Hot Best Seller

Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell

Availability: Ready to download

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 sy 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.

*advertisement

Compare

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 sy 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.

30 review for Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell

  1. 5 out of 5

    Helio

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The first chapter was fabulous - I wanted to give it an 8 out of 5! Then the second chapter didn't have anything new for me (maybe it would for others). The following chapters only offered a little elaboration on the musings of the first chapter - are single celled entities sentient? Ultimately the book does not provide an answer. I began to be suspect about the intentions of the book with the references to evolution (being the cause of the intricacies we see). Then or page 141 he claims evolutio The first chapter was fabulous - I wanted to give it an 8 out of 5! Then the second chapter didn't have anything new for me (maybe it would for others). The following chapters only offered a little elaboration on the musings of the first chapter - are single celled entities sentient? Ultimately the book does not provide an answer. I began to be suspect about the intentions of the book with the references to evolution (being the cause of the intricacies we see). Then or page 141 he claims evolution retained 26 amino acids after 1.5 billion years of evolution. He wasn't there, no one (we know of) was. It is just fanciful speculation on his part. The five rating is down to a 4. Unfortunately the author then uses the next section as propaganda for evolutionary theory - as much desired reading as Intelligent Design writings - both are two dimensional solutions to a five dimensional problem. At one point he mentions that DNA is the pinnacle of design, with no shame, that design implies intent. He offers numerous analogies to human designed items (e.g. a comparison to 100 bottles of different Scotch) without realizing he is in essence saying "looks like a duck, swims like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck," but it is not a duck. He relies on the billions of years of time to produce genetic masterpieces. Oceans have been washing up sand on beaches for billions of years yet we have no sand sculptures to appreciate. With his logic the beaches should be full of them.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Adina

    Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell (Dennis Bray, not Rudy Rucker) is a short clearly guided tour on the analogies between biology and computing. Bray walks the reader through the protein-driven algorithms that generate complex behavior even in single-celled organisms without nervous systems, biological sensory mechanisms, cellular communications, and the basics of neurons. The book raises thought-provoking questions - how much is computing merely a familiar analogy like clockwork in Descar Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell (Dennis Bray, not Rudy Rucker) is a short clearly guided tour on the analogies between biology and computing. Bray walks the reader through the protein-driven algorithms that generate complex behavior even in single-celled organisms without nervous systems, biological sensory mechanisms, cellular communications, and the basics of neurons. The book raises thought-provoking questions - how much is computing merely a familiar analogy like clockwork in Descartes time, and how much is information processing a fair way to understand what happens in a biological system. How much of a difference does it make that biological life is carbon and liquid-based, and computing is silicate and dry? How much of a difference does it make that bio life is self-powering and self-replicating, unlike robots which depend on extrinsic mining, metallurgy, electric power generation. How much of a difference - seemingly large - between the elegant, simpler, and fragile creations of human engineers - and the convoluted, nuanced and fragile works of evolution? Wetware is not particularly technical. An interested reader can follow up to find much more about any of the subjects it touches in more detail. One of the things that I liked about the book is how it avoids the occupational hubris that affects some works in the field. Bray calls out Wolfram, of course, but also Stuart Kauffman and Rodney Brooks for overconfidence about the relationship between their simulations and biological life. Bray falls prey to this a little bit in his chapter on neural networks, a field where he has done some professional work. Neural nets are useful algorithms loosely inspired by the biological model, but the intermediate steps in biological circuits which support multiple inputs and connections don't seem that much like the hidden layers of neural nets to me. Bray does a good job of writing his sentences with subjects, verbs, and connected referents which makes it easier to follow complicated multi-step processes. This may seem elementary but is not as common as it should be. By contrast Nick Lane's book on Mitochondria, which is as far as I can tell brilliant, is harder than it needs to be. Not because it uses some technical terms and walks the reader through live debates and contrasting theories - it's fair to ask the reader to think - but because his sentences don't parse, and the reader needs to read them twice and then guess what "it" and "this" refer to. I need to reread Lane's book to understand it better before I write about it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Sebastian

    From B&N Synopsis: "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 intern From B&N Synopsis: "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." Biography: "Dennis Bray is professor emeritus, University of Cambridge, and coauthor of several bestselling and influential texts on molecular and cell biology. In 2007 he was awarded the prestigious European Science Prize in Computational Biology. He lives in Cambridge, UK." My Take: Nearly finished reading, trying to keep my mind from entering Professor Bray's world without exploding, can't wait to finish my first read so I can start over. I call this one a nine-time read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    John

