of describing the world.. long term product of tribal experience… that of convention..

9 min – a revolution is the change in lexicon of a sort that frequently frustrates the possibility of translation

the nouns we employ carving up the world.. into categories that do not overlap – kuhn.. ambiguity a source of rupture..

10 min – the crux of where i take opposition.. it’s inapplicability to biology..

kuhn: ‘periods in which a speech community does deploy overlapping kind-terms end in one of two ways: either one entirely displaces the other, or the community divides into two, a process not unlike speciation’

the main point i want to argue.. in many areas of biology.. don’t work that way at all.. replete with overlapping terms.. and overlaps.. exist over long periods of time w/o adding pressure.. despite policimy.. they have no trouble knowing what they mean.. ie: term.. gene

13 min – on .. how we still couldn’t say what gene is.. yet now can.. though that defn didn’t seem to rupture anything said of it before..

14 min – yet – clarity did not endure..

15 min – what about coding sequences not made up of dna or rna..

16 min – 1998 – gene ontology consortium… genes divergent even when experts appreciate underlying similarities.. ..io of genomic data basis limited by this progress.. this major obstacle consortium to address..

17 min – what we need is more work.. not more words…

results of 2007 – transcribed.. overlapping.. and too far removed… protein coding only 1.2% of human genome..

19 min – genome – as if collective is all you need to know.. but much more than vehicle for genes..

20 min – the atom of the genome is the transcript

default meaning

23 min – on multiplicity – on one hand genome is complete set of genes.. on other hand total content in set of chromosomes…

defn of genome.. collections of genes, dna, all genetic material.. if genes constitute only 1.2% of dna.. there’s a gap between collection of genes and all the materials…

the blurring together .. as entire set.. gives one little sense of problem.. much less a revolution..

25 min – traditionally genome as carrier of genes ..starting in 1920 .. genes as causal aides of development..  talked less about action and more about carrying info

26 min – nobody paid attention to all the non coding dna..

change in frame.. goes beyond adding actors.. thinking of them as actors in first place is misleading.. they are not actors at all .. they are reactors..

27 min – more a reaction/response system.. response to constantly changing signals it receives from environment.. mostly from those internal.. adjacent to dna.. but those from outer as well.. adaptive…

28 min – since 2000.. human genome same number of genes as mouse and only 5% more than worm.. new perspective.. what increases with complexity is not number of genes.. but the proportion of non coding dna (apart from outliers) much devoted to regulation.. ginormous leap when get to homo sapiens.. 98.8% jump

29 min – thinking of the genome as reactive system. .would be a radical shift indeed.. one that would require a re examination of many of our most fundamental assumptions… ie: it allows/obliges us to abandon twin dichotomies.. between genetics/environment.. between nature/nurture et al.. that have driven so much unnecessary debate..and for so many decades

if much of what genome does is respond to signals from environment.. then dividing into genetic and environmental make no sense.. neither does bio/cultural.. interactions between all are crucial to making us what we are.. biology itself is constituted by these interactions..

31 min  – what makes any molecule biological is precisely it’s capacity to sense and respond to its environment… a diff world..

interpretive labor ness..

changed in ways few see as revolution/paradigm shift.. new meanings.. w/o displacing earlier meanings.. without dividing/choosing.. indeed.. use all meanings.. neither gene or genome.. sort out to clear alt’s… overlapping.. but not disruptive..

32 min – the use of kind-of in place of natural/scientific kinds… kind-of ness

33 min – kind-of as adjectivable.. well worth pursuing…

calling something a gene.. not that something is a kind of gene.. rather it is kind-of a gene… gene ish…

an obvious irony… reference is classification…

to facilitate perceptual flexibility… also works to inhibit transformation.. easy to accept many diff as if no conflict between them

34 min – so my point.. what’s problem is no concern to be so precise… or to worry about overlapping…

35 min – so biology or at least genetics are diff.. so what.. this doesn’t seem to me a satisfying conclusion..

kuhn’s picture may be an idealization.. but an ideal to which much of community holds… some diff in attitudes seem clearly indicated… perhaps future won’t be confused.. won’t be dependent on clarity.. again – more work not more words..

37 min – i’ve argued that words to make a diff… i even think that decades long disregard.. 60-80s provides case in point.. but goes without saying.. words.. not by self…

38 min – for an historian.. may be extremely difficult to separate out.. but when new techs and new metaphors don’t come at same time…

scientific practices shaped by shared values of communities.. so perhaps will vary.. with values of local culture.. from this perspective.. lexicons/taxonomies/words/concepts.. may pay less weight..

maybe my problem is that like kuhn was reared of theoretical physicist.. and can’t quite bring myself to abandon my yearning for linguistic clarity.. or the desire to know that the things we put names to really are..

39 min – q&a

43 min – on ie: wheat change.. happened in a few generations – rather than hundreds.. from environment.. could be counted as a small revolution or paradigm change..

44 min – not just diff defns at diff times.. but diff defns at same time.. by same geneticists..

