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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

June 11, 1995|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

REFIGURED LIFE: Metaphors of Twentieth-Century Biology by Evelyn Fox Keller. (Columbia: $20; 134 pp.) Keller, philosopher of science and feminist historian at MIT, is the author of several pioneering and thought-disturbing books on the language and practice of science, including "A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock," "Reflections on Gender and Science," and "Secrets of Life, Secrets of Death." She is thorough and precise about the language of science and how it affects the progress of science in the way that Proust was thorough about affairs of the heart. Both struggle to, as Keller puts it, "sort out the complex lines of influence and interactions of cultural norms, metaphor," and, in Keller's lifetime, "technical development." "Our predilections," she writes, "are all we have to guide us."

There are three lectures in this little book, and no matter how remote the world of science may be from your own, it behooves the general reader to step back and think about how the study of genetics has unfolded, how molecular biology (the effort to find the tiny "essence of life") and cyber-science (information theory, cybernetics, systems analysis and computer science, "developed to deal with the messy complexity of the postmodern world") have informed each other over the last few decades, and how the computer affects the way questions and hypotheses are framed in scientific inquiry.

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