    "Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell" is a reassuringly reasonable book compared to books I could imagine with the same title. It lives up to the promise of that title, giving a crackling account of the discrete switching networks of proteins reactions causing conformational changes that enable and disable their function. Chapters three and four are particularly strong at this, and the last two chapters have very strong flashes in this regard. This book successfully defends its thesis: the "Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell" is a reassuringly reasonable book compared to books I could imagine with the same title. It lives up to the promise of that title, giving a crackling account of the discrete switching networks of proteins reactions causing conformational changes that enable and disable their function. Chapters three and four are particularly strong at this, and the last two chapters have very strong flashes in this regard. This book successfully defends its thesis: the cell really does have the power to implement a kind of concurrent logical computation. These rousing descriptions are embedded in a more contemplative text, waxing philosophically about computer programs and robots. It comes down on philosophical issues in a scientifically nuanced way, admitting that we have yet not figured out any coherent way to know whether or not cells or other creatures have experiences, but estimating that they don't given their paltry biological endowments, despite their impressive capabilities. When not in either of these modes, the text is explaining more biological phenomena, that I've read more clearly and diagrammatically elsewhere, though it is unquestionably competent throughout. I might have wished it got more into detail of exactly how more of these computational networks worked, but that might have made it less accessible, and it is very readable throughout. One criticism is that the book doesn't seem to have any grip on the theory of computational complexity, and I think mistakes ordinary complication for complexity. Overall, this is the book of somebody who's been musing about thoughts for years, and finally decided to put them on paper. Given that the topics are broad ranging and have a philosophical bent, it's nice to see them rendered so soberly and biologically grounded.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mangoo

    The thesis of this book by Braid is courageous but potentially brilliant: many of the attributes that we associate only to high-level organisms (which, to put them into one, are the capacity of creating an internal image of the external world) are actually present also at single cell level - in this liquid computational processing environment called wetware. If you can excuse the fact that the style of Braid is boring, I guess partly because of the intrinsically hyper-descriptive character of bio The thesis of this book by Braid is courageous but potentially brilliant: many of the attributes that we associate only to high-level organisms (which, to put them into one, are the capacity of creating an internal image of the external world) are actually present also at single cell level - in this liquid computational processing environment called wetware. If you can excuse the fact that the style of Braid is boring, I guess partly because of the intrinsically hyper-descriptive character of biological trainings and expositions, then this book ranks as a potential gem. The author's opinion is essentially a corollary of recent developments and evidence of the computational power of chemical networks, particular of protein networks, enshrined and compartimentalized within membranes, that is within cells. 2 main reflections are in order, if the conjecture reveals true: 1) the central nervous system, to which we attribute the origin and control of such supposedly high-level behaviors, is not necessary to them, thus not probably its origin, as well, but more probably a refinement and structuralization of the sets of feedback and logical loops already working at molecular level; 2) mimicking molecular biology (liquid, carbon-based, energy-efficient, resource-efficient yet robust) in the perspective of artificial intelligence or, more simply, enhanced artificial computational power has still a lot to progress to reach evolution's achievements - though they can be back-engineered, eventually. Recommended to newcomers and to those fascinated with networks in search for biological substrates to investigate.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Fil Krynicki

    If I was reviewing this book for its quality as popular science, I would give it two stars. The writing is often too complicated, introducing new terminology for the sake of an example and instead leaving the reader confused as to what a particular scientific experiment is. Furthermore, the majority of the educational material of the book is introduced in the first half, the second half being an overly-long treatment of minute examples of previously-introduced concepts. That being said, I review If I was reviewing this book for its quality as popular science, I would give it two stars. The writing is often too complicated, introducing new terminology for the sake of an example and instead leaving the reader confused as to what a particular scientific experiment is. Furthermore, the majority of the educational material of the book is introduced in the first half, the second half being an overly-long treatment of minute examples of previously-introduced concepts. That being said, I review books based on what I got out of them. With limited knowledge of what a cell even was, diving into this book was a treat. The idea that cells are essentially computers composed of thousands of lego pieces shaking around randomly in a box is awe-inspiring (my analogy, not the authour's). Though I struggled with the material enough that I make no claim to having really conquered the book (occasionally the jargon would lull me to sleep), my questions about the very basic building blocks of life, and their probably origins, are at least partially answered. If there is anything more I wish I got from this, it would be a deeper treatment of some of the foundational experiments. I am already forgetting some of the reasons we know things are as they are. To have retained the names of the discovers and their methods would have been a great foundation moving forward.

