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Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell: The Computer in Every Living Cell [Kindle Edition]

Dennis Bray
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"Dennis Bray engages in a provocative debate about the computational capabilities of protein networks, while taking the reader on a delightful ramble across biology, from the antics of "Stentor" to the plasticity of synapses, with PacMan and robot salamanders along the way."--Jeremy Gunawardena, Director, Virtual Cell Program, Harvard Medical School--Jeremy Gunawardena


How does a single-cell creature, such as an amoeba, lead such a sophisticated life? How does it hunt living prey, respond to lights, sounds, and smells, and display complex sequences of movements without the benefit of a nervous system? This book offers a startling and original answer.

In clear, jargon-free language, Dennis Bray taps the findings of the new discipline of systems biology to show that the internal chemistry of living cells is a form of computation. Cells are built out of molecular circuits that perform logical operations, as electronic devices do, but with unique properties. Bray argues that the computational juice of cells provides the basis of all the distinctive properties of living systems: it allows organisms to embody in their internal structure an image of the world, and this accounts for their adaptability, responsiveness, and intelligence.

In Wetware, Bray offers imaginative, wide-ranging and perceptive critiques of robotics and complexity theory, as well as many entertaining and telling anecdotes. For the general reader, the practicing scientist, and all others with an interest in the nature of life, the book is an exciting portal to some of biology’s latest discoveries and ideas.


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4.0 von 5 Sternen interesting 17. Januar 2015
Von LSchiller
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
I read it as introduction for bioinformatics studies. It is interesting and maybe philosophical. A view at life from a perspective between life sciences and computer science.
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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 4.5 von 5 Sternen  23 Rezensionen
57 von 59 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Brilliant explanation of biological computing for the lay reader 9. Juni 2009
Von Eggcrate - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
The idea that cellular membranes and contents may be functional equivalents of computers may appear strange, if not implausible. Dennis Bray sets forth a highly readable, absolutely intriguing case for the machine nature of proteins that are in a constant dialog with their inner (the cell juice or cytosol) and outer environments, exploiting thermal diffusion, dynamic equilibrium, weak and strong bonding forces, all of which result in a fantastic orchesta of switching on and off to produce this phenomenon well call life.

There is something breathtaking in Bray's thesis, which is stated in such lucid and straightforward language that the general reader will wonder why cellular biology ever seemed like a difficult or alien subject.

Computational biology gives one the sense that we are at the threshold of yet another of civilization's "Spinoza moments" where the entire framework for thinking about life is dramatically, and irrevocably restructured.

Rather than being sourced in unfathomable complexity, life in this model is founded on processes of utmost simplicity, yet have evolved marvellously dense control networks within the structure of those simple rules.

Bray's Wetware is essential reading for the non specialist who wants to know where one of the most significant trends in science and phiolsophy are headed.
47 von 52 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen complexity reduced 10. Juni 2009
Von David A. Rintoul - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
The premise for this book is that systems of proteins can convey and process information at the level of a single free-living cell. These proteins act as switches or transistors, functioning as the nervous system does for multicellular organisms. Bray presents abundant evidence that this is the case. Several well-studied cellular examples (e.g. bacterial chemotaxis) are used to illustrate the principle that complex behaviors and even the appearance of "consciousness" can be the product of relatively simple combinations of switches and outcomes. This is augmented by discussion of simple robots (e.g. Grey Walter's "tortoises") and computer games (e.g. PacMan), illustrating the point that some extremely complex behaviors can result from extremely simple circuits and motors.

His insight that "it is much more difficult to infer internal structure from the observation of behavior than to create the structure that gives the behavior in the first place" is a powerful one, and should give pause to anyone who subscribes to the notion of "intelligent design", or who thinks that cellular activities are "irreducibly complex". Humans can be easily fooled into believing that human-like attributes can only be attributed to human-like intelligence.. But the notion that a cell is so complex that it must have been designed by a supernatural agent is similar to the response one might imagine if a caveman was confronted by a simple robot. In both cases the object seems beyond comprehension; in both cases the object can actually be described by simple physical laws, circuits and switches.

Bray brings the full force of his experience and intellect to this book, showing the way toward a deeper understanding of single-cell behavior, neural net capabilities, and our innate ability to infer consciousness or agency in systems that actually have a very simple network of switches and outcomes. It is important to understand that Bray is not saying that single cells have what we call "consciousness", but they do have properties that could be described as short-term memory, intentions, and learning. Clearly these properties cannot be the result of a brain and nervous system, but must be based in a far simpler circuitry of proteins and environmental cues. Complete appreciation of this book will require some basic biological education; some of that is supplied by the author while other concepts are assumed. His perspective allows us another step away from the brain/mind Descartian dualism that seems to be making a comeback among anti-intellectual and anti-scientific proponents of theological arguments such as intelligent design.

