Reviving the Living

Meaning Making in Living Systems


  • Yair Neuman, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

Modern biology portrays living systems, from the amoeba to the human organism, as mechanical toys shaped by the brute logic of natural selection. In "Reviving the Living": Meaning Making in Living Systems, Dr. Yair Neuman challenges the dogmas that frame our understanding of living systems and presents an alternative that avoids the pitfalls of non-scientific perspectives such as Vitalism and Creationism. In this thought provoking and iconoclastic manuscript, Dr. Neuman follows the footsteps of Gregory Bateson, Mikhail Bakhtin, Michael Polanyi and others, to suggest that living systems are "meaning making" systems. Dr. Neuman delves into the unique processes of meaning making that characterize organisms as a unique category of nature, and presents new and fascinating insights into a variety of enigmatic biological phenomena from immune memory to hidden life (cryptobiosis). Written by a polymath, Reviving the Living is a tour-de-force in interdisciplinary research which is of high interest to any reflective individual who is willing to examine the realm of the living from a novel and fascinating perspective.
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Biologists, philosophers, cognitive scientists, psychologists, semioticians, general audience


Book information

  • Published: April 2008
  • Imprint: ELSEVIER
  • ISBN: 978-0-444-53033-2


"Neuman's approach is an ingenious way to introduce an issue…" "A compilation of highly interesting topic that will undoubtedly transform the way readers think about organisms". Angewandte Chemie International 2009.

"This enthusiastically written and thought-provoking book … challenges dogmas of received wisdom such as reductionism, both mechanical and genetic… Neuman’s observations about the fallacy of sacrificing real-world properties in the interest of formal tractability are of great importance to systems thinkers, analysts, and modelers in various application areas, who wish to avoid serious failures in their work".  Computing Reviews 2009 (an ACM Review Journal)

"Neuman presents a fascinating analysis of biological interactions that aims to transcend the sort of billiard-ball model of causation that seems to be presupposed by the reductionists who are his target… Neuman has put the issues into what seems to be a more appropriate context, and that is a splendid accomplishment". Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 2009.

Table of Contents

PART 1. HOW LOW CAN YOU GO? REDUCTIONISM AND ITS LIMITATIONSCh. 1: What is Reductionism?Ch. 2: Who is Reading the Book of Life?Ch. 3: Genetics: From Grammar to Meaning MakingCh. 4: A Point for Thought: Why are Organisms Irreducible?Ch. 5: A Point for Thought: Does the Genetic System Include a Meta-Language?Ch. 6: Immunology: From Soldiers to Housewives?Ch. 7: A Point for Thought: Immune Specificity and Brancusi's KissCh. 8: A Point for Thought: Reflections on the Immune SelfPART 2. WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS STORY?Ch. 9: Meaning Making in Language and BiologyCh. 10: God's Sacred WordsCh. 11: It Means NothingCh. 12: A Point for Thought: Meaning-Bridging the Gap Between Physics and SemanticsCh. 13: The Rest is SilencePART 3. ON THE WILD SIDE: FOUR LESSONSCh. 14: The Polysemy of the Sign: A Quantum LessonCh. 15: Recursive-Hierarchy: A Lesson From the TardigradeCh. 16: Context and Memory: A Lesson From Funes the MemoriousCh. 17: Transgradience: A Lesson from BakhtinPART 4. FROM MECHANICS TO POIESISCh. 18: The Poetry of Living