  7. 4 out of 5

    David Rubin

    If you have studied biology sometime in the past and would like to know some of what is happening in the world of academic biochemistry today, this is the book for you. Written for us laypeople, Dennis Bray takes us into the world of single cell animals and bacteria, and later into the multi-cell and even human world. Scientists are learning more about cell chemistry every day -- too much for us to keep up with. Yet the complex mechanisms and their functions are fascinating and the author's rend If you have studied biology sometime in the past and would like to know some of what is happening in the world of academic biochemistry today, this is the book for you. Written for us laypeople, Dennis Bray takes us into the world of single cell animals and bacteria, and later into the multi-cell and even human world. Scientists are learning more about cell chemistry every day -- too much for us to keep up with. Yet the complex mechanisms and their functions are fascinating and the author's rendering illuminating. Furthermore, for most of us, the mechanisms of evolution are daunting and difficult to fathom. Many of us harbor some misgivings about randomness and complexity. In the depth of our minds is this lingering suspicion that perhaps creationism has some basis in fact after all. No matter where you may be on the spectrum of belief, it is good to delve into the rich facts of cell life. Read this book; you won't regret it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Antonio

    The title and the foreword of the book were promising. The computational capabilities of cells are now under a wide research program, and this book promised to be a good and enhanced state-of-the-art. However, the book is full of old-fashion biology prejudices. For example, the author states in a reiterative fashion that cells are not to be equalled by any "artificial" machine simply because cells have more possible states. Author is not aware of the digital and analogical computers difference, The title and the foreword of the book were promising. The computational capabilities of cells are now under a wide research program, and this book promised to be a good and enhanced state-of-the-art. However, the book is full of old-fashion biology prejudices. For example, the author states in a reiterative fashion that cells are not to be equalled by any "artificial" machine simply because cells have more possible states. Author is not aware of the digital and analogical computers difference, not to talk about the formal basis of computation. The concept of biological transistor is, however, well presented and much more may had been achieved if the tonic from chapters three and four were followed during the rest of the book. An interesting metaphor, from my point of view, is the one relating learning in neural networks and metabolic networks. Metabolic networks are the result of adaptation, and as such, they represent what the organism has learnt from its environment.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nikolai Kim

    Well, I was expecting a flight of genius, something about bio-mimesis and its difficulties as developers encounter something akin to cellular consciousness. However, I have yet to see it. So far, it's plodding and unhelpful. The question of why synthetic biology might differ from electronic or chemical processes hasn't been addressed as yet. I don't mean whether a microbe knows whether its name is Joe or Frank. But isn't it possible that bacteria have a sociobiological behavior pattern? Or a sym Well, I was expecting a flight of genius, something about bio-mimesis and its difficulties as developers encounter something akin to cellular consciousness. However, I have yet to see it. So far, it's plodding and unhelpful. The question of why synthetic biology might differ from electronic or chemical processes hasn't been addressed as yet. I don't mean whether a microbe knows whether its name is Joe or Frank. But isn't it possible that bacteria have a sociobiological behavior pattern? Or a sympathetic suicide function in response to resource constraints? These would amount to "moods" which affect the rate of response of protein switches, no? I hope Bray hits the right button soon. He's losing me.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Will

    This book is clear, readable and sticks to science. Where he has ideas, he's very careful to qualify them by saying they're not proved, and well, cells aren't conscious sentient beings. They do make for great complex chemical feedback loops, though. The problem I have with this book is that it's too safe. The science he mentions isn't stretching the limit or even saying anything you wouldn't get out of a college biology textbook -- he's clearly got a scientist's perspective, but after reading scie This book is clear, readable and sticks to science. Where he has ideas, he's very careful to qualify them by saying they're not proved, and well, cells aren't conscious sentient beings. They do make for great complex chemical feedback loops, though. The problem I have with this book is that it's too safe. The science he mentions isn't stretching the limit or even saying anything you wouldn't get out of a college biology textbook -- he's clearly got a scientist's perspective, but after reading science fiction (particularly Blood Music, which is happily out there in terms of its thinking) I was waiting for the big science reveal... which never came.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chad Tronetti