The arguments thus have not only scientific ramifications, but cultural and philosophical ramifications as well.
45 von 50 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen This is one fantastic book! 21. Juli 2009
Von Clive (Max) Maxfield - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
This book blew me away - my head is spinning - I'm a firm believer in evolution (of course), but having read this book I have more of a glimpse of the complexities involved I've decided that we can't possibly exist (grin).

Of course the title of this book doesn't imply a computer like we think of ... more the ability to perform computations and make decisions. To be honest I hadn't really thought about this stuff in this depth before, but as it says on the cover:

"How does a single-cell creature, such as an amoeba, lead such a sophisticated life? How does it hunt living prey, respond to lights, sounds, and smells, and display complex sequences of movements without the benefit of a nervous system?"

Having read this book I can just about understand how an amoeba can move around and hunt its prey etc ... and I can also understand how groups of similar cells can perform "quorum sensing" (detect their relative concentration - i.e how many of them are there in a given area) ... remembering that we're talking about single cells here...

But to go from there to the current peak of human evolution (that would be me ... and you I suppose ... but let's focus on me :-)

... well, all I can say is that "the mind boggles" ...

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around everything that I learned.

This is a fantastic book - highly recommended!!!
24 von 26 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Falls short of expectations 13. Dezember 2009
Von Alex Tolley - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
This book get's close, but doesn't really hit the target of its title's promise.

Just to get one critique out of the way, Bray is largely correct when he states that the book does not suggest that single cell organisms have consciousness. Nevertheless, some language still remains that could be rephrased to remove vestiges of those thoughts. The last page also intimates that there could be a central organizing "brain" in an amoeba, which I think is neither required not indicated by the rest of the book.

Where this book excels is it's accessible description of cell processes from a computing model perspective. This works very well and the metaphor is extended to genetic networks and switches, and neural networks. He also includes a bried discussion of robotics, which are constructed with computer systems.

Where this book falls short is that while the metaphor of computation can be used in a host of processes, it is not formalized to show that computation is being done by the cell and organ systems, and not something else that looks like computation.
This might seem like a semantic quibble, but it is important, because otherwise this book just follows in the long tradition of describing living systems in the technology of the day, e.g. clockwork machines in the C18th.

Overall this book is well written, particularly the chapters on cell biology and is well worth reading by the general reader.
29 von 35 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
2.0 von 5 Sternen Huge Disappointed 13. November 2010
Von Dr. Bojan Tunguz - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Paradigms are a very powerful thing. They can capture imagination of many and provide intellectual tools and shortcuts for making sense of otherwise complicated or even intractable phenomena. They can also be very enduring and can determine the very terms that we describe the world in well after the original paradigms are completely forgotten. We still call people who are mildly depressed melancholic, even though no one subscribes to the theory of four bodily humors. (Melancholia means "black bile" in Greek.) Even the word "depressed" comes from the hydraulic paradigm of the mental activity that was so pervasive in the early parts of the twentieth century. The cautionary tale of all of this is that in order to make any analogy more than a passing fad one needs to be careful and very precise in establishing its limits, validity and usefulness.

With the seemingly exponential rise of the computational and informational technology, the computational paradigm has become almost ubiquitous. This paradigm has been the most prominent in attempts to describe the way that the mind works, but it has been used in fields as far apart as traffic control, physics and cosmology. In biology this paradigm has been mostly used in order to describe the functioning of the genetic code, and bioinformatics is a very active and viable area of research today. The basic premise of "Wetware" is that biological cells are essentially very sophisticated computational devices. Knowing full well how complex cells are and how far away we are from fully understanding all of their operations, the idea that there is a relatively simple paradigm that can cut through much of this obscurity really appealed to me. However, I discovered to my chagrin that this book has oversold and underdelivered on that premise. The author seems fairly knowledgeable and well informed about the basic biochemical processes that transpire inside the cell, but the attempts to liken them to computation are tenuous at best. These half-hearted efforts are based on computational analogies that come from popular science books and not from any original work by either the author or anyone else. Furthermore, the computational analogies are restricted to a very few examples that are haphazardly thrown in a couple of chapters. Most of the book focuses on either the basic biochemistry of the cell, or several topics that are most remotely related to the main theme - such as phantom limbs, psychology and philosophy of voluntary movement, artificial intelligence, robotics, etc. Furthermore, most of these sideshow topics are based on material that is at least a decade old. The author is clearly very enthusiastic about his own professional and intellectual interests, but I failed to see how they related to the "computational" processes in the cell. Reading this book was very frustrating, and it is one of the very few books that I ever bought for which I wish I could get a refund.
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