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Information: Its Interpretation, Its Inheritance, and Its Sharing

Eva Jablonka
Philosophy of Science
Vol. 69, No. 4 (December 2002), pp. 578-605
DOI: 10.1086/344621
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/344621
Page Count: 28
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Information: Its Interpretation, Its Inheritance, and Its Sharing
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Abstract

Abstract The semantic concept of information is one of the most important, and one of the most problematical concepts in biology. I suggest a broad definition of biological information: a source becomes an informational input when an interpreting receiver can react to the form of the source (and variations in this form) in a functional manner. The definition accommodates information stemming from environmental cues as well as from evolved signals, and calls for a comparison between information‐transmission in different types of inheritance systems—the genetic, the epigenetic, the behavioral, and the cultural‐symbolic. This comparative perspective highlights the different ways in which information is acquired and transmitted, and the role that such information plays in heredity and evolution. Focusing on the special properties of the transfer of information, which are very different from those associated with the transfer of materials or energy, also helps to uncover interesting evolutionary effects and suggests better explanations for some aspects of the evolution of communication.

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