Birth, Death, and the Human Predicament of Being Biological
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 Perhaps the clue to this odd rehashing of questions about life and death lies in the credentials of the author: Applewhite's (Cosmic Fishing, 1977) career includes long-term collaboration with Buckminster Fuller (Applewhite co-authored Synergetics) and 25 years as ``one of the chief sifters of intelligence for the CIA.'' Both occupations demand a fiercely inquiring mind, able to rove over the great and the trivial, picking up nuggets along the way. And so Applewhite has in this compendium of conjectures and facts about the phenomena of life and death, the myriad attempts to define them and to distinguish the biological from the merely material. He begins with acknowledging the elusiveness of the goal; there is no scientific definition of life. Indeed, he is quick to acknowledge that right-to-life debates about when life begins are meaningless and irrelevant to biologists, who banish the topic to religion and metaphysics. In due course, he deals with the physics, chemistry, and molecular biology of biota in all forms from borderline viruses to man, with appropriate excursions into cosmology, evolution, sexuality, Freud, cell and molecular biology, the genetic code, the mind-brain conundrum, aging, disease, near- death experiences, death, and immortality. Nearly every page quotes an authority (e.g., Schrîdinger, Ernst Mayr, E.O. Wilson, S.J. Gould). A recurrent theme is the human drive to classify and organize, often resulting in specialization and hierarchical ordering. There is even a long appendix enumerating the many- splintered fields that constitute biology today. The main point of all this erudition seems to be that we don't have answers and that at best we have to live with dualities: identity and change, chance and necessity. ``Ambivalence and ambiguity prevail.'' No news there!

Pub Date: June 28th, 1991
ISBN: 0-312-05944-2
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1991