    Bray paints a vivid and detailed picture of the biological algorithms and circuitry ingrained in the almost infinite complexity of life. It is here that we see the computational pre-programmed adaptability that James Shapiro refers to as "Natural Genetic Engineering". Although Bray still seems intent on waving that Dariwinian magic wand that I have always found to be at the apex of intellectual laziness, it is still refreshing to see the active logical forward-looking undercurrents of biological Bray paints a vivid and detailed picture of the biological algorithms and circuitry ingrained in the almost infinite complexity of life. It is here that we see the computational pre-programmed adaptability that James Shapiro refers to as "Natural Genetic Engineering". Although Bray still seems intent on waving that Dariwinian magic wand that I have always found to be at the apex of intellectual laziness, it is still refreshing to see the active logical forward-looking undercurrents of biological evolution taken seriously. These are the ideas that will drive our understanding of biology in the 21st century.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Andre

    I studied biology as an undergrad and continue to do research in the field. This books was awesome. Easy to read and not to scientific but instead asked (and tried to offer insight on) philosophical questions relating to life. It talks how cells are very similar to basic machines but humbly concedes that life is driven by a "force" that we still do not understand; no matter how life-life machines get, they still won't be alive. Highly recommend it as it introduces an emerging and very sophistica I studied biology as an undergrad and continue to do research in the field. This books was awesome. Easy to read and not to scientific but instead asked (and tried to offer insight on) philosophical questions relating to life. It talks how cells are very similar to basic machines but humbly concedes that life is driven by a "force" that we still do not understand; no matter how life-life machines get, they still won't be alive. Highly recommend it as it introduces an emerging and very sophisticated field in biology

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    A compelling comparison of biological systems and computers focusing on the mechanisms that enable life, communication, and sentience. Dennis Bray does an excellent job at explaining complex concepts in simple, yet vivid language. He has an ability to crystalize thoughts and present arguments clearly and succinctly. His use of metaphor comparing the life of a cell to the programmed computation of a machine is interesting and removes some of the mystery behind how these complex systems behave.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mark Gomer

    Didn't make as much contact with theoretical computer science as I was hoping, but still lots of good stuff. The explanation of how protein interaction networks can manifest transistor-equivalent components (as well as basic logic gates) was enlightening. Primary takeaway: single-celled organisms, with their "nervous systems" made of protein interaction networks, already deserve the intentional stance.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Michal Paszkiewicz

    An excellent book that has let me see cells from an entirely new perspective. It was easy to read, while it also included a lot of depth and details, satisfying my curiosity. I particularly enjoyed learning about hydra - the actual living tiny animals. When I have a good microscope, I will need to find one.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    After seconding the other positive remarks, I will add that the book outlines many fascinating phenomena, for example about protozoans, that are hard to extract from the ponderous tomes we are accustomed to slogging through. Really, you may never think the same way again about single-celled organisms.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

    This is an excellent introduction to systems biology. No prior knowledge or interest required. Readers will come away understanding what it means to say that "life computes", and terms like "protein nanomachines" will make perfect sense. If you don't think "wow" at least once while reading this, you have absolutely no imagination.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This is one of those books that I've checked out of the library and started to read with great interest then stopped.... I will be back. I found the following interview on the net http://www.microbeworld.org/index.php...

  19. 4 out of 5

    Diego García Bustos

    Cuando sea más instruido en el maravilloso mundo de las células haré una reseña más responsable.

  20. 4 out of 5

    David

    Seems like a very good book about amazing computational-like processes at the cellular level.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alexander

    I have very little knowledge of cell chemistry of biology, so for me this book was a nice introduction into these subjects.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cameron

    A good, though basic, description of the forthcoming revolution in genetic engineering and how it will change our lives.

  23. 4 out of 5

    J. D.

    This book is a rewarding read. Its speculation about degrees of awareness call to mind Daniel Dennett's "Consciousness Explained". I can't recommend Dennis Bray's book highly enough.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Scott Daugherty

  25. 4 out of 5

    Giles Knap

  26. 4 out of 5

    Konrad

  27. 4 out of 5

    Matti Suksi

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rick

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bennett Sprague

  30. 5 out of 5

    Chuck

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.