47 min – meaning of species to me.. is just a zoo… johann says.. just a little world.. a powerful little word.. brings together.. number of presuppositions.. using that word to satisfy all means.. presuppositions.. the causal efficacy of the unit.. brought together not an exact definition.. but a very powerful guiding framework.. ie: there is such a thing that does all these things… that’s an assumption and it guides the development

48 min – in 1932 – less and less communication.. embryo ness… we have same question .. just raise it differently.. that changing of phrasing.. gives change of perceptual picture.. just a set of engrained assumptions… more than diff theories.. a diff gestalt (an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.)

52 min – in his last years.. Kuhns tried to clarified the meaning of the paradigm shifts… in that sense of term.. there are not paradigm shifts in biology and onthology

56 min – on changes preventing people from talking to each other..

57 min – lewis carroll.. you can’t use words to mean what you want

58 min – worlds change in other ways besides conceptual changes.. but linked in complex ways

1:02 – visual language.. question on visual language.. on diagrams.. that visual picture.. .. diagrams can change dramatically/artistically.. interesting question..

1:04 – kind of.. and kind-of clear cut categories.. 2nd gives up on that assumption.. not such a taxaconical world.. a much more fluid world.. carving up world into nouns..

1:05 – on gender and science.. i was not sufficiently careful.. but i was not talking about diff’s between men and women.. i was talking about role of gender as a category.. ie: i should have used feminist and masculinist.. as described as… rather than is.. becomes feminine.. as learns what it means.. when i tried to clarify this notion… i was really interested in .. it makes a diff to science.. when you call nature female.. and mind male..  it’s not about sex.. it’s about words..language.. metaphor.. i do think metaphor of gene is a masculine metaphor

find/follow Evelyn:


wikipedia small

Evelyn Fox Keller (born March 20, 1936) is an Americanphysicist, author and feminist. She is currently Professor Emerita of History and Philosophy of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Keller’s early work concentrated at the intersection of physics and biology. Her subsequent research has focused on the history and philosophy of modern biology and on gender and science.


She first encountered feminism as a discipline while attending a conference entitled “Women and the Scientific Profession.” At this conference, Erik Erikson and Bruno Bettelheim argued for more women in science based on the invaluable contributions a “specifically female genius” could make to science. Four years later, in 1969, she compiled an array of data on the experiences of women scientists and put together an argument about women in (or out of) science, based on “women’s nature.” She had been feeling disenchantment from her colleague publishing her team’s work and she had not realized the reason behind it until she did her research.

In 1974 Keller taught her first women’s studies course. Shortly after, she was invited to give a series of lectures on her work. She had never shared her personal experiences of her story of how it was like for her as a woman becoming a scientist and this lecture marked the beginning of her work as a feminist critic of science. It raised three central questions that marked her research and writing over the next decade.

One of her major works was a contribution to the book The Gender and Science Reader. Keller’s article, entitled “Secrets of God, Nature, and Life” links issues in feminism back to the Scientific Revolution in the 17th Century and the Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century. In this work, she quotes Boyle. “It may seem an ingrateful and unfilial thing to dispute against nature, that is taken by mankind for the common parent of us all. But although it be as undutiful thing, to express a want of respect for an acknowledged parent, yet I know not, why it may not be allowable to question one, that a man looks upon but as a pretend one; and it appear to me, that she is so, I think it my duty to pay my gratitude, not to I know not what, but to that deity, whose wisdom and goodness…designed to make me a man.” (pg. 103) By Keller addressing Boyle’s quote in this aspect, she alludes to how as soon as questionable aspects are displayed in nature, “nature” becomes “nature” and is then feminine.

femin ism ness

Evelyn Fox Keller has documented how the masculine-identified public sphere and the feminine-identified private sphere have structured thinking in two areas of evolutionary biology: population genetics and mathematical ecology. Her concern is to show how the selection process that occurs in the context of discovery limits what we come to know. Keller argues that the assumption that the atomistic individual is the fundamental unit in nature has led population geneticists to omit sexual reproduction from their models.

would love to know more of this..

story in my head as i read .. is that of regeneration.. of no prescription ness..

Though the critique of misplaced individualism is nothing new, the gender dynamics Keller reveals are. According to Keller, geneticists treat reproduction as if individuals reproduce themselves, effectively bypassing the complexities of sexual difference, the contingencies of mating, and fertilization. She likens the biologists’ atomistic individual to heuristic individual portrayed by mainstream Western political and economic theorists.

Keller argues further that biologists use values ascribed to the public sphere of Western culture to depict relations between individuals (while values generally attributed to the private sphere to describe relations are confused to the interior of an individual organism.)

oh please.. tell me more

story in my head as i read: science of people ness.. and how we’re missing the potential of ni ness.. of zoom dancing.. because we don’t get either of 2 convos.. we don’t get either of 2 needs/desires.. we don’t get interconnectedness.. we don’t go deep/simple/open enough..